VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Canada fears second serial killer
Thursday, June 9, 2005
EDMONTON, Alberta (Reuters) -- Each woman's body was found in farmers' fields, every few years at first, then more frequently. With every death, fear grows that Edmonton is the second western Canadian city to be home to a killer preying on prostitutes.
Police are reluctant to say if they believe a serial murderer is roaming the northern Alberta city, where the bodies of 25 victims, many of them drug-addicted prostitutes, have been discovered since 1975.
Behind Edmonton's fear is Vancouver's notorious missing women case. Police there were unwilling to say if a serial killer was at work until they arrested Robert Pickton in February 2002.
Pickton is charged with killing 27 women, most of whom were among nearly 70 prostitutes who disappeared from Vancouver from the mid-1980s. Critics say police could have saved lives if they had vigorously pursued the early cases.
In Edmonton, a Royal Canadian Mounted Police task force dubbed Project Kare is investigating 41 unsolved homicides and 31 missing persons cases across Alberta. All the women led high-risk lifestyles.
Four of the victims found since June 2004 were Edmonton prostitutes from the 118th Avenue, the city's red-light district. Two others remain missing, making life more dicier than usual on the strip.
Mary, who has been working the avenue for nearly 20 years, survived an attack last autumn. She is worried but that doesn't keep her -- or the women with a drug habit and no other job -- off the street or out of clients' cars.
"I'm starting to stay home some nights now, and so are some of the other girls," said Mary, not her real name. "I guess I'm one of the lucky ones -- I lived."
Mary said police found her last autumn lying battered and unconscious on a country road in Strathcona County, the region outside Edmonton that has become a dumping ground for victims.
Six months later, Mary, an aboriginal woman in her mid-30s, is again waving down potential customers on 118th Avenue, knowing her luck could run out at any time.
"I knew most of the girls that have disappeared or have been killed," she says, her face weathered and withdrawn from years of crack cocaine use.
Another regular, 33-year-old Elle May Meyer, was the most recent victim. On May 6, a farmer found her body on his property. Meyer was the mother of a 6-month-old baby.
Like most other Edmonton prostitutes, Meyer had provided a DNA sample and personal information to police investigators as part of a voluntary program begun in 2003.
It was a similar DNA sample that assisted the Mounties in identifying the charred remains of sex trade worker Charlene Gauld, 20, discovered in April by an oil field worker.
Gauld's mother, Myrtle, had spoken by phone with her daughter just days earlier.
"She said she was going to try and get into detox or a safe house -- that was the last time I talked to her," said Gauld.
Charlene's own 2-year-old daughter, Keona, is left with a grim reminder.
"She would see Charlene's picture through the media and say 'Mama'," said Gauld.
Gauld, and other victims' families, are anxious for an arrest. So are police.
Last November, a team of crime investigators, from those working on the Pickton case to U.S. officials who investigated the Green River killings in Washington state, met in Edmonton to analyze the investigation.
"This is my 28th year on the force, and this is the most serious situation I've seen," RCMP Cpl. Wayne Oakes said.
He wouldn't admit the Mounties' might be hunting for a serial killer, but said, "We believe one person may be responsible for more than one of the deaths.
"There's an absolute need to not fall into a blind alley of going after a single person for full responsibility."
Police may be loathe to classify their killer, or killers, but not the veteran prostitutes.
"I've had friends disappear from the streets in Edmonton and Vancouver," said Carol, not her real name, a former sex trade worker who quit in 1989 after the murder of friend Georgette Flett, near Edmonton.
"Police have also found the DNA of my friend, Georgina Papin, on Pickton's farm -- she too, was from Edmonton," Carol said. "Something has to come to an end here.
"I sit here and cry every day when I hear that police have found another dead girl."
Updated: August 21, 2016