Thirty-one women don't just disappear. The police speculate on the possibility of one or more serial killers hunting Vancouver prostitutes.

Reflecting on the mystery confronting authorities, Constable Anne Drennan, media liaison officer for the Vancouver police, sits in the department’s media room beneath a wall-length series of missing person posters. Each poster bears a colour photo of one missing prostitute; each woman stares out above a brief physical description and the known circumstances surrounding her disappearance. Angela Jardine, 28, has Cupid’s bow lips and the withered skin of a woman three times her age. She was last seen in November 1998. Thirty-year-old Michelle Gurney squints into the camera with the suspicious look of someone who has seen too much. She was last seen in December 1998.

Drennan defends the police against the accusations that they were slow to react and often insensitive to complaints. She points out that were 23 UBC coeds to go missing, their friends and relatives would report it immediately and the details of their recent whereabouts would be known. With the street prostitutes…Drennan lets her hands fall open, upward and empty. “We have so little to go on. We’re not starting at A. We’re starting at N. We have to work both ways – back and forward, to where they last were and where they’ve gone.” She is now prepared to admit, in a reversal similar to Mayor Owen’s, that the number of missing prostitutes is far too high for mere coincidence. Thirty-one women don’t just disappear. She speculates aloud on the possibility of one or more serial killers hunting Vancouver prostitutes. The fact that police are not ruling out that someone is killing Low Track women – and successfully hiding their bodies – is now reflected in the composition of the newly enlarged, nine-person Missing Women’s Review Team. Two homicide detectives have been added to the policing group and links between the 31 cases are now being investigated. Posters showing the women have been circulated across North America and the wording of the criteria for receiving the $100,000 reward is unambiguous. There will be no repeat of the Clifford Olsen cash-for-bodies embarrassment. Most of the missing women’s families have provided mouth swabs to help in DNA identification if a body is found. Sarah deVries mother removed a lock of hair from her daughter’s baby book and sent it to the police.
SIX MONTHS AGO, 350 people gathered in the First United Church on Hastings Street, just three blocks west of the corner where Sarah deVries was last seen. The date was May 12, 1999; had she been alive it would have been deVries 30th birthday. Among those in attendance at the memorial service were the families of 15 of the missing women, including Sarah deVries’s children, Jeanie and Ben, both now healthy and living with their grandmother in Ontario. In the crowd, as well, were dozens of Downtown Eastside prostitutes whose friends had vanished. Candles lined the altar. One by one the candles were lit as the name of each woman was read out. Outside the church afterwards, one of the prostitutes spoke of the dangers of climbing into a stranger’s car on a dark, skid row street with the suspicion that – among the anonymous men – a murderer is loose: “It’s like Russian roulette: How many shots do I have left? How long until I get to the chamber that’s not empty?”

Accompanied by the sound of native drumming, the crowd paraded through Low Track to the nearby Burrard Inlet shoreline. Jeanie, looking like a miniature of her mother, joined the group of women leading the memorial walk and helped carry a banner that read: Find These Women Now. The mourners stood for a while by the ocean’s edge in silent witness to the missing women, rereading the inscription on the newly installed commemorative boulder for those who’ve been killed in the Downtown Eastside, a tombstone of sorts for the 31 women who have no grave.

The words on the monument are: “ The heart has its own memory.” Without bodies, without answers, without an explanation of the vanished women’s fate, the words are not a blessing, but a curse.

ELM STREET-Vancouver's Missing Prostitutes

The Case of the Vanishing Women - Georgia Straight



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

Updated: August 21, 2016