VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
No bodies, no clues-Seattle Times
Posted at 07:33 a.m. PDT; Tuesday, August 3, 1999, The Seattle Times
No bodies, no clues: Women disappearing
without a trace
VANCOUVER, B.C. - Angela Jardine disappeared in her bright pink formal gown, leaving behind her life, which now fits almost neatly into a cardboard box and a plastic bag. There's homework on cell division, a romance novel called "The Measure of a Heart," and an unmailed Easter card to her parents: "Know how much I love you, Mother and Dad? A whole bunch!"
She was No. 28.
There are 31 women in all, women who waited on corners of streets named Princess or Triumph or Pandora. They sold sex and did the Jenny Crack diet of cocaine or heroin and maybe caught HIV or hepatitis. In their missing-persons posters, the women are described like this: "Known drug user and sex trade worker in the downtown east side."
There are few bodies. Few crime scenes. No evidence. These women left behind welfare checks and tiny bank accounts, children and parents strung out on guilt, and reputations for drug use and hard luck. They are just gone.
This mystery is befuddling the local police, alarming prostitutes and social workers, and attracting international attention. The government is offering a $100,000 reward for information. There's talk of a serial killer - maybe two or three. Prostitutes are being asked to register with drop-in centers and carry cellular phones that automatically dial 911. Police are being blamed for a lack of interest.
"You can always say somebody is not doing enough," Constable Anne Drennan said. "We are doing everything literally we can think of that we can do. We're not afraid to acknowledge there could be a serial killer or multiple killers."
A task force of nine officers is trying to find the women, the first of whom disappeared in 1978. Police are interviewing relatives, tracking histories, holding press conferences and starving for solid tips.
Vancouver police also are talking to officers in Spokane, where a serial killer is suspected in the deaths of 10 women, and in King County, where the Green River killer suspected in 49 deaths still hasn't been caught.
A Vancouver man now serving time for rape is being investigated in connection with the disappearances of three of the missing women, as well as four prostitutes whose bodies were found in 1995.
But there's nothing solid.
In the Downtown Eastside, sirens provide the soundtrack, and any place works for a bathroom. Hotels have weekly and monthly rates. Women parade and pose in Band-Aid outfits and stacked heels. Men drink rice wine, which, like drugs, costs more on Welfare Wednesday, the day government checks arrive.
The drug of choice is injectable cocaine, although heroin is a standby and crack is making inroads.
This neighborhood, just east of trendy Gastown along Hastings Street, is known worldwide for its high HIV rate - at one point, one in four drug users tested positive. The local drop-in center for prostitutes estimates 80 percent of its clients are HIV positive.
The needle-exchange center hands out more needles - about 2.4 million a year - than any other center in North America.
Only 18 people were murdered in Vancouver last year. But 193 died from overdoses of heroin, cocaine or illicitly bought methadone.
"We don't have a lot of success stories," said Elaine Allan, a coordinator for the local drop-in center. "I think our women are dying."
Father grieves for daughter
Stephanie Lane was No. 16. George Lane last saw his daughter when he helped her through three days of shaking and puking while she tried to kick heroin and cocaine.
Lane practiced tough love. His daughter was last heard from when she charged a call to her mother's calling card on Jan. 11, 1997.
Still, Lane can't really talk about her. Twice, he abruptly leaves the table to avoid crying in front of visitors. He spreads out his daughter's 8-by-10 school pictures, all of which feature a girl with a smile like a light. Finally, a tear comes down.
"This is like picking at a scab, a festering sore," said Lane, who talks about his daughter in the present tense and corrects people who don't.
Stephanie Lane and the other missing women worked an area known as the Lower Track. Elsewhere in the city, prostitutes work in Mid-Track, or High Track, or Kiddie Stroll or Boys Town. In the Lower Track, $10 can buy oral sex. Some women will go cheaper, even for a pack of cigarettes and a rock of cocaine, depending.
Patricia Gay Perkins was the first to disappear, back in 1978. But no one reported her missing until 1996. Four women vanished in the 1980s. The pace picked up in 1995.
Women who sell sex and use drugs go missing all the time. They check in for rehab. They leave the streets. They move without leaving a forwarding address.
Then Black Sarah vanished, about 4 a.m. on April 14, 1998. She was No. 25. That's when people really started noticing that the missing stayed missing.
Sarah DeVries, with a sly smile and a bug-zapper personality, is the woman everyone knew. Funny, outgoing, artistic. Now, everyone on Hastings claims her as a best friend. She is their symbol.
In her journal, she wrote a poem about a woman beaten to death. "Just another day. Just another death. Just another Hastings Street whore sentenced to death."
She wrote bitterly about her life. "Will they miss me when I'm gone, or will their lives just carry on?"
DeVries also drew pictures, suns and moons with big eyes and wet tears. She scribbled fantasies of dragons and unicorns and princesses in her sketchbook. She vanished in front of the Princess Market.
"Nobody has seen her since then," said her mother, Pat DeVries. "And she was not a transient. That was her home, her hangout. Then she was just gone."
Wayne Leng, an automotive technician who calls DeVries a close friend, was one of the last people to see her. The night before she disappeared, he fed her Froot Loops. Then he dropped her off on the Downtown Eastside, about 8:30 p.m. "I'll see you, my friend," he said.
"Be cool," she replied, walking off in her blue stretch pants, stiletto heels and paisley blouse.
After she disappeared, Leng was one of the first people to notice. He called police. He called her parents. He made posters and tacked them up around town.
He also developed a Web site devoted to the missing women.
Leng and family members of other women and activists started pushing the police - for something, anything. Many of the missing are women from Canada's aboriginal tribes. Most of their pictures feature women who don't smile, with pinched faces and old eyes and sores.
A memorial for all the women was held in May, on what would have been DeVries' 30th birthday. About 300 people showed up at First United Church, which offers itself as a shelter in the heart of the Downtown Eastside.
After the memorial service, George Lane and his wife threw out Stephanie's clothes. They'll buy her new clothing, if she shows up.
Are police doing enough?
Women are still working Lower Track. The men don't come out as much, and the women complain about that. They also complain that the police haven't done enough.
Mecca Turry walks down an alley. She is 24 and looks like a schoolgirl on, well, heroin. She wears a plaid jumper, black boots, white anklet socks and a backpack that looks like a leopard stuffed animal.
And she crumples into tears when asked about the missing women, hugging her shaved legs with dirty hands with dirty fingernails that still have flecks of green glitter nail polish. She rocks on her heels. She has scabs like chickenpox everywhere.
She's scared of this life, scared that she can't think of a person in the world who would notice if she went missing.
Bandages and condoms slip out of her backpack. She has a drug kit in there too, and a knife, just in case anything goes wrong, not that the knife will help much, because things go wrong all the time. She is homeless, and she wakes up with men on top of her. Some men won't pay.
"It's just like I don't know how to love somebody," said Turry, who smoked crack earlier. "This is all I know. I don't really think about it."
A "bad-dates" list put out every 10 days by a social-service agency highlights the worst customers. Like the guy who offered a woman a rock and then stuck a cattle prod in her back. Or the guy with the beer belly and new burgundy van who wouldn't let a woman leave and smashed her in the face and broke her nose and cheek.
Rape is routine. Being hit with a crowbar isn't unusual.
Women on the street corners say they worry about the missing women, and they call them best friends, but they are trying to make enough money to get the fix that keeps them from shaking and puking. More than before, they "keep six" for each other, street lingo for watching out for another prostitute who's working.
Most say they want to get out of this life, but they don't know how to get there. Vicki Anne Fraser, with Barbie-doll hair, a missing tooth, pearls around her waist and an excuse for a skirt, says she needs money and she's smart enough to see a bad trick. She has been selling sex in the Downtown Eastside for 23 years. She's 39.
She says DeVries was her best friend. She says she used to help Jardine shoot up, because Jardine couldn't do it alone. She misses her friends.
"I'm devastated. I'm heartbroken. I'm worried," Fraser rattles off. "I don't know where they are. I love them all. I worry each day they're being tortured."
There could be several killers
Those who work with the women down here think more than 31 are gone. The Rev. Ruth Wright of the First United Church calls 31 a low estimate. "I think most are dead," she said.
It's tough to tell without bodies. People point to serial killers like John Wayne Gacy or Jeffrey Dahmer, serial killers who weren't discovered until a cache of bodies was found.
Many people believe the bodies could be buried in the forests that surround Vancouver. Or they could be on the large ships that come into port in Vancouver. Or they could be dumped at sea.
There could be one killer. Even scarier, there could be several.
"The investigators have this huge void of information," said Constable Drennan, who admits the police force desperately needs more officers. "There's nothing to start from."
Jardine was 27 when she disappeared from her studio apartment in the Portland Hotel, where the vitamin drink Ensure is a staple food and half the residents have HIV.
But Jardine functioned mentally like a 12-year-old, family and friends say. She trusted everyone. When someone once gave her a Halloween mask, she ran up and down the streets, into drop-in centers and places where she knew people, laughing in a dress and a big hairy gorilla mask, trick-or-treating for candy.
She spent Nov. 20 helping out at an all-day seminar on streets and violence held in a local park, which at night turns into a haven for drugs and rice wine. She wore her formal gown, and she kept passing notes to Liz Evans, asking first for $5 and finally for $50 for helping.
Evans, the associate executive director of the Portland Hotel, gave her $10.
"I waved her off, and I said goodbye, and that's the last I saw of Angie," Evans said. "For me, the whole thing of this missing women, it's like being a prostitute equals a death sentence. That shouldn't happen."
Kim Barker's phone message number is 206-464-2255.
Copyright © 1999 Seattle Times Company
Updated: January 01, 2007