December 22,1999

The following appears courtesy of today's Reuters news wire:

Fate of Vancouver's missing prostitutes a mystery

By Trevor Greene

VANCOUVER, Dec. 22 (Reuters) - A real-life mystery involving more than two dozen prostitutes who have disappeared without  a trace hangs over the tough streets of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

While the media speculate that a serial murderer similar to the Seattle area's Green River killer is at work, some people familiar with Vancouver's sex trade think the answer to the missing women's fate lies docked at the nearby port.

Vancouver is Canada's busiest port and freighter crews are a steady source of business for the Eastside's prostitutes, most of whom are drug addicts who sell their bodies for a fix of heroin or cocaine. (The sailors) bring in tons of cocaine; it's so cheap in Asia and South America, so abundant. It's a form of currency on these ships,'' said Lincoln Clarkes, an Eastside photographer who has documented the lives of the area's prostitutes.

According to the theory held by Clarkes and others, the women's lives came to an end in the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean as the ships steamed to their next port of call. ``These sailors may come from countries where life is very cheap and they're looking at someone who is a drug addict and prostitute. They dope her up, she ODs (overdoses) or they OD her, then it's a midnight burial at
sea,'' Clarkes said.


Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, centered on Hastings Street a few blocks from the downtown core, is Canada's poorest neighbourhood, with one of North America's highest rates of HIV infection and, last year, a death a day from overdosing. 

Bars and shops are uniformly squalid. In the winter the rain is a constant companion to those living on the streets and on sidewalks that are stained with blood, urine, vomit, broken teeth, used needles, condoms and cigarette butts.

In the parlance of the street, the neighbourhood is known as ``low track,'' where most prostitutes are barely surviving. At least 29 have vanished from this area in the past 20 years, 23 of them since 1995. 

They were largely forgotten until this summer when one woman's family launched a public campaign for police action. Vancouver police have since posted a C$100,000 (US$67,600) reward for information and boosted the size of the investigative task force to nine officers. But they admit they have made little progress despite chasing every slim lead.

``There's been nothing to go on. We don't even know where (the prostitutes) came from,'' police spokeswoman Anne Drennan said. ``We've occasionally had reports of the prostitutes taken on board (ships) and passed around and abused. We've spoken to as many of these women as we can. We've spoken to cab drivers that may have taken the women to the boats. There's been nothing to say that's the case.''

Elaine Allan has probably heard all the stories of the street as an outreach worker and director of WISH, the Women's Information Safe House. She said her clients, the prostitutes, have told stories of being held prisoner on the freighters. ``One girl was on a freighter last year. The crew loaded her up on some pretty
strong heroin and wouldn't let her go. A friend who was keeping six (watching out) for her went and created a ruckus and finally got the crew to let her go.''

Allan said the freighters can be lucrative for the women as they can turn several tricks at once, and the drugs are also a lure, especially to the younger prostitutes whose addictions are out of control and who are less streetwise.


Not everyone agrees with the freighter theory. Prostitution counsellor Leonard Clear-Cunningham favours the idea that at least one local serial killer is at work and he believes the disappearances are not over.

``It's a variety of serial offenders, perpetrators of violence against women, and it's no surprise the body count has gone up. What do serial offenders do? They escalate. They don't just wake up one day and call it quits,'' he said. Allan agreed that local sex predators have probably been responsible for some of the disappearances, but she said not to expect answers or arrests soon, adding that the women themselves are the reason for that. 

``I had a girl come in here and her face had been ripped open by a crowbar.  She put cocaine in the wound, stitched it up herself, washed herself and came here. She never thought to go to the hospital, much less to the police,'' Allan said.

On the streets, the prostitutes are fearful to talk with strangers about the missing women, although some admit privately the well-lighted docks are seen now as being as dangerous as any darkened street corner.

Three well-dressed hookers sat in a parked car under a street light recently, not far from where the ships are taking on cargo. The two women and one transvestite drank coffee, smoked and chatted as a pop radio station played softly. 

The blonde woman in the backseat, Daisy, thought out loud in a cigarette-rough voice that she might be pregnant. Her two friends wondered if she would have the child. ``Oh yeah, I'm 21, not a kid any more.'' Daisy answered.


Vancouver cops find missing woman-Dec.17,1999



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

Updated: August 21, 2016