Task force urged to probe women's deaths

B.C. criminologist slams police investigation into nine similar cases

Jodie Sinnema
The Edmonton Journal

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

EDMONTON - A leading Canadian prostitution expert has slammed police for not starting a formal task force into the discoveries of nine women's bodies outside Edmonton.

RCMP / Katie Sylvia Ballatyne

Most of the women, whose bodies were found over the last 15 years, led what police call high-risk lifestyles, in some cases including prostitution.

A farmer found the latest body, of Katie Sylvia Ballantyne, in a hayfield east of Leduc on July 7 -- the fifth in 10 months.

Police have said Ballantyne, 40, was not necessarily in the sex trade but led a high-risk, transient lifestyle that may have involved drugs.

Prostitution expert John Lowman, a criminologist at Simon Fraser University near Vancouver, castigated the RCMP and Edmonton police Tuesday for not setting up a formal task force like the one in Vancouver to investigate the disappearance and murders of more than 60 prostitutes.

He said a task force should look at all nine suspicious Edmonton-area deaths, and especially the cases discovered in the last 10 months.

"What if this was nurses? What if this was policewomen?" Lowman said."What are they doing? Have they not learned anything in the last 10 months?

"... You need concentrated person power on a case and you send out a very important symbolic message that prostitutes deserve the same amount of protection as any other human being in Canadian society."

Police have been tight-lipped about the causes of any of the women's deaths, discovered in fields, ditches or brush. Five bodies were found east of the city in Strathcona County and Elk Island Park, two within six kilometres of each other.

The smouldering body of Edna Bernard was found on Sept 23, 2002, like Ballantyne in a field east of Leduc.

All of the women except Ballantyne were between 20 and 30 years old and at least three of the women were petite, between five-foot-three and five-foot-five.

Lowman said the Ballantyne investigation team has acted sensibly, at least, in talking to counterparts in Vancouver and elsewhere to ensure it hasn't overlooked anything.

The RCMP have assigned a senior investigator to a team that includes 12 officers. City police have provided a homicide detective as a liaison officer.

The investigation includes support staff to manage files and put information into a sophisticated computer program that can spot possible links with the other cases. But police say the team, focused on Ballantyne's death, is not a task force.

Even so Keith Spencer, a University of Alberta criminologist, said he believes there is a task force in place, though it's unofficial. He said police and RCMP will be carefully compiling profiles of possible perpetrators and may even be revisiting the crime scenes in case the killers return there.

Lowman said society holds prostitutes in such low regard that some men feel justified in killing them.

"What we have done, with all of this talk about getting rid of prostitutes, is that it gives predatory, misogynistic men a rationale for doing it in a situation where they don't think too many people will care," he said.

"We shouldn't be talking about serial killing. We should be talking here why we're allowing this to happen to prostitutes," Lowman said.

He said that if the nine deaths are serial killings, they are likely the work of more than one killer.

"One person might be responsible for three, four, five (murders), but I think the real issue here is why are there so many serial killers of prostitutes and why are so many prostitutes being killed by non-serial killers?" he said.

"One serial killer is easier to understand. We're fascinated by serial killers. Also, you have the idea if it's one person, if you catch them, at least it will stop.

"But I think that while it's true at a certain level, it's problematic because the next serial killer will come along, the next prostitute is going to die because we have a legal system that is allowing this to happen."

U of A criminologist Spencer said the killer or killers are likely average, nondescript and don't raise the alarms of street women who are generally pretty astute at assessing characters in their line of work.

He said a pickup truck may be involved, making it easier to transport bodies into the country.

With more people moving to rural areas, Spencer said discarded bodies are likely to be found quickly. That could explain the multiple recent discoveries.

With a bit of luck, and the continued participation from those in the sex trade and rural farmers checking their fields, police may get a break, Spencer said. 

Helping women to lead safer lives. Editorial, see page A12. Police try to retrace latest victim's final steps, see page B1.

 Copyright  2003 Edmonton Journal

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Edmonton Journal



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Updated: August 21, 2016