VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
The day Angela disappeared: Though different, on skid row she'd found a place to call home
Courtesy of The Province
A splash of colour against the grime of Vancouver's skid row, the gown stood out for Mark Townsend, manager of the Portland Hotel, where Angela had lived for seven years.
It was Nov. 20, 1998, and there was a community safety meeting in Oppenheimer Park, he recalls.
``Angela was there and really excited -- in her mind she was hosting the event.''
She bounced through the crowd, trying to con reporters into believing she was the police chief's daughter. Her idea of a joke, Townsend says.
Angela left some time between 3 and 4 p.m. Townsend assumed she was headed for the stroll where she turned tricks to feed her drug habit.
She hasn't been seen since.
Angela is one of 22 women who have vanished from Vancouver's downtown east side since 1995. Like her, they were prostitutes, drug addicts or both.
Police downplayed the disappearances at first, treating the cases as regular missing-persons files. Now Det. Lori Shenher, the lead investigator, says she's investigating them like homicides.
Despite Angela's problems, she always kept in touch with her mother in Sparwood. Deborah Jardine believes something sinister has happened to her daughter:
``She either has to be dead or held against her will for her not to contact me or Mark.''
It was never clear exactly what was wrong with Angela, says Deborah, who sought help from countless doctors, counsellors and social workers. But from the beginning, it was obvious she was not a normal child. Her co-ordination was shaky, her speech slow. The behavioural problems started in kindergarten.
Angela would wake up in the night and wander the house.
``She would go into the refrigerator and take all the eggs out and smash them on the floor.''
It was these erratic outbursts that condemned her to a life on society's margins.
Beneath the outlandish behaviour was a kind-hearted, sensitive girl few ever got to know, Deborah says: ``Even though she used to have a lot of arguments with me, she always used to call me up or make things for me or just come up and give me a hug and say, `I love you so much, Mom.'''
Angela left home at age 16 and lived briefly in foster care.
Then she moved to Vancouver's downtown east side, where she was soon sucked into the spiral of hard drugs and prostitution.
Angela spent her entire 27 years trying to fit in, Deborah says.
``That's one of the reasons she blended into the east side so well. . . . People didn't treat her like she was an outsider.''
Angela became a boisterous fixture in her tough milieu. She had a crowd of friends, people she called auntie and uncle who lived in nearby hotels where she crashed from from time to time.
In her tiny room, Angela left little behind but photos and memories. Townsend has saved her personal effects, hoping someday she'll show up to claim them.
There is an unopened Christmas gift, her white teddy bear, and clothes folded neatly in four small cardboard boxes.
Buried beneath family photos lie the remnants of her dreams -- pages of grade-school homework half done and a romance paperback that would no doubt have stretched her reading abilities. Its title: The Measure of a Heart.
Updated: August 21, 2016