America’s Most Wanted host applauds police, politicians for handling of case

The Vancouver Sun
Lindsay Kines

Wednesday, July 28, 1999.

John Walsh, in Vancouver working on a segment about the disappearance of 31 women, calls the reward ‘unprecedented.’

The host of America’s Most Wanted television show praised police and politicians Tuesday after a reward was offered in a bid to solve the disappearance of 31 women from the city’s Downtown Eastside.

Calling it an “unprecedented” move, John Walsh said he had never heard of a $100,000 reward being offered by public bodies in a case where thee is no evidence of foul play.

“I have been all over the United States and Canada in the last 11 years and I have never seen this type of cooperation and this type of action ever taken in the disappearance of women,” Walsh said.

“I think this is so unique because these 31 women have disappeared completely and there is no evidence of foul play.  There has never been a body.”

The unsolved files date back to 1978, but 22 of the women have gone missing in the past four years—including four reported so far in 1999.

Police say many of the women were involved in drugs or the sex trade on the city’s crime-ridden Downtown Eastside, and their disappearance has sparked fears a serial killer is at work.

The families of the missing women and advocates for sex-trade workers have been critical of police for not doing more, sooner.

But Walsh, whose show will be airing a segment on the case Saturday night, defended police at a packed media conference to release the reward poster Tuesday.

“The law says that an adult over 18 years old has the right to disappear,” he said.  “They can disappear, they can go anywhere they want.  They can change their name.  They can vanish.

“So in light of the fact that there is no evidence of any foul play here, or criminality…I again say that this is really a unique effort.”

Walsh commended police for tackling the issue head-on and publicly stating “something we all feel in our guts: That there may be something very wrong here.  “It’s very unusual for 31 people—no matter what they do, no matter what trade they’re in—to disappear like that.”

Walsh whose own son was abducted and murdered, has been critical of cities in the U.S. for not taking the kind of steps Vancouver police have on these cases.

“If there is a cunning serial killer in this area, or somebody that has been able to abduct women over a period of time, like the Green River Killer in Seattle, and dispose of bodies, then this is a way to try to get information and take a pro-active strike.”

The poster features photographs of all 31 missing women, as well as their years of birth, dates last seen and when they were reported missing.

Of the 22 women to disappear in the past 41/2 years, three were reported missing in 1995, two in 1996, three in 1997, 10 in 1998 and four so far this year.

In many of the cases, however, the women were reported missing months after the date they were last seen, further complicating police efforts to find them.

The reward is offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the unlawful confinement, kidnapping or murder of any or all of the missing women on the poster.  The reward will be decided by the police board, “in its sole discretion, and that decision is final, binding and not reviewable,” the poster says.

The reward expires May 1, 2000, but the Vancouver Police board has the option to renew it.

Anyone with information is asked to call the missing persons unit at 717-3415 or toll free at 1-800-993-8799.  Details of the cases are available on the Vancouver police website, and people can also call Crime Stoppers at 669-TIPS.

Of the three most recent cases, Julie Young was reported missing to Vancouver city police on June 1 and last seen October of last year; Andrea Fay Borhaven was reported missing May 18 and last seen in 1997; Jacquilene McDonell, was reported missing Feb. 22 and last seen Jan. 16.

Police currently have eight officers—including homicide detectives—working on the case.  But media liaison Constable Anne Drennan declined to discuss the specifics of the investigation, which has vaulted into the international spotlight in recent months.

Sergeant Geramy Field, who oversees the missing persons unit, said investigators continue to meet regularly with women working in the city’s sex trade to obtain possible leads.

In addition, investigators have been in touch with their counterparts working major serial killer cases in the United States, Geographic and psychological profilers also have been involved in the case for months, as have the officers who oversee a database of sex-trade customers.

Attorney-General Ujjal Dosanjh, whose ministry is contributing $70,000 toward the reward, said the sheer number of women who are missing warrants, extraordinary measures.

“It’s important we recognize that despite the fact that these women may have worked in the sex trade, they have the right to their dignity, their safety, and their security as much as anyone else in British Columbia or Canada has.”

Vancouver Mayor Philip Owen said government officials recognize the families need answers.  “It’s important that they bring some closure to this.  They’ve had the unknown there for so long, that we’ve got to try and break the logjam and hopefully some evidence will come forward.”

Deputy Chief Constable John Unger, meanwhile, promised that police will respect the women’s wishes to remain anonymous, if some have simply relocated and assumed new identities.

“The very best outcome that we could have is that every one of these missing women would phone us and say: ‘Here I am.  I don’t wish to make it publicly known where I’m located, but here I am to let you know that I’m safe and sound.’”

America’s Most Wanted, which airs on Fox Television, will be doing two other segments in Vancouver.  One will focus on abortion provider Dr. Garson Romalis, who was wounded by a sniper in 1994.  The fugitive suspect, James Kopp, is also wanted for the killing of a doctor in Buffalo, and two attempts on the lives of doctors in Winnipeg and Hamilton.

The show is also preparing an update on the hunt for Ninderjit Singh, also known as Ninderjit Soos or Bhira Singh, who is wanted in the murder of Vancouver high-school student Poona Randhawa.  The story first aired last weekend, and Walsh said it prompted five solid tips on Singh’s whereabouts.

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       In September 1998, my friend Sandra Gagnon had contacted America's Most Wanted to see if they would do a story to help her find her sister Janet. Unfortunately, she was told that they could not because they get so many calls and letters asking for help to find a lost family member. So at that time I decided to contact America's Most Wanted producer-correspondent Tom Morris Jr. about covering all the disappearances and it was then that we were offered our first bit of good news. I was to continue corresponding with Tom on updates. So began the next several months of correspondence, faxing and phones call that finally led to America's Most Wanted coming to Vancouver.

       Shortly before appearing on  CKNW radio with host Peter Warren, I received the call we were hoping for from Tom Morris with America's Most Wanted.  They had agreed to do a segment. They would be coming to Vancouver in approximately two months. The focus would be on what most of us believed and that was that a serial killer was responsible. They would build the segment starting with my friend, Sarah and expand outward. It was a difficult time for all of us. So much focus was on the missing women. We somehow got through it and on July 29, 1999 the segment aired on America's Most Wanted on the Fox Network. Vancouver Police detectives were flown into Washington DC for the airing to field tips that would come in. Approximately 100 tips were received and of those 20 initially looked promising. Unfortunately they did not yield any clues.

       A year later after contacting AMW an update was aired. Again no new information on the disappearances.

       We all hoped and prayed that America's Most Wanted's airing of the Vancouver case would result in locating the person or person's responsible for the disappearances and finding our family and friends. It didn't but we still have hope.

Wayne Leng

New Eastside Missing Women Poster-$100,000

Four more women disappear-July 27/99

The Toronto Star-July 28/99

Killers on the Loose

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

Updated: August 21, 2016