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Province okays $100,000 Reward 

$100,000 reward okayed in bid to find 21 missing women

The Vancouver Sun
LORI CULBERT

Thursday, April 29, 1999. 

The families of 21 women missing from the Downtown Eastside say a $100,000 reward approved Wednesday is the first step toward finding their relatives and determining if anyone was responsible for their disappearances.

Maggie deVries, whose sister Sarah deVries is missing, also applauded senior Vancouver Police officers for acknowledging for the first time that some of the missing women could be victims of foul play.

The reward was announced after the monthly police board meeting.

The city will put up $30,000, and ask the province for $70,000--which Attorney-General Ujjal Dosanjh has already promised--to aid in the investigation.

Since 1995, 22 "street-involved" women--mostly prostitutes and drug addicts--have gone missing from the Downtown Eastside. No bodies have been discovered and only one woman has been found alive, leaving 21 still missing.

Friends and relatives of the missing women, who believe a serial killer may be responsible for the disappearances, have put increasing pressure on police and city hall to offer a reward.

Previously, police had been reluctant to do so, because rewards are generally used to investigate known criminal acts when other leads have dried up. So far, no evidence has surfaced that would indicate the missing women were victims of foul play.

Deputy police chief Brian McGuiness said he has some concern that without a crime scene or a body as a reference point, officers won't know if tips are valid or fictitious--and therefore could spend time chasing false leads.

But McGuinness acknowledged there have been no tips at all on the cases so far, despite heavy media coverage.

McGuiness also said some women, such as one tracked down recently, don't want to be found because they're running from something in their pasts.

Detective Lori Shenher--one of three officers assigned full-time to the missing person unit--has been previously quoted as saying she believes at least some of the 21 women have met with foul play.

Devries, who took to Wednesday's meeting a petition signed by 484 people, believes the reward may help because someone, other than the suspect and victim, usually knows of a crime, and the money may give that person an incentive to come forward.

Relatives have accused police of not valuing the women's lives because they dragged their feet on this reward, but offered similar ones for garage robberies and home invasions.

But McGuinness said that isn't so. "These cases are not being investigated any less strenuously because they are women or ... because they are poor," he said. "It doesn't mean we value them less or consider them throwaways."

McGuinness listed a steam of work the police have done to locate these women, including monitoring bank accounts, e-mailing pictures to psychiatric hospitals, welfare offices, border crossings, and police departments across the country, checking men who are known to prey on women, and increasing the size of the missing-persons unit to three officers.

The families of the missing women also asked police Wednesday to create a task force to work on the disappearances, but the board turned that down, saying there are 20 members of the homicide unit available to help the missing-persons unit if major leads start to develop.

Jamie Lee Hamilton, director of Grandma's House, shelter and advocacy group for prostitutes, told the board she believes there is enough evidence to link the cases. Each missing women was a sex-worker from the Downtown Eastside, they disappeared from the same area, they haven't contacted relatives; and they haven't touched bank accounts or personal property.

She said more needs to be done, but the reward sends out an important message: "We will not tolerate crime against those who are the most vulnerable, and that we will do everything within our power to bring to justice whoever is responsible for these crimes."

Missing women reward ignores police advice
The Province

Adrienne Tanner, Staff Reporter The Province

Thursday, April 29, 1999

Vancouver's police board ignored its department's advice and unanimously approved a $100,000 reward to aid in the search for 22 missing prostitutes.

Legal experts will design the wording to make sure it isn't an incentive for crimes and can't be claimed by a woman who has merely been hiding.

Yesterday's ruling appeased families and friends of the missing women who feel the case never has received the attention it deserves. Twenty-two women, most of them drug addicts and prostitutes, have disappeared from the downtown east side since 1995. No bodies have been found.

Rewards were posted in a recent rash of garage robberies and home invasions, said Maggie deVries, whose sister Sarah Jean deVries is among the missing women.

"Refusing to offer a reward in these cases set up an imbalance and it was very, very important to right that balance."

But it may cause problems for police.

Deputy chief Brian McGuinness's remarks were subtle in deference to the families and a recent rash of publicity about the missing women.

But it was clear police do not favour a reward.

Rewards can be effective when police have evidence of a crime and have "holdback" evidence to assess the validity of tips, McGuinness said. In these cases, the police have no leads and therefore no "filter" to weed out hoaxes.

Just because the women were drug-addicted prostitutes doesn't mean police haven't been trying their hardest to find them, McGuinness said.

"It doesn't mean we value them less or consider them throwaways," he said.

A second detective was assigned to the case in June.

And yesterday Const. Dave Dixon joined the three-strong missing-persons unit.

It wasn't enough for Jamie Lee Hamilton, who runs Grandma's House, a drop-in centre for prostitutes. The allotment of three individuals is not sufficient for this number of crimes, she told the board.

"We need to convert missing status to murder status."

Hamilton said a task force made up of more police officers and community members should be formed to sift through the tips.

McGuinness said the missing-persons team works next door to a 20-officer homicide unit that is always available to help out.

Police continued to downplay fears expressed by interested persons that a serial killer could be responsible for the disappearances.

McGuinness said only that common sense leads them to believe that some of the women have met with foul play.

FAST FACTS

Large rewards rarely result in arrests and convictions.

"The big ones are very, very rarely solved by the big money," said Vancouver police Sgt. Gord Elias, co-ordinator for Greater Vancouver CrimeStoppers.

Rewards that remain open include:

- $1 million -- the largest reward in Canadian history -- for information on those responsible for the 1985 Air India tragedy.

- $500,000 in the case of the sniper who shot four Canadian doctors who perform abortions, including Vancouver's Dr. Garson Romalis.

- $300,000 in the 1993 Burnaby crossbow murder of student Sylvia Leung, 22.

- $110,000 in the 1996 murder of Jessica States, 11, of Port Alberni.

  Book chronicles disappearances-Nov 25, 2001

 

Email: wleng#missingpeople.net 

Missing Women Tip Line: 1-877-687-3377

Updated: August 21, 2016