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Vancouver fears serial killer-30 women missing

By DAVID CRARY

Associated Press

July 24, 1999

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) – If a half dozen drug-addicted prostitutes from Canada’s grimmest skid row had vanished, few people might have noticed.

But as the list of missing nears 30, police grope for answers while fears of a murder spree grow.

In the Downtown Eastside – a neighborhood of pawnshops, saloons and run-down rooming houses close to Vancouver’s trendy harborfront – community activists and the remaining prostitutes are convinced at least one serial killer is at work.

Police investigators, unable to find even a single body, won’t quite go that far, but they agree foul play is almost certainly behind many of the disappearances.

“We have no crime scenes, we have no bodies…It’s very frustrating.” Said Ann Drennan, the Vancouver police spokeswoman.  “It’s one of the most difficult files we’ve ever worked, because of the lack of clear evidence.”

Drennan said police are about to add a couple more women to the official list of 27 missing prostitutes.  Six vanished between 1978 and1992, 21 since 1995.

They range in age from 19 to 46; each is described on missing-persons posters as “a known drug user and sex-trader worker” who frequented the Downtown Eastside.

Deb Mearns, who coordinates safety programs for prostitutes in the drug-infested neighborhood, has no doubt most of the missing women have been killed.

“You’re talking about women on welfare who didn’t pick up their last welfare check, who left belongings in a dingy hotel room,” she said.  “It’s not as though they could just jump on a plane and fly to Toronto.”

“If you want to find the most vulnerable women, this is where you come,” Mearns said, “A woman can just disappear, and no one’s going to notice for a while.”

Initially, the police department’s cautious approach to the case infuriated local residents, who said a comparable rash of disappearances from a wealthier neighborhood, would have prompted a massive investigative response.

By now, after repeated protest marches and memorial services for the missing, there is general acknowledgement that police are doing their best in the face of perplexing circumstances.  Half-dozen officers are working full-time on the case, including two missing-persons investigators and two homicide detectives, but so far no prime suspects have emerged.

Working half time on the case is Constable Dave Dickson, who has served 20 years in the Downtown Eastside and three years ago was the first policeman to sound the alarm as the disappearances proliferated.

“We have a feeling something bad has happened, but we don’t know what,” Dickson said.  “It could be one guy, two guys.”

He showed a visitor the latest “bad date sheet” – a sort of newsletter for area prostitutes which describes men accused of assaults and abuse.

“There are a lot of  ‘bad dates’ out there,” Dickson said.  “Where do you start when you’ve got a thousand guys capable of doing something like this?  Some of them don’t come down here for sex.  They come down to beat on the girls.”

Dickson says the remaining prostitutes are upset by the disappearances, but not enough to change their ways.

“If they’re heavily addicted and need money, they’re probably going to jump in the car with a guy no matter what anyone tells them,” he said.  “They come from such horrible backgrounds, they’ve been sexually abused their whole lives.  They’re not afraid of anything.”

The Downtown Eastside is Canada’s poorest, most crime-ridden urban area, scarred by heroin, cocaine and an epidemic of HIV infections spread by the dirty needles of addicts who openly shoot up in the alleyways.

Due partly to Vancouver’s mild winter, the area is a magnet for runaways, drifters, impoverished Indians and mentally ill people from across Canada.

Deputy Police Chief Gary Greer, former district commander for the Downtown Eastside, said the neighborhood’s street women make easy targets.

“With a prostitute who goes by a street name, who’s picked up by a john, and then another john, whose intention is to be unseen, to be anonymous – for a predator, that’s perfect,” Greer said.

Police also note that Vancouver is flanked by the sea and by mountains – ideal locations for hiding bodies.

“The possible grave sites are endless,” Drennan said.  “If there is a predator out there, he may have a common grave site.  But finding that is so difficult.”

Though most Downtown Eastside prostitutes continue working, many are offering tips to police and about 60 have signed a registry so they can be traced more easily.

“A lot of them are being more cautious now, working by day or with somebody else,” said Mearns, who organizes safety meetings for the prostitutes.  There have been self-defense lessons and sessions with investigators handling the case.

But Mearns said even the best advice wouldn’t have helped a woman like Angela Jardine, who disappeared in November – a 28-year-old with the mental capacity of a 12-year-old.

“She was like a big kid – very naďve, very friendly,” Mearns said.  “It would have been easy for a predator to take advantage of Angela.  She didn’t have street smarts.”

A $100,000 reward is being offered for information leading to a conviction of anyone related to the disappearances.  Police have sent missing-persons data to psychiatric hospitals and welfare offices across Canada and the United States, and the case is soon to be featured on the “America’s Most Wanted” TV show.

In the past, police say, women reported missing from the Downtown Eastside usually turned up within a year or two, sometimes alive, other times dead from suicide or a drug overdose.

“All of a sudden that wasn’t happening anymore,” Drennan said.  “They just stayed missing.  That’s what became most frightening.”

AP-NY-07-24-99

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Eastside Table of Contents Page
America's Most Wanted on FOX Network

 


LATEST NEWS                                                      

Andreathumb.jpg (4235 bytes)Lindathumb.jpg (4745 bytes) Andrea Borhaven and Linda Coombes

Sex-workers missing list grows by two
The Province

Lora Grindlay, Staff Reporter The Province

Two more have been added to a long list of women who have vanished in recent years from Vancouver's downtown east side.

Like 23 others, Linda Jean Coombes, 40, and Andrea Fay Borhaven, 27, were known sex-trade workers and drug addicts.

Police are investigating the disappearances of 25 such women.

Coombes, who struggled with mental-health problems, was last seen in November 1993.

Her mother reported her missing in April of this year.

Const. Anne Drennan said police received a letter from Coombes' mom in 1995.

"Her mother asked us to just do some general checking to see whether or not she'd been picking up her welfare cheques," Drennan said.

"She was not entered on the system at that time because we had only received a letter from the mother. There was no direct report of Linda being missing.

It was just that her family hadn't heard from her, but that apparently was not that unusual at the time."

Coombes is five feet 10 inches tall and has light-brown hair and blue eyes.

Vernon Mounties transferred the file to Vancouver police last week.

Borhaven was last seen in 1997 in the Lower Mainland. Her family reported her missing to Vernon RCMP last December. She lived with her mother in Vernon when she wasn't working in the downtown east side. She is five-feet-six and has brown hair and hazel eyes.

An offer of a $100,000 reward for assistance locating any of the women has not resulted in any substantial tips, Drennan said.

Tuesday, May 25, 1999

MORE MISSING WOMEN

(BCTV) - Two more women have been added to the list of sex trade workers who have disappeared from Vancouver's downtown east side. Forty year old Linda Coombes and twenty-seven year old Andrea Fay Borhaven have not been seen for some time and have now been reported to police. Vancouver Police Constable Anne Drennan says so far, there are few leads resulting from the $100 thousand reward posted last month. The actual wording of the reward still isn't complete but authorities say they hope to have it approved in time for next week's police board meeting.

PRESS RELEASE
For Immediate Release

Missing Women Memorial
Wednesday, May 12, 1999

Vancouver, B.C.

More than twenty women are currently missing from the downtown eastside. We, their families and friends, are gathering together to remember our loved ones, honor their lives and grieve their disappearance.

Service: 2:00 PM, First United Church, 320 East Hastings (at Gore)

Gathering and bench dedication: 3:30 PM, at CRAB (Portside) Park
foot of Main over the overpass)

A smudging ritual will take place outside both entrances to the church.
Burgundy ribbons will be available to wear in remembrance.
After the service, we will walk together carrying flowers west on Hastings to Main and north on Main to CRAB Park. Drummers will accompany us.

Reverend Sydney A. Morris, Senior Minister at the Unitarian Church of Vancouver, will facilitate in the park. Gabriel George, of the Burrard Band, will share a prayer and a song. Councilor Nancy Chiavario, Hon. Sue Hammell and MP Libby Davies have confirmed that they will speak. Mayor Philip Owen has been invited, but has not yet confirmed. Family members and other members of the community will speak.

Finally, we will dedicate the memorial bench.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made toward the Missing Women Memorial Bench, at any branch of the Bank of Montreal #27270-8060-059, or donations can be made on May 12 at the church or the park .

The media will not be present in the church, but are encouraged to join us on our walk and in the park. Media are invited to speak to the politicians, Maggie deVries and Wayne Leng, but are asked not to approach anyone else.

- 30 -

For further information contact Wayne Leng at 669-9047

 

REAPPEARANCE OF MISSING WOMAN STUNS RELATIVE

Vancouver Sun
Lindsay Kines

Tuesday, March 9, 1999.

The letter arrived last week, and Felix Parnell has been walking around in a daze ever since.

"I couldn't believe it," he said Monday.  "My heart was just pounding really hard.  Same with everybody in our family.  My wife was just shaking."

A year ago, Parnell went to Vancouver city police and reported niece, Ada Prevost, missing--one of 20 women who have disappeared from Vancouver's streets in the past four years.

Every since, he has been hoping to find her.

"For a long time though...deep inside, I felt that she was gone---that she was dead," Parnell said Monday.

Then, a letter arrived from Arizona State Hospital, and now he is preparing to bring Provost home---alive.

"It's wonderful," Parnell said.   "We're in a daze and can't believe it."

Initially, the family didn't know whether to trust the letter.  But they took it to Vancouver city police Detective Lori Shenher, who has been investigating the missing women cases, and she verified that Prevost is alive and well and staying t a psychiatric hospital in Arizona.

Parnell, who spoke with his niece and a hospital official by telephone Monday, said Prevost has apparently been in hospital since her birthday on Dec. 29.

In the conversation with her uncle, Prevost said she's eager to return to Canada.  Neither the police, nor hospital officials in Arizona provided any information on how Prevost ended up in hospital or why she failed to contact her family for more than a year.

Police media liaison Constable Anne Drennan said there was no indication Prevost had been abducted, or removed from Canada against her will.

Prevost was last seen in September 1997 and her disappearance was reported to police in March 1998.  Before her disappearance, she lived on the city's Downtown Eastside.

Nineteen other cases of missing "street-involved" women have been reported to police in the past four years.   The women's families and advocates have been calling for a police task force to investigate the possibility a serial killer is responsible for the disappearances.

MISSING WOMEN RAISE FEARS OF SERIAL KILLER

Robin Larsen--West End TIMES

March 5, 1999.

THE DISAPPEARANCE of 21 women involved in the sex trade during the past three years has raised fears among prostitute advocates that a serial killer may be preying on Vancouver's "most vulnerable women" as they play their trade on city street corners and in back alleys.

In 1998, eleven women went missing and remain unaccounted for, according to police statistics.  At least three other women went missing prior to 1995.  All lived on the Downtown Eastside and all were involved in drugs or the sex trade.  None of them took personal belongings with them, and they have not collected welfare cheques or contacted families since disappearing.

Jamie Lee Hamilton of Grandma's House, a safe centre for prostitutes, believes that these women and others are victims of a killer or killers preying on sex trade workers in the city but "because the women were street involved" there has been no "outpouring of concern" and no immediate action by police to find their killers.

Ms. Hamilton believes that the missing women are the victims of a serial killer who preys on Vancouver's "most vulnerable women."

"These disappearances must be treated as homicides and appropriate action and resources must be dedicated to finding the bodies.

"While police may be cautious about disclosing to the public that a serial killer or killers is preying on women, they are without conscience if they pretend these missing women have not been murdered," she says.

Police state that they do not have proof that the cases are linked, beyond the fact that all the victims were involved in drugs or the sex trade and frequented the Downtown Eastside.

"There is nothing that we have uncovered or has come to light that indicates there could be a serial killer involved here," Constable Anne Drennan, Vancouver Police Department information officer said.

ADVOCATES CHARGE POLICE WITH DOWNPLAYING 21 MISSING EASTSIDE WOMEN

WESTENDER
By Taryn Herriot

March 4, 1999.

Vancouver Police dismissed this week the notion of a serial killer preying on prostitutes on the Downtown Eastside.  Although there has been an increase in the number of women missing from the area over the last couple of years, there is absolutely nothing to indicate they are being targeted, Const. Anne Drennan said.

But Jamie Lee Hamilton of Grandma's House, a safe centre for prostitutes, believes that the police are not concerned enough about the missing women, currently numbering 21 since 1995.  She wants the police to treat these cases as homicides and to take appropriate action.

"If these women were not street involved, there would be an outpouring of concern and immediate action to find their killers," she said.  Drennan said Tuesday the allegation that the department doesn't care about these women is completely untrue.

"These are some of the most complicated investigations we do," she said.  "it is hard to find these women because it is hard to trace who they have been with, and they aren't usually reported missing right away."  Many of the women who are thought to be missing have sometimes left the streets altogether or moved to another city or province, she added.

Grandma's House released its strategy at a press conference this week.  It includes a call for a $100,000 reward for tips leading to any suspect or the bodies.  Increasing the missing persons office from two to three isn't enough, they say; it should be increased to 10.

DARWIN, DOWNTOWN EASTSIDE, AND THE DEAD

By Guy Bennett--The Flip Side

This Article appeared in The Westender

February. 26, 1999. 

Skilled predators have a talent for sniffing out weak victims.  Hence it should be no surprise that the Downtown Eastside is crawling with rapists and murderers.  Last week Malcolm Bruce Leach, 50, was charged with sexual assault and unlawful confinement after he lured a woman into his room at the Argyle Hotel at 106 West Hastings.  Bound to a chair with duct tape and chains, the woman was beaten and raped over a period of nine hours.

Two days later the police issued a warning to Downtown Eastside women to be on the lookout for a 35-year-old native male with a Viking tattoo on his left forearm and"Ron" on his right forearm.  This man befriends women, lures them to an isolated area with the promise of drugs, then holds a syringe to their necks while he sexually assaults them.

It would be reassuring to say that Malcolm and Ron are rarities.  But they're not.

They're run-of-the-mill sadists, working diligently within the laws of Darwinism.  When the fit get hungry, the unfit get eaten.

Since 1983, 27 prostitutes have been murdered in the Downtown Eastside.  Only three of these cases have been solved.   The police won't divulge what, if any, resources are being deployed to help solve the murders of the other 24 women.

As Vancouver photographer Lincoln Clarke has shown in his recent collection of portraits called "Heroines", the women of the Downtown Eastside are all to human.  When you look into their eyes, they seem tender and fragile.  We probably can't stop them killing themselves, but that doesn't make them legitimate targets for our rage.

Recently, the Vancouver Police and the Attorney-General offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the two men they believe are responsible for 31 home invasions--a crime in which most of the victims are elderly taxpayers.  This raises the question: why is there no cash reward for information leading to the arrest of the prostitute-killers?  Attorney-General Ujjal Dosanjh claims that a cash reward would be inappropriate in this situation, because there's no evidence linking the murders to a suspect.

"If the First Nation women believe that there is a serial killer who has been killing First Nation Women, I'd like to hear about it," Dosanjh said.  Let's think about this:  if the crimes are not linked, then we have 24 prostitute-killers, walking around unpunished--presumably looking for new victims.  How does the math break down?  We're willing to spend $100,000 to catch two home-invaders, and nothing to catch the 24 men who've murdered these prostitutes.  How disgusting.                                                                                                   


Recent Media Coverage of

Article--Angela Jardine missing--Downtown Eastside Vancouver

Community helping with poster campaign

Family concerned over daughter's disappearance

By SHELLEY L FUREDI--The Elk Valley Miner

February 25, 1999

AngieT.jpg (10076 bytes)

Sparwood residents are rallying to help Deborah and Ivan Jardine find their 27-year old daughter, Angela, who was reported missing from her Vancouver home in December.

The Jardines have been in contact with missing persons division detective Al Howlett in Vancouver, but at this time have been able to get no information on the case.

Angela, who lives in a hotel on Vancouver's downtown eastside, was last seen in early-December by her caseworker.

Deborah Jardine says she has been making phone calls, trying to get more information on her daughter's last-known whereabouts, but so far has only discovered more questions and, disturbing information, including the fact almost a dozen young women have gone missing from the same area.

She has contacted others who have had family members reported missing, and while they have been supportive, Deborah feels she isn't getting much help from official sources.

"If these women were from middle-class neighborhoods, it would be all over the news," she says.  However, the downtown eastside has a reputation as being a dangerous neighborhood populated by drug addicts and prostitutes.  The Vancouver Sun and CKVU-TV's Global News have done reports on the missing women, but little has been covered outside the region.

Deborah says if she had known about the danger, if she had heard about the missing women, she would have tried to get her daughter to move to a safer neighborhood.

"She was supposed to be moving to a new building this year."

This year has already been a trying one for the family, as Ivan was laid off during the bankruptcy of Columbia Chrome, and Deborah was in a car accident which prevents her from working.

"It's been one thing after another," she says.  Although she believes everything happens for a reason, the worried mother can't understand why anyone would want to hurt her daughter, who she says has the mental faculty of a 12-year-old.

The family feels going to Vancouver would be pointless at this time, as they don't know the area, and feel residents of Angie's neighborhood would not be comfortable talking to them, but they do plan on going at a later date.

HOPE FOR SAFE RETURN

They were first notified about their daughter's disappearance by Eileen McWade, Angela's caseworker.  McWade hopes Angie, who has lived in Vancouver for eight years, will turn up safe and sound, either on her mother's doorstep, or back in the city, but she says this disappearance is not typical for her.

"It's highly unlike her," says McWade, "not Angie's normal pattern."  While she wouldn't worry if Angie wasn't seen around for a couple of days, an extended disappearance makes her suspicious.  Usually, she sees Angie on the street a couple of times a week, and has coffee with her once a week.

She says not long before Angie's disappearance, they had gone clothes shopping together; the young woman was excited about upcoming Christmas parties, and planned on buying gifts for her family.

The caseworker says there are still two boxes of presents, sent by the Jardines, sitting in the office--a constant reminder Angie isn't around.  McWade misses the young woman who never hesitated to share what she had with others.

Angela is a generous, caring person, with a great love of family, life and laughter, says McWade.  She says Angie has said in the past she would like to return to live near her family, who she often talks about, but because of emotional difficulties, couldn't live in a small town.  She gravitated to the city, and to the eastside, because she would be more accepted there than in a smaller area.

Those emotional difficulties mean Angie can't hold a nine-to-five job, or wouldn't adjust well to a normal routine, but she is a free-spirited young lady, with a kind heart.  McWade says Angie's loud approach to life and mannerisms could and did open her up to problems; the area where Angie lives can be dangerous, and she was vulnerable to those dangers.

Family and friends of the missing woman have started a fund to raise money for 'missing person' posters and other materials to help find Angela.  Donations can be dropped off with Pastor Gordon Warriner at the Sparwood Christian Centre; to offer help with the poster campaign, call 425-7787.  Luscar workers have already donated $200 to the fund.

OTHERS MISSING

     Since finding out about her daughter, Deborah Jardine says she's been told about more than a dozen women reported missing from the same area in the last year, including two since December, and she's been in contact with the sister of one of the other missing women.

Sandra Gagnon, who lives in Maple Ridge, B.C., has been looking for her sister since June, 1998.  Janet Gail Henry, 37, is Gagnon's youngest sister and has two children who is taking her mother's disappearance very hard.

"Her daughter wrote a letter to the media, to anybody that will listen," says Gagnon.  "It's a very powerful letter, and she wants to find her mom so bad."

In her letter Debra Chartier writes:

My mom is an important part of my life even though she did have some problems and wasn't there most of the time.  I don't plan to follow in her footsteps.  I don't plan to be better than her either.  Nobody's perfect.  But I do plan to fight for her until she's found.  The person who probably took her is probably laughing at me or is filled with guilt.  But I hope this person will come forward.   She might have done this herself but who knows?  I wish I did.  But only one person really knows the truth and nobody can hide from him.

"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 have been proud of me but now part of my life is on the ground, shattered to little pieces also."

Gagnon says, "It's very stressful.  I have my days where I can't handle it."

She says this is the third sister she's losing--one was raped and murdered years ago--and her mother and twin brother died in 1993.

"It's just never ending, but I'm getting through it all, I have a lot of support."

She says Deborah is the first family member of the other missing women to contact her, and she would like to hear from others, so they could start an information and support group.

She has invited Deborah to stay with her in Maple Ridge and take her around the downtown eastside to introduce her to the community.   Gagnon has talked to some of the residents of the neighborhood, but some have given her false leads and false hope; one told her Henry was suffering from amnesia, but was otherwise safe and well at a location, which turned out to be a lie.

Some of the women reported missing were prostitutes or drug addicts.  In July, Vancouver POLICE assigned a second detective to the missing person section to focus on the cases.  The investigators will review all the cases to look for any similarities, such as where the women were last seen, the manner in which they disappeared, as well as whom they associated with, including friends, pimps or boyfriends. 

Why no reward? asks hooker's pal

He says cash offer might lead police to 21 missing women

The Province
Wednesday, March 31, 1999

By Frank Luba,
Staff Reporter

Wayne Leng is angry that missing women from Vancouver's downtown east side don't seem to be as important as home invasions or robberies.

Rewards of $100,000 are being offered to help catch home invaders and the thugs who rob drivers in their garages.

Leng wants to know why there's no reward for information about the 21 women who have disappeared from the downtown east side since 1995.

"I'm frustrated," said Leng, who has given up hope of finding his friend Sarah Jean deVries, the woman to whom his Web site at www.missingpeople.net is dedicated.

"For a long time we've wanted a reward and a task force.  They keep putting it off.  I'm angry about it.  The families feel the same way, they want a reward.

"If they were offering the same sort of reward to find some of these missing women, the would get people talking.

He says rewards are offered to protect the wealthy, while people on the mean streets just have to look out for themselves.

DeVries was in the sex trade, used drugs and disappeared in April 1998.

Leng thinks she's dead.

"I think so," he said yesterday.  "I really think so.  Nothing else makes any sense now."

Police doubt a serial killer is active because there are no links in the cases.

But Leng says the missing women were all from the same area, worked in the sex trade and were drug users, and their bodies have not been found.

"Those are common links," he said.

A handful of prostitutes have signed on with a registry program, said Judy McQuire, manager of the Downtown Eastside Youth Activities Society's needle-exchange program.

They fill out questionnaires detailing where they hang out, the agencies they visit and the names of their friends, partners and families.

Each participant gives DEYAS a password and is encouraged to check in once a week.

"If they go missing, we've got some sort of trail to follow," McGuire said.

A memorial service for deVries and the other missing women is planned for May 12.

PARK VIGIL HELD FOR MURDERED PROSTITUTES

By Sarah Papple
The Province.

November 12, 1998

Seventy people stood in a circle holding lighted candles yesterday as Olive Olajide mourned her murdered daughter.

Tracy Olajide, 30, a cocaine addict who supported her drug habit by prostitution, was slain three years ago.  She was the sister of professional boxer Michael Olajide, Canadian middleweight champion from 1985 to 1988.

"My grandson told me to say what was in my heart, "Tracy's mother said yesterday at a vigil for slain sex-trade workers at the Women's Monument in Vancouver's downtown eastside.

"If I said what I feel, I'll be locked up for heresy."

Tracy's body was discovered in a bush at Harrison Mills near Agassiz on Aug. 10, 1995.  Her killer has never been found.

Marion Dubick, a vigil organizer, said such murders often go unsolved because crimes against prostitutes are low on the list of police priorities.

"There are 18 women missing right now," said Dubick, "and those are only the ones that were in contact with friends and family."

Organizers of the event said 110 Vancouver prostitutes have been murdered in the past two decades.  Dubick said women are being raped, beaten and hooked on drugs while they work the streets.

"Human life down here is so disposable it's disgusting," said Dubick.

Lorna, a prostitute who works in east Vancouver, said: "It's worse than they say.  I'm scared every day for my life.  No one cares about it at all."

Vancouver police Const. Alex Clarke spoke to the gathering, urging people to come forward and work with the police to improve the safety of prostitutes.   "People are missing here," she said.  "There's a problem."

Clark declined to comment on the priority of cases.  "I just know that I'm concerned," she said.

Angela Rebecca Jardine

Investigation turns up more missing women-Sept 21, 2001

 

Email: wleng@missingpeople.net 

Missing Women Tip Line: 1-877-687-3377

Updated: January 01, 2007