An honest appraisal of what went wrong

Trude LaBossière Huebner
National Post


By Maggie de Vries Penguin Canada 228 pp., $36

On July 23, after an investigation found the DNA of 15 missing women on the Pickton family pig farm, Robert Pickton was committed in a courtroom in Port Coquitlam, B.C., to stand trial on 15 charges of first-degree murder. Provincial Court Judge David Stone remarked on the "very difficult and emotional" case before him, as Pickton sat expressionless behind bulletproof glass in the courtroom filled with the victims' family members and reporters.

 (Book cover of Missing Sarah.)

Sixty-three women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside have gone missing since 1978. One of them was Sarah de Vries, and Missing Sarah is her story. In startling and sometimes disturbing detail, but always with love and compassion, Sarah's sister, author Maggie de Vries, struggles to come to grips with the revelations found in Sarah's journals.

Included in the book, Sarah's stunning pieces record her long, slow spiral into drugs and her eventual disappearance from the streets of Vancouver.

In her writing, Sarah describes herself as "the literal black sheep of the family" (part black, aboriginal, white and Mexican-Indian, Sarah was adopted, at 11 months, into a blonde, blue-eyed family of Dutch origin). And de Vries, still coming to grips with how different her perception of the family was from Sarah's, admits she's getting to know her sister better in death.

De Vries reflects on their solid middle-class upbringing in the Vancouver's upscale Point Grey neighbourhood. But it doesn't take long to discover through Sarah's writings that she didn't feel the family warmth de Vries describes. "I'd like to go home if I had a real home," begins one journal entry. "I've never really had one..."

De Vries' insight into the false notion "that adoptive children miraculously morph into members of their new family" is one of the sections that makes this book a compelling read. In addition to adoption, she discusses long-held middle- class attitudes about sex trade workers and drug addiction and points out how these attitudes contributed to the self-loathing Sarah felt and wrote about.

She also points to a set of circumstances in Vancouver that created the dangerous situation for women on the street: the clean-up of the downtown for Expo '86, which resulted in the prostitutes moving further east, away from residential areas; and a bylaw prohibiting hotels from renting rooms at an hourly rate, both of which forced hookers into johns' cars, ultimately creating ideal conditions for 63 women from a very small geographic area to vaporize.

Missing Sarah is an honest appraisal of what went wrong. It unfolds, sometimes a little too slowly, with richness and finely crafted detail. Settle in, turn off the phone and have a box of tissues beside you, because this book deserves to be read in one sitting. Because unless you get angry, and vow to change the circumstances in which Sarah lived and worked, more women will go missing.

Trude LaBossière Huebner is researching the Pickton case for the National Post and for investigative journalist Stevie Cameron's upcoming book on the murders.

© Copyright 2003 National Post

Courtesy of

Victoria editor nominated for Governor-General award-Oct 21, 2003

Missing Sarah, A Vancouver women remembers her vanished sister-2003

Sarah, we hardly knew you-July 26, 2003

THE PIG FARM a work in progress for Knopf Canada



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

Updated: August 21, 2016