Police review missing-women investigation

Kim Bolan and Lindsay Kines
Vancouver Sun

Saturday, July 27, 2002

The Vancouver police department is reviewing its handling of the disappearance of 63 women from the city's Downtown Eastside, but Mayor Philip Owen and Chief Constable Terry Blythe appear to have different views about why the case is being revisited.

Owen, who said the board has been briefed several times on the status of the review, said it began after a series of stories in The Vancouver Sun last fall exposed problems with the investigation.

"If we did something wrong ... we need to correct it," Owen said. "We are going through all our files and papers and notes."

But Blythe said the review began earlier this year after police began searching the Port Coquitlam property of Robert "Willy" Pickton, who has been charged with murdering seven of the missing women. He also said the main purpose of the review is to make sure the department has its house in order, rather than correcting problems with the initial investigation.

"Probably about three months ago, I had somebody start coordinating all the information that related to the investigation -- right from the beginning -- as far back as we could go," Blythe said.

The people conducting the review were instructed to contact anyone who had any contact with the case to find out what they did and what they gathered in the way of evidence. The review is being done "in case any inquiry or whatever comes down the road," Blythe said.

"That's the whole gist of it," he said. "To get everybody organized, to make sure they've got everything documented and that they've got everything on file, you know, that there's nothing missing."

Blythe said the main purpose of the review is "for everybody that was involved to get all their stuff together, all their notes, anything that's archived, anything that they may feel is important to this case. We don't want to be caught later on and be criticized because somebody didn't have their act together.

"It's not a review, as such, to say why didn't you do this or why didn't you do that, and we better do it now. That isn't the point of the review at all."

Blythe said the review is being headed by a member of the department's investigations division, though he declined to reveal that person's name. He also said the results of the review will not be made public.

"To me, it's normal process," he said. "With all the media coverage and with the accusations that have been made that we may not have done something or we overlooked something ... I wanted to just reconfirm with myself that we'd done all the right things so nobody's looking foolish at the end of this."

Blythe said the department has also received legal advice to make sure everything is being done properly.

"So far, I believe we're looking very good in this," he said.

Owen disclosed the review process when asked if incoming chief Jamie Graham could restore confidence in the force following the controversy over the department's handling of the missing women case.

"It has been going on for quite a while," Owen said of the review. "The board said this is a very serious issue. We want to gather up all the information."

Wayne Leng, whose friend Sarah deVries disappeared in April, 1998, said the internal review comes as a surprise to him.

"All along they haven't really been saying too much other than there was a lack of resources and that sort of thing," he said.

"It's an important step. They have to do it. They must do it. We definitely have to find out what went wrong here."

Vancouver police began the missing women probe in 1998 after noticing a pattern of disappearances of women in the sex trade on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Initially, there were just two missing persons investigators on the case. But that was expanded with much fanfare in 1999 -- the same year police released a poster of 31 women who had vanished.

Vancouver police said at the time they were doing everything they could to solve the case, particularly when they had no bodies, no evidence, and no proof that a crime had even occurred. Even John Walsh of America's Most Wanted television show praised police efforts and the offer of a $100,000 reward in the case.

But The Sun's investigation published last fall uncovered major deficiencies with the initial investigation, including the fact that Vancouver police received a tip on Pickton as early as the summer of 1998.

 Copyright  2002 Vancouver Sun

Grim tally of missing women threatens to grow-July 26, 2002

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Updated: August 21, 2016