VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Police build a 'bridge' to victims' families
Relatives of women missing from the Downtown Eastside invited to discuss case
Lori Culbert, Kim Bolan, and Lindsay Kines
RCMP and Vancouver police officers investigating the disappearance of sex-trade workers from the Downtown Eastside are to meet with relatives of about 45 missing women for the first time later this month.
The meeting will go beyond relatives of the 31 women from across B.C., who are officially missing from Vancouver's poorest neighbourhood. RCMP Sergeant Wayne Clary, a member of the joint review team looking into the case, said the families of more than a dozen other missing women will also be invited to the Oct. 14 gathering. Most of the women who disappeared were drug-addicted prostitutes.
Police are determining who to invite to the meeting at a Richmond hotel, but Clary said they are "erring on the side of caution" by including the additional families as they continue their investigation.
"As we move along in this file it's getting bigger and bigger. And [the meeting] is a bridge that had to be crossed, as far as the victims' families go. So, what we've decided to do is maintain contact with them," he said.
"We wanted to just have a meeting to introduce ourselves -- this is who we are and this is what we are doing."
A series of Vancouver Sun stories published last month found the number of missing women linked to the case could be as high as 45. It found the original investigation by Vancouver police was hampered by a lack of resources, inexperience and in-fighting.
The RCMP joined forces with Vancouver police this year to review other files of missing and murdered women from across the province to see if more names should be added to the list.
Clary expects the list will be officially expanded shortly. He believes a dozen new names could be added.
Two Vancouver police officers and two Mounties have joined the review team -- pushing the number of people on the case to 16 -- specifically to determine if the new names have similarities with the original missing women.
The suspected victims have disappeared over the last 20 years. Their bodies have never been found, and police acknowledge some may have fallen victim to a serial predator.
Clary anticipates some relatives may have concerns about the history of the police investigation, but hopes to get beyond that and explain to them what is happening now with the case.
The review team received phone calls from some of the relatives of the missing women after The Sun's five-part series last month, Clary said.
Ernie Crey, whose sister Dawn Crey went missing last December, had been frustrated by the lack of information coming from police. Now he said he is looking forward to the gathering so he can meet some of the investigators and ask some questions.
"I think it should be helpful, I appreciate the opportunity."
Crey, an outspoken native leader, said the meeting should also benefit relatives of other victims who are more reluctant to phone police for updates.
"Maybe it will focus their attention and maybe they'll think between now and then: 'What would we ask if we can ask some questions.' "
Sandra Gagnon, whose sister Janet Gail Henry disappeared four years ago, was called earlier this week by a victims' services worker who said the meeting is also designed to tell families about support available to them. While she said she will take the help, she also wonders why it didn't come earlier.
"I wish they had done that in the beginning because we needed the help in the beginning," Gagnon said. "I felt like I was going to go nuts, but now I take things day by day."
Gagnon said her sister was her best friend and that she has nobody to talk to about her feelings because other family members are reluctant to discuss it.
"It is very hard to cope."
She said police should give as much information as they can to the families.
"They are taking it very seriously now," she said of police. "I always hope there will be answers some day."
Gagnon was not surprised to find out more women are missing. She spent days in the Downtown Eastside trying to track down leads about her sister's disappearance.
"I heard on the streets that there were some women who haven't been heard from in a while," she said.
© Copyright 2001 Vancouver Sun
Investigation turns up more missing women-Sept 21, 2001
Updated: August 21, 2016