The Missing Women of Vancouver

Philip Saunders, CBC News Online | Updated May 23, 2002

Rebecca Guno, a drug addict and prostitute, vanished from Vancouverís downtown eastside in June 1983. Her name was the first of fifty that would eventually be placed on the list of women to disappear mysteriously from the drug-infested area over the two decades that followed.

It wasnít until 19 years later, early in 2002, that charges were laid in any of the cases. The charges came not longer after police focused their efforts on a farm in Port Coquitlam, outside Vancouver. Dozens of officers scoured the farm in search of evidence.

Within months, the owner of that farm, Robert William Pickton, would face seven charges of murder.

Vancouver's missing women

Families of the missing women have accused Vancouver police of mishandling the investigation from the start by ignoring evidence that a serial killer was at work. The RCMP became involved in the case in 2001.

The families also charge police with neglecting the cases because many of the women were prostitutes and drug addicts.

It wasn't until August of 2001 that Vancouver police began hinting that a serial killer could be responsible for the disappearance of the missing women. At the time 31 women had gone missing, but four had been accounted for and two of those were confirmed dead.

Dr. Elliott Leyton, an anthropology professor at Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland, who wrote a book on serial killers called Hunting Humans, says that police are rightly reluctant to identify serial murders because public panic often follows.

"Responsible people have to be careful about making wild pronouncements about possible serial killers," Leyton says. "And when we are not sure if it is true, then it is inappropriate to throw people into a state of panic. Prostitution is a very dangerous profession and many of the people in it are wanderers and not well connected to any conventional system of government controls or social services. So they can drift away from the system without being noticed for a very long time, even when nothing may have actually happened to them."

Leyton argues that the current assumption that a serial killer may be at work in Vancouver is a little irresponsible. The RCMP task force has repeatedly said that it cannot speak about the ongoing investigation and only concedes that a serial killer may be involved.

But Leyton admits that when you have a number of people missing from a particular social type you have to ask questions.

The first indication that there was a significant number of prostitutes going missing as far back as 1978 came to public attention in July of 1999, when the Vancouver Police and the Province's Attorney General published a poster offering a reward of $100,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or people involved in the disappearances. Even the popular U.S. TV program America's Most Wanted aired a segment on the missing prostitutes, but few leads surfaced.

In the spring of 1999, two Vancouver detectives teamed up with two RCMP detectives to review the file pertaining to the 31 missing women. In August of that year police began investigating an account by a woman, not a prostitute, who said that a man snatched her from the stairwell of a hotel in Vancouver's downtown eastside. The woman jumped from her captor's moving vehicle to escape.

Accusations that police haven't done enough reached a fever pitch when former detective and geographic profiler Kim Rossmo claimed he told police that a serial killer was at work in the Vancouver area and was ignored. Rossmo said that disappearances from the neighborhood were normal, but that the number of incidents was abnormally high between 1995 and 1998.

Rossmo, who sued the Vancouver department for wrongful dismissal when they failed to renew his contract, claimed that a single predator was responsible for killing prostitutes in downtown Vancouver. The Vancouver department dismissed his claims as sour grapes.

Leyton says that the difficulty in assembling a case is that these kinds of killers typically prey on strangers, so it becomes much more difficult for police to make the connections required to confirm the presence of a serial killer.

Pickton is charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of:

      Mona Wilson, 26 when she was last seen in November 2001.

      Sereena Abotsway, 29 when she disappeared in August 2001.

      Jacqueline McDonell, 23 when she was last seen in January 1999.

      Diane Rock, 34 when last seen in October 2001.

      Heather Bottomley, 25 when she disappeared in April 2001.

      Andrea Joesbury, 22 when last seen in June 2001.

      Brenda Wolfe, 32 when last seen in February 1999

Courtesy of the CBC Vancouver



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

Updated: August 21, 2016