VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Happy Musketeer spiralled into
drug addiction, then
By Alison Auld
They were known as the Three Musketeers, three little girls with bright smiles who could often be seen marching down the streets of St. Catharines, Ont., or giggling at a playground in the southern Ontario city.
Jennie Furminger and her two pals were so rarely apart that someone tagged them with the moniker after they met in Grade 2 and it stuck.
``I just remember always being out on the playground with them, just playing around and talking and walking back to school together and everybody used to call us the Three Musketeers,'' says a childhood friend of Furmingers' who did not want to be named.
``We were always together.''
Furminger became close friends with her two chums after being adopted by a family in St. Catharines, it's thought, when she was a toddler.
Her friend says they became inseparable in the early days of elementary school and remained close up until high school.
``I remember going from Brownies to Girl Guides together _ when you fly up from one to the other,'' she says.
``It was the three of us and she was really excited about that.''
From birthday parties at each other's houses to shopping together at the mall and chasing boys when they got older, the friend says Furminger had an easy smile and a sense of humour that led to laughter at even the silliest jokes.
The young aboriginal girl also had a way with a pen and a paintbrush.
Sitting in the school cafeteria, her face buried behind thick black bangs, Furminger would whip out a piece of paper and start drawing her schoolmates.
Within minutes, the tall, slender teen could produce a picture that bore an incredible likeness to her subject.
``She was always doodling and drawing,'' says the woman, who still lives in St. Catharines.
``I used to get her to do my art projects because I really have no talent at all and she had awesome talent.''
Another friend says that bright, carefree nature seemed to fade a bit when Furminger hit high school and became more sullen and quiet.
Kelly Gilby, who befriended Furminger when they were in Grade 9, says the pretty teen spoke little to the other kids and rarely to her teachers.
``She was very sad at the beginning and I think that had to do with her adopted family and her lifestyle there,'' Gilby said from her home in St. Catharines.
``At school she was quiet. She really didn't hang with a lot of people ... Everything was just so serious and I didn't think she knew how to have fun.''
Gilby and Furminger were in a few classes together and eventually began talking about life outside school.
Gilby says she remembers wanting to help the soft-spoken loner who revealed few details about herself other than the fact that she was having trouble at home and felt hemmed in by her non-native parents.
Gilby, 33, asked her family if Furminger could move in for a while to give the teen a break from private stresses she believed caused her to grow up a little faster than her adolescent friends.
``She was not sure where she belonged. I think she was very confused on everything _ her childhood, her adoption and why she was put up for adoption,'' says Gilby, a mother of one.
``When she moved in with us, she was able to smile, she was more relaxed. I think she finally understand what it meant to have fun.''
The two became fast friends and carried on like typical teenage girls.
``I remember going out shopping, chasing guys, having fun and giggling _ just the usual 15-year-old stuff,'' she says.
``In school, she applied herself. She was kind of serious about high school. I think she really wanted to better herself and wanted to give herself something to look forward to in the future.''
One official at the high school says Furminger was remembered by only a couple of teachers for her quiet demeanour and low profile.
Gilby says Furminger kept to herself and was slightly isolated because her native roots and dark complexion set her apart from her peers.
The pair ended their friendship abruptly after having a fight in class and Gilby says she quickly lost track of her, only hearing about her fate in the news.
She was stunned that her shy, reserved friend ended up on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, but says she recognized her police picture instantly because she looked ``exactly the same'' as she did in high school.
It's thought Furminger ran away from home before finishing Grade 10, making periodic stops in St. Catharines and then disappearing for good, leaving behind her two brothers, parents and pet rabbit.
``I didn't know she was unhappy _ she didn't show it,'' says her childhood friend.
``If you came to school and you were sick or you were upset, she was always trying to get you over it, make you smile or brighten your day up.''
Maggy Gisle, a recovering drug addict who lived on the Downtown Eastside for 16 years, says she would run into Furminger who was working as a prostitute to support a cocaine addiction.
Like many, she would appear at a favourite corner and then drift away.
``She would be down there for a while and then, gone,'' says Gisle.
Noel Paris, one of Furminger's boyfriends in British Columbia, said Furminger stood out because she was laid-back and playful.
She moved in with him in 1999, almost a decade after police first started seeing her on the Downtown Eastside.
In their rundown hotel room, the 28-year-old with the big cat tattoo found food, clothes, a safe place to crash and someone to listen to her fondly recount stories about fishing with her father in Ontario or her young son.
``She was genteel,'' he said in an interview with The Vancouver Courier, months after she disappeared.
``She was very feminine and playful and she was very, very mellow. Jennie's idea of a good time was to sit cross-legged on the couch and read a book.''
© 2006 The Canadian Press
Updated: August 21, 2016