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Courtesy of the National Post

Tip line jammed as farm search continues

Investigators sift through details as police plead patience

Mark Hume and Ian Bailey
National Post, with files from The Canadian Press

February 12, 2002

VANCOUVER - Police have been flooded with calls to a special tip line since launching a massive search for clues at a Port Coquitlam farm that has become the focus of one of the biggest investigations in British Columbia's history.

Detective Scott Driemel of the Vancouver Police Department said a joint VPD/RCMP task force investigating the disappearance of 50 women appreciates all the information pouring in. But he urged people to be patient, saying with more than 400 calls logged over the past few days it is impossible for police to respond to every tip immediately.

"The Joint Task Force has assigned three dedicated staff to review the tips, index them according to subject matter and other details and pass the information on to investigators. They are asking the public to be patient. Every call is taken seriously ... but it would be fair to not expect a call back right away.

"Please, if you do call and leave a tip, let it go for a little while before calling again because we're getting the lines plugged up by repeat callers," he said.

Det. Driemel described some of the information provided in tips as "very significant."

He also said police met on Sunday night with members of the missing women's families to update them on the search and, "some family members have told us that they would rather not hear every specific detail about what's going on. Others feel some knowledge about our search may help their grieving process."

Police say the investigation, which now involves 85 officers, ranks as one of the largest co-ordinated law enforcement efforts in B.C. history.

"There are forensic experts, major crime investigators, family consultation experts and a variety of other subject experts adding their knowledge to this case," Det. Driemel said.

"Investigations of this magnitude are a complex and often shadowy web of interconnected issues and bits of information. As we discover yet another link in the web it can change the nature of what we already know. Hopefully, we will soon see the full picture," he said.

When news of the search broke on the weekend it seemed to release pent-up anxiety about the case, which has baffled police for more than a decade.

The relatives and friends of the missing women, most of whom are sex-trade workers who vanished from the sordid streets of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, have been making pilgrimages to the farm on the outskirts of the city, where a small army of police officers are searching for evidence.

Although police are stressing they may not find anything at the farm, it has become a focal point for people's hopes and fears because it could produce the first physical links to the women who vanished without a trace.

Richard Dopson, a psychologist who has worked with juvenile prostitutes, said the farm is a magnet for those who have lost people they love on Vancouver's streets.

"Here's a place they can go to, feel sad, talk it out and tell their stories. There's never been a place for them to do that," Mr. Dopson said of those who are showing up at the farm to light candles or place photographs of missing women.

"They're exposing themselves now.... If it turns out all for naught, this could be devastating," he said.

One of Mr. Dopson's former clients was Sarah deVries, who went missing in 1997 after going out to work on the streets at 4:30 one morning.

A close friend of hers, Wayne Leng, said he has been following the search with a mixed sense of "dread and hope."

He said he wants to know what happened to her, but is haunted by the fear she might have died a terrible death.

"What are they going to find? How did these women die? Was it horrible? It probably was," Mr. Leng said.

"It's so hard when you don't know."

Mr. Leng said he first heard about the Port Coquitlam farm years ago, when he was contacted by a man responding to posters he put up around the city after Ms. deVries vanished.

"He was involved with a prostitute. She had told him about a farm ... [and] a mobile home with all kinds of women's clothing and identity papers in it."

Mr. Leng said the posters of Ms. deVries also prompted a series of chilling calls to his pager, which recorded 20-second sound bites.

"This fellow said: 'Drop the case. Stop looking. Get off the case.'

"He said, 'Sarah's dead'.... He said he was with a man who killed her and another time he said he killed her.

"He said, 'There's going to be a prostitute killed every Friday night.' "

Mr. Leng said he turned a tape of the voice message over to police, but it was untraceable and never led anywhere.

He has been thinking about that call again this week, because of the search at the Port Coquitlam farm.

The task force telephone tip line is 1-877-687-3377.

mhume@van.nationalpost.com 

Grisly hunt reawakens familie’s old torments
Grieving nephew killed himself on hearing of search

Suzanne Fournier
Tuesday, February 12, 2002

As police sift the muck at a Port Coquitlam pig farm, their search is also unearthing old torments for the families of missing women.

Sandra Gagnon, whose sister Janet Henry vanished in 1997, suffered another loss when her youngest son, Terry, 23, took his own life.

Just before midnight last Thursday -- the day Gagnon learned of the search -- Terry committed suicide at his brother's Maple Ridge home.

"Terry remembered his Auntie Janet very well, and he loved her, but even more than that, he knew how terribly I suffered when she went missing, and how I'd searched for her, and then when he heard about this horrible farm and saw the scenes on TV, it was too much for him," said a grieving Gagnon, who lives in Vancouver but is now staying with her remaining son, Richard, 25.

"He told me on the phone he was very worried about me, how I could handle things if there was news of Janet at this place, and then later that night, before we could get together, he took his own life. And it was his brother Richard who found his body."

Gagnon said Terry, a roofer, was also despondent because his girlfriend had moved away with their young son, whom he adored, because Terry could not get enough work to support his family.

"This news must have just put him over the edge."

Gagnon said Janet Henry, who was last seen on June 6, 1997 at the age of 36, was her "favourite sister, the one I was closest to in life.

"Even after she began living in the Downtown Eastside, and was deep into her addiction, she'd still call me every other day. I'd go down there and pick her up, take her to my home in Maple Ridge, give her a meal and clean clothes, let her sleep and relax.

"I'd make a picnic with her favourite foods and we'd go to the park together, trying to forget the horrors of her life down there."

Wayne Leng, who maintains a website on the missing women and keeps in touch with their family and friends, admits he is worried about Gagnon, and some of the other relatives of the missing women.

"To see those horrible sights at the Port Coquitlam farm is like something out of a Stephen King novel," said Leng, who set up the website after his friend Sarah deVries disappeared in 1998.

Ernie Crey, whose sister Dawn went missing in the fall of 2000, was among those who made a weekend pilgrimage to the Port Coquitlam site.

"The families are focused on this search, and they're faced with the torment, of 'are they going to find a tooth, a bone, some hair from my sister, my aunt, my mother?'" Crey said yesterday.

© Copyright2002 The Province

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Memories of Sarah cut through despair

Missing B.C. woman lives in hearts of Guelph kin

By THANE BURNETT

GUELPH -- Sarah deVries hated the taste of tomatoes. She loved to draw and, at one time, do cartwheels.

Even as police task force members lift up rocks and sift through mud at a Coquitlam, B.C., pig farm -- looking for clues to lead them to the remains of Sarah and 49 other women long missing from the toughest side of Vancouver -- investigators know these are more than faceless prostitutes and drug users, living and likely dying in a dark, far-away corner.

They are also daughters. And once were children, who, in Sarah's case, loved eggs and cheese but hated the taste of tomatoes.

From 50, here is one of their stories -- told through snapshots and poems in a child's memory book.

Sarah, whose father was a travelling evangelist in Mexico and whose mother was never meant to be a mother, was adopted by Pat deVries and her husband on Feb. 10, 1971. We are now three days past the 31st anniversary of that date.

The letter from the Superintendent of Child Welfare, confirming the adoption, pointed out: "(Sarah) has become, for all purposes, your child, and you have become her parents, as if she had been born to you."

Sarah was not yet a year old. A lock of her baby hair is enclosed in a keepsake book, here in Guelph, where Pat -- now divorced -- lives with Sarah's two children, Jeanie, 11, and five-year-old Ben. The snip of hair is dark and curly. Some of it is missing from the page.

"You never think, when you're putting your daughter's hair in a (scrapbook), that you'll one day have to send it off to the police, to be used for DNA testing," Pat says, touching the strands.

If there was one item that Sarah truly loved, it was likely this binder -- filled with glimmers of childhood.

Whenever she would come home for a reprieve from the prostitution and the drugs, she would curl up on the couch and devour it from cover to cover.

So much so, that she wore the first edition out.

'IT WOULDN'T SURVIVE'

"Whenever she'd leave, she'd never take the book with her," explains her aunt, well-known children's author Jean Little, who lives with Pat, Jeanie and Ben, two friendly dogs and two chatty birds. "It was as if she knew it wouldn't survive if she took it."

Inside is a drawing by Sarah, when she was seven years old, of herself holding a green balloon with "I Love you Mom and Dad" pencilled across the top.

There are pictures of Sarah in a stroller outside Norman's grocery store. A few pages over is her 1976 Water Safety Junior certificate, with a note from the coach pointing out she needs more practice on her strokes. And then pictures of her lining up for a sports day at her Vancouver-area school, and another of her skating in a park near her home.

She loved to do cartwheels and draw. She would lay still for hours, as her mom read her The Hobbit.

"Not the image of a street prostitute," Pat says.

But there were times the memory book leaves out. Like the taunts in the schoolyard over her dark skin -- the mix of native, black and white bloodlines. They conspired to make Sarah dramatically beautiful, but children can often pounce on unusual shades.

She was embarrassed one day when her Grade 2 classmates discussed their roots. She thought she was the only adopted child around.

By age 12 or 13, she met a friend who would sneak downtown with her. It was there she was introduced to drugs, including, later, cocaine and heroin.

Years ago, Sarah told a CBC reporter the hunger for a fix was like every sickness descending on you at once. Pat, with Jeanie on her knee, watched stunned in front of a TV as Sarah shot up for the benefit of the camera.

Sarah once helped trash a convenience store. She did much worse. And much better. She helped convince scores of young girls to get off the streets.

Her children know she's likely dead. But when Pat told Jeanie about the pig farm search, the child said, perhaps, they would find a hostage. Perhaps, her mom.

CHILD HOLDS HOPE

It was the first time Pat realized the child still holds a hope she will see her mother again -- the woman she knows through happy pictures, hung at a child's eye-level near the front door. And from this memory book.

Tucked inside it is a poem Sarah wrote as a little girl, Jeanie's age, concluding with the lines: "Soar. Soar. And then glide down again. And fall asleep."

Pat believes Sarah died a horrible death. She hopes her remains can be found to be buried here in Guelph.

But she doesn't want Jeanie and Ben to think of their mother's end when they think of her life.

"They will know she hated tomatoes," Jean says. "They'll remember that first."

Tuesday, February 12, 2002

Police provide haven for relatives
By GREG JOYCE-- Canadian Press

PORT COQUITLAM, B.C. (CP) -- A tent is being erected outside a pig farm here as a gathering place for relatives of 50 missing women, even though police searching the property have not publicly connected it yet to any of the disappearances.

The decision was made after members of the joint RCMP-Vancouver police task force met with some family members, RCMP Const. Cate Calliford said Tuesday.

"It's understandable they need to be here near the shrine that's being built," she said.

More than 80 police investigators, including 40 forensic specialists, have been combing through farm buildings, junked cars, mounds of dirt and other material on the 4.5-hectare property in this Vancouver suburb.

For the last week they've been looking for signs some of the 50 women may have been here before vanishing over the last two decades.

Not a shred of evidence has been publicly disclosed -- though unconfirmed news reports said police found identification and a woman's inhaler at the site.

But friends, relatives and supporters of the missing women have flocked to the location, both hoping and fearing what may be found here.

Police decided to set up the tent reserved for victims' families and made it off-limits to the media.

"We ask you to understand the emotional needs of others," Vancouver Det. Scott Driemel told reporters at a daily police briefing outside the farm.

Freda Ens, executive director of the Vancouver Police and Native Liaison Society, said family members were generally happy with the way police were dealing with them.

"The tent will be a special place" said Ens.

She said her group has been in contact with relatives throughout British Columbia and across Canada.

Police have kept them informed but Ens said relatives acknowledge investigators can't release details to them for fear of jeopardizing any future case.

Since the search began in earnest last Wednesday, a number of relatives have conducted vigils at the site, lighting candles and leaving flowers.

Ens said if any family members are afraid to come because of the media presence, private visits can be arranged to "pay respects."

At Tuesday's briefing, police once again refused to report details of the progress of their search.

The farm is owned by three people, including brothers David and Robert Pickton. Police laid weapons charges against Robert Pickton last Thursday related to illegal possession of an unregistered pistol.

However neither has been named as a suspect in the disappearances, nor are they in custody.

Meanwhile, the manager of a Vancouver rendering plant said Tuesday police have not asked for records of deliveries from the farm now under scrutiny.

Humphry Koch of West Coast Reduction said the Pickton farm regularly delivered pig entrails to his facility for the last 20 years.

He said police inquired whether the plant had received entrails from the farm but not from any individual.

Police search farm for missing Vancouver women-Feb 7, 2002

 

Email: wleng#missingpeople.net 

Missing Women Tip Line: 1-877-687-3377

Updated: August 21, 2016