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Memories of Sarah cut through despair

Missing B.C. woman lives in hearts of Guelph kin

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

By THANE BURNETT

Pat deVries

GUELPH -- Sarah deVries hated the taste of tomatoes. She loved to draw and, at one time, do cartwheels.

Even as police task force members lift up rocks and sift through mud at a Coquitlam, B.C., pig farm -- looking for clues to lead them to the remains of Sarah and 49 other women long missing from the toughest side of Vancouver -- investigators know these are more than faceless prostitutes and drug users, living and likely dying in a dark, far-away corner.

They are also daughters. And once were children, who, in Sarah's case, loved eggs and cheese but hated the taste of tomatoes.

From 50, here is one of their stories -- told through snapshots and poems in a child's memory book.

Sarah, whose father was a travelling evangelist in Mexico and whose mother was never meant to be a mother, was adopted by Pat deVries and her husband on Feb. 10, 1971. We are now three days past the 31st anniversary of that date.

The letter from the Superintendent of Child Welfare, confirming the adoption, pointed out: "(Sarah) has become, for all purposes, your child, and you have become her parents, as if she had been born to you."

Sarah was not yet a year old. A lock of her baby hair is enclosed in a keepsake book, here in Guelph, where Pat -- now divorced -- lives with Sarah's two children, Jeanie, 11, and five-year-old Ben. The snip of hair is dark and curly. Some of it is missing from the page.

"You never think, when you're putting your daughter's hair in a (scrapbook), that you'll one day have to send it off to the police, to be used for DNA testing," Pat says, touching the strands.

If there was one item that Sarah truly loved, it was likely this binder -- filled with glimmers of childhood.

Whenever she would come home for a reprieve from the prostitution and the drugs, she would curl up on the couch and devour it from cover to cover.

So much so, that she wore the first edition out.

'IT WOULDN'T SURVIVE'

"Whenever she'd leave, she'd never take the book with her," explains her aunt, well-known children's author Jean Little, who lives with Pat, Jeanie and Ben, two friendly dogs and two chatty birds. "It was as if she knew it wouldn't survive if she took it."

Inside is a drawing by Sarah, when she was seven years old, of herself holding a green balloon with "I Love you Mom and Dad" pencilled across the top.

There are pictures of Sarah in a stroller outside Norman's grocery store. A few pages over is her 1976 Water Safety Junior certificate, with a note from the coach pointing out she needs more practice on her strokes. And then pictures of her lining up for a sports day at her Vancouver-area school, and another of her skating in a park near her home.

She loved to do cartwheels and draw. She would lay still for hours, as her mom read her The Hobbit.

"Not the image of a street prostitute," Pat says.

But there were times the memory book leaves out. Like the taunts in the schoolyard over her dark skin -- the mix of native, black and white bloodlines. They conspired to make Sarah dramatically beautiful, but children can often pounce on unusual shades.

She was embarrassed one day when her Grade 2 classmates discussed their roots. She thought she was the only adopted child around.

By age 12 or 13, she met a friend who would sneak downtown with her. It was there she was introduced to drugs, including, later, cocaine and heroin.

Years ago, Sarah told a CBC reporter the hunger for a fix was like every sickness descending on you at once. Pat, with Jeanie on her knee, watched stunned in front of a TV as Sarah shot up for the benefit of the camera.

Sarah once helped trash a convenience store. She did much worse. And much better. She helped convince scores of young girls to get off the streets.

Her children know she's likely dead. But when Pat told Jeanie about the pig farm search, the child said, perhaps, they would find a hostage. Perhaps, her mom.

CHILD HOLDS HOPE

It was the first time Pat realized the child still holds a hope she will see her mother again -- the woman she knows through happy pictures, hung at a child's eye-level near the front door. And from this memory book.

Tucked inside it is a poem Sarah wrote as a little girl, Jeanie's age, concluding with the lines: "Soar. Soar. And then glide down again. And fall asleep."

Pat believes Sarah died a horrible death. She hopes her remains can be found to be buried here in Guelph.

But she doesn't want Jeanie and Ben to think of their mother's end when they think of her life.

"They will know she hated tomatoes," Jean says. "They'll remember that first."

Sarah deVries remembered for amazing qualities-Feb 15, 2002

She's focusing on the living-Dec 6, 2001

Missing women's friend keeps families informed via website-Feb 11, 2002 

 

Email: wleng#missingpeople.net 

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

Updated: August 21, 2016