VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
'If police had taken her death seriously from the beginning, I'd know what happened to her'
BY SUZANNE FOURNIER, THE PROVINCE October 26, 2011
The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry heard this morning from the young daughter of an aboriginal woman whose 2001 murder devastated her family, but appears to have drawn little police interest.
Angela Williams, at the age of 30 with three young girls who adored her, disappeared just before Christmas in 2001.
Her photo is not on any missing women’s poster and her death did not appear to touch off any investigation by Vancouver police, not even after a woman’s body matching Angela’s description — a petite aboriginal woman with a distinctive rose tattoo on her back, was found beside a remote road in Surrey.
“It’s 10 years later and I don’t know how my mother died,” said Ashley Smith, 21, a small, attractive woman and a mother herself, of a two-year-old toddler.
Looking straight at Inquiry Commissioner Wally Oppal, her voice breaking, Smith said “If police had taken her death seriously from the beginning, I’d know what happened to her.”
Oppal responded, “I don’t know if we’ll ever be in a position to find out what happened to your mother. We have to sit back and listen. Listening to relatives coming to this inquiry shows us that women on the Downtown Eastside were real human beings like anyone else.
“They were mothers, they were daughters, they were aunts, they had people who loved them,” said Oppal.
“I’m terribly sorry about what happened to your mother, it’s something you’ll have to live with for the rest of your life, not knowing what happened.”
Outside the courtroom, Ashley said that only two weeks ago, more than a decade after her mother’s death, she was shown an RCMP report that said her mother had bruising on her throat consistent with manual strangulation.
“All I was ever told was that her heart stopped before she stopped breathing, but I was only 12 years old, I didn’t know what happened,” said Ashley.
“Even now I wake up in the night and I see her lying beside me in a white dress.”
“The police seemed to have tunnel vision, they only wanted to know if she was native, a prostitute and a drug-user — that was entered in block letters on the Missing Person form,” said Margaret Green, who became a guardian of the two girls.
“Every page of the police report says drug addict, prostitute, native: I wonder if that’s what the police see in every report and if that itself shaped how they think of the missing women and why they were so poorly investigated for so long?” said Green, who worked in the Downtown Eastside.
Although she is non-native, Green said she became a guardian of the two youngest girls after Williams’s death.
Eventually, Surrey RCMP officers reached out and took Green and Williams’s daughters to the sight where Williams’s body was found, along Coldbrook Road.
“The girls took photos and laid flowers there,” said Green, saying the daughters had a need for information and a sense of closure.
The week between Christmas and New Year’s in 2001 was agonizing for the family, which papered the Downtown Eastside with posters of Williams.
Finally, a Surrey RCMP officer told the VPD that a body had been found dumped at the roadside— a young aboriginal woman who matched Williams’s description.
Although the family was told Williams’s death was a “presumed overdose”, a later autopsy showed she had little drugs in her system.
A sympathetic B.C. coroner finally told Green that Williams was murdered by “manual strangulation.”
The grief and pain felt by Williams’s daughters, siblings and extended family reverberated through the family, said Green.
VPD lawyer Sean Hern made a point of apologizing for the loss of Williams to Green and Williams’s two daughters sitting in the courtroom.
One of Williams’s nieces, Kayla Williams Lalonde, is believed to be one of the victims of a convicted sex offender.
Lalonde’s body was found on the same night as that of her friend Martha Hernandez, dumped in different parts of the Lower Mainland.
On the stand for the rest of Wednesday will be Sto:lo leader Ernie Crey and his younger sister Lorraine Crey whose sister, Dawn, disappeared at the end of 2000.
She would have been 53 on Wednesday.
Dawn’s DNA was confirmed in 2004 to have been found at the Port Coquitlam farm of Robert William Pickton, who was convicted in the death of six women.
The inquiry is also investigating the case involving charges against Pickton in 1997, linked to a violent altercation at his farm with a Downtown Eastside prostitute.
Charges in the case were stayed, and Pickton’s killing spree continued, picking up women under the noses of the VPD and killing them at his farm, scattering evidence throughout the property, very close to the Coquitlam RCMP detachment.
Outside court, Crey said that he believes that “if police had only investigated the 1997 assault of this woman and taken a serious look at Mr. Pickton, the lives of at least 18 women, including our sister, would not have been lost.”
Crey told the inquiry he feels deep grief and anger about his sister’s death, and the societal forces that combined to keep Dawn, a woman afflicted by severe mental illness, who grew up in foster care, confined by poverty and later addictions to the Downtown Eastside.
Crey said that after all of Pickton’s legal appeals were exhausted, in July 2010, the RCMP and Victims Services workers went to his Chilliwack home to give him more information about Dawn’s death, information withheld throughout Pickton’s lengthy preliminary hearing and inquiry.
Police told Crey that Dawn’s DNA was found on an undergarment in Pickton’s trailer. The police were clear that they felt Dawn was murdered by Pickton.
Still, neither Pickton nor any other person has ever been charged in connection with Dawn’s death.
Crey said that he still does not know if his sister’s death still is, or ever will be, the subject of an ongoing and thorough investigation, one that might include other possible suspects, including a woman who Dawn’s acquaintances say recruited victims for Pickton on the Downtown Eastside.
The inquiry is hearing this week from the families of 18 murdered women, who are represented at the inquiry by lawyers Cameron Ward and Neil Chantler.
RCMP lawyer Jan Brongers has indicated he will not be cross-examining any of the family members, but lawyers for the VPD, the Vancouver Police Union and even an individual officer, VPD Const. Lorin Shenher, have cross-examined some of the family members who have testified to date.
Oppal is supposed to end in his final report to the B.C. government by the end of 2011.
© Copyright (c) The Province
Updated: August 21, 2016