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CNN NEWSNIGHT AARON BROWN

Aired February 22, 2002 - 22:00   ET

We have more. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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 looking.

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 here.

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 police did.

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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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.

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Email: wleng#missingpeople.net 

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

Updated: August 21, 2016