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

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Mayor: No Reward-April 9,1999
Prayer Service Held-May 13,1999
Taxpayers Balk-Cells-May 21,1999
Two More Missing-May 26,1999
Vancouver Cops Consult US-June 1,1999
Four More Missing-July 27,1999



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

Updated: August 21, 2016