CNN NEWSNIGHT AARON BROWN
Aired February 22, 2002 - 22:00 ET
We have more. We'll be right back.
BROWN: New development tonight in a case from Canada. We talked about a couple
weeks back, the disappearance of dozens of women, most of them coming from
Vancouver's red light district. When we left it, police had begun searching a
pig farm in rural British Columbia.
Well, tonight, they've made an arrest. One man in custody. No details yet. It
comes 20 years after the first woman vanished. It is a story heard before,
particularly in the West. In Seattle, in Spokane and San Diego. Perhaps other
places, too. Women missing, presumed dead. Complaints from relatives that is no
one cared because the victims were from the wrong side of the tracks.
Our story's from CNN's Frank Buckley.
FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They were not model citizens, the
women in the missing posters. Most of them, drug addicts or prostitutes. But
they were also mothers and daughters and sisters, who were missing, who deserved
the attention of authorities. And for nearly 20 years in this picturesque city,
say critics, they didn't get it. SUZANNE JAY, DIRECTOR, VANCOUVER RAPE RELIEF
AND WOMEN'S SHELTER: Police didn't take these disappearances very seriously, did
not take the lives of these women very seriously.
BUCKLEY: But the loved ones did. People like Dixie Purcell and Valerie Hughes.
VALERIE HUGHES, SISTER OF MISSING WOMAN: My sister was just out partying. She's
just another junkie.
BUCKLEY: Her sister, Kerri Koski, who was also a mother of three, disappeared
four years ago. HUGHES: I promised my sister's youngest that I would never stop
BUCKLEY: Dixie Purcell tells a similar story. Her daughter, Tanya, a mother of a
baby boy, was a recovering addict, who went missing five years ago. Ms. Purcell
can't forget the phone call to police who told her they weren't worried.
DIXI PURCELL, MOTHER OF MISSING WOMAN: Tanya was just out having fun. Don't
bother us. Don't waste our time and hung up on me. I just stood there with the
phone in my hand for 10 minutes, just looking at it.
BUCKLEY (on camera): Authorities here say most of the women went missing from
this part of Vancouver, downtown east side Vancouver, an area notorious for its
open drug sales and prostitution.
MORRIS BATES, VICTIM ADVOCATE: Skid row.
BUCKLEY (voice-over): Victim advocate Morris Bates showed us the alleys and
doorways where drug use and prostitution are partners. Women selling their
bodies, using the money to buy more drugs.
BATES: When the person goes missing, who do you go to? We don't have any family
BUCKLEY: But people did know they were missing. Wayne Leng was not a family
member. He was a john, but also a friend of Sarah de Vries who went missing in
1998. Leng created a web site on the plight of the missing women years before
WAYNE LENG, FRIEND OF MISSING WOMAN: I just couldn't not do it. I needed to know
what happened to Sarah. And I just -- I don't know. I was driven.
BUCKLEY: So were Ms. Purcell, Mrs. Hughes and others who publicly protested and
pressured police to focus on their missing loved ones.
HUGHES: We went and said, stood on the street corner. And all I said to people
was, "Do you know that there are this many missing women?" And most of them
said, "No." I said, "Phone Vancouver city police and tell them that you care."
BUCKLEY: Finally, last spring, nearly two decades after the first woman on the
missing list disappeared, Vancouver police formed a joint missing women task
force with the Royal Canadian Mountain police. And this month, investigators
began focusing their attention on this pig farm. Police are removing evidence
that may be linked to the missing women. On why it took so long, police say they
did the best they could with the information they had.
SCOTT DRIEMEL, VANCOUVER POLICE DEPT.: When you look at the fact that we've got
some people of course that are involved in various activities, that put them
them in a high risk category to begin with, those reports are taken as seriously
as possible by the police department.
BUCKLEY: Now some 80 people are attached to the task force, that is gaining the
confidence of these two women who believe their loved ones are dead. Their only
remaining hope, to find and bury them with respect.
Frank Buckley, CNN, Vancouver, British Columbia.
BROWN: And again, tonight an arrest, one man in custody. Details to come.
Coming from NEWSNIGHT on a Friday, the sound of music at the Great Wall of
China. We'll be right back.