Police Have No Explanation; Families Fear a Serial Killer

April 2, 1999

By Robert Anthony Phillips

VANCOUVER, B.C. ( -- One prostitute left behind a journal of her desperate and harsh life on the streets, asking if anyone would care when she died. Others left photos of their children atop dressers in cheap hotel rooms. Still others disappeared without taking their welfare checks.
Sarah Jean deVries with her baby
The mysterious disappearance of at least 20 prostitutes here since 1995 has led a coalition of prostitutes and the operator of a safe house for hookers to claim that the women were the victims of a serial killer. In addition, relatives of several of the missing women have criticized police for not doing enough to locate them.

In 1998, eight women vanished from the city's prostitute "stroll" in the poverty-plagued Downtown Eastside neighborhood, police confirmed. However, law enforcement officials said they have no evidence the women, all identified as prostitutes, were the victims of a serial killer.

Is it a serial killer?

Related Documents:

Read parts of the personal journal of missing prostitute Sarah Jean deVries:

deVries' life on the street

Beaten after robbing a john

deVries' poetry

But Jamie Lee Hamilton, a former prostitute who now runs an all-night safe house for streetwalkers, believes a serial killer is stalking the city's notorious red light districts. She held a news conference in February charging that the police hadn't done enough to find the women.

While Hamilton admits she has no evidence, she says many of the missing prostitutes had close ties to the city and their families and would not suddenly move away. Several weeks later, however, one of the missing women was found alive in Arizona.

"Two of the [missing] women were mentally ill and they were very vulnerable," Hamilton told "One of these women had the mentality of an 11-year-old. I used to give her candy on Halloween when she came into a store I owned. Another women had a history of calling her family all the time and now she has vanished."

Others involved with social service work on behalf of prostitutes also said they are surprised at the number of disappearances in 1998.

"I don't know what's more scary -- whether individual johns are killing them or if there are two or three serial killers working," said John Turvey, who heads the Downtown Eastside Youth Activities Society, which offers social service and health programs to youths and prostitutes.

Cops respond to heat

Jamie Lee Hamilton
Police, responding to the public heat the case has generated, have assigned two full-time detectives and a civilian clerk to the missing persons unit in an attempt to determine what happened to the women, the department said.

Police said they also took the "unusual" step Wednesday of holding a press conference to warn women in the Downtown Eastside that a man who they consider to be a "sexual sadist" had been released from prison.

Janice Williams, a media liaison assistant for the Vancouver police, said the man had previously been convicted of assaulting a prostitute.

In addition, police are now investigating whether a man who admitted to his psychiatrist that he planned to abduct, torture and kill prostitutes is linked to cases of missing prostitutes or unsolved assaults in the Downtown Eastside, Williams said.

The nation's highest court ruled March 25 that the psychiatrist's files are not protected by doctor-patient privilege, Williams said.

Detective calls disappearances 'odd'

While Vancouver police downplay the serial killer theory, they admit that it is unusual that the prostitutes, most with severe drug and alcohol problems, disappeared so suddenly.


Related APB Online Features:

A friends internet search for the missing women


"These are unexplained disappearances," Detective Constable Lori Shenher, who works in the department's missing persons unit, told "It is odd. These are women that, despite living transient lifestyles, had family and children they were in contact with."

"Our position is that it is strange," Shenher said. "It's like they dropped off he face of the earth. We're trying to look at other explanations. But there doesn't seem to be any evidence of a serial killer."

The claim that a serial killer is responsible lost some credibility when police learned that one of the missing prostitutes, Ada Prevost, was arrested for alleged crack possession in Arizona and committed to a psychiatric hospital, police said.

Investigators said that following her Dec. 29, 1998 arrest, Prevost gave authorities another name. Law enforcers learned of her whereabouts when she wrote a letter to her family. She had been reported missing from Vancouver on March 3, 1998, Shenher said.

Police said that Prevost was one of the prostitutes who had been in the Downtown Eastside community for several years.

Prostitutes hard to find

Shenher says it is difficult to locate missing prostitutes.

"The problem with a lot of these cases is that we can't even nail down time or date they were last seen," Shenher said. "You really have no evidence or witnesses. Once we get the report we start an investigation to find out who is in their lives; what their patterns were; are they contacting family; have they picked up welfare [checks]?"

Shenher said that six prostitutes are missing since 1997, two since 1996 and four are unaccounted for since 1995. The police department's office Internet site lists 23 sex-trade workers, all missing between 1999 and 1986.

Since adding the extra manpower to the missing person's squad, police said they haven't been able to trace the movements of any of the missing prostitutes since the dates of their disappearances, the department said.

A daughter's painful letter

One of the missing prostitutes, Janet Henry, 37, was last seen in the city's Downtown Eastside stroll on June 26, 1997. Her sister, Sandra Gagnon said her sister would not just disappear.

"Janet used to call me almost every day -- no matter what condition she was in," Gagnon said in a telephone interview with "If I wasn't here, she'd leave a message that she loved and missed me. She always kept in touch with me."

She said her sister was an alcoholic.

Henry has a 14-year-old daughter, living with relatives, who wrote an emotion-filled letter detailing the pain she felt since her mother's disappearance. The letter was released to the media.

"My mom is an important person in my life," the girl wrote, "even though she did have some problems and wasn't there much of the time."

Gagnon said her sister lived in a hotel room and had paid her rent for the month.

"Everything was in place," Gagnon said. "There was a suitcase packed, as though she was going someplace and a little brown bag with toothpaste, toothbrush and two cassettes. She had called me the night before and made arrangements to go to a restaurant. I reported her missing the next day."

Prostitution problem in city

The city has waged a battle against the street prostitution trade dating back to the 1980s. While prostitution is legal in Canada, "communicating" for the purpose of sex-for-cash is illegal.

The law has led to conflicts in the courts, community and an endless series of government reports and study commissions to try to determine the best way to control or reduce prostitution. Nothing has appeared to work.

Some activists and social researchers believe that prostitution should be fully legalized and that "safe stroll" areas should be established for the street sex-trade workers.


Related Links:

The Vancouver Police Department list of missing prostitutes

A friend's Internet search for the women

There are an estimated 350 to 500 street prostitutes working several red-light districts in the city, said Detective Constable Oscar Ramos, who works on the vice squad. Many are poor Indian woman, gravitating to Vancouver because of the milder climate, experts in the sex-trade industry say.

However, the city has an extensive escort and massage parlor industry where acts of prostitution are common, Hamilton said. She and other community activists have accused the city of being "the biggest pimp" for allowing the escort services and massage parlors to flourish while trying to chase away the street prostitutes.

She blames the law and the police for driving street prostitutes from the safer residential areas and into dimly lighted areas where "it is easier for killers to get away."

Hamilton estimates that the working prostitution population in the city could be as high as "5,000," including those working indoors in the massage parlors and escort services.

Cell phones for prostitutes

In the wake of the disappearances, Hamilton's organization, Grandma's House, is now going to give prostitutes "cellular phones, with a panic button" so they can be in direct contact with police if the need arises, Hamilton said.

"It's gotten out of hand in terms of the violence," Hamilton said.

A government report on violence against prostitutes revealed that between 1986 and 1995, 50 sex-trade workers were murdered in British Columbia.

The Downtown Eastside Youth Activities Society's Turvey said that his group has been publishing a so-called "Bad Date List" in which prostitutes report descriptions of johns who attacked them.

Murder rate misleading?

However, Vancouver police report that no prostitutes were murdered in the city in 1998 or in 1999. They say one murder of a prostitute occurred in 1997; one in 1996; two in 1995; and two more in 1994. All but two cases were solved, police said.

Hamilton said the numbers are misleading.

"They are totally wrong," she said. "All of these missing women have been murdered. The bodies haven't been found. They leave all their worldly possessions, leave their welfare checks and do not contact their families. Some are on medication and didn't even take their medicine with them."

Police criticized

Deborah Jardine, the mother of a missing prostitute Angela Jardine, 27, has charged that the police haven't done all they can to locate her daughter.

Angela Jardine was last seen Nov. 20, 1998, police reported. Deborah Jardine said that her daughter was not included in a Royal Canadian Mounted Police database of missing persons until March 4 and that she wasn't notified that her daughter was missing until December of 1998.

"You would think that the police would interview people who were close to her [my daughter]," Jardine said. She said a missing person bulletin wasn't issued by police for her daughter until January 20.

However, Shenher said Jardine wasn't put into the RCMP database until March because of a "mix up."

"She was reported missing in November, but we weren't told until late December," Shenher said. "After that, we give them a few weeks to show up before we put them into the RMCP database."

Deborah Jardine said that her daughter is mentally ill and drug addicted, having been forced out of her hometown by constant taunts. Shenher, who knew Deborah Jardine, agreed that the missing woman is a prostitute and drug addict "only because of her mental illness."

Last journal entry

Will they remember when I'm gone. Or will there lives just carry on. The same old pattern. The same old rotten [unintelligible] just as if I've never been, would they feel any remorse, would tears fall from their eyes, as they tried to say their good-byes?

That was one of the last entries in the personal journal of Sarah Jean deVries, 29, a prostitute who vanished from the corner of Princess and East Hastings Streets on April 14, 1998.

Wayne Leng, who identified himself as a friend of deVries, said he saw her the night of her disappearance.

"She was at my place that night," Leng said. "She ate, took some cloths and I dropped her off at the corner with her friend. The friend got picked up, came back in a few minutes. When she did, Sarah was gone. She left behind her journals and jewelry in my house."

In her journal, deVries recorded her personal thoughts of a life of prostitution, including a graphic description of a john beating her after she had robbed him of $400.

Teased as child for her color

"There's no easy answer to the question as to what happened to her and how she ended up on the streets," said deVries sister, Maggie.

"She was adopted when she was under a year old. She was the youngest of four of us. She was very happy as a small child... but it was hard for her.

"She was a multi-racial child in a white neighborhood. We lived in a part of Vancouver that was almost entirely white. She was teased at school and even chased and that kind of affected her.

"I don't' really hope for the best," Maggie deVries said. "I really believe she is dead. She just wouldn't go away and not call. She wouldn't. She always kept in touch -- particularly with my mother.

Sarah Jean deVries has two children, ages 8 and 3.

Robert Phillips is an editor (

Says There's No Evidence 20 Women Were Killed or Abducted

April 9, 1999

By Robert Anthony Phillips

Sarah de Vries
VANCOUVER, British Columbia ( -- Blunt-talking Mayor Philip Owen says he's not in favor of offering a $100,000 reward to try to find out what happened to 20 prostitutes who disappeared from his city, saying he's not financing a "location service" for hookers.

Police and city officials are being pressured by several families of the women to offer cash for information. Social service workers and several of the families believe the women may have been the victims of a serial killer.

"There's no evidence that a serial killer is at work," Owen told in a telephone interview. "No bodies have been found. They [the police] have a procedure for homicides and missing people, and they are following it. I don't think it is appropriate for a big award for a location service."

Will discuss issue at meeting

He scoffed at claims by relatives of the missing women that the prostitutes had close ties to their families and wouldn't just vanish from the streets.


Related Story:


"That's what they say," Owen said. "There's been prostitutes moving around ... and it never came up before. I didn't get a letter or a phone call from anybody before this and some of these girls have been missing for a year. All of a sudden ... it becomes a major event."

"This is really distressing," said Deborah Jardine, whose daughter, Angela, is one of the missing prostitutes. "That's the problem. They are not treating these women as they would any other missing person. Obviously the system prioritizes placement in society."

Owen is chairman of the Police Board, which sets Police Department policy. The panel is scheduled to discuss the reward issue at an April 28 meeting. He said other members of the panel might have different views on the reward issue.

Police don't know what to do

Police say they are unsure whether to recommend some sort of reward in the missing prostitutes' case. The department only recommends rewards to help solve cases where specific crimes are committed and suspects are being sought.

Constable Ann Drennan, spokeswoman for the department, said that in the cases of the missing women, there is no evidence that the women were killed and no suspects.

"It's difficult for us to try to figure out what way a reward would be beneficial and how it would be offered," Drennan told "These are missing persons cases."

Police acknowledge that they risk being accused of insensitivity to the families if they don't offer a reward and are now discussing what to do. Several relatives of the missing women have already accused the police of not fully investigating the disappearances because the women are prostitutes.

Police have denied the charge.

Families make demands on police

Besides the reward, several families of the missing women are demanding that police publicly acknowledge that the disappearances may be related, and that the women may have been abducted and murdered. They also want a task force of investigators set up to investigate the case.

Drennan said advocates for prostitutes and families became upset when the city, Police Department and provincial officials chipped in to offer $100,000 rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of people responsible for a string of home invasions and for another robbery case.

But Drennan emphasized that the rewards were offered for specific crimes with possibly identifiable suspects.

'Screaming into a void'

Maggie de Vries, who has organized the families and is the sister of one of the missing prostitutes, doesn't buy that rationale.

She wants police to acknowledge that many of the women were killed. Her sister, Sarah de Vries, has been missing since April 1998, and Maggie de Vries believes her sibling is dead.

"The time has come for them to be creative and to try something different," de Vries told "There are no suspects; they need to find suspects and find out what happened.

"I know that something terrible has happened. ... There are no bodies, no blood on the street and no physical evidence, but there are lots of other kinds of evidence. I'm very happy with the detectives; they've worked hard and have exhausted all avenues. It's time to take new action.

"For the police to say no crime has been committed is ludicrous," de Vries said. "It's like we're screaming into a void."

De Vries said she has organized 10 families in her letter-writing campaign to the mayor, the Police Board and also to the attorney general of the province. She said the families plan to attend the board's April 28 meeting.

Unusually high number of hookers missing

Police say the 20 prostitutes have disappeared from the Downtown Eastside area, a major red-light district in the city, since 1995. In 1998, 11 women vanished, investigators said. Police say the number of disappearances in 1998 was unusually high.

However, investigators emphasized that the women are prostitutes, drug addicts or alcoholics who lead transient lives. One of the missing women was tracked to Arizona, where she was in a mental hospital after going on a crack binge, getting arrested and giving police a phony name.

But relatives say that many of the women had ties to the community and always kept in contact. Maggie de Vries said her sister had not gone longer than two weeks without calling her, and that was several years ago.

Attorney general targeted

Meanwhile, the province's top law enforcement official has also been asked by the families to post a $100,000 reward and create a task force to investigate the disappearances of the women.

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh, said it is up to the Police Board to authorize a reward. The spokeswoman said the ministry might help fund a reward or task force, or even assign a prosecutor -- if asked by the board.

Wayne Leng, a friend of Sarah de Vries and a Vancouver resident who has pushed for the police to do more to search for the missing women, said there are plenty of reasons to believe the disappearances are linked.

"The fact that these women were drug addicted, involved in the sex trade and disappeared in the Downtown Eastside and no bodies found are common links," Leng said in a letter to Dosanjh.

"These missing women's families and friends need to know that everything possible is being done to solve these disappearances," Leng wrote. "They need closure."

Robert Anthony Phillips is an editor (

23 Women Have Disappeared in Vancouver

May 13, 1999

By Greg Heakes

Kim Stallknecht/APB
Vancouver marchers
VANCOUVER, British Columbia ( -- The smell of burning sweet grass hung in the air and the steady beating of drums echoed through the church where about 300 people gathered to remember 23 prostitutes who have mysteriously disappeared from Vancouver's streets.

Immediately following the two-hour church service on Wednesday, the group marched through the downtown east side to a waterfront park to lay flowers at a stone monument and listen to speeches from social activists, politicians and grieving relatives.

Sex-trade workers, Indian tribe leaders, police, civil servants and friends of the missing women also attended the service at the First United Church.

Stephanie Marie Lane
Families seek closure

Family members talked of daughters who kept in regular contact until they just vanished one day. Some of the women left photos of their children in rooms in run-down hotels, and others didn't bother to cash their welfare checks.

"The hardest thing is not having closure," said Michele Pineault, the mother of Stephanie Marie Lane, who left a 1-year-old son behind when she disappeared two years ago. "But for me, this is the start of the healing process.

"It's hard when you can't get someone out of your mind. I think about her every day, every minute of the day. [Her son] sees me crying all the time, and it's hard to explain to him.

"I don't believe I will ever see my daughter again."

Pineault, whose daughter would be 23 on May 28, now knows she can lean on the others who were there Wednesday for support. "I always thought I was going through this alone," she said. "But talking to some of the other moms has made me realize they are feeling the exact same pain as me."

Work of a serial killer?

A reward of $100,000 (Canadian) was recently offered to try to find out what happened to the 23 prostitutes.

They disappeared over the last four years from the city's "hooker stroll" in Vancouver's poverty- and drug-plagued East End, where 400 people died of drug overdoses in 1998.

The families believe the disappearances are the work of a serial killer, but police say they have no evidence of this, although they do admit that some are likely to have met foul play.

Vancouver's red-light districts have about 500 prostitutes, many of whom are Native women from small western Canadian towns who gravitate to the city because of its warm climate.

Angela Rebecca Jardine
Prayers said for the women

The altar at the church was brightly decorated with flowers and 23 candles -- one for each missing woman.

The ceremony was a mixture of native Indian culture and Christian hymns and readings, beginning with a healing circle, followed by a candle-lighting ceremony and the playing of "Amazing Grace."

Angela Rebecca Jardine's mother was too ill to travel from her home in Sparwood, British Columbia, 370 miles east of Vancouver, so she sent a candle, two photographs and letter, which was read during the service.

"She pursued life with the volume up loud," her mother wrote. "Her persona was loud and her mannerisms sometimes made the people around her cringe.

"Each night I ask God to send an angel to watch over our daughter."

Jardine was last seen on Nov. 20. She left behind all her belongings in her $325-a-month room at the Portland Hotel and an uncashed welfare check.

Janet Gail Henry
Remembering better days

Debra Chartier, 14, spoke of her mother, Janet Gail Henry, who lived in a rooming house on the east side.

"I am trying to remember all the good things she did for me," said Chartier, who lives with her father.

Pineault said her daughter, Stephanie Lane, was a straight-A student in elementary and high school in the East End, where she grew up.

"Her Grade 7 teacher came to me and said, 'In a teacher's life, you come across one exceptional student, and your daughter is like that.'"

Lane became a stripper at 18 and then got hooked on heroin and cocaine.

Pineault said her daughter tried many times to leave the streets.

"She would come home to detox. For four days she would be throwing up, and then on the fifth day she would start to feel better and leave."

Reward offer raises expectations


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The disappearance of the women has been front-page news in the local papers and touched people from all walks of society, including one transit worker who felt compelled to show up in uniform at the church service.

"I personally didn't know any of these women," he said. "But they could have been passengers on my bus."

After the service, the 300-strong congregation marched to Crab Park, where speaker Libby Davies, New Democratic Party MP Vancouver East, said she welcomed the reward.

"We hope the reward and better public awareness brings new information to resolve the disappearance of the women," said Davies.

Vancouver Mayor Philip Owen has bowed to public pressure and is now backing the reward. Owen, who also spoke at the rally, said last month that prostitutes lived transient lifestyles, and he wasn't in favor of a big reward for a "location service."

"Police have six full-time constables looking for evidence of a serial killer. Hopefully something will be uncovered," he said.

Greg Heakes is a writer in Vancouver.
But Donors Agree to Foot Bill in Vancouver

May 21, 1999

By Robert Anthony Phillips

VANCOUVER, British Columbia ( -- Criticism of a plan to use tax dollars to buy cell phones for 100 prostitutes so they could call police if their lives were threatened has prompted this province's Women's Equality Minister to back away from the plan.

Women's Equality Minister Sue Hammell
Women's Equality Minister Sue Hammell announced earlier this month that her office would pay for phones because of growing concern over the disappearances of 23 prostitutes from Vancouver's streets since 1995.

But outraged taxpayers called the ministry office and wrote letters to the media saying they didn't want their tax money used to give hookers phones, a ministry spokesperson said.

The ministry says that instead, private donations will be used to pay for the phones.

Serial killer on the loose?

Terry Harrison, a spokesperson for Hammell, told that instead of buying the phones, the ministry has agreed to allow two private donors to pay $3,000 (Canadian) to buy them for the prostitutes.

"They'll pay for the phones, and we'll spend money in other ways. We have just redirected our funds," Harrison said.


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The issue of the vanishing prostitutes has sparked a public outcry here for the past several months.

Since 1995, 23 women who worked the streets of the city's notorious Downtown Eastside have disappeared, and some believe they were the victims of a still-unknown serial killer. The women, all with drug and alcohol problems, had strong ties to the community and would not just leave the city, say friends and family members.

Relatives of the missing women and advocates for the prostitutes have criticized the police and the city for not doing enough to locate the women. Police say that they have no evidence that a serial killer is murdering the women.

Families put pressure on police

However, relatives of the prostitutes and advocacy groups have taken their stories to newspapers and the airwaves in order to put pressure on the police to put more resources into investigating the case.

As a result, the city and province are now offering a $100,000 (Canadian) reward for information on whereabouts of the women and have assigned more police officers to investigate the disappearances.

In addition, a radio station has been running segments devoted to the missing women for the past three weeks. Guests have included a psychic, a criminologist who has studied Canadian sex laws and violence against prostitutes, as well as relatives of the victims, police and prostitutes.

To bring further attention to the disappearances, a prayer service was held for the women on May 12 and was attended by 300 people. The event included a church service and march to a waterfront park where flowers were laid on a stone monument.

Outraged letters

Hammell proposed giving the prostitutes the cell phones on May 13. Although the phones would be rigged so the women could only call 911 if their lives were in danger, some critics argued that the hookers would use the phones to call their clients.

"Most of the criticism came from the public through letters to newspapers and calls [to] the ministry," Harrison told

Some of the debate has been chronicled on the British Columbia television Web site.

What's next: 'guns for bank robbers?'

"Since the gov't is distributing syringes to drug addicts and now cellular phones to prostitutes; what's next; guns to bank robbers?" wrote one outraged viewer.

"The announcement that taxpayers would be sharing the cost of issuing Cellphones to prostitutes is simply UNBELIEVABLE!" wrote another. "What next??? Drug Addicts who might have to call 911 if they took too many drugs?"

A government worker on strike posted a comment saying "[A]ll we keep hearing from the government is THERE IS NO MORE MONEY and the next thing you know they have found some money to purchase cell phones for prostitutes. Hell, I know people who have jobs and they can't afford a cell phone."

Not every viewer was against the cell phone plan.

One posting signed by "former and current prostitutes" charged that criticism of the cell phone plan shows that the province is full of "ignorant, misinformed, bigoted people." Other views said the cell phones were a good idea.

Donor wants to help community

Wayne Leng, a friend of one of the missing prostitutes and one of the people who has pushed for more police resources for the investigation, said it didn't matter to him who provided the cell phones, the ministry or private donors.

"I think [Hammell] would have continued on with buying the cell phones if she didn't get a private donor to buy them," he said. "I don't think she backed down."

A Vancouver businessman who is donating the money to buy the phones said he did so because "we have to start somewhere."

"This might not be the only solution, but it's a start," said the businessman, who requested that his name not be used. "We just believe in trying to put something back in the community, and if we can help just one person, then it will be worthwhile."

The phones will be distributed by Grandma's House, a drop-in center for prostitutes located in the Downtown Eastside, officials said.

Robert Anthony Phillips is an staff writer (

List Stands at 25 Women; Families Fear Serial Killer

May 26, 1999

By Robert Anthony Phillips

Andrea Fay Borhaven
Andrea Fay Borhaven
VANCOUVER, British Columbia ( -- Two more prostitutes have vanished from one of the city's red-light districts, adding to disappearances that some believe are the work of an undetected serial killer who has been preying on the women for years.

A spokeswoman for the Vancouver Police Department said that Andrea Fay Borhaven 27, and Linda Jean Coombes, 40, have been added to its list of missing "sex-trade workers." Both were drug addicts, police said.

The number of missing prostitutes now totals 25, police said. However, Borhaven and Coombes vanished years ago and have just been reported as missing by their families.

Reward increased

Borhaven was last seen in 1997 in the Downtown Eastside, a small, impoverished neighborhood that is frequented by older prostitutes. Coombes, also identified as a prostitute who frequented the Downtown Eastside area, was last seen by her mother in 1993, police said.

The disappearances of the 25 prostitutes have led some advocates of sex-trade workers and their families to suspect that a serial killer is at large. However, police say they have no evidence of a lone killer preying on women.

Meanwhile, due to publicity surrounding the case, police have increased manpower to get to the bottom of the disappearances. The city and the provincial government are also offering a $100,000 (Canadian) reward for information on the fate of the women.


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Related Site:

List of missing prostitutes

Police say they are still stumped as to what happened to the missing women and have found no clues to their disappearances. They say that given the transient nature of prostitution, the women could have moved to another area. However, family members have said that the women had "close ties" to the community and would not just pick up and leave.

Fingerprinting problem

Detective Constable Lori Shenher, who is investigating the case, said police are hampered by the fact that fingerprints are not taken from people arrested for prostitution-related offenses in Canada.

Shenher said without fingerprints, it is difficult for police to determine whether the women are using an alias in another part of Canada or, in cases where unidentified bodies have been found, to make positive identifications.

In one solved disappearance, a missing prostitute from the Downtown Eastside was found months later in an Arizona mental hospital. She had been arrested while on a crack binge and was using an alias, police said. Police learned of her whereabouts only after she wrote a letter to her mother.

Linda Jean Coombes
Under Canadian law, prostitution is legal but "communicating" for the purpose of prostitution is a crime.

Latest names on the list

Although last seen in 1997, Borhaven was not reported missing to Vancouver police until May 18, authorities said.

Janice Williams, a media liaison for the Vancouver police, said the recent publicity regarding the missing women prompted Borhaven's family to report her missing to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Vernon, the family's hometown. The file was then sent to Vancouver police.

Coombes also has mental health problems, Williams said. Coombes was last seen in November 1993 but was not reported missing to Vancouver police until April.

Again, Williams said it was the publicity surrounding the case that prompted Coombes' mother to file a missing person's report on her daughter.

Williams said that Coombes' mother, living in Mexico at the time of her daughter's disappearance, sent a letter to Vancouver police in 1995 asking investigators to check on her daughter's whereabouts.

Williams said she did not know whether police investigated.

Robert Anthony Phillips is an staff writer (

Seek Tips, Possible Links in Disappearance of 25 Prostitutes

June 1, 1999

By Robert Anthony Phillips

Forensic investigators carry a body out of Kendall Francois' home in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., in September.
VANCOUVER, British Columbia ( -- Although they officially decline to describe the disappearance of dozens of local prostitutes as a possible serial killing pattern, Vancouver authorities are consulting police involved in two different serial killer investigations in the northern United States, has learned.

Detectives probing the disappearance of 25 Vancouver prostitutes over the last 13 years have been in contact with investigators in the Green River killings case in Seattle as well as the Kendall Francois case in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Francois is accused of killing eight prostitutes who disappeared between 1996 and 1998.

Two police sources, who asked not to be identified, told that although no evidence yet exists that a serial killer has been stalking the Vancouver prostitutes, investigators are looking for tips on techniques used by other police departments to identify and track down such killers.

Kendall Francois
Links to Green River case?

The sources said Vancouver investigators have talked with King County, Wash., Detective Tom Jenson, the lone investigator still probing the notorious Green River killer case in the Seattle area. The deaths of at least 49 women -- many of them prostitutes -- are attributed to the still-unidentified killer who was active in the 1980s in the Pacific Northwest.

The case got its name from the fact that some of the victims were found in the Green River. The remainder were discovered in wooded areas around Seattle and Portland, Ore.

Jenson was called by Vancouver detectives in order to establish contact and possibly provide information from a vast Green River investigative database of evidence, tips and suspect information, a source said. With Vancouver just 117 miles north of Seattle, there is some thought that if a serial killer is responsible for the disappearances of the Vancouver prostitutes, he may be operating on both sides of the border, the source said.

Jenson confirmed that he had received a call from Vancouver police about the missing prostitutes. He said Canadian police asked him about "people who may have been connected to both areas." He said that during his investigation of the Green River Killer, he had not come across any serious suspect who could be linked to Vancouver.

"We have not exchanged any information," Jenson said.

Seek lessons from Poughkeepsie probe

Vancouver police have also talked with Detective Lt. William Siegrist, a Poughkeepsie lawman who investigated the case in which 27-year-old Francois is accused of murdering eight prostitutes and then hiding the bodies in his family's home. The case has similarities to what has been occurring in Vancouver.

In both the Vancouver and Poughkeepsie cases, prostitutes with close ties to the community and in contact with their families on a regular basis vanished from the streets over a period of years.

The purpose of the call to Poughkeepsie was to seek investigative advice on how the case was solved and what techniques police used that led investigators to the suspected killer, the sources told

Siegrist told that he was aware of the Vancouver case but would not discuss specifics of the call he received from Vancouver police.


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Still no evidence of single killer

Since the beginning of the investigation into the disappearances of the prostitutes from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside red-light district, police have emphasized that investigators still don't have any evidence pointing to a lone killer. They stress that they don't even know if the missing women have been slain. There are no bodies, clues or suspects.

Vancouver police say that given the transient nature of prostitutes, the women could have left the area to ply their trade in another part of Canada, or even the United States.

However, despite stepped-up investigative efforts, detectives have not been able to find anyone with a clear-cut motive to kill any of the women, such as a jealous boyfriend, the source said.



Probe's current focus

According to the source, police are now:


  • Interviewing 40 to 50 men with a history of harassing prostitutes. Investigators are compiling histories of what they refer to as a "creep" list and have already interviewed several of the men.
  • Interviewing other prostitutes. Police still believe that some of the prostitutes actively working the streets of the Downtown Eastside may have more information on suspects and could hold the key to the investigation. Poughkeepsie's Siegrist reportedly told Vancouver police that in his case, he found that the suspect had sex with more than 50 of the estimated 70 hookers on the street and was well-known to the hookers in the city. The suspect also had a history of committing acts of violence against the women.
  • Using a new vice squad computer program, the Deter and Identify Sextrade Consumers (DISC) database, which investigators hope will help identify possible suspects. The program allows officers to index every scrap of information they gather about johns, pimps and prostitutes into a searchable database. This includes such information as who has visited the red-light districts of Vancouver, nicknames of johns, physical and vehicle descriptions, and even if specific johns have any particular perversions or tattoos. A police source said that scraps of information compiled in the database could be useful in creating a suspect list.

Ties to community important

While not directly commenting on the Vancouver case, Siegrist said that it was an important clue that the missing prostitutes in Poughkeepsie had "close ties to the community."

Kim Stallknecht/
Marchers demanding police action in Vancouver last month
In interviewing the families and relatives of missing prostitutes in the Poughkeepsie case, Siegrist said that several of the missing women had children, family members or boyfriends they stayed with, visited regularly or kept in contact with.

Relatives of the missing Vancouver women also say that the women had close ties to the community and would not just pick up and leave for long periods of time without contacting them.

In Vancouver, police report that one prostitute has disappeared so far in 1999; seven vanished in 1998; eight were reported missing in 1997; one in 1996; and four in 1995. Three others vanished from the streets between 1986 and 1993. Another woman, who is not officially on the list, is still considered by some investigators to be part of the group.

Reward offered

Relatives of the missing women and advocates for the city's sex-trade workers have criticized the Vancouver police for not fully investigating the disappearance of the women.

The issue exploded in March when Jamie Lee Hamilton, a former prostitute who runs a drop-in center for sex-trade workers, called a news conference and said she believed a serial killer was responsible for the disappearance of the women.

Now, police have assigned more personnel to the case, and the city and British Columbia governments have offered a $100,000 reward (Canadian) for information leading to the whereabouts of the women.

Robert Anthony Phillips is an staff writer (

Private Detectives Hope to Solve Canadian Mystery

June 11, 1999

By Robert Anthony Phillips

CPA Confidence Group
A cadaver dog in action
VANCOUVER, British Columbia ( -- One of the largest private detective agencies in Canada says it will use specially trained "cadaver dogs" to hunt for 25 prostitutes who vanished from one of the city's red-light districts.

CPA Confidence Group Enterprises Inc. said it would use the body-sniffing bloodhounds and old-fashioned shoe-leather detective work to try to solve the mystery of why the women disappeared from the impoverished Downtown Eastside neighborhood since 1993.

Some community activists and families of the missing women believe the prostitutes are the victims of a serial killer. However, police say they have no evidence that the women were murdered.

Believes more women missing

Darryll Harasemow, director of investigations for CPA, told that he believes "more than 70" prostitutes are missing, but would not say how he came up with that number.

"We feel there are women who have not been put in that [missing] category yet," Harasemow said. "A lot of families have yet to come forward because of the nature of the women's line of work."

CPA said it plans to create a database of information on the missing prostitutes and also use the cadaver dogs to search areas around Vancouver, where the bodies of the women could be buried.

'Amazing' dogs


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"These dogs are amazing," Harasemow said. "They can find a 125-year-old grave site."

CPA says the cadaver dogs are trained to locate human remains 200 feet below the water surface and 30 feet below the ground. The dogs are capable of detecting fine molecules of DNA scent that are released during the decomposition of the human body, the agency says.

Harasemow said that the dogs would not be sent out on random searches. He said investigators would first pinpoint possible sites through investigation before using the dogs.

Vancouver police spokeswoman Constable Ann Drennan did not return repeated calls for comment on the agency's plan.

Cops getting heat

The publicity surrounding the women's disappearances and criticism that not enough was being done to locate them has prompted police officials to assign more personnel to the investigation and offer a $100,000 reward for information.

As part of the expanded probe to locate the women, police have also reached out to detectives in the United States who have investigated serial killings. Police here have contacted investigators in the Green River case in Seattle, which involves the deaths of at least 49 women, many of them prostitutes, as well as those who worked on the case of Kendall Francois, who is accused of killing eight prostitutes who disappeared between 1996 and 1998.

Helen Mae Hallmark
Police said the Green River investigator was called in order to establish contact and possibly provide information from a vast Green River investigative database of evidence, tips and suspect information. With Vancouver just 117 miles north of Seattle, there is some thought that if a serial killer is responsible for the disappearances of the Vancouver prostitutes, he may be operating on both sides of the border.

The detective who investigated the Francois case in New York was called to get tips on serial killer investigations, police said.

However, investigators stressed that there is no evidence linking the missing prostitutes in Vancouver to either case.

Agency eligible for reward

CPA's Harasemow said to help finance the firm's investigation, a trust fund has been set up for donations. In addition, if CPA discovers what happened to the women, it could be eligible to receive the $100,000 reward.

He said under Canadian law, a private investigative firm cannot become involved in a case unless it is hired by an individual or is going after a reward.

Families angry

Several relatives of the missing women have criticized the police in recent months, charging that lawmen were not taking the disappearances seriously.

Robert McClelland, whose stepdaughter is one of the missing prostitutes, told that he met with CPA and talked to the private eyes because he has been dissatisfied with the police investigation.

"I think the police have done what they can do, with what they had to work with, but not a lot extra," McClelland said. "Right from the beginning, people were saying their sisters or mothers were missing.

"I think CPA is doing this because they care. They can see the frustration of the families and the lack of what some of us felt was being done with the investigation here.

"There will be no closure for any of the families until they know what happened to their daughters, mothers and sisters," McClelland said. "I just believe that from the beginning, these women were not as important because of who they were and where they came from. That's my honest opinion. I don't feel attention was put on the case until the media got involved."

Stepdad in 'denial'

McClelland's stepdaughter, Helen Mae Hallmark, 32, has been missing since June 1997. She is described on her missing poster as a prostitute and drug addict who frequented the Downtown Eastside area, a poor neighborhood where all the women were last seen before they disappeared.

McClelland waited a year to report his stepdaughter missing, saying he was "in denial" that something happened to her. However, McClelland said that when he called the police he was given the "runaround," adding that it took days to file a missing person's report.

He also said that on two occasions, a Vancouver police investigator was supposed to meet with him about Hallmark, but didn't show up. A Vancouver police officer, McClelland said, eventually did meet with him about Hallmark.

"They always say that these women fell through the cracks," McClelland said. "They fell through a big hole."

Robert Anthony Phillips is an staff writer (

Poster to Feature 31 Women Last Seen in Neighborhood

July 27, 1999

By Robert Anthony Phillips


VANCOUVER, British Columbia ( -- Police have added the names of four more prostitutes to the list of missing sex-trade workers, bringing the number who have vanished from one of the city's notorious red light districts to 31 since 1978.

News of the additional missing prostitutes came as Vancouver police and the province's attorney general announced plans today to distribute a new poster with pictures of all the women and offer up to a $100,000 (Canadian) reward to anyone who could help solve the case.

Some community activists and family members of the missing women believe that a serial killer has been preying on the prostitutes. Police have stated that they have no evidence that a serial slayer is stalking the red light district of the Downtown Eastside, the small, impoverished neighborhood were all of the women were last seen.

Women's fate a mystery


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APB Serial Killer Bureau

Constable Anne Drennan, a spokeswoman for the Vancouver Police Department, told that despite an increase in manpower assigned to find the women or learn their fate, investigators still don't have a clue as to what happened to them.

She said police have yet to find any bodies or even crime scenes that would help the investigation. However, Drennan said that since the case has been publicized, police have been able to locate two of the women who were once reported as missing.

Drennan said one of the women was in Arizona, where she was arrested during a crack binge. She gave police a false name and was placed in a psychiatric hospital. Another missing woman was found several months ago living on an island outside of Vancouver. When police talked to the woman, she told them that "she did not wish to be found," Drennan said.

All of the missing women have a history of drug abuse and prostitution, police and family members have said.

Drennan said police now have eight full-time officers and one part-timer working on the case.

Names added

Drennan said she could only provide sketchy information about the four women just added to the list. One of the women was last seen in 1998, and the others in 1992, 1994 and 1997, she said.

Drennan identified the women as Andrea Borhaven, 27, last seen in 1997 and reported missing May 18, 1999; Linda Coombes, 40, last seen between November 1993 and April 1994 and reported missing April 4, 1999; Karen Smith, 35, last seen June 1992 and reported missing April 27, 1999; and Julie Young, 32, last seen in October 1998 and reported missing July 6, 1999.

Police had previously announced in May that Borhaven and Coombes were missing. In total, six women were reported missing between 1978 and 1992 and 25 since 1995. However, some of the women were last seen years before they were reported missing, police said.

Drennan said she did not know whether the information on the new group of missing women came from other police departments or was developed by Vancouver police.

Poster campaign

Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh

The new posters on the missing women were unveiled today at a press conference attended by British Columbia Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh and Vancouver Mayor Philip W. Owen.

Dosanjh said in a prepared statement that the "number of women missing without explanation from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside is extremely troubling and warrants these kinds of extraordinary measures."

The poster contains the names, dates of birth and dates each woman was last seen and reported missing.

The Vancouver police board is offering the reward upon the arrest and conviction of anyone responsible for unlawfully confining, kidnapping or murdering any one or more of the women listed in the reward poster. Only those people who volunteer information by May 1, 2000, will be eligible.

Police asked that anyone with information on the women to call them at any one of three telephone numbers: in the Vancouver area, (604) 717-3415, anywhere in North America at (800) 993-8799, or on a special line for anonymous tips at (604) 669-TIPS.

Robert Anthony Phillips is an staff writer (

Missing People Net



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

Updated: August 21, 2016