Killers On The Loose
From the book Killers On The Loose,
by: Antonio Mendoza
29 Sex-Trade Workers Missing in Vancouver
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
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
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
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
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
"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 is one of her poems reflecting her tragic struggles with drugs and life on
Woman's body found beaten beyond recognition.
You sip your coffee,
Taking a drag of your smoke,
Turning the page,
Taking a bite of your toast.
Just another day, just another death,
Just one more thing for you to forget,
You and your soft sheltered life,
Just go on and on,
For nobody special from your world is gone.
Just another Hastings Street whore
Sentenced to death.
No judge, no jury, no trial, no mercy.
The judge's gavel already fallen,
Sentence already passed.
Sadly, Sarah’s 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
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
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 author of Killers On The Loose, Antonio Mendoza is the
owner and creator of the Internet Crime Archives at: www.mayhem.net
The book is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other
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