VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Ridgway's one theory in missing B.C. women
By Eric Sorensen
Seattle Times staff reporter
Tuesday, December 11, 2001 - 12:40 p.m. Pacific
VANCOUVER, B.C. — Gary Ridgway may be the main suspect in four Green River killings, but he is a player in only one of several theories for why dozens of prostitutes have disappeared from this city's downtown.
While some news reports say Ridgway may have visited the bleak streets of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, investigators and prostitutes theorize the women could be victims of several serial killers, copycats, even freighter crews bent on evil from the nearby Burrard Inlet waterfront.
Violence is so commonplace among the women of the Downtown Eastside's sex trade that few people think the disappearances could be the work of one man.
Should Ridgway be implicated in any Vancouver disappearances, "it'll be one of the answers," said Raven Bowen, executive director of the Prostitution Alternatives Counselling Education Society, or PACE. "But I wouldn't necessarily put all of this on one individual, because there are other opportunistic predators out there. The women will still have to keep their guard up."
For their part, police simply can't say how promising Ridgway's arrest is for their cases.
"We don't know if he has anything to do with our investigation," said Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Constable Danielle Efford. "It's too much speculation. It's already been speculated out that he's already linked to our investigation, which is not the case."
Vancouver task force
Vancouver police and the RCMP last April formed a task force to look into reports of 31 women missing from Downtown Eastside. They learned that two were in fact alive and two had died of health problems. But the task force, which now has 16 investigators, last week announced it is now looking into the cases of 45 missing women.
The women, reported missing by family members or friends, were known to work in the sex trade and have substance-abuse problems.
There's no saying for sure the women have been slain, let alone by a serial killer, Efford said.
"It's too early to tell," she said. "It's either one person responsible for the disappearances, a few people responsible, or many people responsible. The other thing is, they could also be women that don't want to be found. It's going to be very difficult for us to locate somebody who has changed their name or moved to another country."
Moreover, police have no bodies or crime scene in any of the cases. They do have a list of 600 to 1,000 suspects, and Ridgway is not on that list.
And police do have the bodies of three women found in rural British Columbia in 1995 that might be related to the missing women. The bodies were found in a remote area north of the Fraser River, about 50 miles from Vancouver. Police have collected DNA samples from two of the women and are hoping to compare them to Ridgway.
However, police say they have received no calls from anyone claiming to have seen Ridgway in the 10-block area of the Downtown Eastside.
"His picture is just being circulated," said Pauline Greaves, executive director of the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre.
Nonetheless, police are planning to meet soon with investigators in Washington state.
"We're waiting for a mutually agreeable time," said RCMP Sgt. Wayne Clary, "because they're all very busy."
Reason for hope?
Ridgway's arrest has piqued the interest of several women on the Downtown Eastside as well as families of the missing women.
"It's kind of given me hope that we'll be able to find answers to the missing women in Vancouver," said Sandra Gagnon, whose sister, Janet Henry, vanished in June 1997. "It goes to show he can't get away with it forever."
The Downtown Eastside, also called the "low track," is the poorest postal code in Canada. It has one of the highest reported HIV and hepatitis C infection rates in the Western Hemisphere.
With some 4,700 intravenous-drug users, it routinely trades places with Amsterdam as having the highest needle-exchange rates in the world, with 3.5 million clean needles given out last year.
Eighty percent of the female intravenous-drug users report being active in the sex trade.
The area has a post-apocalyptic look in the fading rainy light, its sidewalks packed with pockmarked junkies scrounging and hustling under moldy awnings and in front of pawn shops and storefront social-service outfits.
Trevor Greene, author of "Bad Date: The Lost Girls of Vancouver's Low Track," published last month by ECW Press, once counted 27 offers of drugs — "up" for cocaine, "down" for heroin — in a four-block walk.
"This is full-on. This is extreme. This is life on the edge," said Greene, a Vancouver resident. "I was seven years in Asia and did a book on the homeless there, and I wasn't prepared for this."
A recent PACE survey of 183 sex-trade workers found that more than half reported being robbed and physically assaulted and nearly half had been forced to have sex against their will while working on the street; one-third said someone has tried to kill them.
"Every day, a bad date happens — a woman gets raped or beat up or ripped off," said Laura Keewatin, an 11-year veteran of the trade at the age of 23.
Keewatin did not recognize Ridgway after staring at his picture for more than a minute. She was pleased that he was arrested but convinced that more than one man was responsible for the missing women, including her sister, Cindy Beck.
Greene also thinks the missing women have met an assortment of fates: some have cleaned up and escaped the neighborhood but are hiding from old habits and enemies. Others are the victims of a couple of serial killers, with one probably coming from the states. A few were preyed upon by copycat killers.
Others might have been spirited away on tramper freighters.
They can be enticed on board by offers of good drugs and several customers, then held against their will and hidden as the ship leaves port. If they are killed or die from an accidental overdose, they can be cast overboard into the wide ocean, never to be seen again.
Eric Sorensen can be reached at 206-464-8253 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
VANCOUVER SUN photo
Updated: August 21, 2016