DOSANJH AWAITS POLICE REQUEST FOR REWARD ON MISSING
Chad Skelton,The Vancouver Sun--Tuesday, April 6, 1999
The province will put up a reward to help solve the disappearance of 21
women on the Downtown Eastside since 1995 if Vancouver police ask for it, Attorney-General
Ujjal Dosanjh said Monday.
"If, after due deliberation, the request came from the
Vancouver police...we would absolutely favorably respond to that," he said in an
But Vancouver Mayor Philip Owen, the chairman of the police
board, said Monday he was reluctant to authorize a reward when police have not come up
with any evidence that the missing women have in fact been murdered---or that their
disappearances are linked.
Owen said he would bring up the issue of the reward at the next police
board meeting later this month.
Since 1995, 21 "street-involved" women, most
prostitutes and drug addicts, have gone missing from the east side. No bodies have
been discovered and only one has been found alive.
For more than a month, activists on the Downtown Eastside have
been calling on the province and police to put up a reward to catch what they believe is a
serial killer operating in the area.
Earlier this year, the province and police put up a $100,000
reward to catch those responsible for a rash of 30 home invasions against the
elderly---one of which left a woman dead.
Then, last week, another $100,000 reward was offered to solve a
series of armed robberies against people in their garages---none of which resulted in
In both cases, the police board donated $30,000 and the province
Last week, Maggie deVries, sister of Sarah deVries---one of the
21 missing women---sent a letter to both Dosanjh and Owen calling on them to offer a
reward in the case and to set up a task force to investigate the disappearances.
"It concerns me that there is this perception that we're not
doing enough on this issue," Dosanjh said, noting that both provincial rewards were a
response to specific police requests for assistance. He said he has asked officials
in his ministry to talk to Vancouver police and brief him further about the cases.
But Dosanjh cautioned that rewards are not a "panacea"
and are usually offered only when police hit a dead-end in their investigation and believe
a reward would draw out more information.
Police have little physical evidence in the cases and no reason
to believe the cases are connected or that the women have been murdered.
But while police say they are reluctant to offer a reward without
evidence a serial killer really is responsible for the missing women, activists and family
members argue a reward is the very thing that could convince someone to come forward with
evidence of such a crime.
Maggie deVries said police would have little to lose by
establishing a reward right now for information that leads to a murder conviction in the
If the women have indeed been murdered, as many suspect, the
reward could help catch a very dangerous criminal---or criminals---and would be money well
spent, she said.
On the other hand, she said, if fears of a killer are unfounded and the
women are not the victims of foul play, police won't have to pay a cent---and the
criticism that they are not doing enough will abate.
"It seems like a win-win," deVries said.
Dosanjh said the suspicion that some of the women may have simply
moved away from Vancouver has led him to also consider the possibility of
"mini-rewards" of about $1,000 each, which would be payable to the women
themselves if they notify family or police of their whereabouts. Such small sums
could help bring peace of mind to many families, Dosanjh said, and help police narrow
Missing prostitutes: 23; arrests: 0
Monday, April 5, 1999.
Toronto Globe and Mail--By JANE ARMSTRONG--British
Columbia Bureau, Vancouver
If 20 UBC students were to vanish, sister says, there
would be mayhem
In her dreams, Sandy
Gagnon's younger sister is no longer missing. Instead, Janet Henry is safe and sound
and the sisters are again huddled over a meal at their favourite Chinese restaurant in
suburban Maple Ridge.
In the morning, reality envelops Ms. Gagnon with depressing
clarity. The truth must be her sister is dead, likely murdered.
Throughout the day, her mind races through every gruesome
scenario. Was Janet kept alive? Did she suffer? At night, in her
dreams, she returns to her favourite version, the fictional one in which Janet is okay.
"It's so hard not knowing because your mind goes
everywhere," Ms Gagnon, 43, said.
"I don't think she's alive though. If she's alive,
she's suffering or dying."
Ms Gagnon hasn't seen or heard from her sister for two years when
Mrs. Henry, then 37, vanished from Vancouver's downtown east side, a notorious
10-block-square swath of the city that is home to thousands of drug addicts, and
prostitutes. When she disappeared, the one-time wife, mother and hairdresser was a
prostitute, an alcoholic and a drug addict.
Twenty-two other prostitutes have also been reported missing from
this area since 1995. Last year, 10 women vanished, almost one a month. All
were drug addicts or alcoholics or both.
Relatives bemoan lack of progress
They lived the transient
lifestyle of the hard-core underclass; turning to prostitution and theft to feed drug
habits, sleeping in cheap hotels or crashing in flophouses.
Some believe a serial killer is stalking Vancouver's skid
row. Last month, a man confessed to a psychiatrist of a plan to kidnap, torture and
kill prostitutes. Police are investigating the man's whereabouts over the past few
years in connection with the disappearances.
But as the months pass with still no clues, the missing women's
relatives are increasingly frustrated about the lack of progress. Some say police
haven't given the cases top priority because the women were prostitutes.
they say their loved ones are real people with names and
histories and relatives who care about them. Janet Henry has a 14-year-old daughter
in McBride, B.C., who travels to Vancouver to help her aunt put up posters of her missing
mother. Deborah Jardine, the mother of 28-year-old Angela Jardine who's been missing
since November, 1998, spends one day a week making telephone calls to police, social
workers and Angela's friends from her home in Sparwood, B.C. Sarah deVries, 29, has
two brothers, a sister and two young children. Ms. deVries vanished from a street
corner one morning last April. No one has heard from her since.
"If 20 UBC students went missing over the same period of
time, there would be mayhem," said Maggie deVries, Sarah's older sister.
"There would be searches and media interest and rewards."
She was particularly angered when Vancouver Mayor Philip Owen
recently offered a $100,000 reward to help solve a recent spate of garage break-ins.
Ms. deVries said she is frustrated by police reluctance to say
definitely that a crime has taken place. She thinks a reward would help jar the
memory of a witness. "it makes me so angry. (Mayor) Owen said,
"Think of the trauma for the people involved (in the garage break-ins).' Well,
think of the trauma of losing your sister and then not knowing what happened to her."
At first, police didn't know what to make of the disappearances,
nor whether to even deem the women as missing. Compared with most of the
population, a prostitutes life is unpredictable. It's not unknown for some of them
to not be seen or heard from for long periods of time.
And when a prostitute is considered missing, she can be hard to
find. Few leave a paper trail of friends in address books.
But as the tally of missing women grew, police and relatives
suspected foul play. The problem is there hasn't been a shred of evidence to warrant
a murder investigation. "There are no bodies, no tips, nothing," said
Detective Constable Lori Shenher, who was assigned to the cases last July.
The lack of physical evidence---no traces of ripped clothing, no
reports of a push-and-pull scene outside a car---suggests there were no struggles.
If the women were abducted, it's possible they knew and trusted the abductor.
Last year, one of the missing women, Ada Prevost, surfaced at a
state mental hospital in Phoenix, Ariz., under an assumed name. Her reappearance
bolstered the theory that the missing women were a shiftless, unpredictable group, prone
to unexplained disappearances and sudden reappearance's.
Police don't think that anymore, mainly because the ranks of
missing prostitutes keep swelling. Since January, two more have vanished.
Eight months into her investigation, Det. Constable Shenher has
yet to come upon a promising lead. Soon, she will have interviewed every available
witness, friend and relative. After that, she's unsure how to keep the investigation
She said the only tangible clues the women left were a trail of
worried family members and friends. Interviews with them persuaded her the missing
women didn't move or change identities.
In fact, the missing women's friends and relatives sensed
immediately that something was wrong.
In Janet Henry's case, she had just cashed a welfare cheque and
$100 was sitting in her bank account. "Janet never kept money in the
bank," Ms. Gagnon said.
And Angela Jardine failed to pick up some Christmas parcels her
mother had mailed. Ms. Jardine had the mental capacity of a 12-year-old, her mother
said. She became excited about every holiday, just like a child, and had telephoned
her mother several times to ask if the presents were on there way. The gift parcels
are still sitting in a social worker's office.
Det. Constable Shenher defended the Vancouver Police's handling
of the missing women, arguing the force has done its best with the little evidence
available. She is convinced someone knows something about the women. That
person is either the perpetrator or a friend of the perpetrator.
Meanwhile, Ms, Gagnon is beginning to accept her sister is gone
for good. Ms. Gagnon recalls that whenever a song by her favourite singer, Roch
Voisine, was playing on the radio, her sister would phone to tell her to switch on her
Now, whenever Ms. Gagnon hears Roch Voisine, she expects the
phone to ring and to hear her sister's voice. "I just burst into tears,
and cry and cry."