Discovery of new DNA at one of the Pickton properties in
Coquitlam this week has launched Val Hughes on the emotional roller coaster,
One part of this Maple Ridge woman desperately wants to know if any of the new
DNA belongs to her sister Kerry Koski, who went missing in January 1998.
Another part of Hughes hopes the DNA doesn’t match Kerry’s – and that her sister
will one day soon be returned home – healthy, happy and alive.
Jensen and Val Hughes work on their quilting.
Kerry is one of 54 women who went missing from downtown Vancouver’s eastside
between June 1983 and November 2001.
The Pickton "pig farm" on Dominion Avenue in Port Coquitlam become the centre of
a joint RCMP-Vancouver Police investigation into the disappearance of some or
all of those women in February.
Farm co-owner Robert (Willy) Pickton has since been charged with first-degree
murders in connection with the deaths of seven of Vancouver’s missing women.
Police say the DNA samples found at another Pickton property on Burns Road this
week match those of four more missing Vancouver women, but no other charges have
yet been approved.
It’s at the entrance to the "pig farm" where Val Hughes, her mother Edith and
many other family and friends of the missing women have spent their days – set
up in what is affectionately dubbed the "healing tent."
Hughes last saw her sister Kerry Koski at Christmas 1997.
The family had Christmas dinner together in Coquitlam and told Kerry they’d do
anything to help her deal with her addiction and get her life back on track.
Anything, that was, except give her money to buy drugs.
Hughes, the oldest sister, remembers holding and hugging Kerry tight, telling
her they’d work it out together: "I thought we could do the work later," Hughes
Kerry was a single mother of three, who had come out of an abusive relationship
with one man, and ended up living with a manic depressive who hung himself.
Kerry’s pain was too strong for her to handle and she began using drugs, Hughes
said. It wasn’t long before Kerry was addicted to heroin and moved from
Coquitlam to a hotel in the downtown eastside.
Just after Christmas, Hughes set a date to meet her sister. They were going to
go for a walk around the Stanley Park seawall and enjoy some Chinese food –
A week or so later, unable to reach her sister by phone, Hughes went down to the
Hastings Street hotel where she was staying.
Kerry, 38, had vanished.
Hughes checked the hospitals. She even phoned the police to see if Kerry had
been arrested. (She is not sure to this day if Kerry had been prostituting to
earn extra money for drugs.)
Hughes suggested police check with the provincial government to see if Kerry had
picked up or cashed her welfare cheque – Hughes knew the money would be too
important to pass up for her drug addicted sister. Something had to be wrong,
Hughes said. There was even untouched money in Kerry’s bank account.
Her family was eventually able to determine, on their own, that Kerry was last
seen Jan. 7, 1998 at her Hastings Street hotel. What stumped them, however, was
how difficult it was to get police to take her disappearance seriously. Police
told Hughes not to worry because Kerry was probably off partying.
Hughes said she couldn’t believe their reaction. She knew instinctively that
something was amiss with her little sister’s uncharacteristic disappearance. But
there was no missing person’s department at the Vancouver police department, and
receptionists there were repeatedly rude to her (and later Hughes learned, to
all the other families that called to report their missing loved ones).
"She (one of the receptionists) told me once, ‘They’re just junkies and hookers,
don’t waste our time.’" Hughes said she was mortified and angry.
That was the beginning of a four-year fight to have the police acknowledge that
her sister was missing, and to get them to even consider foul play as a possible
factor in her disappearance.
Within a year of Kerry’s disappearance, however, a reporter introduced Hughes to
another woman – Maggie. Maggie’s sister Sarah deVries disappeared in April 1998.
Comparing notes, these two women soon discovered their search stories were not
only similar, but almost identical. Their sisters were addicts living on the
Vancouver’s eastside. Their families had both reported their disappearances to
police and couldn’t get the authorities to listen.
It wasn’t until 1999, when Maggie arranged a memorial at Crabtree Park in
Vancouver for her sister – and included Hughes – that they began to see the
bigger picture of how many women were actually missing.
Word got out about the tribute, and soon the public and other families were
invited to participate. At the end of that day, the tally of missing women from
the Vancouver eastside was up to 28. But police were still not taking the matter
seriously, Hughes said.
Fortunately, with the cohesiveness of the families that began to gel that day,
and with the assistance of Const. Freda Ens (a native support worker for
Vancouver Police), the families were finally able to pressure police to take the
large number of missing women complaints seriously and investigate possible
Police finally took a written statement from Hughes and her family in 2001,
listing Kerry as missing almost four years after her disappearance.
"I wondered if that was ever going to happen," Hughes said.
For the past four years, Hughes spent much of her time fighting with police.
Now, she’s turning her energy to other related projects. She was a key player in
the formation of the healing tent, and is working closely with the other
families to develop the Missing Women’s Trust Fund.
In future stories, the News will reveal how a local quilting club became
involved, how Hughes and other family members are working to develop a detox
centre for women, and how work is under way province-wide to develop a
children’s drug education program featuring members of the families speaking at