VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Vancouver’s Missing Women
by Jan Bouchard-Kerr © 2002
“… but I miss you most of all, my darling,
when Autumn leaves start to fall.”
-- Songbird CD. Since You Went Away
Sarah Jean deVries
Monday, April 13, 1998
“I was there when Sarah was taken,” remembers Sylvia Skakum, a 30-year-old mother, in her deposition to the police. “I was the last person to see Sarah alive. I say that because my heart says that’s the truth. I felt that when I turned the corner after driving around the block and saw her corner empty.”
7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Sarah deVries waited for her good friend in Pigeon Park at Carroll and East Hastings. She had known Wayne Leng, just over 4 years, it seemed like forever. She phoned him to come pick her up for a visit at his apartment, several blocks south of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Feeling safe with him, sometimes she would sleep there. His kind voice and gentle manner eased the pain when she hurt the most, giving her strength when she needed it the most. She felt compelled to see him that evening.
Sarah was stunning, an exotic beauty only person’ of mixed race possess. Her enthusiasm and contagious laughter made her fun to be around. At her best she was sensitive, energetic, and made a bold statement with her flashy satin jackets. A sensitive woman, her journals reveal how awful she felt deep inside, not really understanding why.
It had been a hard year for Sarah. Approaching 30, she was tired of “the life”. She often spoke about getting off drugs and having her children, Jeanie and Ben, live with her. They lived with their grandmother and great aunt in Ontario so she didn’t often see them, but she thought about them every day and was making a spelling book for her daughter.
Known as Black Sarah on the stroll, she was street smart. A kind, intelligent woman, well-liked in the neighborhood, she had a reputation of always keeping her word. She was generous and a good friend. As she entered her teens she began running away to the Downtown Eastside with another troubled girl where she was introduced to drugs.
Slipping through the days and nights in a drug induced haze, and having contracted HIV and Hepatitis C, her many years on the streets was beginning to take its toll. Ten years was a lifetime for anyone living on the mean streets of Vancouver’s red light district. Many of the women working as street prostitutes in the drug infested area did not live very far past this point. For Sarah, it all appeared to go downhill when she was just 12 years old, but in reality, she had a hard, early start in life.
Born in 1969, she was put up for adoption at the tender age of 11 months in a Caucasian family in West Point Grey, an affluent suburb of Vancouver. Black, Mexican Indian and Caucasian heritage, it was difficult growing up in an all-white west-side area. She met up with a lot of prejudice. The youngest of four children in her new found family, her mother was a nurse at the Vancouver General Hospital, her father a professor at the University of British Columbia.
Sarah was an active child, always writing, and drawing, that carried on into her adult years. Her infectious laugh perked up those around her. “She had a real zest for life,” her mother Pat deVries tells the media. “She loved fun; she loved excitement. I guess that’s what got her into trouble.” Apparently, her high energy levels and need for action, finding no outlet, turned to stress.
In hindsight, Sarah chose to spend her few remaining hours that evening with Wayne. “We talked and had something to eat and she took some vitamins,” said Wayne. “Sarah always tried to stay in the best of shape despite her lifestyle. She needed some of her clothes and so grabbed a pillowcase of clothes to take with her.” Sarah would leave some of her belongings at his place so they would not get stolen.
A short time later, around 8:30 p.m., Wayne dropped Sarah off by the Beacon Hotel that overlooked Carroll and East Hastings.
“Be cool, my friend,” Wayne said in parting.
“Take care,” she said. “I’ll call you.”
Sarah and Sylvia headed toward Oppenheimer Park to score some drugs and fix themselves before going to work as street prostitutes on Vancouver’s Low Track. “Working dope sick or worrying of the coming “terror” is not my idea of fun,” Sylvia admits as she recounts Sarah’s last known hours. They had become fast friends a few days before, having much in common: born on the same day, both mothers, both petite, both adopted, having similar lifestyles.“Sarah and I left the Beacon Hotel on Hastings after getting ready for work and headed down hoping to catch James [a drug dealer] for a ‘pick me up,’” said Sylvia. “We hooked up with James near the Balmoral on Hastings and Main around 1:30 in the morning of April 14.” Across from the All Tribes Mission, by a chain-link fence, they “jugged” a speedball – injecting a concoction of heroin and cocaine – into each other’s necks.
“So after taking care of ourselves and wishing James a ‘Good night’,” she adds, “we walked from Oppenheimer up Jackson Street toward Hastings, down Hastings heading East and stopped on Princess.”
The corner of Princess and Hastings is a good corner to solicit work. Hastings is a busy street with many areas for johns to slow down their vehicles, cruise around the block, and stop to let one of the women in or out of their vehicle. Sarah worked on the corner only two doors away from her apartment.
“Sarah stayed on the northwest corner by the store. I walked across to the southeast corner by the dentist. We stood around for about 15 to 20 minutes. Several cars drove by – back and forth, around and around – a light blue four-door car with a white vinyl roof drove by me a little slower, proceeded east on Hastings, turned right on Hawks Avenue, went around the block, and pulled up to me on the corner. He asked me to get in the car and go around the block. I got in. Sarah and I talked of meeting up after we broke [turned a trick]. My date and I proceeded around the block and talked business and then agreed to disagree and he turned back onto Princess from Pender to drop me off. I looked for Sarah and saw no one. She was gone. I could see no cars, nothing. I got out of the car on Princess and Hastings all the time looking back and forth. I don’t mean to sound melodramatic but I knew something was wrong. The whole street was empty. No cars, no people, no nothing. It was really quiet. I felt really scared and alone. I knew she wasn’t going to meet me. I knew she was gone.”
Sarah had disappeared along with countless women from the mean streets of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
A Murderous Crime Wave
“Prostitution shouldn’t be a death sentence.”
-- A minister who works on the Low Track
Closing the doors of the infamous “hooker-filled” Penthouse Cabaret in 1975, for almost two years, changed the face of prostitution on Vancouver streets. The operators, the Philliponi family, were charged with a number of prostitution-related offences that led to one of the most celebrated trials in Vancouver’s history. The outcome frightened the local lounge and night-club operators, that they too would be charged, so they evicted their resident hookers.
In the first 75 years of the 20th century, Vancouver’s newspapers reported two prostitute murders. A decade after closing the doors of the Penthouse, pushing the sex trade workers further into the darker side streets and into the more isolated bleak warehouse districts, 16 more women were murdered. Not only was evicting the resident hookers only the beginning of serious prostitution in the city, but also of a murderous crime wave against women working the streets. Similar patterns of disappearances exist in Calgary and Toronto, and in nearby Greater Victoria where a spate of unsolved prostitute killings go all the way back to 1986. Meanwhile, in Vancouver, the number of missing and murdered women continues to rise.
“The police, the politicians, actively created the problem they’re now trying to fix,” John Lowman, a professor at Simon Fraser University who studies the sex trade and violence against prostitutes, told Elm Street. “The rhetoric of the ‘80s and early ‘90s was: ‘We’ll get rid of the prostitutes.’ I call it: The Discourse of Disposal. The idea of eliminating prostitution in Vancouver has translated tragically into really getting rid of prostitutes. We chase them from one area to another. They find themselves in dark streets in defenseless situations. There are no eyes there. But there are predators, misogynists, serial killers, men who get off on violence. They see the women’s vulnerability.”
Lowman labeled the city the “biggest pimp on the street”. While prostitution is not illegal in Canada, it is unlawful to “communicate” with another person the buying or selling of sexual favors. This 1985 communication law, or anti-solicitation, along with the police harassment of the street women, pushed the most vulnerable women even further into the darker and dilapidated area of the city.
After the city of Vancouver and the province posted a $100,000 reward, John Walsh of America’s Most Wanted released a poster of all 31 missing women and at that point the police told the media that nine officers were working on the case. Walsh said in an interview, “When there are 30 women missing and no bodies have been found and they’re all of the same type of background, that always smacks of a serial killer.”
Unfortunately many people think that prostitutes are “disposable,” a North American view, downplaying the fact that the women are being murdered. Yet some cultures see prostitutes as serving both positive and negative roles. For instance, in West Germany prostitution is a considered a social necessity so that prostitutes are simply choosing an occupation. The city of Venice is in the midst of a red light zoning plan. Still others consider prostitutes as exploited victims, often seen with those serial murderers who specialize in killing them.
While hundreds of Vancouver women regularly work the section of Vancouver’s well-lit, upscale High Track stroll along downtown Richards and Seymour Streets, not one of their names is on the disappearance list. The Downtown Eastside is considered the Low Track, the home of the most vulnerable, Vancouver’s underworld of prostitutes and junkies.
Since 1945, at least 50 women, although estimates are much higher, have disappeared from the mean streets, many of them young, addicted to drugs, and involved in the sex-trade. The first woman disappeared in 1983, but it was not until 15 years later, in 1999, that an investigation was launched. The numbers grew in the media stories: a couple dozen, 31, 45, then 50.
The missing women reportedly traded sex for money in order to sustain their pricey cocaine and/or heroin habits. Intravenous users, some had HIV, hepatitis, or both. All vanished without a trace, leaving behind all of their personal belongings: welfare checks, bank accounts, and even children in foster care or with their families.
Many of these vulnerable women are described on missing-persons posters as “known drug user and sex trade worker in the downtown eastside area,” all from the unforgiving Low Track.
Blood On The Track
A mind full of fire, and a fist full of steel.
(Graffiti, Vancouver, British Columbia, April 1995)
Vancouver, British Columbia, one of the world’s most prosperous cities, Canada’s third largest, and Seattle’s beautiful twin city to the North, has its dark side. The Downtown Eastside, a dense, 12-block section of the city along the Burrard Inlet waterfront and Hastings Street, just past trendy Gastown, is the poorest postal code in Canada, having the highest percentage of drug addicts, drug dealers, HIV cases, petty crime, and street prostitution. The dark, isolated streets are lined with rundown pubs, single-room occupancy hotels, pawn shops, and dingy store front shops with steel girded windows. Sidewalks and alleys are strewn with used needles and condoms, frequented as a place to buy a quick fix, or a hasty $20 or even $5 ‘date’. Although the going rate for a blow job, lay or half-and-half ranges from $40 to $100, if the women are drug sick or nearing the end of the night they might only charge a few bucks or some smokes.
“It is,” as one addicted street prostitute called the area, “a place of the dead and the walking dead.” With its 4,700 intravenous-drug users, it rivals Amsterdam as the highest needle-exchange rate in the world, some 3.5 million clean needles were dispensed in the new millennium. Trevor Green, author of Bad Date: The Lost Girls of Vancouver’s Low Track, once counted 27 offers of drugs -- “up” for cocaine, “down” for heroin – in a four-block walk.
The women who end up on the Low Track have few choices. A 1996 survey of Downtown Eastside women involved in the sex trade show an age range of 16 to 55, with 26 as the average age. Many have children but few live with them, some with family members or in foster case. When in trouble, most of the women do not turn to the police. According to one respondent, “It is dangerous to report things to the police because you will be called a rat. This puts you in danger on the street.” Others don’t believe that the police will do anything to help them. Ironically, the police station is situated on Main Street, the heart of the Low Track. The “hot” corner is the intersection of Main and Hastings, dubbed “Pain & Wastings” by the locals.
Like the slum areas in any city, the mean streets of Vancouver make the women vulnerable to dangerous customers, particularly violent men, that take pleasure from beating and hurting women. Most of them were abused as children while a smaller percentage started experimenting with drugs, got into the sex trade and then couldn’t get out. Most of the women suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. If they were in treatment, they would be given anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medication, and sleeping pills. Instead they self-medicate, and that is what the heroin and other drugs is all about.
“This stroll over here, the Low Track, there’s a perception of anonymity, it’s unbelievable to me the guys I saw there,” Detective Constable Lori Shenher, head of the Missing Persons Review Team at the time, told The Independent. Johns have been found with “kill kits” – a knife, rope, and plastic bags – all legal items stashed in their car cruising for women to abuse. With Vancouver’s lenient justice system, inclement weather and rampant drug scene it is a magnet for sex tourists.
“These people are looking for the weakest and most vulnerable people you can find,” says Shenher. “These women on the Downtown Eastside have got very little personal security. If someone’s got a wish to harm a woman, they’re going to find them.”
In a vicious cycle, the grip of their drug addictions is as strong as any pimp. Sarah deVries appeared in a TV documentary warning against drug addiction while shooting-up in front of the camera.
“When you need your next fix,” Sarah says to the camera, “you’re sick, puking, it’s like having the flue, a cold, arthritis, all at the same time, only multiplied a hundred times.” There are only three ways off the streets: “You go to jail, you end up dead, or you do a life sentence here.”
Life On The Streets
“Down here it’s different,” writes Sarah de Vries in her journal. “A fine line divides your world from mine and yet there is so much that you people wouldn’t understand. Our rules must be followed. Some of you would say I’m from the other side of the tracks. It’s a fine line that keeps both worlds apart. We have our own law, our own justice system and it works. All that I have in this world are the few things in this room and my word. If my word was no good I don’t think I would be alive today to be writing these inkstains.”
Violence is the biggest risk. Women are encouraged to follow some basic rules while working the streets:
§ only solicit work in the well lit areas;
§ not to work high;
§ have someone straight spot for her by noting the make and license number of the car;
§ avoid vehicles such as vans or those with tinted windows;
§ not to get into a vehicle with more than one male and to notice whether the door handles are still on and that the windows are functional;
§ if she gets trapped in the car to lean on the horn;
§ never go to a date’s home;
§ and, no matter how street-smart, it is important to be extremely vigilant.
A Spokane outreach worker Lynn Everson, on a CourtTV online chat, referred to the murdered women in the Robert Yates case, addressed why the women are out there on the streets:
The average age of entry into prostitution is 14. Studies say that between 75% and 90% of those women were sexually abused as children. Many of them also suffered from horrific physical and emotional abuse. Many people would like to say that if the women weren’t out working the streets, this would not happen to them. They would not have been killed or hurt. That is a clear case of blaming the victim. I’d ask anyone online now to close their eyes and imagine a pimp. My guess is that most of you imagined a black man with a big hat and a Cadillac. The reality is very often a mother or father selling a child, profiting from the child’s earnings selling sex to adults, all the while abusing that child regularly. Pimps range in age from 16 to 70, and they are every color and every race. Our stereotypes about who these people are, are almost always wrong. I worked with a woman whose mother sold her for the first time at age 12, and a man whose father sold his 10-year-old son to a chicken ranch, a place where adults have sex with children when he was only 10. None of these children made a free choice to be where they are. Very few people in prostitution can stand to have sex with strangers unless they are numbed by drugs and alcohol.
“I believe that old saying,” writes Sarah, “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
Last seen: June 25, 1997
If Janet Henry could speak one more time it would probably be to her daughter, Debra, who wrote in a letter how she “loved her mother very much”, only 12 years old when her mother went missing. She was left behind as have other children whose mother’s have had the misfortune to disappear. Debra laments, “She won’t see me graduated and she won’t be at my wedding if I get married. All the important stuff she won’t be there. I bet if she could see it all, then she’d be proud of me but now part of my life is on the ground, shattered to little pieces.”
And if Janet was still around she would surely call her sister Sandra, her best friend, every time she heard French singer Roch Voisine’s release “Kissing Rain” on the radio.
Like many of the missing women, Janet’s family history was riddled with losses and tragedies. As a member of the Kwakutle first nation, she grew up with numerous kin folk in Alert Bay, in northern Vancouver Island. In Bad Date, Trevor Green talks with Sandra, Janet’s sister, about their history:
Their first loss occurred in 1961 when their father drowned while fishing with his son, George.
“George saw him go overboard and never really recovered from that,” says Sandra. “He kept it inside. They never found Dad’s body.”
In 1967, the family suffered another brutal loss, when Janet and Sandra’s sister Levina was raped and murdered just after she left a hospital in Nanaimo.
Their mother proved unable to cope with the large family and in 1968 the kids were sent to live at separate foster homes. They were reunited when they all moved to Vancouver in the early ‘70s.
In a bizarre incident in the early ‘80s, Janet was seemingly marked for either a charmed life or doomed, when she almost became a victim of Canada’s most infamous serial killer, Clifford Olson.
“We were living in Maple Ridge,” remembers Sandra. “The police came to talk to my mother and said Clifford Olson had Janet’s number. Janet told me she had been with Clifford Olson. She didn’t remember a single thing ‘cause he had drugged her. She said there was somebody else with him. But he let her go. That’s all she could say about it.”
Craving an audience, Olson’s pattern was to accost teenagers while in the company of young delinquents.
Janet was a patient, loving woman with a great love for the mountains. After she graduated from high school, she took a hairdressing course, eventually married, lived in a nice house, and gave birth to her wonderful daughter, Debra. Eventually, the couple drifted apart.
“Janet got a new boyfriend,” said Sandra, “out in New Westminster, but they both ended up downtown, both into drugs, around 1992. He died of an overdose a couple of years ago. My family and I didn’t care for him ‘cause he was mean to her. She had ended up working the street to support their drug addiction.”
“They had ended up having an argument one day and she found out the next day that he had died from an overdose. Janet got worse then. She just cried and cried. She’d be watching TV and something would come on that would remind her of him and she’d cry her eyes out.”
Although Janet tried drug rehab programs it was hard to leave her addiction behind with the rapes and beatings that she suffered.
“Near the end, Janet looked like a toothpick. She’d lost a lot of weight. She didn’t take care of herself. Before the rape she would do her hair, do her makeup. Then she stopped caring.”
She was 37 years old when she was last seen in the Holborn Hotel on June 25, 1997. Her last words to her sister were that she missed her.
Woman’s body found beaten beyond recognition.
You sip your coffee,
Taking a drag of your smoke,
Turning the page,
Taking a bite of your toast.
Just another day, just another death,
Just one more thing you so forget,
You and your soft, sheltered life,
Just go on and on,
For nobody special from your world is gone.
Just another day, just another death,
Just another Hastings Street whore
Sentenced to death.
No Judge, no jury, no trial, no mercy.
The Judges gavel already fallen,
Sentence already passed.
But you, you just sip your coffee,
Washing down your toast.
For you, it’s just another day.
For you, it’s just another death.
For you, you already forget.
It’s not just another day.
It’s not just another death.
“Their forearms are solidly scared with cigarette burns and deep cut marks,” Elaine Allan tells the media about the women who frequent the drop-in center. “They’re signs of being extremely abused from a young age. They have to self-mutilate because the pain in their head is so bad, those are the ones that are going missing.”
Of the estimated 500 women involved in trading sex for money in the skid-row area, at least 70 percent of the women are Native, many suffering from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Program director, Karen Duddy, of the temporary refuge, Women’s Information and Safe House (WISH), told First Nations Drum. “They are women who come from situations of extreme incestual and sexual abuse. The tragedy of the residential schools also plays a role in the situation of these women. The are multi-barriered, really in a difficult spot.”
Many of the young women flee their rural reserve and after spending time in the city become “urbanized”, not being accepted back. An estimated 80% suffer from Hepatitis C, 35% are HIV positive, and many have AIDS. Most of the women had suffered some type of abuse in their lives and events that are most likely to lead to post traumatic stress disorder. This comprises the fear of being killed and of sustaining actual injury. Some of the reactions that people get include flashbacks and nightmares about the trauma, experiencing intense fear, terror, helplessness, and hopelessness.
“These women speak openly about feeling like the ‘throwaways’ of society,” said Duddy. “Nobody gives a damn about them. They genuinely feel terror around the issue of the missing women. But they are caught up in the extreme addiction problem.”The likeliest victims are those that are mentally challenged or mentally ill. Given the de-institutionalization of the mentally ill, one example is Riverview, a mental illness facility, many ended up homeless. The further down the pecking order, the later at night, and the earlier in the morning, they work.
State Of Grace
Angela Rebecca Jardine
Last seen: November 10, 1998
Angela Rebecca Jardine came into this world with a will to survive. Born severely mentally challenged, she remarkably achieved the mental capacity of a 10-year-old, with continual effort and the aid of her parents, Deborah and Ivan Jardine. Her reality could be compared to a person in a perpetual “state of grace,” as inspirational Helen Keller in her challenge with multiple handicaps, or as depicted by Dustan Hoffman in Rainman, that a person with an uncompromising challenge portrays. Unfortunately, North Western society is still ignorant about real issues surrounding disabilities. So Angela, her challenge second nature to her, lived her life as she knew how, in spite of where she was living, whether in a small town, in a suburb, or on the mean streets of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
Originally from Sudbury, Ontario, the first of two daughters, when Angela was nine years old her family moved to Sparwood, British Columbia. Her parents tell the media that they suspected early on that Angela was challenged in some way but received little support and virtually no information from the medical community. The first indication was that she learned to walk and talk much slower than other children, and beginning at about the age of five had a battery of tests, but the psychological assessments gave little information. In a society where differences are not tolerated, her loud approach to life made some people very uncomfortable.
Angela loved her family, and was the most generous, caring person, sharing what she had with others, with a great love for animals, but she was always vulnerable to dangers. By the time she entered school, the neglect of her special needs was evident, so that she had a difficult time “fitting in,” prone to “off-the-wall emotional outbursts.” The lack of information and resources, would have made it difficult, if not impossible, for any child with a disability to succeed in the school system, including the tremendous toll it takes on the parents in their quest to do everything to help their child.
At 16, Angela was moved into “respite care” in nearby Castlegar and by the time she was 20 moved to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Her parents became aware of the dangers of the neighborhood and brought her back to Sparwood. Soon after, though, she returned because she had fallen in love for the first time, although, her mother noticed that he “played her like a violin.” She lived there for the next eight years.
At 28 years of age, Angela’s 5 foot 5 inch, 140 pound frame, appearing far too old for her years, belies her mental age. “Angela was a young child in a woman’s body,” Deborah said. “She was not able to figure out change if she bought a candy bar for a dollar and gave a person a five-dollar bill. Her brain was not able to comprehend simple facts. She was dysfunctional and not able to conform to society.”
“She was working on the streets like the other women, but the pecking order the women had would not allow Angela work on the regular streets,” said Deborah to Trevor Greene. “She was pushed to an alley behind a hotel, which is considered one of the most dangerous and poorly lit areas in the Downtown Eastside. Her clothes and shoes were stolen as soon as she got new ones. Angela did not give her things away [as some media reports stated], they were taken from her.”
“This saddened me that she was met with such hostility in a place so full of madness,” says Deborah.
On November 20th, 1998, Angela disappeared in the middle of the afternoon, wearing a long, frilly pink dress while attending a symposium of some 700 people in Oppenheimer Park ironically called Out of Harm’s Way.
“I believe Angela is dead,” Deborah says simply. “As a mother I know this. I can feel it in my heart.”
“Will they remember me when I’m gone, or would their lives just carry on?” -- Sarah’s journal entry.
Missing persons is an old, old story. Missing children are assumed to be victims of someone’s foul intentions. Adults, on the other hand, are presumed to be free agents, unless there is substantial evidence to the contrary. It is the element of choice that makes cases of missing adults intriguing as well as problematic. While the kids get their pictures on posters and their names entered into an FBI database, an adult can be missing for a long time before someone pays attention, particularly if they are labeled junkies, prostitutes or homeless. Adult absentees, for the most part, have a narrow circle of family, friends, and co-workers. Those who go missing may be addicts, mentally ill, in the wrong place at the wrong time, or could be fleeing creditors, the law, or an estranged mate.
hose cases of disappearances attributable to serial killers of youths and young adults are recorded worldwide throughout criminal history, however, in the first part of the last century in the western world most victims were selected in the seamiest and most transient sections of the community, in times of war, or during a disorder, such as a catastrophic event.
Over the course of a year, the Vancouver Police Missing Persons Squad handles approximately 1500 juveniles and 800 adults (18 year average) cases. By the end of the year, outstanding cases, those not resolved, usually number from five to a dozen with most of the unsolved cases being adults.
Women continued to go missing from the Downtown Eastside at an alarming rate dating back to 1983.
In January 1999, in his search for Sarah, Wayne Leng began the Internet web site Downtown Vancouver—Eastside, eventually changing the name to missingpeople.net, dedicated to the memory of all the missing and murdered women in the Downtown Eastside. A true labor of love, he is devoted to spreading information, tirelessly pushing for more police resources for the investigation. A testimony to Sarah, even though she is gone, and even as women continued to disappear, Sarah’s voice continues to get louder, speaking for the silent women of the streets.
These are just a few of the missing women:
In 1995, a year after she moved to Vancouver’s eastside Catherine Knight was one of the first to disappear, just before her 29th birthday. “We had a rough upbringing,” her sister Geri tells the media. “We all grew up in the same environment with physical, emotional and sexual abuse and we’re all survivors of that. We were all sort of abandoned, left to fend for ourselves.”
Elaine Allan, from the drop-in center, knew Jacquilene McDonell , one of the later ones to go missing, last seen January 16, 1999. “It was tragic,” she said. “She was young, was articulate, she was nice, she was 21 years old, had a son, was kind of tripping on her drugs, she was too good for this place.”
Thirty-eight-year-old, Frances Ann Young was last seen leaving her apartment in April 1996, on the West side of Vancouver, to go for a walk. She was suffering from depression at the time of her disappearance.
A Grieving Widow
Leigh Miner was remembered as bright and beautiful, until her husband’s suicide when she turned to drugs and prostitution. Last seen in 1993, although her family filed a missing person’s report when she disappeared, it took almost a decade for her name to be added to the missing list.
Mother of Two
“She was here on New Year’s Day and I told her, ‘Patty, you’re not even going to see 25 if you keep on – you’ll be missing just like those women down there’,” Marion Bryce, a 42-year-old waitress told The Vancouver Province at her Mount Pleasant home. “I just pray every day that she’s all right.” Her daughter, Patricia Johnson, 24, who worked on Hastings Street at the Patricia Hotel and outside the Army and Navy store was last seen on February 27, 2001, and has not cashed her welfare cheques since then. The regular telephone calls to her younger sister Kathy, and her two small children also stopped.
Dawn Theresa Crey, a beloved member of a large Stollo family. Her sister Lorraine Crey told the media, “No way Dawn would ever go away without telling me – even if she had the money, which she didn’t. The last time I saw her, she was terrified, talking about all the missing women and how she feared she would be next. She’d never said anything like that before.”
And Dawn’s brother Ernie Crey, a former aboriginal leader in the Fraser Valley, tells the media: “Aboriginal women like my sister who grew up in foster homes and lived down there out of poverty and desperation didn’t have a lot of choice about their pathway in life. It’s still our responsibility as a society to care about them and do everything we can do to find them.” “She was a beautiful young woman,” he said. “My brothers and sisters loved her very much. She has a child back home that loves her and she has an entire community back home that lover her.”
The “Creep List”
All of the women on the Low Track are in danger. The Downtown Eastside Youth Activities Society, DEYAS, man a needle exchange van in the skid row area, and put out a monthly “Creep List,” that serves as a warning to the sex trade workers about who to avoid, with over 50 potential suspects, distributed every week to the prostitutes and police.
§ Caucasian male, said to be seven foot tall. Blue eyes, blond hair, and behaving like a coke addict, with lots of hands to face movements. Picked up a worker and drove to a “really dark place” near 41st and Knight. She asked for money, he held a knife to her throat and said, “This is a rape.” The worker just said for him not to hurt her. Afterwards, he dropped her off downtown.
§ Spanish-looking male walking the alley near Hastings and Cordova around 4 a.m. hit a worker from behind with a pipe then dragged her behind a dumpster and raped her.
§ Chinese male, very poor English, walking near Oppenheimer Park around one a.m., approached a worker and said something she didn’t understand. She moved off but he started kicking her, in the stomach, then the head, then in the face. He tried to choke her while sitting on her head. Scared off when another worker approached.
The bad date program, began some 15 years ago by a couple of sex trade workers aware of the growing violence against women working the streets. Bad dates include acts of violence or robbery, rape (singly or by group), kidnapping, harassment, or dumping, and in some cases death. Over half of these have been assaulted with a weapon. Yet only about 10% are reported to the police, many distrusting the justice system or because they believed that the cops ought to be avoided.
The list of bad johns is compiled from information from the sex-trade workers, from the task force, and from social workers. Some of the men come down to the area to beat up the women.
Unfortunately, 98 percent of the women working the streets have had a “bad date.”
A “Bad Date”
“It was just after supper and the traffic was just starting to pick up,” Sarah deVries recounts in her journal. “I was sick and needed money.”
A slight, 5 feet, 102 pounds, the 29-year-old was no match for the john that pulled up to her as she was standing kitty corner from the Astoria Hotel. It did not take long for her to realize the precarious situation with the man who had just picked her up.
“I got in pulled the door shut and agreed on 40 for a B.J., his name I don’t remember or maybe I just don’t want to. Anyway I told him my name, Sarah, and it all started at that moment. Everything he said, he said my name. “Sarah are you from Vancouver?”, “Sarah how old are you? Sarah this, Sarah that. It started to scare the hell out of me.”
She figured that he was trying to psyche himself up to do something, yet, in her haste to complete their transaction, Sarah missed a few cues. By the time she realized that he was driving out of the city limits and that the passenger door was booby trapped so that she couldn’t get out of the car, it was too late. He drove to a remote location in Port Moody (some ?? miles from downtown Vancouver.)
Everything then happened very quickly. As the man stopped the car to get out, Sarah noticed his wallet in between the seats, slipped the money out, and put the wallet back.
“Where’s your place?” she said
“Right around the corner,” he said, fumbling with his seatbelt.
Sarah took the opportunity to slide over the seat and out his door but did not get far before he viciously attacked her.
“I felt his hand on my shoulder pull me back and then I felt a blow to the side of my head,” recounts Sarah. “I saw black dots flashing in front of my eyes as he grabbed a hold of my ponytail lifting me off the ground. I felt his triple-soled Daytons hit my face over and over again. I curled into a fetus position trying to protect my chest and face. It didn’t help much. I heard the ripping of my spandex pants and he tore them off. I heard the rip of my shirt he tore off. He stopped for a moment and threw the shoes I had borrowed from Mary. Her words echoed in my head, ‘Don’t wreck them’, she made me promise, `Only if something happens to me like I get murdered or something’. We both laughed. I was yanked by pain back to reality as he was trying to sodomize me. I guess I put up too much of a fight for him. He looked tired. Giving me a couple more boots to the face, he turned and told me to climb up this little cliff, hill, sort of large rock covered in blackberry bushes. All I had on were my socks and a little blue sailor jacket. I started to climb. My whole body ached from head to toe. I could hardly see out of my eyes and my nose was plugged with blood. My lips felt like two footballs, and the tear that rolled down my bruised and swollen cheeks burned and I was cold, so cold, numb to the prickle bushes that sliced at my legs, arms and feet, or the thorns that were being buried in the soles of my feet, I reached the top, fell to my knees, and wrapped my arms around myself to try and calm my terrified little soul. His yell yanked me right back to cruel reality.
“Sarah, where’s my money.”
I sat up like a blot of lightening. I had forgot that I had stole all his money plus what he had paid me to begin with.
“Sarah, where’s my fucking money,” he yelled again.
I played the duck. “I don’t know where it is. I thought you took back the 40 bucks.”
“You little whore,” he yelled. “I want my $400 you took from my wallet.”
Instinctively Sarah ran into the bushes, eventually making her way back to the highway only to have her attacker drive up and down for two hours trying to spot and recapture her.
“I’ve yet to be the same,” Sarah laments. “Some night I dream and I could swear that I’m there. I actually feel the blows and kicks to the head. I wake in a panic and in tears. In my heart I know that he was . . . definitely going to take my life.”
No Bodies / No Clues
Vancouver police have yet to find a body or crime scene to be of help in the investigation of the missing women. With a body, police could look for DNA, fingerprints, behavioral clues or anything else that the killer may have left at the crime scene. An autopsy could also be done to determine the cause of death and from that begin to speculate a motive. Since publicizing the case, two of the missing women were located alive, one in Arizona, arrested during a crack binge, where she gave a false name to the police and was placed in a psychiatric hospital, the other was found living outside of Vancouver and informed the police that she did not wish to be found.
As crime statistics show most murder cases are solvable. With the body as evidence the police become involved. Most homicide investigations in any police department will tell you that these cases are routine. People that have been abducted and murdered are usually found, the motive, means, manner and opportunity are obvious. Many are crimes of passion, spouses and lovers kill each other due to jealousy or in a drunken rage; gang members kill each other to look macho; or a person is murdered during the commisson of a lesser crime such as burglary. However there is a small percentage of murders that are different from these types.
No crime scenes, no corpses, and no tangible evidence make it difficult for the police force to make any headway in a baffling case. Vancouver police have very little to compare with the officers of Spokane and Portland in their recent cases of cluster killings.
Det. Scott Driemel, Vancouver Police Dept., said to King 5 News: “Nobody else has ever had this situation, anywhere in North America, that we’re really aware of, where there’s never been bodies found and there’s never been crime scenes.”
Different theories about what may have happened to the women have been bandied about.
Flanked by the sea and mountains Vancouver is the perfect spot to get rid of bodies. A big port with international commercial ships and freighters launched out into the Pacific Ocean, it would be easy to hide a body onboard, to toss overboard later in the open sea. A body would never be recovered.
The ships play a pivotal role in many of the street women’s lives, especially the younger women whose drug habits are out of control. Sailors make up a large percentage of a prostitute’s clientele for the women working the streets by the docks. Cab drivers have also been known to get a woman to work on a ship. “Many of the women I’ve talked to have been on the boats,” Elaine Allan, from the drop-in center, tells the media. “Many of these sex-trade workers are heavily into heroin addiction, desperate for their next fix.” Also, Vancouver is a major heroin gateway for most of Canada and the Northwest U.S.
Those aware of the added danger of going on the ships try to have someone “keep their six” – a street expression meaning watching their back – so that if they do not return by a prearranged time someone can send for help. One story recounted to Allan was of a woman locked onboard a Filipino freighter with a large block of heroin. When she did not return at the appointed time her friend “keeping her six”, a Russian sailor, threatened to go to the police with the photograph that he took of her as she boarded the ship.
Street women working the docks told the Calgary Sun that the sea slaughter explanation of the disappearances is definitely a possibility. It could be a foreign crew docking in Vancouver periodically. However, it is also likely that at least one, if not several, of the men would probably have talked after all these years.
Snuff Film Ring?
Another theory of the vanishing women is that a snuff film ring has been in operation. Vancouver has a global reputation as “hotspot” for pedophiles and other sex offenders. But there is a weak link when two or more people are involved in a crime and snuff films would involve several people at one time. Over the years’ police have not been able to determine or verify whether snuff films are produced in any great number.
“Whenever there’s two or more people involved in something, there’s a weak link,” Tom Jensen, devoted to investigating the Green River murders, says in Bad Date, “Same thing with a snuff film. Eventually someone would see it and recognize someone. We had plenty of talks about that kind of thing over the years and were never able to verify that snuff films existed in any great number.”
Another theory is that while most may be killed by one person, there could also be copycats around, someone who want to capitalize on another’s infamy.
Wayne Leng knew something was wrong when after a few days he didn’t hear from Sarah. He contacted Sarah’s family and they launched a search.
Wayne got three messages on his pager one Saturday night soon after Sarah disappeared:
§ “Sarah’s dead,” said a man’s slightly slurred voice, music audible in the background. “So there will be more girls like her dead. There will be more prostitutes killed. There will be one every Friday night – at the busiest time.”
§ Another call: “You’ll never find Sarah again, so just stop looking for her, all right? She doesn’t want to be seen and heard from again, alright? So, ‘bye. She’s dead.”
§ One final message: “This is in regard to Sarah. I just want to let you know that you’ll never find her again alive because a friend of mine killed her and I was there.”
Wayne gave over the tapes to the Vancouver police. Yet he would wonder about the phone calls, given that the mystery caller knew some thing about Sarah that few others knew.
Then again, this could have been the work of a copycat.
A plausible explanation could be someone coming over the U.S. border, roughly 45 minutes from Vancouver, to pick up women, kill them, and then crosses back over. Speculations are that it could be the Spokane killer or the Green River killer.
A serial killer?
The serial killer theory gained credence. Most of the women working the Low Track as street prostitutes believe that the missing women met up with a killer. It is also a popular theory for many law enforcement and loved ones of the missing women given that the women are such easy targets.
“We had one guy who killed a prostitute and said he was going to carry on,” said Victoria Homicide detective Sgt. Don Bland to the Times Colonist. “He said he was going to kill hundreds. He was going to stack them in his apartment like cordwood.”
The notion on a serial killer on the loose grabs headlines, but, in reality, predators attack sex-trade workers on a regular basis. And, on the Low Track, many encounters are car-dates and many of the missing women were standing on the street as opposed to inside establishments. For the most part prostitutes are easy targets and they in turn deal with a marginal part of society. The very young, drug or alcohol impaired, nonwhite or those diagnosed with mental illness or learning impairment are the easiest targets.
A string of unsolved prostitute murders in Greater Victoria, a short ferry-ride from downtown Vancouver, go all the way back to 1986. Several women working the Victoria streets were killed, with no killer found, while one woman simply disappeared.
“Most murderers of prostitutes, unless they are serial killers, don’t set out to kill anyone”, said Bland with his longstanding career. “They don’t say, ‘Hey, I’ll go out, have a couple of beer, drive up and down the strip and kill a prostitute.’ They think ‘I’ll go pick up a girl and see what happens.’ When the girl gets in the car, something gets out of hand. The john gets in a rage. The girl ends up smothered, strangled, beaten.”
It has been his experience that it pays off to listen to these women. “You don’t write off a prostitute when they come to you and say, ‘This guy did this’. If they’re complaining, you know there’s something going on.”
While a serial killer on the loose is just one theory, street women are the ideal targets for them. The women willingly get into cars with strangers and their lifestyle is such that not many would notice their disappearance. “With a prostitute who goes by a street name, who’s picked up by a john, and then another john, whose intention is to be unseen, to be anonymous – for a predator, that’s perfect,” said Deputy Police Chief Gary Greer, former district commander for the Downtown Eastside. Then, with no missing person’s report, there is not even a record of a disappearance.
A rumor of a killer at large does nothing to quell the addict’s need. “If they’re heavily addicted and need money, they’re probably going to jump in the car with a guy no matter what anyone tells them,” said Constable Dave Dickson, one of the first policemen to observe the disappearances having walked the ski row beat for over two decades. “They come from such horrible backgrounds, they’ve been sexually abused their whole lives. They’re not afraid of anything.” This apparent bravado is probably due to the drugs giving them a false confidence and numbing their awareness. Add to this the dark and isolated streets around the Downtown Eastside, and the women are “vulnerable to men who want to get off being violent,” he said. “They might not be serials killers, but they are still very dangerous customers.”
Persons of Interest
Persons that are of interest to the police are those that have beaten up a woman from the Downtown Eastside. Also, telling the public about these people serves as a warning. But the men that get on the bad date list and those that become persons of interest that have assaulted prostitutes and that may go on to killing, hundreds fit that criteria, with estimates of 600 to 1000 suspects. Each suspect represents a potential lead.
A Prostitute Attacker
Arrested in 1996 for a brutal attack and attempted kidnapping of a Low Track prostitute, Vancouver laborer Michael Stephen Leopold, 38, showed no reaction to the sentence of 14 years in jail for aggravated assault he received at the turn of the century.
Leopold picked up a woman in the red light district, drove to a parking lot, and after they agreed on $25 for oral sex, he began punching her in the head while trying to force a rubber ball into her mouth. Leopold fled when the woman’s screams attracted attention, leaving his pager at the scene. He surrendered three days later. The court characterized the self-described loner as a sexual sadist whose conduct and intentions were “certainly horrible and offensive.” In the pre-sentencing interview he admitted to a psychiatrist that the crime was a “trial run” for his plan to capture, torture and kill Eastside prostitutes. However investigators found no evidence linking him to the missing women.
A Vancouver Pimp
Although former pimp Barry Thomas Neidermeyer, 43, from Lethbridge, Alberta, is a person of interest to the Vancouver police there is no evidence linking him to the disappearance cases. In 1990 he was convicted of pimping a 14-year-old girl. Ten years later he appeared before the court on 14 counts of assault, sexual assault, kidnapping, unlawful confinement and administering a noxious substance. Charges involve seven prostitutes from 1995 to 1997. The investigators received calls from Vancouver and Calgary women alleging that they were victimized by the suspect.
The Abbotsford Killer
Another person of interest in the Downtown Eastside missing women case, Terry Driver, lived in Abbotsford, about an hour from Vancouver. On October 15, 1995, he raped and killed 16-year-old Tanya Smith and left for death 16-year-old Misty Cockerill. as he visited the stroll. He beat both girls with a baseball bat. Dubbed the Abbotsford killer he taunted the police with phone calls, traumatized Tanya Smith’s family by defacing and removing her headstone, and boasted about what he had done in a letter:
it won’t be my last either. i don’t stay with the same [modus operandi]. i have done more after these ones also. go figure out which ones look in [British Columbia, Alberta] and a few in Washington state….
HEY GUYS I’M BAD
I WILL STRIKE AGAIN ONE DAY
I WILL NOT BE CAUGHT
I WILL NOT MOVE FROM ABBOTSFORD
Bye guys this is the las you here [sic] from me till next time.
Police caught Driver, married at the time with two young children, about 5 months later, after they lifted a fingerprint from a note that he had thrown through an Abbotsford window and was sentence to 25 years.
The court documents reveal his interest in prostitutes from about the age of 16, and he got the money for these activities by bartering food and engaging in property offences from time to time. He was known to frequent the Downtown Eastside and to pay prostitutes for services. When arrested he had a newspaper clipping about the 1985 murder of a Vancouver sex-trade worker.
The Spokane Killer
In the past few years the Vancouver police were most interested in one Pacific Northwest U.S. citizen. Forty-eight-year-old Robert Yates Jr. of Spokane pleaded guilty in October 2000, in order to avoid the death penalty, and was sentenced to 408 years in prison for the murders of 13 women in Washington. Many of the women were prostitutes, one killed in Skagit county, south of Bellingham.
Vancouver police have yet to find a link between Yates and the women who have disappeared from the Downtown Eastside neighborhood. He was eventually cleared.
Another fairly recent serial murder case interested the Vancouver police. Kendall Francois in Poughkeepsie, New York was charged with killing eighth prostitutes who had gone missing between 1996 and 1998. It took nine disappearances before he was caught. He was arrested when he tried to strangle a prostitute, she got away, he recaptured her and then surprisingly she convinced him to take her back downtown where she reported the assault to the task force detectives. Ironically these same detectives had just waved at Francois as he drove past.
He had a history of violence against prostitutes. An unusual feature of his crimes, given that serial killers usually kill same race victims, is that all of his victims were short Caucasian women with dark hair. He was a 300-pound black man. The bodies were found at his parent’s and three siblings two-storey green colonial-style house, in varying stages of decomposition. He had told his family that the horrible stench was due to a family of raccoons that had died under the house.
The Vancouver police were particularly interested in the New York case – how they conducted their investigation -- because it started out as a missing persons investigation. Only one women was not reported missing and similar to the Vancouver case they were all involved in drugs and in the sex trade.
Green River Slayings
The Green River Murder Case has baffled investigators since 1982 when authorities discovered women’s bodies in or near the Green River, south of Seattle. At least 49 women, many prostitutes and runaways, were believed to be the victims of the Green River Killer. Advances in DNA technology spurred the investigators to arrest suspect Gary Leon Ridgway and lay murder charges.
The police knew Ridgway as a man who picked up prostitutes and he knew for years that they were on to him. A 52-year-old married truck-manufacturing plant painter, he lived in Auburn, Washington with his wife Judith, 30 kilometers south of Seattle, both having children from a previous marriage. In 1984, he was questioned after his pickup truck was identified, linking him to two of the victims, and then in 1987, his house was searched and he complied with a court order to submit a saliva sample by chewing on a piece of gauze, leading to his arrest years later.
He has pleaded not guilty to four murders linked to the Green River killer. Authorities say they have linked him to three of the victims with DNA evidence and one through circumstantial evidence.
Ridgway’s neighbors said that he and his wife constantly traveled in their motor home, much like a second home. At least one neighbor indicated that Ridgway traveled many times to B.C. and Oregon.
Many of these suspects have been cleared of the Vancouver slayings. But, these serial killers left bodies behind. A body means there is a crime science and a crime scene means there will be evidence that can be used to track a killer.
The Vancouver Sun files shows that in the last 17 years at least 25 different men have been charged with killing prostitutes in British Columbia.
Jamie Lee Hamilton opened her arms to the women living on the streets. A former prostitute, and unofficial spokeswoman for many of the estimated 2,000 prostitutes in downtown Vancouver, she runs an all-night safe house, Grandma’s House, for the women. She believed early on that a serial killer is stalking women in the area.
“There appears to be a particular block where almost all of them worked before they disappeared,” Hamilton told the media. “These disappearances must be treated as homicides. They are not the kind of people to just disappear without telling their friends on the street.”
In February 1999, she held a news conference telling the people how the police were not doing enough to help the women. She knew many of the women who so mysteriously disappeared.
“Two of the women were mentally ill and they were very vulnerable,” Hamilton told APBnews.com. “One of these women had the mentality of an 11-year-old. I used to give her candy on Halloween when she came into a store I owned. Another woman had a history of calling her family all the time and now she has vanished.”
“If these women were not street-involved, there would be an outpouring of concern and immediate action to find their killers.
“And if there were no prostitutes, these men would be killing other women. These killers are men who hate women, not prostitutes. It’s just that prostitutes are more available and more vulnerable.”
A memorial bench was placed in Crab Park, dedicated to all the missing women, “With Our Love.” What with the protest marches, memorial services, dedications, and the women’s loved ones packing the police board meetings, they would not be forgotten.
A Stalled Investigation
It was in the summer of 1998, that the First Nations organization gave the Vancouver police a list of women they claimed had been murdered in the Downtown Eastside. Eventually this list came into the hands of Const. Dave Dickson, the most experienced cop in the area, walking the skid row beat for over two decades. Although it turned out to contain names of women who had overdosed or died by other means, and some were alive, having moved, Dickson recognized some of the names and that some had not even picked up their welfare checks. That set off a “red flag”. The investigation got underway that he would join part-time a year later.
Sergeant Geramy Field, the NCO in charge of homicide, was informed about a possible predicament. “That summer, we found that we needed to determine if there was a serial killer preying on women in the Downtown Eastside,” she told Trevor Greene. “The serial killer theory had always been in the back of our minds, but there was no evidence to go public with. We also discussed a provincewide investigation done back in ’92 where the FBI, RCMP, and municipal forces looked at a number of homicides involving women. They determined at that point that there was no one person responsible for that group. They were all prostitutes or female hitchhikers.
“There were other cases that were related, but none seemed to have any bearing on what we were looking at.”
The police investigation began when a second officer, Detective Constable Lori Shenher, was assigned to work with missing persons Detective Constable Al Howlett already on the case, to review a sharp increase in the number of missing women.
By September 1998, VPD’s Detective Inspector Kim Rossmo, the first police officer in Canada to receive a Ph.D., who had devised a system known as “geographic profiling” at Simon Fraser University, was brought onboard. But there was a big problem here because his method relies on physical evidence from a crime scene to determine the location of the perpetrator. The only information he had was that a group of women were missing.
And the police department publicly denied that a serial killer was on the loose. Rossmo believed that this was the wrong approach, in that the police did not put together a “task force anywhere near what a real serial murder investigation would involve.” Other members in the department felt the same way however the “old boys network” controlled the upper ranks of the police force and refused to acknowledge his promotion or anything he had to contribute to the investigation.
In November 1998, Rossmo suggested that the press be informed about a serial killer but the idea was dismissed. “Many people in the VPD feel the same about this – frustration,” he told the media, adding that it was the sex, race and low social status of the missing persons that was a partial explanation of the VPD’s poor progress in the investigation.
Upon achieving his doctorate, he went from constable to detective-inspector in charge of the geographic profiling unit and some of the senior officers never accepted his promotion in 1995. He was terminated five years later and sued the Vancouver Police Board for wrongful dismissal. He eventually went to work in the U.S. and is now director of research for the Police Foundation in Washington, D.C., an unfortunate loss for Vancouver given his ability and expertise in investigating serial murders. He claimed that members in the higher ranks were not interested in investigating the missing women.
Then, in 1999, the department formed the Missing Women Review Team due to the increasing public pressure over the disappearances and the mounting fear that a serial killer was stalking Vancouver prostitutes. Rossmo discards other theories such as overdoses or several different killers, if these were the cases at least one body would be found.
The number of women reported missing before 1995 from the Downtown Eastside was normal, given their lifestyles, but then the numbers kept rising and is still abnormally high. “If you look at this the way an epidemiologist might, these are the things they look for to determine if an epidemic has occurred,” he tells the media.
By May 1999, Rossmo noted that the demographics of the case showed something unusual; an unusually high number of disappearances, but with no crime scene or forensic data from the victim-encounter locations, the police investigation very difficult. The assumption was made that the disappearances could be related to serial murder. But the department ignored this possibility
In June 1999, a meeting was called with the family members to brief them about the investigation and to collect DNA samples from those willing in case unidentified bodies were found. An RCMP criminal profiler also found it virtually impossible to examine behaviour patterns what with no crime scenes.
That month, two homicide detectives joined the task force. Their addition to the team marked the turning point in the case. The VPD decided to classify the case as a homicide.
A Homicide Perspective
It was when two VPD homicide detectives, Ron Lepine and Mark Chernoff, joined the task force that the case took on a homicide perspective. Classified as a homicide provides the linkage, and linkage usually means DNA or other evidence.
“They were assigned to look at the investigation,” said Sergeant Geramy Field, “from a purely homicide point of view and to liaise with Agassiz RCMP members who had three confirmed homicides [of prostitutes] from 1995.”
Three bodies of young women -- Tracy Olajide, Tammy Lee Pipe and Victoria Younker-- were found near remote logging roads in a heavily wooded area of the Fraser River near Agassiz, B.C., about 50 miles east of Vancouver. The following summer, the body of Mary Lidquerre was found near an area that people used to dump garbage, a short walk from the road halfway up Mount Seymour. Police had secured DNA samples of the killer.
In July, 1999, with so much information to handle, two more detective constables joined the task force. However, the team fluctuated, having at one point nine investigators, including one civilian clerk but this was too few to take care of the massive amount of information coming in. A new computer system also wreaked havoc at first.
“It was new to everybody at that point, with a huge learning curve which ended up being very problematic for us,” said Field. “We wanted to input all the data we had on the women, with all the data we had from tips coming in, and pop out a list of suspects or a type of suspect or some kind of pattern.”
The task force room, without windows, and admittedly, without character, contained five desks clustered in the center and white boards. Part of the problem was the lack of manpower that hurt the investigation. Field was working only part-time on the case until January 2001.
In January 2000, another conference to discuss profiling and account for other jurisdictions, in particular, Edmonton and Calgary where 12 prostitutes had been killed between 1986 and 1993.
“So was there a pattern there?”, Field asks rhetorically. “Was someone active there and then moved to Vancouver? It was the same kind of theory as with the Green River Killer. Did someone come up here [from the United States]” There were no conclusions reached. What we tried to do was talk to the other investigators face to face.”
“It’s become a monumental task,” Field says. “This could be happening in other cities where there is a large number of prostitutes but no one keeps track of them. We talked to a number of outside investigators and experts and they all agreed that we were basically doing all we could be doing. Nobody had ever known of an investigation of this nature. I spoke to the FBI’s profiling unit and checked their version of VICLAS – Violent Crime Linkage Analysis System is an RCMP designed and operated national computer database program designed for the collection of information on serial offenses -- and they had never known of any kind of investigation like this. They said, ‘You’ve got a major problem on your hands and we have no idea how to solve the case other than to keep plugging away at what you’re doing’.”
Of course the task force has received severe criticism regarding some of their tactics in handling the cases of the missing women. Trevor Greene lists a few:
Deborah Jardine filed a well-documented official complaint for neglect of duty and poor service, which was summarily dismissed by the police complaint commissioner, as was a follow-up appeal.
Other groups and people charged that the VPD was far too slow to link the disappearances, what the FBI calls “linkage blindness.”
The common complaint from family members and poverty and prostitution advocates was the the disappearances would have been better investigated, had more resources expended on them, and ultimately been solved had they occurred in a more posh area of town.
However, the small number of investigators in the task force, certainly affecting the quality of the investigation, and the allocation of meager resources, coupled with the sheer monumental tasks at hand, takes its toll on the police officers working the case case on a personal and professional level makes this one of the most difficult cases in Vancouver’s history.
Detective Sergeant Neil Trainor, English policeman and Britain’s first geographic profiler at the National Crime Faculty parallels the West case and the Vancouver disappearances. “The police don’t really know how many women are missing and how many are possibly dead,” he said, “and that was very similar to the West case. Once you have a body then you can search for others. If they find one body that will unravel a lot of mysteries.”
Trainor was impressed by the Low Track prostitutes that he met while here. “A lot of them were a lot more switched on than I would have thought,” he says. “They looked out for each other, even the new ones, and I haven’t seen that here.”
Earlier in 2001, a joint forces team of 10 RCMP and Vancouver city police personnel began reviewing the cases to see if any needed to be added to the list of 31, replacing a stalled Vancouver police department probe that began in 1998. One of the major reasons for the stall were disagreements regarding the accuracy of some of the information.
In Sept 21, 2001, the size of the team rose to 16, that included two more from the RCMP and four from the Vancouver police.
In Oct, 2001 Police held a four-hour meeting with relatives of the missing women at the Delta Vancouver Airport Hotel in Richmond. About 50 relatives and 10 police officers took part.
A series of Sun stories in Sept 2001 revealed that the original investigation by Vancouver city police was hampered due to a lack of resources, as well as inexperience and infighting among several detectives.
The investigation eventually stalled, and earlier this year the Vancouver police joined forces with the RCMP to review the missing files, that included murders, attempted murders and assaults of women involved in the sex-trade throughout the province.
The main difference with this new team is the solid experience of the members and their being assigned to work strictly on the missing women case. The task force is trying not to repeat the negativity about the case that plagued the police from the beginning. They are making a special effort to communicate with the families as they diligently scrutinize the files.
A Task Force
Establishing a police task force is essential when investigating an unsolved murder series. Two types of investigations confront law enforcement agencies. The first is a task force formed to review ongoing murder cases where the perpetrator is unknown, such as in the cases of Wayne Williams, Ted Bundy and Larry Eyler; the second is when the perpetrator is known such as in the cases of John Wayne Gacy and Juan Corona.
Traditionally, police respond to the more common offenses such as burglaries and robberies, handle domestic disputes, control traffic and other public services. They are not trained to catch the serial killer who is not limited by jurisdictional boundaries.
Former FBI Agent Robert Keppel in Serial Murder: Future Implications for Serial Investigations lists the areas that despite the type of task force formed by a jurisdiction, unsolved serial murder investigations are characterized by the same difficulties:
§ numerous victims
§ hundreds or thousands of suspects
§ hundreds of acquaintances of victims
§ little or no physical evidence directly leading to a suspect
§ cross-jurisdictional offenses
§ thousands of telephone contacts
§ “pride of authorship” problems between individual detectives and administrators within one department
§ lack of experienced personnel to investigate and supervise the cases
§ inadequate experience in establishing a priority system for lead follow-up
§ improper press relations
§ ill-conceived filing procedures for case information
Certain ‘hot spots’ of crime show that some places have identifiable features of who decides to do what, where, and when. The mean streets of the Downtown Eastside have many features. Four primary hunting grounds reflecting four different types of selected victims are: the red-light areas; casual sex encounter places between homosexual men; large urban skid-row areas attended by men; and college campuses burgeoning with women.
In turning to the victims as ‘selected targets’, the following six activities are commonly engaged in by serial murder victims at the point of initial approach: sleeping at home; looking for a job; going to a tavern; working as a prostitute; walking on a college campus; and hitchhiking. Keppel notes how serial killers are ready to exploit those taking part in these types of opportunistic activities.
Rather than the police asking the usual questions about whether a person observed anything unusual or out of place, Keppel suggests that a more appropriate line of questioning may be focussed on what was usual and normal for that particular area. “Very rarely,” he writes, “will the serial killer be seen running down the middle of a road with a bloody knife in his hand. With the exception of Bundy’s sighting in the Chi Omega house, these serial killers operated for a long period of time without any actual witnesses to any one murder. Most of the witnesses observed these murderers in victim contact areas, apparently doing nothing out of the ordinary and not drawing attention to themselves.”
A Canadian-U.S. Connection?
Four investigators from the B.C. task force --- two detectives, a forensic scientist and a crime analyst --- headed for a meeting in Kent only a few weeks after suspect Gary Ridgway was arrested in four of the Green River slayings, were looking for some connection to any of the dozens of missing or murdered women in the Vancouver area.
King County detectives explained the evidence that they had on Ridgway, that included DNA, as well as the common threads in the Green River case that would be helpful for Canadian investigators to look for in their own cases. The Canadians explained the little they have on their cases and took back with them valuable knowledge on running task forces and large-scale murder investigations.
Meanwhile, Vancouver investigators are combing Canadian and U.S. immigration and customs databases to check whether Gary Ridgway crossed the border. Only 130 miles south of the border, many of Ridgway’s neighbors confirmed that he often traveled to B.C. and Oregon, using his motorhome to travel to B.C. It is not foolproof however because U.S. Customs agents at the Canadian border record only some license plates travelling south from Canada.
In 1984, when the killings appeared to drop off in the Puget Sound area, the disappearances escalated in Vancouver. Investigators surmised that the killer may have either died, gone to jail for an unrelated crime, or moved to another location to continue killing. Ridgway’s movements since 1985 have yet to be determined.
The victim profiles of many of the 50 missing women (although estimates are much higher) are remarkably similar to those of the Green River killings, the major exception being that no bodies have been recovered. DNA is not available for most of the Vancouver missing women; however, the DNA of the bodies of Tracy Olajide, Tammy Lee Pipe and Victoria Younker, recovered in 1995 could be compared to Ridgway’s sample. Tracy frequented Seattle with court records showing her there in 1988.
Canadian police informed the media that the deaths bear some resemblance with the Green River victims, however, Paul McCarl, the lead detective in the Canadian homicides is rather skeptical of a connection. “Some of the physical evidence (in the Green River killings) is not consistent with the three dead prostitutes from Vancouver,” he said. “I’m not really optimistic.”
Keppel, a consultant to the Green River task force and expert on serial-killer investigations tells the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that he encourages police to cast a wide net involving slayings of women and missing persons cases, hundreds of miles around Seattle. “When I talked to Ted Bundy,” he said, “he cautioned me that you should not think for a minute that a killer wouldn’t drive 300 miles in a day to kill someone. Going to Portland is nothing. Going to Vancouver is nothing. Going to Spokane is nothing.” Serial killer Clifford Olson drove incessantly along the highways of the Lower Mainland.
Sgt. Wayne Clary of the RCMP, in charge of the Vancouver case for the joint RCMP-Vancouver police 16-member team said to the Seattle Times. “When I heard about Ridgway, I was happy for the guys in Seattle and happy for the families. We’re dealing with families, and I know what they’re going through --- they’re looking at something to get hold of.”
But Clary is not overly optimistic, “We’re not even close to crossing our fingers at this point,” he said, “There are so many men with the capacity of doing this type of thing.” Police continue to stress that it is still far too early to make connections to Ridgway.
“We don’t even know if he’s been to Canada at this point,” said John Urquhart, King County sheriff’s spokesman. “I think people are making a leap that because there’s a ribbon of concrete connecting Seattle and Vancouver, that the same person must have killed (all) the women. … And the reality is, that’s probably not the case.”
The Hunt for The Vancouver Killer
It is not unusual for a serial killer to kill numerous times over many years before being identified and apprehended. Ted Bundy, was convicted of three murders but was suspected of at least 36 others, John Wayne Gacy was convicted of killing two but suspected of 28 murders.
The missing women investigation started out in 1998 as a Vancouver police department case despite the fact that some of the women moved from other areas to live in the Eastside. By the Spring 2001, a joint team of RCMP and Vancouver police was in force.
The hunt was on for the Vancouver killer with a larger task force set in place. “Five women added to list of missing from downtown eastside,” and “More officers join missing women probe: task force grows to 30 in bid to solve mystery of 50 missing females,” are two recent headlines in the local newspapers.
RCMP Constable Catherine Galliford said to the media that 12 additional officers have been added to the team, both from the RCMP and the Vancouver police department this month to assist with the huge work load of the task force, which announced this week an additional five women have been added to the list of those missing.
“We have an incredible amount of work to do right now with the file reviews and the gathering of information with regard to potential suspects, as well as needing resources to send downtown and interview the women who work in the sex trade in the Down town Eastside and the people who frequent the area,” Galliford said. “So those are the things that we really need to focus on right now and that is how we are going to use these resources.”
Canada certainly has had its share of serial killers. One that emerges among the deadliest is Clifford Olson, the one that Janet Henry had met as a youngster, who terrorized the Lower Mainland in British Columbia as children began to go missing, and whose cash-for-bodies deal and conviction in 1982 made national headlines. Michael Wayne McGray back East may be the most notorious, having been found guilty of six murders, and his claim of 16 others. William Patrick Fyfe was convicted of killing five women in the Montreal area. Allan Legere, dubbed the Monster of Miramichi, killed at least three women and a priest; John Crawford, named “Saskatoon’s Bernardo” killed four young native women; Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka were convicted in 1995 for the sex slayings of the teenagers Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy. The police admit that if there is a serial killer stalking the women in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, with at least 50 missing, it would be the most prolific in Canada.
Many unsolved homicides are attributed to serial murder. Since the 1950s the number of known victims has escalated yet the chances of becoming a victim are approximately .2 per 100,000 population. There is little information on serial murder victims. One known fact is that they are usually a stranger to the killer. Although most victims are young females, there have been young males, and the number of children is unknown.
Victims may be selected simply because they ‘crossed the path’ of the killer. Predatory stranger offenses are somewhat dependent on whether the victim is available at a particular geographical location. Serial killers typically use a ruse to capture victims: they select, stalk, and kill their victims, particularly when not as alert or aware of their personal vulnerability.
“The [Vancouver killer] knows what he is doing,” Jensen, a longtime investigator of the Green River murders, told Trevor Green. “He has a plan and he is carrying it out. Most murderers have a plan. Most don’t have a good plan for after the murder. That’s how they get caught. They may plan everything up to the bang, bang, bang, but ‘Now what do I do?’
“Serial killers live and relive these things again and a again. They have a pretty good idea from start to finish; from the time they walk out their door to the time they walk back in they know what they want to do. [The Vancouver killer] apparently has that degree of organization.”
The newly-formed Vancouver missing women task force began focusing all their efforts and resources into finding the person or person’s responsible for the missing women. The largest manhunt in Canadian history. Then, the task force got a lucky break.
A Break In The Case?
A property of interest
The investigation entered a new phase in the first week of February 2002, as Canadian police and the Vancouver missing women task force intensifies their search of a large Port Coquitlam pig farm, a suburb 35 kilometers east of Vancouver. Although RCMP Constable Catherine Galliford, a spokeswoman for the missing women task force, could not publicly confirm a major break in the case, it quickly became apparent that the task force had set their sights on a person of interest that led to a property of interest.
A Rottweiler roamed the ramshackle grounds of the pig farm at 953 Dominion Avenue, in the quiet community of 53,000. Signs at the gate provide clear warnings:
“This Property Protected by a Pit Bull with AIDS.”
“Private Property No Trespassing.”
“Admittance by appointment only!! (No exceptions).”
Detectives served a search warrant related to gun charges to Robert William Pickton. Members of the joint RCMP-Vancouver city police missing women task force were present for the firearms search.
When the police got inside the farmhouse on the property they spotted something -- undisclosed to the public -- that convinced them of foul play. According to the Vancouver Sun, they found identification of two of the missing women, but this has yet to be confirmed. The police promptly got a new search warrant, giving them permission to look for evidence related to the missing women case. The pig farm, a once 28-acre spread, some of which has been sold to build condominiums, still has 10 acres in the sprawling suburb, owned for several decades by the Pickton brothers, Robert and David, and their sister.
Police sealed off the swampy area with chain-link fencing around the perimeters of the farm, erecting floodlights, and preparing themselves for a round-the-clock stay. Roadblocks surround the area, controlling traffic and keeping onlookers away from the crime scene. Dozens of investigators can be seen lifting shovels full of barn material, picking up debris outside – a purse, a rolled up hose, a running shoe – as they anticipate many months in the search.
A working farm, the investigators called the SPCA to take away dozens of pigs, sheep, goats, cows and a couple of llamas, while the investigation is underway. Television cameras from local, national and U.S. media outlets scurry about under canopies in the drizzle to take in the two daily briefings.
Robert William Pickton has been charged with possession of a loaded, restricted .22 caliber revolver, unsafe storage of a firearm, and possession of a weapon without license or registration. No longer in custody, and not charged in case of missing women, he is due to appear in court on the weapons charges February 28th.
“We are not in a position to disclose to the media or the public any physical evidence that we may find here at this property or any other property,” said Galliford, “because that may be used as direct evidence in court.”
True to their word, the task force is keeping an open flow of communication with the families, meeting with them, and set up a tent for them at the crime site for privacy. People continue, however, to ask for a public inquiry into the handling of this case, nearing two decades, with more women vanishing every year. Meanwhile, families and friends of the missing women are in shock as they await a resolution to their long, grueling wait to find out what happened to their loved ones.
The largest police investigation in the history of British Columbia is underway. Soon we will know if any of the missing women are linked to this viable crime scene.
“The Heart Has Its Own Memory”
Overlooking the harbor in Portside Park is a memorial stone, engraved The heart has its own memory, in honor of the missing and murdered women of the Downtown Eastside. As of January, 2002, the total number reported missing is 50 women. Posters carry their names and the date they were last seen.
1. Rebecca Louisa Guno June 22, 1983
2. Sherry Lynn Rail January 30, 1984
3. Leigh Miner December 1984
4. Laura Mah 1985
5. Elaine Allenbach March 13, 1986
6. Teressa Ann Williams July 1, 1988
7. Elaine Phyllis Dumba 1989
8. Ingrid Soet August 28, 1989
9. Nancy Clark a.k.a. Nancy Greek 1991
10. Elsie Sebastien 1992
11. Kathleen Dale Wattley June 18, 1992
12. Angela Arsenault 1994
13. Catherine Louise Gonzalez March 1995
14. Catherine Knight April 1995
15. Dorothy Anne Spence July 30, 1995
16. Diana Melnick December 27, 1995
17. Frances Ann Young April 1996
18. Tanya Marlo Holyk October 29, 1996
19. Olivia Gale Williams December 6, 1996
20. Andrea Fay Borhaven 1997
21. Cindy Feliks 1997
22. Sherry Irving 1997
23. Stephanie Marie Lane January 10, 1997
24. Helen Mae Hallmark June 15, 1997
25. Janet Gail Henry June 25, 1997
26. Marnie Lee Frey August 1997
27. Jacqueline Maria Murdoch August 14, 1997
28. Cindy Louise Beck September 1997
29. Kerry Lynn Koski January 7, 1998
30. Inga Monique Hall February 26, 1998
31. Sarah Jean deVries April 14, 1998
32. Sheila Catherine Egan July 14, 1998
33. Julie Lousie Young October 1998
34. Angela Rebecca Jardine November 10, 1998
35. Michelle Gurney December 11, 1998
36. Marcella Helen Francis Creison December 27, 1998
37. Wendy Crawford 1999
38. Jennifer Furminger 1999
39. Georgina Papin 1999
40. Jacquilene Michelle McDonell January 16, 1999
41. Brenda Ann Wolfe February 1999
42. Dawn Teresa Crey November 1, 2000
43. Debra Lynn Jones December 21, 2000
44. Patricia Rose Johnson February 27, 2000
45. Heather Chinnock April, 2001
46. Heather Kathleen Bottomley April 17, 2001
47. Angela Josebury June 2001
48. Serena Abbotsway August 2001
49. Dianne Rosemary Rock October 19, 2001
50. Mona Lee Wilson November 23, 2001
I wish to thank Wayne Leng for his personal communications during these tragic circumstances.
DeVries, Sarah (No date). Life on the Streets. Personal Journals. Courtesy of Wayne Leng’s missingpeople.net website.
Geringer, Joseph (2000). Green River Killer: River of Death. Courtroom Television Network.
Goulding, Warren (2001). Just Another Indian: A Serial Killer and Canada’s Indifference. Fifth House. Calgary: Alta. Canada.
Greene, Trevor (2001). Bad Date: The Lost Girls of Vancouver’s Low Track. ECW Press. Toronto: On. Canada.
Keppel, Robert D. (1989). Serial Murder: Future Implications For Serial Murder Investigations. Anderson Publishing Co., Cincinnati, Ohio.
Keppel, Robert D. & William J. Birnes (1995). Ted Bundy and I Hunt for the Green River Killer. Pocket Books, New York: NY.
King, Gary C. (2001). Robert Lee Yates Jr.: The Search for the Spokane Serial Killer. Courtroom Television Network.
Smith, Carlton & Tomas Guillen (1991). The Search for the Green River Killer. Onyx/Penguin Books, New York: NY
Mendoza, Antonio (2000). Killers on the Loose: Unsolved Cases Of Serial Murder. Virgin Publishing. London.
Murdoch, Derrick (1983). “Runaways, Ramblers and Rascals.” In Disappearances: True Accounts of Canadians Who Have Vanished (pp. 44-53). Doubleday Canada Ltd., Toronto: Ontario. Canada.
Thorpe, Roderick (1996). River. [A fictionalized version of the Green River killings.]
CourtTV Online Chat (July 17, 2001). Spokane outreach worker Lynn Everson on the Robert Yates case.
Numerous magazine and newspaper articles courtesy of Wayne Leng’s comprehensive website: www.missingpeople.net
Updated: August 21, 2016