Women had been disappearing for years from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside
before the Vancouver Police Department really started to look for a killer.
It didn't take a detective to figure it out, but the police and the elite of
the city had another threat to combat.
Sure, woman after woman was listed as missing by family and friends, but
because of their addresses, their occupations and their addictions, the
wealthy didn't care.
Missing women? What missing women?
Yet when a string of garages were robbed the police sprung into action; a
$100,000 reward was offered for information leading to the arrest of the
criminal who had been stealing mountain bikes and lawn mowers from the
wealthiest residents in Shaughnessy.
It was the late 1990s, long before the jury in the Robert Willie Pickton
would deliberate on his guilt or innocence in the murder of six of those
missing women who, in the words of then-mayor Phillip Owen, would probably
turn up in Calgary or Seattle or Portland.
I was in journalism school over the winter of 1998-1999, learning the ins
and outs of covering the news, talking to politicians and dealing with media
spokespeople. We had a field trip one day down to Vancouver Police
headquarters to the media room where our class met with the then-ubiquitous
Const. Anne Drennan.
Drennan was a familiar face in Vancouver in those days as she was on the
news almost daily telling TV viewers about the crime du jour. I remember
distinctly on the walls of the media room photograph after photograph of
women families and friends had reported missing. Most of them looked rough
after years of drug use, prostitution and hard living on the streets of the
Downtown Eastside. Yet they were people, and they were missing.
There also was a poster advertising a $100,000 reward for the Shaughnessy
garage robbers. One of those in my class, and I can't remember who, asked
Const. Drennan why there would be a reward for the garage thieves and not
for whoever was responsible for the missing women.
She gave a less than satisfactory response and more hardened reporters
would have pounced I am sure, but still, those of us rookies in that room
were confused by the juxtaposition. I personally was angered at the opulence
of a reward provided by taxpayers to stop someone robbing rich people, while
dozens of women were gone with little police effort being invested to find
It is almost a cliché to say it now, but it is so true that if even two
or three daughters of Shaughnessy had gone missing an integrated task force
would have been created and the search for the killer would have been
But not for the "junkie scum" as at least one of those missing women knew
they were viewed as by the likes of Owen and Drennan.
It didn't take a genius to see this might be the work of a serial killer,
and while applying hindsight is arguably unfair to the police in this case,
it did seem obvious. By the end of 1999 there were 60 women missing, almost
all since the mid-1990s. No similar situations were happening in Calgary,
Toronto or Montreal, yet Mayor Phillip Owen insisted on assuming these women
just moved or were on vacation.
Keep focused on the missing lawn mowers.
But what I will never forget about that visit to Vancouver Police
headquarters was when one of our group pursued the question, not with the
force and authority of a Kim Bolan or a Terry Milewski, but as a humble
J-school student, just wondering, why in the world do the police not see
what is happening and put out a reward at least equal to the garage robbers?
Well, the steely-faced Const. Anne Drennan angrily barked back at us,
"This is not a serial killer!"
I wonder if they ever did catch that garage robber. I hope Shaughnessy is