VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Possible Vancouver serial killer
February 11, 2002 - Another 16 senior investigators have been added to the Missing Women's Task Force investigating the pig farm in Port Coquitlam. Over 40 investigators are now on this case.
In related news Gina Houston, a good friend of David William Pickton, said the pig farmer is a "nice caring man" who likes to help single mothers and wouldn't hurt a soul, especially a prostitute. Instead, she said: "he befriends a lot of them, and he kind of feels sorry for them and he does give them money. He'll give them 20 bucks to go buy themselves . . . well, I mean, they obviously go get dope, but they say they need cigarettes and tampons and condoms and blah, blah, blah, blah. And he'd rather give them a couple of bucks than see them working -- the ones he has befriended, right?"
Houston and her husband, Ross Edward Contois, said the police had singled out their friend because of the false accusations by a woman with a drug problem they know. "She's got a great personality, but as soon as she gets a little heroin or a little coke, and she can't get no more drugs, she goes right off," Houston said. "I've been hauled into the serious crime unit umpteen times over this crackhead . . . when he [Pickton] doesn't give her money for dope, she phones and says he's slaughtering the hookers and burying them on the property."
Houston insists the allegations by the woman she met at the transition house are baseless. "This chick watched him slaughter a few pigs, and she went and phoned them," she said. "And she described in detail how he slaughters and skins them and cuts them. So she phones the police up and tells them that she watched him and I doing that there one night, and it was just a pig. She said it was one of the missing hookers from the Downtown Eastside."
According to his friend, Pickton stabbed the prostitute in 1997 in self defence: "He got the bum end of the deal because of that incident with the hooker that he brought back here that stabbed him," Houston said. "They dropped the charges against him because all the stab wounds on him were in the back. He defended himself and ended up stabbing her."
As for Pickton's truck being seen around the Downtown Eastside, Houston claims that she and Contois had borrowed it for the last six months and that if it was seen around there, she was the one driving it. Contois gave a similar version of events."
February 10, 2002 - Task force officers have erected fences round the Port Coquitlam pig farm owned by Robert William Pickton and his brother. They have also erected a tent along with their mobile command center. The 30-member task force has been joined by an undisclosed number of local officers to assist in the forensic search of the property. Families and friends of the missing women have converged around the ramshackled farm, hoping to finally have some answers to the dissapearence of their loved ones.
February 9, 2002 - According to his lawyer, Robert William Pickton, one of the owners of the Port Coquitlam pig farm being investigated by the Vancouver missing women task force, is "shocked" and "flabbergasted" that he has been named a person of interest in the case. The lawyer, Peter Ritchie, said he is acting on behalf of Pickton, his brother and his sister, and represents them in various business interests, including a home demolition business, a used building supply company and the farm. "I've spoken to the sister and two brothers," Ritchie said, breaking the silence on behalf of the family. "They spoke to me yesterday... the family is shocked by this and is trying to assist police." Ritchey said the family was willing to allow the use of any farm equipment to assist police, adding: "they're concerned about underground digging, because there are wires and gas lines and various soils stored in a certain way." Ritchie previously represented Pickton in 1997 when he was charged with an attack on a Vancouver prostitute.
February 8, 2002 - Wayne Leng, in his grassroots search for Sarah deVries, set up a hotline for tips, which in 1998 recieved a call from a man calling himself "Bill" who said Sarah was dead. "This man who couldn't give me any more identity than Bill told me a prostitute he knew had been taken to a big pig farm at Port Coquitlam, where she had been badly assaulted," Leng said. "What's more, the prostitute had told Bill she had seen numerous items of women's clothing and pieces of women's ID all over the place." Leng recieved several other tips about a dangerous farmer called "Willy" which he passed on to the Vancouver police department and never heard about again.
"We were all concerned because it didn't seem anybody wanted to take this guy seriously," said Leng. "We never heard whether they actually did searches of Willy's place or whatever. You know. But we knew he had lots of land and he was fairly well off it seems."
In another Port Coquitlam property dubbed "Piggy's Palace," Pickton and his brother David threw several large parties and had what would constitute as an illegal bar. In 1996 the city of Port Coquitlam went to court seeking an order against the brothers and their "Piggy Palace Good Times Society" to bar them from holding any more parties on the property. In an affidavit filed with the court in 1998, Port Coquitlam Fire Chief Randy Shaw said he toured the property with David Pickton in September 1998 and found a building there that appeared to be a dance hall. "I observed a commercial type kitchen, pub type bar, raised entertainment stage, dance floor, sound and lighting system and tables and chairs capable of accommodating a group in excess of 150 persons," the affidavit stated.
The Picktons brothers, together with their sister, Linda L. Wright, own several more properties in the Port Coquitlam and Maple Ridge area worth millions of dollars. Pickton, who goes by the name of 'Willy,' has been considered a prson of interest in the investigation since July 1998 when investigators received a tip that a woman had been inside Pickton's trailer and had seen bags of bloody clothing as well as women's identification.
February 7, 2002 - BC Police announced a major break in the case of the 50 women missing women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. RCMP and task force members have sealed off a Port Coquitlam pig farm and set up a mobile command center near the property's dilapadated barn. "I can tell you a search is being conducted on that property and the search is being executed by the missing-women task force," said Constable Catherine Galliford, the spokeswoman for the joint Vancouver police-RCMP task force. The suspect being investigated is one of the farm's owners, 52-year-old Robert William Pickton.
Police originally showed up to the Port Coquitlam pig farm to serve a firearm warrant. When authorities found identification and other items linked to at least two of the 50 missing prostitutes from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, they called for a second warrant to fully investigate the property. BC-CTV News reported that an asthma-type inhaler belonging to one of the missing woman was one of the items found. After the first search Pickton, was charged with three firearm violations.
Pickton was charged in 1997 with the attempted murder of Vancouver prostitute, Wendy Lyn Eistetter. He was also charged with unlawful confinement, assault with a weapon and aggravated assault. Police alleged that in April 8, 1997 Pickton picked up Eistetter on Vancouver's downtown Eastside and took her to his PoCo pig farm where he stabbed her repeatedly with a kitchen knife, leaving the woman oin the brink of death. She was able to escape and press charges against him. The charges were dropped in January 28, 1998, because the woman would not testify.
According to the local press, the 10-acre PoCo property was in a state of disarray and full of broken vehicles and trash. A "No trespassing" signs hung from a huge wired gate, including one threatening an attack by a pitbull with AIDS. By nightfall investigators brought in generators and power lights to assist with the search as large crowds of onlookers gathered outside the farm. Police have also mapped the site with aerial photographs and RPMC brought in two corpse-sniffing dogs to help locate any buried bodies.
February 4, 2002 - The Vancouver city police task force that is investigating the disappearances of 50 sex trade workers is now looking at two unsolved murders on the North Shore for clues. The missing women review team, a branch of the Vancouver police department, is probing details from two murders in 1990 and 1996. Mary Lidguerre, 31, a drug user and prostitute, was found dead in August 1996 near Mount Seymour Road. The body of another woman, Bonnie Whalen, 32, was discovered nearby six years earlier in April 1990. "There is some very valuable information we've collected from those investigations that may benefit the 50 missing women," said review team Constable Cate Galliford.
December 12, 2001 - Witnesses told police that Green River Killer suspect, Gary Leon Ridgway, spent time in and around Vancouver where 45 women have disappeared. Ridgway's neighbors said he and wife Judith constantly traveled in their motor-home to British Columbia and Oregon. Following Ridgeway's arrest, Canadian investigators visited authorities in Seattle to gather information about the suspect. Vancouver Detective Jim McKnight said police and RCMP have taken statements from Vancouver prostitutes who said they recognized Ridgway. "There's some indication that he was in B.C.," McKnight told Seattle's KING-TV. "I can't be too specific because I don't know for sure yet." The Vancouver disappearances, which victim-wise are very similar to the Seattle cases, began in 1984, at about the same time that the Green River killings ended. Police said they are investigating 600 potential suspects, 100 of which are considered high priority, including Ridgway.
December 5, 2001 - Two months after The Vancouver Sun said the number of missing Downtown Eastside women was much bigger than the officiual tally of 27, the Vancouver police department released photos and names of 18 additional women, bringing the total of potential victims to 45. But while police are asking for the public's assistance in finding out what happened to the women, Vancouver police detective Scott Driemel said they are still not formally added to the original list of 27 names. "If efforts fail to locate these women, their names will be added to the existing list of missing women," he told a packed news conference.
Families of the newly identified women, who went missing between 1985 and last August, said they were happy to finally have their loved ones' disappearances publicized. But they also wondered why it has taken so long to get the names and photographs released.
The most recent disappearance on the list is that of Serena Abbotsway, last seen August 1. Her aunt told The Sun that Abbotsway, who disappeared weeks before her 30th birthday, had a difficult childhood and spent years in foster care before ending up in the Downtown Eastside. "I think she is basically one of those people who has been misplaced all of her life," said her aunt, who asked not to be named. Others who went missing in 2001 are Angela Joesbury, who disappeared in June, Heather Chinnock, who went missing in April and Patricia Johnson, who vanished in March.
Dawn Crey and Debra Jones disappeared in 2000, while Georgina Papin, Brenda Wolfe, Jennifer Furminger and Wendy Crawford all went missing in 1999. Sherry Irving and Cindy Feliks both disappeared in 1997. Angela Arseneault was a 17-year-old when she was last seen in 1994, while Leigh Miner went missing in 1993. Elsie Sebastien disappeared in 1992, although her case was reported to police only last May. Nancy Clark, also known as Nancy Greek, was last seen in Victoria in 1991. The oldest case on the new list is that of Laura Mah, who went missing in August 1985, but her disappearance was not reported to police until the summer of 1999.
November 26, 2001 - The task force investigating the missing sex-trade workers from the Downtown Eastside has classified about 100 potential suspects as "high priority," The Vancouver Sun has learned. In October, police said they had a list of 600 possible suspects that included men from across B.C. convicted of violent attacks against sex-trade workers. The task force has been prioritizing those 600 men, and those at the top of the list are getting closer scrutiny.
The missing women task force is trying to pinpoint suspects by compiling data on sophisticated case management software known as the Specialized Investigative Unit Support System, or SIUSS. It is the same system police used during the Abbotsford Killer case. The software allows investigators to analyze thousands of pieces of information by entering each piece of evidence in the computer -- which can determine in seconds whether a person has surfaced previously during the case.
September 23, 2001 - Vancouver police investigating the disappearance of 31 street prostitutes from the city's drug-infested red-light district said the number of missing women could be much higher. Two years ago, Vancouver police released a reward poster with the names of 31 women, most of whom were involved in drugs and the sex trade, who had disappeared from the Downtown Eastside. Though four of the original 31 missing women have reappeared, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police -- who has taken over the investigation -- found an additional 18 cases that fit the victim profile.
Meanwhile, a new book scheduled to be published strongly supports a theory featured two years ago in a Calgary Sun special report that the women were taken to sea on freighters as sex slaves. The book Bad Date -- The Lost Girls of Vancouver's Low Track, by Trevor Greene, quotes many street women who believe the missing prostitutes were taken aboard freighters and dumped at sea. "Until the living or dead bodies of the disappeared women start appearing, it is one of the most likely explanations, and it is what many of the citizens of (Vancouver area) Low Track are suggesting," he wrote. "They dope her up, she overdoses or they overdose her, then it's a midnight burial at sea."
August 6, 2001 - Since the case of the missing prostitutes was made public in 1999, the original VPD task force dwindled to three officers and the investigation was eventually taken over by the RCMP cold case squad. To date, police have found four of the 31 missing women. Two of them were dead, one from heart problems, the other from a drug overdose. Two were found alive, but police have not release details about them. However, four more missing women have been added to the list. First, Brenda Ann Wolfe, 32, who disappeared in February 1999, and was reported missing the following April. Then, Jennie Lynn Furminger, was reported missing in March 2000. Finally Dawn Teresa Crey, 42, and Debra Lynne Jones, 43, were both reported missing in December. "I guess it does say that the problem still exists," said VPD Sergeant Geramy Field. "For a while there -- for the majority of 1999 -- we felt that we didn't have any [more missing] and that either somebody was in custody or the perpetrator had died or moved on, perhaps because of the media pressure."
In June 2001, Kim Rossmo, 46, a geographic profiler in the VPD sued the department for wrongful dismissal. Rossmo, who at the time was Canada's first police officer with a Ph.D., developed a ground-breaking computerized crime investigation tool for geographic profiling, making him a fast-rising star in the department. Rossmo was quickly promoted from constable to detective-inspector and was allowed to set up a geographic profiling unit, which went on to win the department international acclaim and awards, but jealousy and the department's "old boy's network," kept undermining his work.
In 1998, when Rossmo said that there was a strong possibility of a serial killer active in Vancouver, others in the department, perhaps out of spite, quickly rejected his claim. In his suit Rossmo, who now works in Washington D.C., specifically accuses Deputy Chief John Unger and major crime police Inspector Fred Biddlecombe of freezing him out of the missing women investigation. According to court documents Biddlecombe "threw a small temper tantrum" when Rossmo suggested that police should tell the media of the possibility of a serial killer is at work on the Downtown Eastside. Rossmo equated the experience to being on a 747 jetliner when someone tells the pilot there's smoke in the cabin. "If the captain says, 'Prove to me there's a fire,' you know he's either a fool or incompetent."
Remarkably, this is not the first time Rossmo has warned fellow officers about a serial killer on the loose, and it's not the first time he is stonewalled by his colleagues. In 1994, after analyzing three sets of remains discovered outside Saskatoon, Rossmo suggested they were the work of a serial killer. Police dismissed his claims, even though they had a convicted rapist -- John Martin Crawford -- under surveillance. Crawford turned out to have murdered at least four native women and is suspected of killing three others.
According to Warren Goulding, author of "Just Another Indian-A Serial Killer and Canada's Indifference," Crawford was able to allude authorities and kill repeatedly because his victim's were native women. Goulding believes that there are as many as 450 aboriginal women missing from western Canada and no one seems to care. Not surprisingly, a large number of the missing Downtown Eastside women are also of aboriginal descent.
Since 1999, Wayne Leng, the friend of Sarah DeVries, has been keeping track of the investigation of the missing women on his web site, www.missingpeople.net. Though he started the web site as an online memorial for his friend Sarah, the site has grown into the nerve-center for keeping track of all the disappearing women. With the help of his web site a small but vocal contingency of family and friends of the missing have kept the police investigators from completely dismissing the case. Leng and the others are now talking about filing a class action lawsuit against the VPD for incompetence and neglect in their handling of the missing women file.
Vancouver city police finally dropped their guard and now publicly acknowledge the strong possibility that one or serial killers are abducting women from the Downtown Eastside. In fact, a new joint force of city police and Mounties has been formed to look into at least 60 solved and unsolved homicides of women working in the sex trade or living a similar lifestyle in the past two decades. Vancouver police
Sergeant Geramy Field said the task force has been in the works for some time and wasn't prompted by the recent disappearances. Field added her department has assigned two homicide detectives to the task force, which will be focusing on the known murders of women in the sex trade as well as the files on missing women. Investigators will be trying to see if any patterns emerge or if there is useful evidence in solved or unsolved murder files from across Western Canada that can provide clues on Vancouver's missing women cases.
One can only hope the renewed interest in the case could yield answers on the fate of the missing women. "Historically, that's where a lot of these have been solved in the past: A policeman stumbling upon something or stopping somebody and being able to follow up on something that's fresh -- being vigilant out there with our street checks," said Sergeant Field at a press conference announcing the new joint task force. "I don't think somebody's going to walk in [with the answer]. But somewhere in this body of evidence is the man or the men, and we just have to find them."
"The he Case of the Missing Vancouver Sex-Trade Workers"
Though they have no corpses or hard evidence to back their claims, prostitutes and social workers in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside suspect a serial killer is responsible for the disappearance of more than 29 local sex-trade workers. Police are less certain. "We have no crime scenes, we have no bodies... It's very frustrating." Vancouver police spokeswoman Constable Anne Drennan told the press. "It's one of the most difficult files we've ever worked because of the lack of clear evidence."
Patricia Gay Perkins was the first to disappear in 1978, but she was not reported missing until 1996. Six more women vanished between 1978 and 1995. The pace picked up in 1995 with three new disappearances; three more in 1996; six in 1998; and eight more in 1997. As of this writing, two prostitutes have been reported missing in 1999. The victims range in age from 19 to 46. Most are described on missing-persons posters as known drug users and prostitutes frequenting Vancouver's ravished Downtown Eastside.
The missing women reportedly sold sex to feed their intravenous cocaine and/or heroin habits. Some had HIV, hepatitis or both. They all left behind their belongings, bank accounts, children in foster care, welfare checks. "You're talking about women on welfare who didn't pick up their last welfare check, who left their belongings in a dingy hotel room." said Constable Drennan. "It's not as though they could just jump on a plane and fly to Toronto."
One missing woman, Angela Jardine, disappeared in her bright pink formal gown, leaving in her dingy hotel room an eerie reminder of her possible untimely death -- an unmailed Easter card addressed to her parents saying: "Know how much I love you, Mother and Dad? A whole bunch!" Stephanie Lane disappeared leaving behind a child with her mother and an uncashed welfare check. Though having into a life of prostitution and drugs, Lane kept in contact with her mom, always calling her for birthdays and holidays. It's been three years since she last heard from her.
The issue of the missing women was brought to national prominence in March, 1999 when Jamie Lee Hamilton, a transsexual and former prostitute now director of a drop-in center for sex-trade workers, called a news conference to bring the disappearances to public attention. At the news conference Hamilton and others were highly critical of the police's lackadaisical attitude towards the missing prostitutes.
At first, friends and relatives of the missing blamed authorities for ignoring the situation. Some families, disenchanted by the police investigation, have hired detective agencies to look into the situation. Six months after repeated protest marches and memorial services for the missing women, local authorities have changed their tune and stepped up their investigative efforts. "You can always say somebody is not doing enough," Drennan said. "We are doing everything literally we can think of that we can do. We're not afraid to acknowledge there could be a serial killer or multiple killers."
Though during a phone conversation on December 8, 1999 Constable Drennan said emphatically that nothing pointed towards a serial killer being involved: "Nothing at all suggest the existence of a serial killer." When asked for an interview for this book, Constable Drennan said the situation in Vancouver was "not suited for a book on serial killers considering there is no evidence or bodies."
The women on the streets and those closest to them disagree with the Constable's opinion. "The women here don't talk about it very much because they're so scared," said Elaine Allan, executive director of the Women's Information Safe House, a drop-in center for sex trade workers. Surprised by the Constable's position, Allan remarked on the fact that no missing women have been reported since the case was featured on America's Most Wanted. Some women believe its a border-hopper, perhaps even infamous Green River Killer, coming from the United States to satisfy his murderous fantasies. Some think it is a snuff film ring, or a lethal merchant marine crew kidnapping the women and murdering them at sea. Others, according to Allan, try not to think. The alternatives are to grim.
Using the mass publicity of prime time television on both sides of the border, investigators featured the case in the crime-busting TV program America's Most Wanted. The show aired July 31, 1999, fanfaring the $100,000 reward. It prompted over 100 calls to the program's Washington headquarters. "Only 20 were thought to be useful; the task force is investigating them," said Drennan. Reaching investigative overdrive, the Ministry of the Attorney General and the Vancouver Police Board Authorized a $100,000 reward for information leading to the resolution of the case. Adding to the effort one of Vancouver's largest private detective agencies, CPA Confidence Group, offered four of their "cadaver" dogs to search selected areas, looking for decomposing human remains. There was even an attempt spearheaded by local business leaders to give cell phones to prostitutes with 911 on the speed dial. The idea was quickly dismissed because of fears that the sex-trade workers would use their new toys to conduct their age-old business.
Police say that Vancouver, being flanked by the sea and mountains, is the perfect spot for stashing bodies out of sight. "The possible grave sites are endless," Drennan said. "If there is a predator out there, he may have a common grave site. But finding that is so difficult." Though a more plausible explanation would be a person, like Chicago killer John Wayne Gacy, stashing the bodies in a basement, or someone dumping them in the open sea. "I think it's a combination." said Elaine Allen. "There's so many women missing it's almost ridiculous to think its one person doing it"
John Lowman, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University, believes a combination of several factors could explain the mystery. Since 1985, at least 60 prostitutes in British Columbia have been killed by johns, drug dealers and pimps. "It suggests that these missing women may well have met the same fate," Lowman said. It is not unusual for women who sell sex in the street and are addicted to drugs to disappear. They check in for rehab. They leave the streets. They move to another city. They overdose. They commit suicide. They are committed to hospitals. In the past, police say, women reported missing usually reappear within a year or two, dead or alive. "All of sudden that wasn't happening anymore," Drennan said. "They just stayed missing. That's what became most frightening." And though all circumstantial evidence indicates foul play, investigators cannot confirm that any of the disappearances are even related.
Police have sent missing-persons reports to psychiatric hospitals, morgues and welfare offices across Canada and the United States. Of the original 31 women reported missing, only two of them were located, both dead. One, Karen Anne Smith, died February 13, 1999 from heart problems related to Hepatitis C in an Edmonton hospital. She was last seen on the streets of Vancouver in 1994. The other, Linda Jean Coombes, died of a heroin overdose in an east Vancouver bowling alley February 15, 1994.
To keep track of the prostitutes two law enforcement agencies have asked them to record personal data on registries that would give police clues if they were to disappear. The registries -- which have been signed by 60 prostitutes -- include questions about previous bad dates, stalkers, or anything or anyone they were concerned about? It also records who would most likely know if they were missing. The prostitutes are also taking self-defense lessons and have been given special codes and asked to call in occasionally to let authorities know they are still alive. "A lot of them are being more cautious now, working by day or with somebody else," said Deb Mearns, who coordinates safety programs for the prostitutes.
Using a new vice squad computer program, the Deter and Identify Sextrade Consumers (DISC) database, investigators hope to identify more suspects. The program allows officers to index every piece of information they gather about johns, pimps and prostitutes into a searchable database. The information includes regulars in the red-light districts, their nicknames, physical and vehicular descriptions, and even states if they have a specific perversions or tattoo.
Deputy Police Chief Gary Greer, former district commander for the Downtown Eastside, said he believes the street women make the perfect target for a serial killer. They readily get into cars with strangers, not many people notice their disappearance, and fewer still would report them missing. "With a prostitute who goes by a street name, who's picked up by a john, and then another john, whose intention is to be unseen, to be anonymous - for a predator, that's perfect," Greer said.
Constable Dave Dickson, a 20-year Downtown Eastside veteran who was the first policeman to notice the disappearances, believes prostitutes still working the streets are upset by the mystery, but not enough to change their ways. "If they're heavily addicted and need money, they're probably going to jump in the car with a guy no matter what anyone tells them... They come from such horrible backgrounds, they've been sexually abused their whole lives. They're not afraid of anything."
The Downtown Eastside Youth Activity Society (DEYAS) has compiled a list of bad johns from information obtained from task force, social workers and sex-trade workers, which they distribute every week to prostitutes and police . The list -- called the Creep List -- already has 50 potential suspects. "There are a lot of bad dates out there," Dickson said. "Where do you start when you've got a thousand guys capable of doing something like this? Some of them don't come down here for sex. They come down to beat on the girls."
Allen says the streets around the Downtown Eastside are dark and isolated, making the women "vulnerable to men who want to get off being violent. They might not be serial killers, but they are still very dangerous customers." At the WISH Drop-In Center, Allen says all the women she sees, "have been beaten up by creeps and face it every night when they go out."
Like the victims in the serial killer cases in Spokane and Chicago, the women disappearing in Vancouver come from the most vulnerable and damaged segment of society. "More than 90 percent of them were abused as kids. A smaller percentage started doing drugs, got into the life and couldn't get out." Allen believes all her clients are suffering from some sort of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a disorder more commonly associated with battle-shocked veterans and torture survivors.
"Incest abuse victims, if they were in treatment with a psychiatrist, would be getting anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medication, sleeping pills, but these women who are not in treatment. They self-medicate. That's what the heroin is all about. that's why we're here. That's why all these women are here."
Vancouver police have been talking to officers in Spokane and Portland, comparing notes about their recent cases of cluster killings. But with no crime scenes, corpses or any other tangible evidence, Vancouver authorities have little notes to compare. Local officers have also spoken to King County detective Tom Jenson who is the only investigator left working on the Green River Killer case. Being just 117 miles north of Seattle, there is the possibility that a serial killer could be simultaneously working on both sides of the border.
Authorities have also sought advice from Detective Lt. William Siegrist, of Poughkeepsie, New York who investigated the case of Kendall Francois. In 1998 Francois was arrested for serial killing eight prostitutes over a two-year period. Francois stashed the bodies of his victims in his family's home. In both the Vancouver and Poughkeepsie cases, prostitutes with close ties to the community who were in contact with their families on a regular basis vanished without a trace. In the Poughkeepsie cases Siegrist reported that Francois had sex with more than 50 prostitutes and was well-known on the street. Francois also had a history of committing acts of violence against the women.
Vancouver's Downtown Eastside -- which is steps away from the city's trendy Hastings Street -- is a neighborhood of junkies, pawn shops, saloons and run-down rooming houses. It's known worldwide for its high HIV rate. It is estimated that more than a quarter of the local junkies and 80 percent of Eastside prostitutes have tested positive for HIV. The local needle-exchange center at the DEYAS hand out about 2.4 million needles a year, more than any other center in North America.
Due partly to Vancouver's mild winters, the area is a magnet for runaways, drifters, impoverished Indians and mentally ill people, many of whom end up living in the streets doing drugs and turning tricks. Whereas in 1998 only 18 people were murdered in Vancouver, 193 died from overdoses of heroin, cocaine or illicitly bought methadone. "We don't have a lot of success stories," said Allan, whose drop-in center is used by nearly every prostitute in the Downtown Eastside, especially the ones that are ravished by drugs.
Allan knew one of the women, Jacquilene McDonell, one of the last to go missing. "It was tragic," she recalls when she found out Jackie disappeared. "She was young, was articulate, she was nice, she was 21-years-old, had a son, was kind of tripping on her drugs, she was too good for this place." Like the others, Jackie's existence on earth was surrounded by tragedy. "Their forearms are solidly scared with cigarette burns and deep cut marks," she says of the women she mothers at her center. "They're signs of being extremely abused from a young age. They have to self-mutilate because the pain in their head is so bad, those are the one's that are going missing."
"I really hope it is a serial killer," said the Rev. Ruth Wright of Vancouver's First United Church, a community cornerstone for 114 years which houses the WISH drop-in center for sex-trade workers. The alternative, according to the reverend, "would mean there are 31 separate killers out there and that much evil would be too much." Wright, a veteran of the ravaged Downtown Eastside, has survived the neighborhood's ballooning AIDS epidemic and the effects of a 1993 lethal batch of heroin that killed 300 junkies. However, this new scourge is what she finds most horrifying.
Allan believes the 29 missing prostitutes could have been killed at sea. Prostitutes are often lured onto ships at the Vancouver harbor with promises of free heroin and eager johns, but end up as sex-slaves in a heroin daze until they are thrown overboard. Authorities see this as a possibility. "Whether the boats could be involved is one of the possibilities we're looking into," said police spokeswoman Anne Drennan. Allan knows, from conversations with prostitutes at the Safe House, that the ships play a pivotal role in their lives.
"Many of the women I've talked to have been on the boats," she said. "Many of these sex-trade workers are heavily into heroin addiction, desperate for their next fix. Also remember, something like 95 percent of all the heroin coming into Canada hits the shore first right here in Vancouver." Sailors make a large percentage of the prostitute's clientele. Consequently, it's not uncommon for them to go on a boat. Once onboard the women are kept captive as the ship's sex-toy. Some escape, others, who knows.
Allen says that usually the younger women whose drug habits raging are out of control are the one's that end up in the ships. "The lure of the drugs," she says, "the lure of being able to do more dates" gets the women to work the port. Many of those who go on the boats try to have someone "keep their six" -- a street expression meaning watching their back. In a story related to Allan at the drop-in center, one woman was locked in a cabin in a Filipino freighter with a big block of heroin and was only let out after her friend "keeping her six" -- a Russian sailor -- threatened to go to the police with pictures of her getting on board.
"It would be very easy to hide someone on a boat," said Allan. "When you get to open sea and you're on nightwatch it would be very easy to toss someone overboard." Women working the streets near the docks told the Calgary Sun they believe the sea slaughter is a feasible explanation for the disappearances. Dumped from freighters and international commercial ships far out in the Pacific Ocean, the bodies would forever vanish. Though, if several men were involved, one would eventually talk. Plausibly, it could be a foreign crew coming into town periodically.
On Portside Park, overlooking the harbor, a memorial stone dedicated to all the Downtown Eastside murder victims has been unofficially made into an altar in honor of the missing women. There Wayne Leng remembers with sadness his missing friend Sarah DeVries, a 29-year-old heroin-addicted prostitute who disappeared in 1998. Leng, a 50 year-old automotive technician , was the last person to see her alive. Consumed with finding her, Leng has done everything from plastering posters all over Vancouver's red-light district to making a web site dedicated to the missing prostitutes.
Warm and friendly, the disappearance of Black Sarah, as she was known by everyone in Vancouver's red light district, was a particularly hard blow for the Downtown Eastside. Unlike other victims, Sarah came from an upper middle class family who have put the time and energy to bring to attention the enfolding tragedy. DeVries' sister Maggie, who has been openly critical about the authorities' attitude, has put a grieving face to the endless cavalcade of unsolved cases. Together with Wayne Leng they have turned Black Sarah into the symbol for the missing .
DeVries, like the 28 other women, was a street junkie and prostitute. Like the others, she was shooting up to $1,000 worth of drugs a day in between tricks. She had HIV and hepatitis. Like the others she worked an area known as the Lower Track where $10 can buy oral sex. Some might even go cheaper, for a pack of cigarettes and a rock of cocaine.
But unlike the others, she came from an affluent family that got involved after she disappeared. DeVries had a restless mind that she revealed in a journal full of poems, thoughts and drawings. In a strange twist of fate, she appeared in a TV documentary where she appears talking to the camera and shooting-up. "When you need your next fix, you're sick, puking, it's like having the flu, a cold, arthritis, all at the same time, only multiplied a hundred times," she said to the camera. Sarah said there are only three ways off the streets. "You go to jail, you end up dead, or you do a life sentence here."
Here is one of her poems reflecting her tragic struggles with drugs and life on the streets.
Woman's body found beaten beyond
Sadly, Sarah poems will remain as the voice of 29 victims that lived and died on the margins of society, for no fault of their own. She is but another lost life cut short by someone preying on the weak and vulnerable. Someone who sees no value in life.
To date only one suspect behind bars that could be implicated with the disappearances. The suspect, a Vancouver man now serving time for rape, is being investigated in connection with the disappearances of seven of the missing prostitutes.
Website of the author Antonio Mendoza:
Updated: August 21, 2016