Families of missing women testify at inquiry


The stark tragedy at the heart of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry was laid bare Monday through the emotional testimony of three strong women who lost a beloved female relative.

All three witnesses — Lila Purcell, Daphne Pierre and Sandra Gagnon — share the pain of never truly knowing how or even if their loved one died, despite DNA linked to convicted serial killer Robert Pickton in two cases.

No trace of Gagnon’s sister Janet Henry has ever been found. Nor has Pickton been convicted of the murders of any of the three missing women although police have said privately that Pickton likely killed them all.

All three witnesses expressed pain and anger at an indifferent police search.

“Tanya was like my own daughter,” testified Lila Purcell, weeping at the loss of her niece Tanya Holyk, the daughter of Lila’s sister Dorothy, now deceased. “Even if the (missing) women are what I believe some people consider throwaways, they come from a family like mine. We really loved Tanya.

“If the consideration for women had been deeper there wouldn’t have been such a waste of time (by police) looking the other way while more women went missing.”

Gagnon testified it took 19 days for Vancouver Police to check her sister’s room after Gagnon called 911 in June 1997, afraid her sister might have taken her own life, despondent at having been sexually assaulted.

Gagnon broke down as she revealed that Henry “escaped from Clifford Olson, who drugged her, in the late ‘90s only to be murdered by Willie Pickton.”

Gagnon held a memorial last week for Henry at their Alert Bay reserve, as police have told her they believe, but have no evidence, that Janet was murdered at the Pickton farm.

Holyk went missing in October 1996 at the age of 21, the mother of a young son she seldom left. Her DNA was discovered in 2002 on the Pickton farm.

But her mother Dorothy had tried since 1996 to get the VPD to find Tanya, only to be told by VPD civilian clerk Sandy Cameron that Tanya was a “cokehead” who was “out partying, having fun and had abandoned her own child.”

Purcell thought Cameron was a police officer who would look for her daughter.

Cameron, slated to testify next Monday, was confronted by some VPD officers who found her attitude toward some First Nations families discriminatory.

Tanya Holyk’s parents were both members of the St’at’imc First Nation.

VPD lawyer Tim Dickson made a direct apology to all three witnesses Monday “for not catching Pickton sooner.”

But other high-priced police lawyers stayed away, prompting Lilliane Beaudoin, sister of Dianne Rock, who was murdered by Pickton, to say: “All the police lawyers are gone when it’s our turn to testify.

“They claim that they care about the families but they can’t be bothered to even listen to us. Nothing has changed.”

Daphne Pierre, herself the mother of eight adult children and the eldest daughter of 15 children, told the inquiry that she searched tirelessly for her youngest sister Jacqueline Murdock, who disappeared in November 1996.

Pierre, from the Tl’azt’en First Nation near Fort St. James, combed Vancouver’s gritty eastside streets, but Jackie never came home for Christmas.

Police made little effort to find Murdock, said Pierre. Her DNA was confirmed on the Pickton farm in 2004. Though Pickton was never charged, police told the family that the file on Jackie Murdock, the mother of five children, is now closed.

“The evidence was not enough to charge Willie Pickton with her murder but enough to stop searching,” said Pierre, tears pouring down her cheeks.

“To me I feel that her remains are out there somewhere, they didn’t find her blood or clothing or jewelry or anything. I have no body to bring home.”

Gagnon’s evidence continues today. The inquiry will hear from three more of the 25 families of missing and murdered women represented by lawyer Neil Chantler.

Formal hearings will end in early May. Commissioner Wally Oppal’s report will be handed in by the end of June.




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

Updated: August 21, 2016