AROUND 1:30 A.M. on April 14, 1998, Sarah deVries, then 28 and the daughter of a well-off Vancouver family, stepped from the door of the skid row Beacon Hotel and turned east for a walk along Hastings Street and a date with oblivion.

She passed the notorious Pigeon Park where small groups of Latin American men clustered on the corner, muttering under their breath, "Up? Down?" – the code words for cocaine and heroin.

Across the street in the Portland Hotel lived two women she knew, Angela Jardine and Michelle Gurney, both – like herself – prostitutes and drug addicts.  She passed beneath the sign on the nine-storey Hotel Balmoral, where she liked to dance and where she could briefly play out a fantasy of becoming a star like Jennifer Beal in Flashdance, elevated above the streets’ cruelty by her agility and passion. She passed the door of the Holborn Hotel, where another acquaintance and prostitute, Janet Henry, had once kept a tiny, neat room.

It was near here that deVries and her companion that night, a prostitute named Sylvia Carleton (a pseudonym), met their dealer, who sold them a speedball – a concoction of heroin and cocaine. By the chain-link fence across from the All Tribes Mission, the two had "jugged" the speedball, injecting the drug into each other’s necks. Then they headed for the intersection of Princess and Hastings, deVries’s corner, the place where she met men to support her $500-a-day habit. Dressed in a frilly white blouse and leggings, she stood in front of a scrawl of fading graffiti that read: Jesus Commands You Stop Selling Your Body. Carleton soon got a ride, but the negotiations didn’t work out and, after circling the block, she was back at the intersection within a minute. DeVries had disappeared.

ABOVE: One of the women who work on Hastings Street

BELOW: Wayne Leng is haunted by the last words of his friend Sarah deVries: "I'll call you."

    “I knew something was wrong,” Carleton says now. “The whole street was empty. No cars, no people, no nothing. I felt really scared. I knew she was gone.”

DeVries had joined 37-year-old Janet Henry, who’d vanished 10 months before without a trace. And within six months, they’d be joined by Angela Jardine and Michelle Gurney. These four are just a few of the estimated 31 Vancouver prostitutes who’ve disappeared in the past 15 years from the city’s bleak Downtown Eastside, pejoratively known in the trade as Low Track. Twenty-two of them have gone missing in the past four years alone (the number varies depending on who’s talking). None has left a clue to her disappearance. There are no crime scenes and no bodies. All that remains of deVries along Hastings Street today is a single fading poster – one of hundreds circulated by longtime friend Wayne Leng after she’d vanished. It sits in the window of the Cozy Corner Grocery, located a few blocks from the intersection where deVries was last seen, and shows a beautiful black woman, her lips crimson, wearing the very same blouse she wore on the night she disappeared. In her diary, she’d recently written these words: “I’ve been dead at least six times over in my heart. I should be six feet under. I truly believe I have a guardian angel watching my every move.”

Leng believes, as most who knew her, that deVries’s guardian angel abandoned her that April night in 1998 and that she – like the more than 30 Vancouver street prostitutes – is dead. Most of the estimated 500 still working Low Track secretly believe the same thing, as do the Vancouver Police, who are now – belatedly – pursuing the extraordinary series of disappearances. The questions foremost in everyone’s mind are these: Could a serial killer, or perhaps several killers, be cruising Vancouver’s dark streets, picking up and then disposing of prostitutes? And how does the women’s mysterious absence connect to the 40 or so known murders – most unsolved – of Vancouver area prostitutes, whose bodies have been found in the past 14 years?

ELM STREET-Vancouver's Missing Prostitutes
ELM STREET article P5



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Updated: August 21, 2016