Police expand missing women search to Mission marsh

Eight divers and 52 anthropologists to scour grass, bushes and water

Amy O'Brian
Vancouver Sun

Monday, July 21, 2003

Police announced Sunday they are searching a second property in connection with the 63 women who have disappeared from the Downtown Eastside in the past two decades.

CREDIT: Mark van Manen, Vancouver Sun

Police search a large area just east of the Ruskin Bridge near Mission on Sunday for evidence of 63 women who have disappeared from the Downtown Eastside. RCMP divers and anthropologists will join the search in the coming days.

After a year and a half scouring a pig farm in Port Coquitlam, police investigators on Sunday added a marshy patch of land west of Mission to their search area.

The wetlands area -- 350 metres long and 50 metres wide -- was being fenced off Sunday morning, soon after the Kwantlen First Nations band was served with a search warrant. The land belongs to the band, but there are no buildings on the property.

More than a kilometre of fencing was immediately erected around the site, which is in an unpopulated area of Mission east of the Ruskin bridge and south of the Lougheed Highway.


MISSING WOMEN INVESTIGATION OPENS NEW SEARCH SITE: Arerial photo of the approximate search area near Mission where RCMP are looking for more evidence in the case of the Downtown Eastside's missing women.

In the coming days, police investigators, a team of eight RCMP divers and 52 anthropologists will scour the soil, bushes and water on the small patch of land, said RCMP Corporal Catherine Galliford.

Police may not discuss the evidence that led them to the site because of charges against Robert (Willy) Pickton, the 53-year-old man charged with murdering 15 of the 63 women, most of whom were drug-addicted prostitutes working on the Downtown Eastside.

For the past 17 months, RCMP investigators and anthropologists have been sifting through the soil and searching property at Pickton's Port Coquitlam pig farm, which is about 25 kilometres west of the new search area.

Galliford said the Mission property has only recently become an area of interest.

"As soon as we became aware of this site and its connection to our investigation, we acted on that," she said.

Late Sunday afternoon, traffic moved at a crawl as it passed the fenced-off area, located between the Fraser River and the Lougheed Highway, a few kilometres east of the Albion ferry dock.

Dozens of contractors cleared dense brush and RCMP officers guarded the perimeter.

Some workers escaped the pounding heat in a large, open-ended tent at the west end of the site while others used shears and mowers to clear the thick brambles and grass that blanket the area. A steep incline that dips into the marshy slough just off the shoulder of the road prevented the public from seeing workers in the midst of the brush.

Detective Constable Sheila Sullivan, of the missing women's task force, said that before the area was fenced off, it was used for fishing and walking.

"People would go down and fish in there. There are pathways in there, so it [was] open to the public," she said.

The slough will be combed by a team of RCMP divers, while anthropologists will sift through any potential evidence. Once the grasses, weeds and bushes are removed, police will conduct line searches and do ground raking.

The search for further evidence at Pickton's farm will continue while investigators search the Mission property, Galliford said. About half of the anthropologists and police have been moved to the Mission site.

"The search out [at the Pickton farm] isn't necessarily winding down. We still have 52 anthropologists on site in Port Coquitlam and two sifters," Galliford said.

"We still foresee being on the Port Coquitlam farm property until at least the early fall and then, when we reach that point we will re-assess our situation, our investigation and, if we have to, we will apply to the courts for an extension."

Police will not say how long they expect to be at the Mission property nor what they expect to find.

For the duration of the search, there will be 24-hour security at the site and a Zodiac will patrol the mouth of the slough, turning away any boats that try to enter the sensitive area. Media will be allowed to observe activities from a fenced-in area across the highway for four hours each day, while police will make sure that cars keep moving and prevent pedestrians from walking on the road.

RCMP have consulted with the department of fisheries and oceans, the B.C. conservation office and a biologist from a private consulting firm to ensure that the search does not have any permanent effects on the wildlife and fish habitat of the area.

"We will replace any vegetation they advise us to at the end of this search," Galliford said. "We are taking every precaution necessary in order not to negatively impact the ecosystem."

Early Sunday morning, police called family members related to each of the 63 missing women so they would not have to hear of the new search site from the media.

Maggie deVries got the phone call at 7:30 a.m. and decided to face the cameras and reporters at a press conference held a few hours later at RCMP headquarters in Vancouver.

Sarah deVries was Maggie deVries' younger sister by eight years and disappeared from the Downtown Eastside in 1998. Sarah's DNA was found on the Port Coquitlam farm last August, but Pickton has not been charged with her murder.

Maggie deVries said she had mixed emotions when she heard about the new search site.

"It's horrifying and encouraging simultaneously," she said.

"It shows how thorough the search is and it gives me a sense that more will be discovered and we want as much as possible to be discovered, but I don't want my imagination to go far into what it means."

DeVries has written a book about her sister's life that will be published this week, and is working closely with a support program for prostitutes on the Downtown Eastside.

"It's so important just to keep remembering what this is really all about," she said.

"It's about 63 women who are missing, at least 15 of whom were murdered and one of them is my sister Sarah deVries."

Closing arguments from the Crown and defence lawyers in Pickton's preliminary hearing are scheduled for today, but Judge David Stone is expected to reserve his decision until the end of the week. 

 Copyright  2003 Vancouver Sun

Courtesy of

Missing Sarah, A Vancouver women remembers her vanished sister-2003



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

Updated: August 21, 2016