VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Murdered prostitute cases the toughest
Tuesday, September 31, 1999
FOUND DEAD: Kari Gordon disappeared in 1997. Her body was discovered in March 1998 at Little Lillooet Lake, near Pemberton.The murder of Kari Anne Gordon received scant media attention when her body was found on the shores of Little Lillooet Lake near Pemberton in the spring of 1998.
A 26-year-old Vancouver woman, she had worked in the city's sex trade before vanishing in late April 1997 -- long before the growing number of missing women on the Downtown Eastside became an international story.
Gordon's murder, however, is one of dozens of homicides that have been reviewed by Vancouver city police detectives checking for a link to the disappearance of 31 women from the city's poorest neighbourhood since 1978.
Newspaper and police reports show there have been at least 60 homicides of women working in B.C.'s sex trade or living a similar lifestyle in the past two decades. Unlike the missing, these are cases where police recovered bodies and found clear evidence of foul play, and, as the Gordon case clearly illustrates, they are among the most difficult cases police ever investigate.
Of the 60 victims, the majority lived on the Lower Mainland or Vancouver Island, most of the murders occurred in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and a large number -- at least 40 -- remain unsolved.
Vancouver detectives working on the missing women files have met with RCMP investigators, as well as members of B.C.'s unsolved homicide unit, to review the cases and check for common threads between the murders and disappearances.
"We haven't found anything that matches at this point," Sergeant Geramy Field, who heads the Vancouver police team of eight officers assigned to the missing files, said. "But we're in constant contact with other investigators."
RCMP Sergeant Bob Paulson, one of the investigators on the Gordon case, said in a recent interview that her murder has not been linked to any other killing or disappearance.
"But we certainly have to be open to the possibility that because of her lifestyle, because of her trade, that she could be a victim [in] a group of many."
Obviously, Paulson said, investigators recognize that women in the sex trade are at high risk of being harmed by strangers. "So we're trying to keep abreast of all the developments with the Vancouver sex trade task force, other unsolved prostitute murders, and looking for similar facts in those cases."
But Paulson said the Gordon inquiry is two-pronged, and investigators are also aggressively pursuing the possibility that she was murdered by a friend or associate.
In that regard, the Gordon case demonstrates the challenge of trying to crack a case where the victim may not have known her killer, and where many of the victim's acquaintances live in a community wary of police. Potential witnesses, who are involved in drugs and crime, often stonewall investigators, or if they do talk, their recollection of times and dates is hazy at best.
This is the case with a number of Gordon's friends and acquaintances on the Downtown Eastside, where she lived after running away from home in Prince George at age 13.
"I would go and bring her home, and she'd run away again," her mother, Noreen Gordon said in an interview. "And I'd go and bring her home, until finally the police told me that children have rights too and I could be charged with kidnapping if I forcibly restrained her and put her in a van and brought her home.
"When she was 18, I finally gave in and signed her over to be a ward of the court because it gave her more advantages and because it took me five years to believe she wasn't coming home.
"It's one of the hardest things I ever had to do in my entire life is give up my child.
Noreen Gordon says she last saw her daughter alive in January, 1997. Kari had been home for Christmas and New Year's before returning to Nanaimo, where she was trying to cut her ties to drugs and the Downtown Eastside. She had a young son and she was hoping to regain custody of him from her ex-husband.
"She was over in Nanaimo trying to straighten her life out," Kari's sister, Kjersti Halabisky, said. ". . . I do know she was trying to get her life together."
Whether she succeeded isn't clear. Her family believes she was free of drugs and no longer working the streets. "I don't think she was when she was up visiting me," Halabisky said. "I don't think she was into prostitution. I really don't."
Halabisky, however, acknowledges that her sister would relapse from time to time. "So when times were tough, I know she went back using, and probably went back to the streets for that. I don't really know if she'd sell her body to get the drugs. I think at that point she probably would have stolen to get the money for drugs."
Still, her family is unable to say for sure what Kari was doing in the days before she disappeared. After New Year's Day, 1997, neither Noreen Gordon, nor Halabisky, ever heard from Kari again.
Kari Gordon's ex-husband, who has custody of their son and lived in Coquitlam at the time, has told police he last saw Gordon on April 27, 1997.
On that day, Gordon's ex-husband says she was on her way to smoke a joint with a friend before heading back to Nanaimo to pick up her welfare cheque.
Police say the male friend with whom she smoked the joint tells a similar story, although his memory lacks clarity.
Whether Gordon ever got to Nanaimo, however, is unclear. It was her practice to take cabs from the ferry to the house where she stayed. But police have checked with taxi companies and have been unable to find any record of Gordon taking a cab, or anyone who remembers her.
Meanwhile, the man with whom Gordon usually stayed in Nanaimo left B.C. shortly after she was last seen. Police have tracked him down in Toronto and he has told investigators that Gordon's welfare cheque was on the refrigerator one day, and gone the next.
Investigators have contacted social services and determined the cheque was never cashed.
"So did she make it to Nanaimo?" Paulson asks. "And if she did, what happened?"
Less than a year later, on March 18, 1998, three men walking along the shores of Little Lillooet Lake discovered Gordon's remains. Police say she had been there for some time, her body likely dumped in the water and then deposited at the high-water mark during spring flooding.
The remote spot is located about 30 kilometres south of Highway 99, next to a forestry road that leads to the Baptiste Smith Indian Reserve.
Paulson declined to release any information about how Gordon died or the manner in which the body was left, since that is presumably information known only by police and her killer.
"In this case," he said, "we have a fair bit of information about this scene and about the circumstances under which she died and was put there, and I don't want to disclose that."
He said investigators are currently pursuing a couple of possible suspects, although "after a certain point, it just becomes a big maze."
"Kari knew an awful lot of people," her mother, Noreen Gordon confirmed. "She was a very, very warm person. She would do anything to help anybody, whether she knew them or not."
Whenever she visited her daughter in Vancouver, Noreen Gordon said she was amazed at the number of people Kari seemed to know.
"She was always running into people she knew. If we went for one afternoon out in Vancouver, we'd go downtown . . . down to Pigeon Park and all that. It would be nothing for her to run into 50 people she knew; my head was just spinning by the time we got back to her place."
Today, more than a year after Gordon's body was found, the homicide investigation could still go one of two ways, Paulson said.
"If the killer is an associate of hers, then we will have investigated that person, and hopefully we'll be able to move this file forward," he said.
But if she was killed by a stranger, the file becomes that much more difficult, because the list of potential suspects becomes enormous.
To date, investigators continue to pursue both angles, and although they have located and interviewed numerous persons of interest, Paulson says: "We haven't been able to categorically eliminate any of them."
Kari Anne Gordon
Updated: January 01, 2007