VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Police alter missing-women theory
Courtesy of The Globe and Mail
By Jane Armstrong, Vancouver
Vancouver police released this sketch of a sexual-assault suspect who told his female victim he had killed others. The woman, who escaped from her assailant's moving vehicle, later told police of his claim.
There are no crime scenes, nobodies, no witnesses. Yet 31 women have gone missing from Vancouverís skid row since 1984 and police say that a serial killer may be stalking the city.
Technically, the women are listed as missing---not killed. And in recent years, four of the women have been accounted for. Two are dead. Most were working prostitutes when they vanished.
In the past, police have maintained that the womenís high-risk lifestyles may have played a role in their disappearances. They also suggested that some may have just moved away to start new lives. Many were drug-addicted or alcoholic.
But the families of the missing women never bought this theory. They say the women vanished suddenly without a trace and are convinced they have been killed. They have also complained that police have dragged their feet on the cases, giving them a low priority because the women are prostitutes.
Lynn Frey of Campbell River last heard from her daughter, Marnie, in August of 1997. By mid-September, she feared she was dead. Her daughter was a drug addict and prostitute, but she always telephoned her parents because she knew they worried. She was 24.
"I know we wonít ever find her alive," Ms. Frey said. She thinks her daughter was murdered and that her killer might never be found because police acted too late.
"My personal belief is that they thought, ĎOh well, thereís one less junkie on the street.í"
Now, however, police talk as though theyíre searching for a serial killer.
"As far as us looking at the concept of all of these missing women being alive and well and simply living some place else, no, we accept that is statistically extremely unlikely," Vancouver police spokesman Scott Driemel said.
And, earlier this spring, two Vancouver detectives teamed up with two RCMP detectives to review the files of all 31 women. The officers are working on the case exclusively and itís hoped that fresh eyes might yield new clues.
In addition, police are investigating an account of a woman who was recently abducted and assaulted by a man who claimed to have killed others.
The woman, who was not a prostitute, said the man snatched her from the stairwell of a hotel in Vancouverís Downtown Eastside earlier this month. She escaped by jumping out of the manís moving vehicle. She told police her abductor was a middle-aged man with a crooked nose, thin lips and sunken eyes.
Detective Driemel said the assailant may have been lying about his past but police are pursuing several tips.
Despite the new leads, police have been dogged by accusations that they havenít done enough to find the women.
The most damaging criticism by far come from a former Vancouver police officer who is suing the police for wrongful dismissal.
Former detective-inspector Kim Rossmo was with the force until last fall, when his contract was terminated. The forceís first geographic profiler, Mr. Rossmo told his civil trial that Vancouver police ignored his warnings that a serial killer was likely responsible for womenís disappearances. (Geographic profiling is a forensic behavioural analysis in which detectives use clues from a crime vicinity to determine where the killer lives.)
Mr. Rossmo, who is now director of research for the Police Foundation in Washington, D.C., said no one in the higher ranks wanted to do anything about the missing-women file.
In an interview from Washington, Mr. Rossmo said he first made his concerns known in 1998.
Mr. Rossmo, who has a PhD in criminology, said the numbers alone point to a single killer.
Too many women went missing over too short a period of time in a small downtown neighbourhood.
Before 1995, the number of women reported missing from the Downtown Eastside was normal, given the womenís high-risk lifestyle, Mr. Rossmo said. But in 1995, the numbers rose and stayed abnormally high until 1998.
"If you look at this the way an epidemiologist might, these are the things they look for to determine if an epidemic has occurred," he said.
Mr. Rossmo discarded other theories such as drug overdoses or several different killers. If there were more than one killer, chances are at least one body would have been found, as with the drug-overdose theory, he said.
Mr. Rossmo said all the data led to the conclusion that a single predator was killing prostitutes in downtown Vancouver. And he said police were negligent for not acting more quickly. The fact that no bodies have been found should not be an excuse, he said.
"Itís an ass-backward approach from someone who is responsible for something. Itís like a captain of a 747, and someone reports there is a funny smell coming from the washroom and he says ĎI donít have any proof thereís a fire.í"
Similarly, he said, if there was a whiff of suspicion that a serial killer was on the loose, police "have a responsibility to respond accordingly because police are responsible for community safety."
Finding a prostitute killer---especially a serial killer---is one of the toughest investigative challenges for police, but itís not impossible. Mr. Rossmo added. However, it requires a lot of money and personnel.
Vancouver police have denied Mr. Rossmoís allegations, saying they come from a disgruntled former officer. The civil trial is still going on.
Det. Driemel said police have always given the missing women priority.
"If you were to go contact a few other of the major police departments and ask them what they do with their missing prostitutes I think you might find a very interesting angle," he said. "I think weíre one of the few people that actually have taken the time and the interest to really pursue that."
Updated: August 21, 2016