Long road led to trial of Pickton

26 women, one man charged in their deaths

Doug Ward and Wendy Cox
CanWest News Service, Canadian Press

Sunday, January 14, 2007          

VANCOUVER - Many of the 26 women Robert Willy Pickton is accused of killing appear in a police poster as mug shots -- blank eyes cratered into sallow, ravaged faces, hair pushed out of the way. Now and again a smile peeks through, out of focus or blurry because a friend or relative didn't quite get the exposure right.

There are a few -- Andrea Joesbury, Tanya Holyk -- whose beauty offers a startling diversion.

Heather Bottomley grins impishly.

Sereena Abotsway looks sad. Sherry Irving just looks young.

But all blend into the macabre patchwork quilt that makes up the 66 faces on the police's missing women poster.

Some were hard-core, some relatively recent inhabitants in the Downtown Eastside, an area a former B.C. premier described once as a "terrible human zoo." Some weren't even prostitutes, according to friends.

On Jan. 22, Port Coquitlam pig farmer Robert Willy Pickton will go on trial for six of their deaths. That day, the beginning of what promises to be a long, grinding and disturbing process, the public will hear for the first time the Crown's grim allegations of how these women died.

So, how did we get here?

"Will they remember me when I'm gone, or would their lives just carry on?" -- Sarah deVries, from her journals.

The 29-year-old Vancouver prostitute vanished in the spring of 1998.

The quote from deVries' journals kicked off an article in the Vancouver Sun on March 3, 1999 -- a two-part story by reporter Lindsay Kines about deVries and the disappearance of sex-trade workers from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Prostitutes have always experienced violence in Vancouver and newspaper accounts about murdered prostitutes were not uncommon in the 1970s and 1980s. However, deVries' disappearance in 1998 was part of an alarming rise in the number of missing sex-trade workers. She was one of 16 women reported missing in 1996, 1997 and 1998.

In his first stories, Kines, now a reporter at the Times Colonist, wrote about Janet Henry, a prostitute who vanished in 1997. Kines recalls how he had started asking around the Downtown Eastside, looking for answers about the disappearance of many other women involved in drugs and the sex trade. "I learned that the police were concerned about the jump in the number of missing women," he said.

By September 1998, the Vancouver Police Department set up a team of officers to review unsolved missing women cases dating back to 1971. Vancouver police geographic profiler Kim Rossmo began reviewing missing women files.

In a two-part series in 1999, titled "Missing on the Mean Streets," Kines reported: "With each passing month, the list of the disappeared continues to grow. Vancouver police have 20 outstanding files on missing 'street-involved' women since 1995 -- 11 from last year alone."

Kines' stories confirmed what was being said on the street, recalled Elaine Allan, who worked at a drop-in centre for prostitutes in the late 1990s. Women were just vanishing from the streets.

"There's no question that the stories put tonnes of pressure on the mayor and the police chief," she said.

The police added detectives to the team investigating the disappearances and sought assistance from authorities involved in major serial-killer cases in the U.S. The Vancouver police board approved a $100,000 reward to aid in the probe. America's Most Wanted did a show in 1999 on the missing women. However, progress was slow and women continued to disappear.

Even some of the women themselves made angry, fruitless demands for something to be done before more of their friends went missing, only to wind up a patch on the quilt themselves.

"If she were some square john's little girl, shit would hit the goddamn fan," deVries wrote of the growing list before she herself disappeared in April 1998.

"Front page news for weeks, people protesting in the streets. ... While the happy hooker just starts to decay, like she didn't matter, expendable, dishonourable. ... It's a shame that society is that unfeeling.

"She was some woman's little girl, gone astray, lost from the right path."

The police were also frustrated. A team of five detectives and two civilian members from the Vancouver city police continued to examine the files and check leads, but there was little progress.

By the spring of 2001, the authorities decided more needed to be done. The RCMP and the Vancouver police formed a joint task force and reviewed all files connected to dead or missing sex-trade workers.

The issue of the police response was examined in an 11-part series by the Vancouver Sun that ran between September and November 2001. Reporters Lindsay Kines, Kim Bolan and Lori Culbert established then that the number of missing women was 45, many more than the 27 the public had been told. The series also found flaws in the original police investigation -- that the file had been handled by inexperienced and overworked officers without the time or resources to do a thorough job.

It also showed that the investigation had been hobbled by police infighting and that there were data-entry problems with the computer system that managed information about the case.

Two months later, police released the names of 18 additional women, saying they were now investigating the disappearance of 45 women.

Sun reporter Bolan believes the newspaper's stories in late 2001 "led to a lot of attention and additional resources being given to police."

Bolan added that "it was satisfying to think our series made a difference, but it was also frustrating to think of how many women died unnecessarily.

"Even as our stories continued through the fall of 2001, the body count rose."

On Feb. 5, 2002, officers armed with a search warrant entered a Port Coquitlam farm owned by Robert William Pickton and his brother. Two weeks later, Pickton was charged with two counts of murder.

Pickton now faces 26 charges of murder -- six of which will be dealt with in the trial starting next week. He is to face the remaining 20 murder charges in a later trial.

- - -

Maggy Gisle, who knew many of the women and considered some close friends, lived the rough street life for 16 years. She went through rehab an astounding 22 times before getting clean, regaining her son, caring for her daughter and holding down a job as a homecare worker on the Sunshine Coast.

She and her best friend, Cara Ellis, promised each other that whoever got out first would rescue the other.

Gisle got out and went back. Ellis wasn't there.

"I miss her terribly. I'm still trying to get used to the idea she's not going to come around that corner. 'Cause I always believed that she would."


For more stories on the Pickton case, go to the TC website

A closer look at the six women at the centre of Pickton's trial, D6-D7.

 Times Colonist (Victoria) 2007

Six lives: a patchwork quilt

'Bubbly' child whose life went out of control

CanWest News Service

Sunday, January 14, 2007

VANCOUVER - It was the trip of a lifetime. Especially for someone whose turbulent life was cut short so early.

Sereena Abotsway was a "furious" four-year-old when she was sent to live with Anna and Bert Draayers, but the veteran foster parents soon learned to love the troubled girl despite her tendency to act out at school.

So, Anna Draayers presented a challenge to the outspoken child -- one that the experienced foster mother never thought Abotsway could achieve: she promised to take the girl to the Netherlands, the Draayers' home country, if she completed her entire Grade 6 year without getting into any serious trouble at school.

"I said to her, 'If you can manage for the whole year to be OK ... then we'll take you to Holland.' And she did," Draayers said proudly in a recent interview. "Nobody ever thought that she was going to make it, but she did."

Abotsway, who was raised by the Draayers from age four to 18, learned to speak Dutch on that trip and maintained her knowledge of the language throughout her troubled adult years.

When Abotsway arrived at her foster parents' home in Surrey, as a four-year-old, she was skeptical of new people after enduring abuse as a toddler. However, she developed into a "bubbly" little girl who sang loudly and out-of-tune at church.

"Those things now I think about, and wish I could hear it one more time," Anna Draayers said. "I love her dearly."

The outspoken girl had few friends in school, and had to be home-schooled in her teen years. However, she was close to some of the 50 foster children taken in over the years by the Draayers, and the family also raised Abotsway's half-brother Jay and half-sister Michelle.

"She gave her teachers a headache and we tried to teach her at home but there was not much you could do," Draayers said in an interview in 2002. "At that time we did not have a name for the condition but it is now known as fetal alcohol syndrome."

When Abotsway was 18, the Draayers had to make a heart-breaking

decision: the teen's behaviour was so out of control her foster parents were forced to ask the ministry to remove her from their home to protect their other foster children. She eventually ended up on the streets of the Downtown Eastside.

One of Abotsway's boyfriends introduced her to drugs and then sent her out to the streets to work as a prostitute. She endured several abusive relationships and once was beaten into a coma by a bad date.

"She had lots of difficulties and we never thought she would be OK on her own," Draayers said. "She would phone us every day, and sometimes when she was older and she couldn't remember she would phone two, three times a day. And would ask me exactly the same questions."

When Abotsway vanished in August 2001, Draayers was planning her 30th birthday party -- which made the timing of her disappearance so worrisome because the young woman was extremely excited about the family celebration. When she disappeared, police had a warrant for her arrest for stealing chocolate bars.

In a memorial tribute to his older half-sister, Jay Draayers remembered Abotsway as someone who would both bully him and fiercely protect him, and who volunteered to help others during her final years on the streets.

"Sereena did not choose to live life the way she did, circumstances chose it for her," he wrote.

"Sereena quite often, when talking to us on the phone, would ask us to make sure that the younger [foster] children would never end up living the life that she was living."

Profile of Sereena Abotsway.

 Times Colonist (Victoria) 2007

Last words to Island mom

'I love you, too'

Lori Culbert and Alison Auld
CanWest News Service, The Canadian Press

Sunday, January 14, 2007

VANCOUVER - At a memorial service for Marnie Frey in 2002, after Robert Pickton was charged with her murder, she was remembered as "a carefree loving girl ... [who] loved the simple things in life."

The girl with the bright smile and light-hearted spirit enjoyed spending time with her family and small animals, and was praised for being trustworthy and generous to a fault.

Her father, Rick, said he never knew what she would be wearing when she'd stroll through the front door of the family home in Campbell River after a long day at school.

Would her sneakers be gone? Her coat? Or maybe, literally, the shirt off her back. It wasn't unusual, he said with a laugh, for the spirited youngster to show up missing a key piece of clothing.

"You'd ask her, 'Where's your jacket?' and she'd say, 'Oh, my friend, she didn't have one, so I gave her mine,' " he said, chuckling at his house in Sayward, on the northeastern coast of the Island.

"That's the way she was, just help everybody out and do whatever."

It was a streak that ran through Frey's life as a young girl at Christian school and then at high school in Campbell River.

When she had a baby in 1992 at age 18, the young mother often passed on little Brittney's clothing, formula, diapers and food to friends whom she thought needed them more, even if she was using them herself.

Frey was still living at home with her father and stepmother, Lynn, when she had Brittney. She tried to raise the infant, but ultimately asked her parents to adopt Brittney because she believed that was best for her daughter.

She was described by friends as outgoing and fun to be around; someone who was also up for playing outside, no matter what the weather.

But friends and family say Marnie was exposed to drugs through an Asian gang in Campbell River and drifted away from home to the streets of Vancouver.

She kept in regular contact with her family -- sometimes calling eight times a day to see how Brittney and her parents were doing. Lynn Frey says she rarely forgot a birthday and would always call from the Downtown Eastside, where she nicknamed herself KitKat after Lynn's favourite candy bar.

Lynn says she'll never forget her last conversation with her stepdaughter. On the line, Marnie's bubbly voice chimed through from a payphone on the Downtown Eastside, where she fed a drug addiction through the sex trade.

"She said, 'Hey Mom, do you know what day it is today?' I said, 'Yeah, it's your birthday, hon, how are you feeling?' And she said, 'Oh, I'm feeling great. Can you send me some money?' That was her favourite word. And I said, 'You know Marnie, I've got a whole box of stuff for you -- I've got clothes, I've got candies, I've got cookies, I've got homemade bread," said Lynn Frey, her voice becoming thin.

"I said, 'Promise me you'll call when you get this parcel' ... 'OK Mom, I'll call you back.' 'OK, I love you.' 'I love you, too.' That was our last words. And then she never called back."

Brittney was only in kindergarten when her mother disappeared in August 1997, and she grew up believing Rick and Lynn were her parents, and that Marnie was her older sister.

However, she recently had to be told the truth when schoolyard bullies taunted her about who her mother really was. "People are pretty vicious, you know," Rick Frey said in a recent interview. "The day that we had to tell her, that had to be one of our worst days. But she took it like a trooper."

Profile of Marnie Frey.

 Times Colonist (Victoria) 2007

Six lives: a patchwork quilt

Abused girl found warmth with foster family

Lori Culbert
CanWest News Service

Sunday, January 14, 2007

VANCOUVER - Mona Lee Wilson hated wearing dresses or putting her hair in ribbons to go to church. As a young girl, she much preferred playing with the animals on her foster family's hobby farm in Langley, and even tried to smuggle chicks into her bedroom to sleep with them.

"She'd lay right down in the mud with them, and play with them, and have them in her pockets. You had to check her when she came in the house because in her coat pockets there would be a couple of chicks, and in her boot you'd have another," Greg Garley said with a kind laugh as he recalled his late foster sister.

"We'd take her to church but, oh, getting Mona into a pink dress -- that was an ordeal. Frills and bows weren't for her ... She didn't like being a girl. When she got home, off came that dress and on went the jeans and boots."

Wilson was a terrified eight-year-old girl when she went to live with the Garley family: Mom Norma, dad Ken, their four biological children, and many other foster kids.

She had grown up on the O'Chiese First Nation in Alberta, and had five siblings. But she was sexually and physically abused as a child -- and she was seized from the family. The Garleys were her first long-term foster parents, and she lived with them until age 14.

"I'll tell you, of all the kids she stayed in our hearts and our minds," said Garley.

Attending school and other regular childhood routines were sporadic for Wilson in her earliest years, but in the Garleys' home she went to class and was taken on family vacations -- including one to Disneyland.

"There was nothing she liked better than going camping, going fishing," said Garley, who was a few years older than her. "An awfully good girl. We just absolutely love her."

The Garleys operated an "emergency" foster home, which meant they took in some of the most troubled children -- many of them babies born with drug addictions. Wilson's behaviour started to worsen at puberty, but Greg Garley said his family was upset when the ministry removed the troubled teen from their house.

At her new foster home, Wilson's problems increased, Garley said. She was placed in "independent living" when she was about 16 years old, which meant the government found her a place to live in East Vancouver and gave her some money to live.

"A survivor of such horrors -- and then they just gave her a cheque and let her loose in Vancouver. What did anyone think would happen to a vulnerable girl like that on her own in a big city?" Garley asked.

He said Wilson phoned his parents regularly, even after they retired to the Okanagan. "She was always going to come and visit, but always had an excuse as to why she couldn't."

Garley said his family didn't know she was involved in drugs or prostitution, but would have tried to help Wilson if they had. "I try not to think about that stuff because that's not who we knew."

The year she turned 25, Wilson appeared in court for charges of theft, false pretenses and fraud.

Wilson was 26 years old when she was reported missing by her boyfriend in November 2001. Foster mother Norma Garley was concerned something was wrong when she didn't receive her monthly phone call that December.

"She's as close to blood as you can get. I went through my teen years with her, we loved her as much as anyone else," said Garley, who now lives in Parksville. "It's just a very difficult thing to imagine this happening to someone you know and love."

Profile of Mona Lee Wilson.

 Times Colonist (Victoria) 2007

Six lives: a patchwork quilt

At home in Victoria, she danced to Madonna

Lori Culbert
CanWest News Service; With files from The Canadian Press

Sunday, January 14, 2007

VANCOUVER - Jack Cummer, a kind, retired salesman from Nanoose Bay, remembers vividly his last phone call with his beautiful granddaughter Andrea Joesbury, who ran away from a difficult childhood when she was just 16 years old.

The conversation was just before Joesbury disappeared in June 2001, at the age of 23. In those seven years on the streets she had experienced a lifetime of pain, but she was upbeat on the phone because she was completing a methadone program to kick her heroin habit and was hoping to move back to the Island.

"She was a very happy young lady whose life was in a starting mode. ... Our conversation ended with our love to each other," Cummer wrote in a recent e-mail. "I did say goodbye."

But he did not realize then it would be for the last time.

Joesbury loved drama and sports as a young girl, but struggled in school. She mostly lived with her troubled mother in Victoria, and occasionally stayed with her grandparents, Jack and Laila Cummer. She had two siblings, including little sister, Heather, who says Andrea was the kind of big sister girls dream about. "We loved to dance, me and her," said Heather, now 19. "Dance to Madonna. Like a Prayer, that's me and Andrea's song. I remember this one dance move she taught me. It was pretty funny."

Andrea also had a good relationship with her grandparents, but they couldn't stop the vulnerable teen from running away to pursue her dream of finding a husband and having a baby.

"She went to Vancouver because she was looking for love. And she found this guy, and she fell in love with him. She's a young, naive girl, 16 years old, not knowing what's going on," Cummer said in an earlier interview. "Eventually she phoned and let me know he was 15 or 20 years older than she was, so it gave her two things: A man she loved and a father figure. [But] she was put on the streets because he was a drug dealer."

Joesbury did have the baby she yearned for, and Cummer came to visit after the birth. He said his granddaughter was "worn to a frazzle" trying to provide for the baby on a limited budget, but the little girl was healthy and receiving good care. However, Social Services would eventually seize the child and put her up for adoption, which caused Joesbury to spiral back into her life on the streets.

In that final phone call, Joesbury told Cummer she had the support of a caring Downtown Eastside doctor who was helping her with the methadone, and would come home to Vancouver Island when she was clean of her habit.

"Her dream was to come and search for the baby," Cummer wrote. But she disappeared before ever seeing her daughter again.

Joesbury kept in regular contact with her grandfather through her collect calls, so when the phone didn't ring again in early 2001, Cummer knew something was wrong.

"I talked to her in 2000, the Christmas of 2000," Heather Joesbury says. "She said she was going to come over here and have Christmas with us. Then ... that's the last I talked to her."

After her death, award-winning Victoria poet Susan Musgrave wrote a song, called Missing, in her memory. It features haunting music by Galiano Island guitarist Brad Prevedoros.

"How far from home is missing?

In our prayers you're close beside us every day/When you left to chase the wind so high/The rain moved in to stay," goes the chorus.

Proceeds from the sale of the song go to Haven Society, a Nanaimo-based non-profit organization that helps women and children escape violence and sexual exploitation.

Profile of Andrea Joesbury.

 Times Colonist (Victoria) 2007

'Gentle soul' learned to battle the mean streets

Lori Culbert and Steve Mertl
CanWest News Service; The Canadian Press

Sunday, January 14, 2007

VANCOUVER - Elaine Allan, who worked at the WISH (Women's Information Safe House) drop-in centre for sex-trade workers, remembers Brenda Wolfe as well-liked, but very quiet.

Wolfe disappeared in February 1999 at age 30.

"She wasn't Georgina Papin who was outgoing and gregarious, but she was well-liked and she always had a friend with her [at WISH]," said Allan. "She had a boyfriend and she was a very gentle soul. She had a very affable nature. You liked having her around. "

Wolfe was born Oct. 20, 1968, in Pincher Creek, Alta., but grew up near Calgary. "Brenda was kind of independent. She used to come in and ask me if she could put bags up against the wall behind the serving tray while she got dinner and a shower. Because that's always a big thing -- where do you put your stuff in a place like that when you get a shower?" asked Allan. "She was very polite and very soft-spoken and very kind."

Allan is one of the few people who are willing to sketch a bare outline of Wolfe's troubled life.

Her mother, Elaine Belanger of Calgary, angrily refuses to discuss her daughter's early life. In postings on websites related to Vancouver's missing women, Belanger has said she mourns Brenda's loss hourly. "There is a part of me that died with her and that part of my spirit will not be filled," she wrote in a 2004 posting.

Wolfe's journey to the Downtown Eastside remains shrouded, but like many who end up there, drug addiction played a big part.

A woman who identifies herself only as Charlotte wrote in another web posting that she shared a room with a pregnant Wolfe -- then about 17 -- in a substance-abuse recovery program in 1985.

"We shared a lot of time together and grew to know each other quite well," Charlotte wrote. "I watched Brenda become an amazing, wonderful, happy woman. The picture on this website is not the Brenda that I knew and loved. I will always remember her smile and the beautiful son that she had while in recovery."

Tall and heavy-set, Wolfe worked as a waitress and bouncer at the Balmoral Hotel pub, not afraid to roust rowdy drunks -- male or female.

"She's quite capable to hold her own," said Maggy Gisle, a recovering drug addict who lived in the ravaged neighbourhood for 16 years and knew Wolfe well. "I've seen her in the midst of three men, whaling on all three of them all at once. She was as tough as they come."

Gisle said that Wolfe was never a prostitute but sometimes worked as a street-enforcer-for-hire, carrying a knife for protection. "If somebody tried to intimidate you ... you could rely on her to back you up."

It wasn't always for money, though. Wolfe sometimes intervened when vulnerable hookers were being extorted for the right to work a corner.

Ray Robertson, longtime regular at the Balmoral, said he never saw her tough side, but he worried about her drug use. "I was telling her, stop the drugs, it's no good for you," said Robertson.

Gisle said she was not aware Wolfe had mental problems but she had a low tolerance for the hard drugs she occasionally used. "You'd have to be really close to Brenda, to hang onto her ...You had to be with her when she used. She could run down the street."

Robertson said he thinks he saw her last sometime in 1997.

Police say the last time anyone saw her on the Downtown Eastside was in February 1999.

Profile of Elaine Allan.

 Times Colonist (Victoria) 2007


Long road led to trial of Pickton

Many of the 26 women Robert Willy Pickton is accused of killing appear in a police poster as mug shots...

Courtesy of Times Colonist

How Lindsay Kines and Sun reporters broke missing women story-Nov 6, 2002



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

Updated: August 21, 2016