VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Police offer reward on missing prostitutes
Investigators hope America's Most Wanted segment will raise profile of case
Toronto Star Western Canada Bureau
VANCOUVER - Police are hoping the high-profile combination of a $100,000 reward and American network television will help solve the case of 31 prostitutes missing from the city's toughest neighbourhood.
A poster of the vanished women was unveiled yesterday at a news conference featuring police, politicians and the personality behind the crime-busting show America's Most Wanted, John Walsh.
``We all feel in our guts that there may be something very wrong here,'' said Walsh, whose show will air a segment on the missing women on Fox on Saturday.
``It's very unusual for 31 people, no matter what they do, no matter what trade they're in, to disappear like that.''
The women, all prostitutes addicted to drugs or alcohol, have vanished from Vancouver's downtown east side, most in the past few years.
Police acknowledge there could be a serial killer at work but have no bodies, no crime scene and no evidence of foul play.
The $100,000 reward will be for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone responsible for confining, kidnapping or murdering any of the women.
``It's important that we recognize that despite the fact that these women may have worked in the sex trade they have the right to their dignity, their safety and their security, as much as anyone else in British Columbia or Canada has,'' said B.C. Attorney-General Ujjal Dosanjh.
The province is putting up $70,000 of the reward and the Vancouver police board is contributing the remaining $30,000.
``This is something that is absolutely vital to the families of these missing people,'' said Vancouver Mayor Philip Owen.
The family of one of the missing women welcomes the reward and the television exposure but said it's been too long in coming.
``There's no doubt we all hope that something positive comes from this but we wouldn't be this far ahead if the families hadn't been kicking and screaming and making phone calls to the media,'' said Robert McClelland, whose stepdaughter, Helen Hallmark, was last seen in June, 1997.
McClelland and other advocates for downtown east-side prostitutes say police and politicians have been too slow in responding to the missing women.
If they were from another group in society and not sex-trade workers, more would have been done, their supporters add.
``All the politics is very frustrating,'' McClelland said in an interview. ``We're dealing with people's lives here.''
The official number of missing women has been increased by four in the past month.
A total of 22 prostitutes have vanished since 1995, with the other nine disappearances dating back to 1978.
The women originally appeared to be nothing more than missing persons, said Vancouver police spokesperson Constable Anne Drennan.
It wasn't until about two years ago that their numbers increased dramatically, she added.
``Once we became aware, as did the community, that there was clearly something wrong here, something that we should be very concerned about, we started to kick in additional resources,'' Drennan said.
``We would like nothing more than to see these cases resolved.''
The case is now ``extremely active'' and in the past year the number of officers assigned to it has increased from one missing-person specialist to eight full-time investigators and another part-time, Drennan said.
Walsh said his program, which has a weekly audience of 14 million, has led to the capture of 575 fugitives in 30 different countries, including 13 individuals on the 10 Most Wanted list.
Updated: August 21, 2016