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Bob Stall: They aren't from Kerrisdale
The Province

Bob Stall The Province
Colin Price, The Province / Sandra Gagnon looks through photographs of her missing sister, Janet Henry.

Somebody (or maybe more than one somebody) is kidnapping and killing women in Vancouver because we don't care enough to stop him.

At least 20 women are now missing and probably dead, but we don't care to offer a reward for information or assign more than two overworked cops to try to find them, their bodies or their assailants.

The reason we don't care very much is that these women were all residents of the downtown east side and mostly prostitutes and drug addicts.

We -- in the persons of our elected officials and those they appoint to direct our police -- would care a lot more if 20 women were snatched from homes in Kerrisdale or Surrey in the past four years. That would have a greater impact on us because then we would be more likely to regard the victims as real people. Then we'd think of them as ourselves, our mothers, daughters and sisters.

But Cindy Louise Beck, Marcella Helen Creison, Sarah Jean Devries, Sheila Catherine Egan, Marnie Lee Frey, Catherine Louise Gonzalez, Michelle Gurney, Inga Monique Hall, Helen Mae Hallmark, Janet Gail Henry, Tanya Marlo Holyk, Angela Rebecca Jardine, Catherine Maureen Knight, Kerry Lynn Koski, Stephanie Marie Lane, Diana Melnick, Jacqueline Maria Murdock, Ada Prevost, Dorothy Anne Spence and Olivia Gale Williams are all real people. Every one of them is someone's daughter and many of them are mothers and sisters, too. They have all disappeared.

Yesterday I talked to a sister and daughter of Janet Henry, who hit the middle of the foregoing list after vanishing from her East Hastings Street rooming house on June 25, 1997. If she is alive today, she will be 38 next week.

But it isn't likely that Janet is alive. She went missing the same day she paid her next month's rent in full and she took neither her belongings nor the cash in her bank account.

That last day she spoke on the telephone to her sister Sandra Gagnon of Maple Ridge, with whom she was as close as sisters can be. They talked on the phone every day before and never since. "I miss her so, so much," says Sandra.

On that day, Janet talked brightly about coming out to Sandra's house in Maple Ridge on the weekend. They'd have lunch at King's Kitchen, where Janet would have her usual Coke with the combo that featured her favourite chicken chow mein along with sweet-and-sour pork. Then they'd walk and talk down near the docks.

Janet talked often those days about trying to kick her cocaine habit and get off the streets so she could see more of her 14-year-old daughter, Debra, who lives with her father in McBride. It was after splitting up with Debra's father in the late 1980s that Janet fell in with the guy who introduced her to sleaze and injectable drugs in downtown Vancouver.

Even in the worst times throughout the years, says Sandra, a day never passed without the two sisters talking on the phone. So it was a shock the next day, on June 26, 1997, when Janet didn't call and couldn't be reached. When another day came and went, Sandra feared a drug overdose and contacted the Vancouver police.

The constables took the call seriously and checked out Janet's room, which only ever contained a bed, sink, hot-plate, radio, clothes and toiletries. Everything except Janet was still there. She hasn't been heard from since.

I have a letter from her daughter, Debra Chartier, who is now a Grade 9 student at McBride secondary school. In it she says that "many special occasions" have gone by in the past two years and "I'm learning to live without my mom."

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."

She told me yesterday about a trip her mother made to McBride in 1997, three months before she disappeared. Janet arrived by Greyhound and stayed at the Sandman Inn. It was a happy mother-daughter visit, said Debra, although her mom "looked a little skinny."

On the subject of her mother's drug addiction, Debra said, "I don't think she knew I knew."

She wrote in her letter, "I don't plan to follow in her footsteps. I don't plan to be better than her either. . . . But I do plan to fight for her until she's found."

Debra has thought over and over of the many things that could have happened to her mother -- "kidnapped, run over, bonked her head or something" -- but she figures rightly that somebody somewhere must know something.

It's why she and others can't understand a government and police force offering a $100,000 reward toward the apprehension of west-side Vancouver garage robbers and nothing for information on the likely kidnap and killing of 20 women downtown.

Yes, Janet Henry is/was a prostitute and drug addict. She is/was a person with flaws, but she also graduated high school, had a baby, cooked and sewed, and loved her daughter, animals, music and chicken chow mein.

She is missed by her daughter and siblings, and if it is true that our lives can be measured by the amounts we are in the minds of others, then Janet Henry can't be ignored.

But someone is kidnapping and killing women like her in the downtown east side of Vancouver, and we don't seem to give a damn.

If you have any information on these cases, please contact Bob Stall by voice mail at (604) 605-2086, by e-mail at or by fax or letter at The Province.

Comments about this article? Send mail to Bob Stall

Bob Stall.jpg (21251 bytes)

Bob Stall: Lack of caring real enough
The Province

Bob Stall The Province
Jon Murray, The Province / Two-year-old Stephan Lane holds picture of missing mother Stephanie Lane. On couch are Michele Pineault, Stephanie's mother (left), Michael (Stephan's brother) and Stephanie's father George.

Mothers are calling me, politicians are calling each other and the cops are keeping their heads down while one or more killers remain on the loose and 20 or more Skid Row women are still missing and presumed dead.

Yes, there are just a lot of words and emotion flying around instead of rewards announced or extra police assigned in the wake of stories here and elsewhere about the women who have gone missing from the downtown east side of Vancouver.

The story of one of them, Janet Henry, appeared on this page nine days ago, along with an argument that reward money to solve the disappearance of prostitutes is as vital an expenditure as the recently-announced $100,000 reward for information on west side garage robberies.

After that, B.C. Attorney-General Ujjal Dosanjh announced that the provincial government will provide reward money to help find the women as soon as such a request comes from the Vancouver police.

Vancouver Mayor Philip Owen, in his capacity as chairman of the police board, responded, saying that he will put the matter before the next board meeting this month.

Friday, Vancouver-East MP Libby Davies urged Owen to support the call for a reward because "continued inaction on the part of the police makes it appear as though there is a lack of care and attention by those in authority about the importance of women's lives in the downtown eastside."

Davies is right. In fact, there still is a distinct lack of caring about the fate of Cindy Louise Beck, Linda Jean Coombes, Marcella Helen Creison, Sarah Jean Devries, Sheila Catherine Egan, Marnie Lee Frey, Catherine Louise Gonzalez, Michelle Gurney, Inga Monique Hall, Helen Mae Hallmark, Janet Gail Henry, Tanya Marlo Holyk, Angela Rebecca Jardine, Catherine Maureen Knight, Kerry Lynn Koski, Stephanie Marie Lane, Diana Melnick, Jacqueline Maria Murdock, Dorothy Anne Spence, Olivia Gale Williams and other women missing from the downtown east side whose names to date may not have been reported.

Many of us are less concerned about these women than our garages because they are/were all prostitutes or drug addicts or both, and thus not worthy of our worry. That's the too-prevalent attitude that is adding excruciatingly to the pain of their families, according to some of their mothers I talked to last week.

Michele Pineault, Stephanie Marie Lane's mother, said she was driven to phone me by a kind of prejudice which is plainly shown by the lack of caring and more subtly shown even in comments which purport to be constructive.

For example, she said, Attorney-General Dosanjh's suggestion of $1,000 mini-rewards to women on the list who come forward was "a final slap in the face."

Michele says that Stephanie, missing since January 1997, certainly would have made contact if she could have. Michele has been raising Stephanie's son, Stephan, since her disappearance when he was nine months old.

Stephanie, who would be 23 next month, was a stripper and table dancer at Number 5 Orange. Her stage name was Coco. She was addicted to heroin and cocaine.

Before she met the wrong guy in her mid-teens, she was a straight-A student and attended Britannia, Templeton and John Oliver secondary schools.

"She was pretty and very popular, and I guess I spoiled her. She was very important to me," said her mother.

"Now I've given up hope. I know she's dead."

Two readers who phoned were women from Kerrisdale, upset by my contention in the previous

column that people and politicians would care a lot more if 20 women were snatched from homes in more middle-class areas. They resented the headline, "They aren't from Kerrisdale."

One of the Kerrisdale readers, a lady named Patricia, said that $100,000 rewards for perpetrators of "home and garage invasions" are more valid because they are meant to combat "acts of terrorism."

"And those women," she said in reference to the missing prostitutes and addicts, "chose their own path."

Coincidentally, I got a call from another woman named Patricia who also once lived in Kerrisdale. She is Patricia Coombes, whose daughter Linda attended Grades 1 and 2 at Crofton House, the Kerrisdale private girl's school.

Linda grew up to earn a degree in microbiology from Waterloo University before returning to B.C. and becoming ill with schizophrenia.

When the B.C. government downsized mental hospital facilities, "they dumped her on the street in skid row," said her mother, who now lives in Point Roberts.

Linda Jean Coombes lived in the downtown east side until she went missing in April, 1994.

She didn't choose her own path.

If you have any information on these cases, please contact Bob Stall by voicemail at (604) 605-2086, by e-mail at bobstall@direct.ca or by fax or letter at The Province.

Comments about this article? Send mail to Bob Stall

Bob Stall.jpg (21251 bytes)

 

 

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Updated: August 21, 2016