VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Dad remembers Marnie's generosity
before he lost her
By Alison Auld
Rick Frey never knew what his daughter Marnie would be wearing when she'd stroll through the front door of the family home after a long day at school.
Would her sneakers be gone? Her coat? Or maybe, literally, the shirt off her back. It wasn't unusual, he says with a laugh, for the spirited youngster to show up missing a key piece of clothing.
``You'd ask her, `Where's your jacket?' and she'd say, `Oh, my friend, she didn't have one, so I gave her mine,''' the father says, chuckling at his house in Sayward, B.C., a small community on the northeastern coast of Vancouver Island.
``That's the way she was, just help everybody out and do whatever.''
It was often shoes that Marnie Frey would relinquish to a friend in need, handing off a nice new pair for scraggly hand-me-downs, and leaving her parents bemused if not a little put out at having to resupply her dwindling wardrobe.
``She'd have probably the better pair, but somebody liked it, so it was like, `Oh yeah, you can have them, I'll take your old scruffy pair. It'll be fine,''' he says. ``But how can you get mad at a person who's trying to help somebody else who's maybe not as fortunate as her?''
It was a streak that ran through Marnie Frey's life as a young girl at Christian school and then at the local high school in Campbell River, B.C., a picturesque coastal fishing town where she was born and raised.
When she had a baby in 1992 at age 18, the young mother often passed on little Brittney's clothing, formula, diapers and food to friends whom she thought needed them more, even if she was using them herself.
``She'd give the shirt off her back to anybody,'' says Lynn Frey, 53.
Rick Frey, 57, says his only daughter's generous spirit and sense of fairness showed itself best with an early love of animals that took him on some headscratching adventures.
He remembers her becoming distraught at the death of one of the family's 30-odd chickens that were being raised in a coop behind the house. The 10-year-old wouldn't settle for having the lifeless fowl laid to rest in the yard.
Instead, the girl with nut-brown hair, chocolate eyes and a sweet, impish grin insisted her father find out exactly what happened to the critter who used to faithfully trail behind her.
``So I took it to the vet just to pacify her and the autopsy comes back and it says the chicken ate a nail, it ate some screws, and it had 10 or 15 cents in its gullet and that's what plugged it up and it couldn't eat and that's why it died,'' he says through laughter after returning home from a shift on his fishing boat.
``It cost me, like, 30 bucks to do this autopsy on a chicken, but everyone was happy in the end, I guess.''
Her affection for animals kept the lanky youngster outside much of the time, where she would cruise through the neighbourhood, knocking on doors and looking for kids to play with even if it was pouring with rain or well below freezing.
She relished showing her friends the family's collection of rabbits and chickens, according to one schoolmate who spent many days hanging out with the older girl.
``Marnie and I used to play with her bunnies, sit and eat cat food with my cat Belle and she used to sneak over salted apples as a special treat,'' the woman, who would only give her name as Jessica, said in an online remembrance.
If she wasn't in the chicken house or with her cat Tabi, Lynn Frey knew where to find her.
Marnie would be huddled inside one of her forts, usually the one closest to the chicken shed, so she could keep an eye on her flock.
``She'd be reading or having quiet time (and say), `I just can't handle life right now, Mom. I'm just going to read for while,''' says her stepmom, who has been raising Marnie's daughter Brittney since she was a baby.
``But she played like a boy. She loved outside. She didn't care if it rained, snowed, or was hailing. She didn't care. She'd be the only kid in the neighbourhood.''
Ruth McMonagle remembers seeing Marnie Frey at her prim Christian grade school, her keen enthusiasm for life setting her apart from the other kids and inspiring interests in everything from motorbikes and books to horses and hunting with her dad.
``She had a really sparkly countenance and was an extremely attractive child,'' says McMonagle, who got to know her when she helped out at the school.
``She was a very joyous little girl ... She was one of the bright lights.''
But friends and family say Marnie was exposed to drugs through an Asian gang in Campbell River and drifted away from home to the streets of Vancouver.
She kept in regular contact with her family _ sometimes calling eight times a day to see how Brittney and her parents were doing.
Her stepmom says Marnie never forgot a birthday and would always call from the Downtown Eastside, where she nicknamed herself KitKat after Lynn Frey's favourite candy bar.
Lynn says she'll never forget her last conversation with her stepdaughter.
On the line, Marnie's bubbly voice chimed through from a payphone on the Downtown Eastside, where she fed a drug addiction through the sex trade.
``She said, `Hey Mom, do you know what day it is today?' I said, `Yeah, it's your birthday, hon, how are you feeling?' And she said, `Oh, I'm feeling great. Can you send me some money?' That was her favourite word. And I said, `You know Marnie, I've got a whole box of stuff for you _ I've got clothes, I've got candies, I've got cookies, I've got homemade bread,'' says Lynn Frey, her voice becoming thin.
``I said, `Promise me you'll call when you get this parcel' ... `OK Mom, I'll call you back.' `OK, I love you.' `I love you, too.' That was our last words. And then she never called back.''
© 2006 The Canadian Press
Updated: August 21, 2016