VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
They Aren't From Kerrisdale
From The Province, Friday April 2, 1999
BOB STALL---Stall Stories
20 women disappeared in the past four years yet little is being done to find them
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.
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 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 mien.
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.
Sandra Gagnon looks through
photographs of her
If you have any information on these cases, please contact Bob Stall by voice mail at (604) 605-2086, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by fax or letter at The Province.
Updated: August 21, 2016