VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Always immaculate, sweet, but no pushover, says friend
By Dirk Meissner
Tiffany Drew would stride into the women's drop-in centre in Vancouver's rough Downtown Eastside as if she owned the place.
She was tiny, not even five feet tall, and weighed less than 100 pounds.
But she had an independent streak and sense of style that made her appear much larger, says Elaine Allan, who worked at a centre for sex-trade workers.
Tiffany Louise Drew just wasn't like many of the other women who came to the centre.
Many who came to the Women's Information and Safe House (WISH) needed help, emotional and material, and they asked for it, says Allan.
But Drew, blue-eyed with wavy, dirty-blonde hair, would always show up with her entourage of friends.
She didn't appear needy and wouldn't ask for help, but would use the centre as a place to socialize and clean up, Allan says.
``She'd come to the drop-in centre, have dinner, have a shower, curl her hair, put on her make up, grab some clothing donations, hang out, visit, leave, come back the next day,'' says Allan. ``She always had friends around her.''
And Allan liked her.
Drew was kind and delicate, but ``she wasn't a pushover.
``She had a sweet temperament and she was feisty at the same time. I was happy to see her come into the centre.''
Allan, who still works with the people who live in the drug, crime and poverty-crippled Downtown Eastside, says Drew took good care of herself even though she lived a life of drug addiction and prostitution.
``Tiffany Drew was a beautiful young girl,'' says Allan.
``She was absolutely immaculate when she came to her appearance. She was beautifully coiffed and manicured at all times. She took a great deal of care to her appearance.''
Allan says she still finds it difficult to believe how a street-wise, sassy and aware person like Drew could possibly wind up among the 26 women Robert Pickton is accused of murdering.
Police say Tiffany was last seen in March 2000, making her 25 years old at the time.
Allan says she and Drew's roommate tried to report her missing when Drew didn't turn up, but police told them they needed conclusive evidence that she had vanished.
``Tiffany Drew had a best friend. The best friend came to see me hours after she didn't return home,'' Allan says.
She says she called a police officer who came to interview Drew's friend.
``The friend was hysterical. She kept saying, `You don't understand. We have a system. Women are going missing.'''
The system involved Drew calling her friend if she was about to be away from the hotel room the pair shared. Drew never took off without leaving a message about her whereabouts.
Months passed without any word from Drew.
Allan says police finally told her that Drew had gone into recovery and didn't want to associate with the drop-in centre or her old friends.
But then Allan got a call from a newspaper saying Drew was among the dead.
``I think I almost collapsed in my chair,'' Allan says. ``I just couldn't believe it. Time had just gone by, maybe two years. I just assumed she was OK.''
She says most of her experiences with the Vancouver police have been positive, with police always going beyond the call of duty to help women in distress.
Newspaper reports indicate Drew grew up in Nanaimo and Port Alberni on Vancouver Island.
She was a member of a large extended family and was a member of a championship softball team in Port Alberni.
But she started experimenting with drugs in her teen years, and the drugs became a habit and her family life fell apart. She ended up in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside working as a prostitute.
``She got so messed up in drugs and life in Nanaimo and went to Vancouver in 1998 and started the sex trade, she went deeper and deeper in the dark hole,'' says a March 2002 e-mail message from Drew's cousin, Cori Wilson.
The e-mail was sent to Wayne Leng, a former friend of one of the women Pickton is accused of killing.
Leng, who operates a website dedicated to the missing women of Vancouver, passed on the e-mail in an effort to shed some light on Drew's life.
Wilson and other family members did not return repeated requests for an interview.
``I want to tell people what she was like,'' Wilson wrote in the e-mail to Leng.
``Tiffany has a huge family. She is a mother of three children, has two sisters. There is 42 in our family and we are a very close (knit) family.
``I will never forgive myself for not doing more to help her get out of that vicious place she was in,'' Wilson continued.
``Tiffany had a smile that no one could forget. It's hard to put into words how beautiful of a person she is. We loved to sing together, go swimming, camping, you name it she was game for anything.''
Kelly Prado, Drew's younger sister, told the Bellingham Herald newspaper in June 2003 that Drew was always smiling, but drugs dragged her down.
Prado, who lives in Washington state, said she went to Vancouver to look for Drew, but couldn't find her sister.
Prado said she showed prostitutes and drug addicts pictures of her sister as a healthy, happy new mother, but no one recognized her.
They did recognize Tiffany's sad, drawn face in a photo found in a Vancouver crack house.
It was Prado who didn't recognize her sister's face.
© 2006 The Canadian Press
Updated: January 01, 2007