By the early spring of 1999, with prostitutes vanishing from along Hastings Street and the police still insisting the women were merely missing, frustration among friends and families of the women reached a critical mass.

Wayne Leng, 49, an automotive technician and longtime friend of Sarah deVries, had dropped her off on Hastings Street early on the night she’d disappeared. Her last words to him were: “I’ll call you.” They’d been lovers briefly, but that was now past. When she didn’t call the next day or the next or the next, Leng started worrying. When the days became weeks and there was still no word or sighting of deVries, Leng began printing up Missing posters, listing his own phone number to call, and plastering them in every bar and shop in the area. He soon got an anonymous message on his pager, saying: “Get off the case. Sarah’s dead. There’ll be more prostitutes killed.” He took it to radio stations and the police. He didn’t want to believe what deVries had said many times to him: “If someone dies down here, no one cares about it.” He wanted to prove her wrong. He gradually became aware that others were searching the area, too, looking for their wives, sisters, mothers, daughters, friends.

On JUNE 25, 1997 when Janet Henry stepped out of the Holborn Hotel and into oblivion, she left her July rent pre-paid, $115 in her account at the nearby bank and a mystery that has propelled 43-year-old Sandra Gagnon to search, with a mounting sense of despair, for her sister. Henry, the youngest of 12 children, had grown up in Alert Bay, a remote native community on the B.C. coast. But the family had disintegrated when her father died in a fishing accident. The downward spiral from there is familiar: a series of foster homes; alcohol abuse; the birth of a child; a move to Vancouver’s skid row; alcohol, pills, cocaine and heroin. For five years, Henry stood each night on the corner of Princess and Hastings – the precise location subsequently occupied by deVries – soliciting passerby. She confessed to her older sister Sandra that she often wished she were dead.

When Janet Henry didn’t call her sister on June 26, something she did without fail daily, Gagnon suspected a drug overdose. She called 911 and filed a missing persons report with the police, who searched Henry’s room and found only a small travel bag packed with a toothbrush, as if she were going on an overnight trip. Gagnon began putting up posters, showing an attractive native woman with tinted glasses and cropped hair. It described Henry as “a known drug user and sex-trade worker.” Says Gagnon, “I searched and searched and searched. I heard all sorts of stories of where she was last seen. But no body, no evidence, nothing. It’s baffling. It’s freaky.” Today, Gagnon receives regular letters from Henry’s daughter, Debra, now 15 and living in Northern B.C. with her father. She takes these letters and reads aloud: “Another year passes and still no trace of my mom. She won’t see me graduate and she won’t be at my wedding…all the important stuff, she won’t be there. I hope we can find my mom’s body. I also wish we could find all the other women, too.” Gagnon’s eyes are bright with tears when she stops reading.

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

Updated: August 21, 2016