VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Murder victim accepted hard life,
rejected rescue, says
By Steve Mertyl
A few days before what would have been Cynthia Feliks's 48th birthday, Marilyn Kraft got a call from police telling her that her stepdaughter's DNA had been found on a suburban pig farm.
The circumstances were shocking but the news wasn't.
``It was no surprise they found her dead because for years I had been expecting that phone call,'' says Kraft, who now lives in Calgary. ``When it comes, it is a shock of course. But the lifestyle she was leading ...''
Just over five years earlier, in November 1997, police said Feliks, 43, went missing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
She had disappeared before but always turned up after a drug binge, in jail, in hospital or at her stepmother's doorstep in suburban Surrey looking for respite.
This time was different.
The inquiries her family had become used to making turned up nothing. Even people in Feliks's Darwinian world of drugs and prostitution were worried.
``We finally started getting calls from some of her friends that were her drug buddies,'' says Kraft. ``They hadn't seen her and they were wondering what had happened to her.''
As they had with many of the women who vanished from the Downtown Eastside, police took the reported disappearance of another street prostitute in stride.
She'll show up, they said.
They told her younger sister, Audrey, they'd seen her on Kingsway, the busy arterial street where hookers cater to the commuter trade.
``Of course they hadn't because she was dead by then,'' says Kraft, her voice a mixture of anguish and weariness.
Cindy Feliks's grim existence somehow couldn't quench her inner happiness, her sister maintains. She shared it with others no matter how troubled her life was.
Surveying the wreckage of her sister's life, Audrey Feliks wants people to remember that.
``Really the point of the whole situation, I believe, is not who was who and who did what and all this bull,'' she says. ``It's basically that through it all Cindy was a good person and she was like that all the time.''
Born in Detroit in 1954, Cindy Feliks was the second of four children. Her parents split up and the kids stayed with their father, Donald Feliks.
Kraft met him while living in Detroit. They married, moving to Vancouver in 1960.
But Feliks, a watchmaker and jewelry repairman, took off in about 1968, returning to the United States and leaving his children with their stepmother.
``I had to hold down two jobs,'' says Kraft, a clerical worker retired from the federal public service.
``I worked during the day and I had another job on the weekend working in a nightclub as a waitress.
``It was touch and go there. I had no money from her dad. It was all me, raising four stepchildren. But they had as much a normal childhood as they could have.''
Just what triggered Cindy Feliks's spiral depends on who you talk to.
Kraft says her ex-husband secretly began contacting Feliks from Florida, calling the 16-year-old after school while her stepmother was at work.
``I guess he sent her the money to fly down there,'' says Kraft, a tremor returning to her voice.
``She was down in Florida for a bit and that's how he introduced her to drugs.
``That was the start of her downfall.''
A couple of weeks later, Feliks called home in tears. Kraft sent her money to fly back to Vancouver.
Feliks told her that her father, now dead, had become abusive and gotten her to drink and smoke marijuana.
``I found out that he wanted her to sleep with him because that's how fathers get to know their daughters,'' says Kraft.
Kraft says Feliks began running away, skipping school and getting into trouble.
But Audrey Feliks, Cindy's sister, claims Cindy's life may have started to fall apart when Kraft's second husband, now dead, began making advances.
``He abused every little girl and any woman he could,'' says Audrey, adding her stepdad used to come to her room at night before she too ran away at age 13.
Marilyn Kraft admits both she and Blaine Kraft were alcoholics but denies any knowledge her husband molested the children.
``When he got drunk he would get overly attentive, affectionate,'' she says.
``As far as I know, they may have mistaken this ... But he never touched them as far as I know, not when I was around. It could have happened when I wasn't there.''
Cindy Feliks finally left home at 19 and married, which Kraft hoped signalled she was settling down.
But Feliks's husband, now dead, was into drugs.
Their daughter, Theresa, suffered consequences from her mother's drug use.
A portrait taken around 1984 shows an obviously proud Feliks with the smiling blond toddler. But Theresa spent much of her childhood bouncing between relatives and foster care.
Now in her twenties, Theresa has had her own problems. In 2003, she was sentenced to 45 days in jail on a theft conviction.
When Feliks's marriage broke up, she went back to the street.
``The only time I saw her was when she wanted a place to stay for a couple of days to get `healthy' again,'' says Kraft.
``She'd get fed and clothed and slept. She wouldn't do drugs for a couple of days and after that she was off again.''
Despite her teen experiences, Cindy Feliks tried to reconnect with her father after she married.
She and her husband visited him, but the trip had a deja vu quality, Kraft had to send money for a ticket home after Donald Feliks beat up Cindy's husband.
``I said `Why did you go down there again?' `Well, he is my dad.' I said `No, he isn't. All he did was donate sperm. He's not your father.'''
Audrey believes Feliks was clinging to any sign her father might care for her.
``Obviously there must have been some kind of warmth for her to even go,'' she says.
Feliks lived sometimes in a motel on Kingsway, sometimes on the Downtown Eastside, making infrequent, usually troubled contact with her family.
Kraft visited her in the women's section of the old Oakalla penitentiary.
``Finally I said no, that was it. I was tired of being searched and going to a jail to visit my kid.''
So when Kraft didn't hear from Feliks for a stretch in 1997 it was almost a relief.
But when the silence persisted, Kraft reported her missing, though Feliks's name was not added to the official missing women list until 2001.
Audrey Feliks believes her sister disappeared the night she and Audrey's common-law husband, Duff Robertson, tried to lure her off the street for a while with the promise of drugs.
It had worked before, though one time Cindy ended up in hospital suffering from seizures.
This time, Cindy refused when Audrey and Duff tried to take her away from New Westminster's hooker stroll.
``I couldn't kidnap her,'' says Audrey. ``She was my big sister, right? That happened to be the last time I saw her.''
Audrey followed Cindy's path, including a 1996 prostitution conviction. Drugs and hard living have aged her beyond her 47 years and she lives on a disability pension.
But she feels lucky to have escaped her sister's fate.
She has tried to bury her anger and remember the laughter and good times with Cindy and the family.
© 2006 The Canadian Press
Updated: August 21, 2016