I'm not going to give up

Sandra Gagnonís sister disappeared in 1997, but she will never stop hoping

The Vancouver Province
By Damian Inwood

Sunday, November 12, 2000

In Sandra Gagnonís 44 years, sheís seen enough pain and tragedy for a dozen lifetimes.

Her Alert Bay fisherman father was washed overboard and drowned when she was five.

Her sister, Lavina, was raped and murdered in Nanaimo in the early Ď70s.

Gagnon says she herself was held against her will, and raped, when she was 16.

Another sister, Debbie, who was abused in a foster home, committed suicide in 1981, aged 21.

Her twin brother, Stan, died at age 34 in Vancouver in 1990, after being hit by a police car.

Her 55-year-old sister, Dot, has diabetes and has been in hospital with infections.

But the Maple Ridge house-cleaner says none of this compares to the pain sheís suffered since another sister, Janet Henry, vanished off the streets of Vancouver more than three years ago.

"This is worse than anything," she said. Janet was my favourite. I think itís the most painful thing to go through, not knowing if we will ever find her."

Gagnon looks at family photo albums while housesitting at her sister Dotís East Vancouver apartment.

There were 10 kids in her Alert Bay family. The first five went to residential schools, the rest to foster homes.

"I always look at all the albums because they are all happy-looking pictures," she said. "Itís hard to believe that most of them are gone."

Gagnon says she canít give up her campaign to try and find out what happened to her 37-year-old sister. Janet, a drug user and prostitute, vanished in June 1997.

She left money in her bank account and had paid the rent for her Downtown Eastside room.

"Iím not going to give up until I find her," she said. "I donít care how long it takes."

Gagnon said she used to talk to her sister on the phone every day.

"If I wasnít home my sister would leave a message saying, ĎI love you. I miss you very much. Iíll talk to you later.í No matter what condition she was in she could remember my number," added Gagnon.

Henry is one of 27 women from Vancouverís Downtown Eastside whoíve gone missing, mostly in the last five years. There is a $100,000 reward posted for information which may lead to the person or persons behind the disappearances.

Gagnon said that after her sister vanished, she took a poster around downtown and talked to prostitutes, trying to get information.

"It was hard for me to go through those bars down thereóitís scary," she said.

When she didnít hear from Janet in June, Gagnon called 911 to check with police if her sister had overdosed in her room.

"They went to her room and her bed was made and her slippers were by the bed, but she never came home," she added.

Gagnon said she talked to a prostitute who described the disappearance of another woman who had agreed to go on a ship with five Asian men and never returned. "I wonder if thatís what might have happened to Janet," she said.

Gagnon was married for 17 years and has two grown-up sons.

"When my grandson was born, I wanted to tell my sister, Janet," she said. "Youíre happy but on the other hand itís heart wrenching because I canít tell her all the fun things."

Gagnon says she phones Janetís 16-year-old daughter Debra, every day.

Debra lives with her father, Janetís ex-husband, in McBride and wrote a heartbreaking letter, which can be seen at

"She wants to find her mom," said Gagnon. "When her mom went missing, Debra said her mom wonít be there for her graduation or for her wedding and when she has children. Debra took pictures of the mountains when her mom went to visit her in McBride. Debra put them aside for her, but her mom never came back."

Gagnon says the only time she goes back to Alert Bay these days is for a funeral.

"All the relatives are buried up there," she said. "If we end up finding my sister Janet, we want to bring her back to Alert Bay."

With 28 missing women on the books, a four-member Vancouver police task force is completing a review of the file. "They are looking for anything that might have been missed," said spokesperson Const. Anne Drennan. She said once the review is finished police will give the file to the provincial unsolved homicide unit.

Last month, a 28th woman, Jennifer Lynn Furminger, a prostitute and drug addict who disappeared last December, was added to the list.

Letter from Debra, Janet's Daughter

     Another year passes by; but still no trace of my mom.  I am one to express myself.  I find that I express myself better in writing than talking "but" even then I am open.  So far many special occasions have gone by without my mom.  I just sit there and feel no pain!  Just another day right?  I'm learning to live without my mom.  I do miss her but I guess its been too long to feel a whole a hole lot!  I learned to take each day as it comes!  I don't think I'll be seeing my mom these coming days.  It seems as if the people who cared just left me in the middle of nowhere; all by myself.  They say its my problem and only mine!  It really sucks, because I'm only one person and I'm still young.  I shouldn't have to deal with all this crap by myself!  I need people to help me and back me up when things don't work.  My Aunt Sandra tried to get America's Most Wanted to help us out but they turned us down.  Yet, on that show they still show people who are missing, but they're all little kids and no adults.  It's as if they only care about kids and not kid's parents.  To me its dumb.  I don't see why they can't take 5 minutes to talk about my mom.  I'm not putting down the show or anything, but I just wish there was more things I could do for my mom!  All my letter writing doesn't seem to be working too well because people don't care!  But I'm still trying, for my moms sake!  Maybe something will happen when somebody notices all the hurt and agony in my family.  To all the people that don't care, I'd like to see them deal with this at my age, and survive it!  Then they'd get it and start caring.

    All the posters my family put up are probably all down now because of more important things.  What could be more important on this earth than a human being or a loved one?  I guess she's so called "old" now.   Out with the "old" and in with the "new" right?  Yeah right.  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.  I believe in him and I believe that someday he's coming back and then maybe we'll find the truth as to what happened to my mom.  In the mean time we can try to help find her ourselves.  If she's still alive she's probably wishing we'd find her.  I don't see how she could have run off because I know she loves me.  She told me that in the summer she wanted to come back and visit me again.  She wanted to stop her drinking too, maybe for me and aunty Sandra, or just for her, but now her dreams are all lying on the ground shattered to little pieces.  She won't see me graduate 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.

    From Debra who loves her mother very much

P.S. Somebody please help me.

Janet Gail Henry

Janets Wedding Day

Three more eastside women vanish-Feb 9-2001



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

Updated: August 21, 2016