When Maggie deVries got a call from Wayne Leng, informing her of Sarah’s mysterious disappearance last year, Maggie phoned 911 and was soon giving information to the sole Vancouver police officer dealing with missing persons. For a while she joined Leng in postering the Eastside with her sister’s photo. She heard how popular Sarah was among skid row’s street people: kind to a fault, always fashionably dressed, bright, self-mocking, the only prostitute who wore in-line skates on Hastings Street. But Maggie deVries soon realized that there were friends and relatives of other missing prostitutes searching as well. Yet no civic official, no police spokesperson would acknowledge something was wrong. “If 20 UBC students went missing over the same period of time,” Maggie said last spring, “there would be mayhem. There would be searches and media interest and rewards.”

Infuriated, Maggie called all the families and friends of the missing prostitutes she could contact. What she heard, what she personally felt, was that everyone was exhausted from months and years of fruitless searching and uncertainty. She heard several accounts of missing women who’d always call their families at Christmas and birthdays, yet had not called once for years.

By April this year the Vancouver media finally began reporting on the missing prostitutes. America’s Most Wanted, a hugely popular TV program devoted to publicizing crime and helping catch criminals, announced it was coming to Vancouver to tape a documentary on the case, (The show, broadcast in late July, produced more than 100 phone-in tips).

Spurred by the public reaction to the possibility that Vancouver had a serial killer in its midst, Mayor Owen did an about-face and joined the provincial government in offering a $100,000 reward for information on any foul play involved in the disappearances.

The Vancouver police department, which had until then chosen to view the disappearances as 31 separate missing persons, also began reconsidering the statistics. There was no pattern like it anywhere else in Canada, although Vancouver police knew that at least 10 US police forces are currently investigating unsolved serial prostitute murders there. In Vancouver, the Missing Women’s Review Team was set up.

The task of the officer in charge of the investigation, Sgt. Geramy Field, was not made easier by the circumstances of the prostitutes’ disappearances. In many cases, the women weren’t reported missing until weeks after friends started to suspect something was wrong. The details of their disappearances are in most cases ephemeral: getting into a blue, or maybe a black truck on Hastings…a meeting with a friend missed…a recollection of a prostitute arguing with a john…then nothing.

The police have not ruled out the involvement of Michael Leopold, a 27-year-old Vancouver labourer who was arrested in 1996 for a brutal attack and attempted kidnapping of a Low Track prostitute. He pleaded guilty. But in a pre-sentencing interview, he confessed to a psychiatrist that the crime was, in fact, a “trial run” – that he planned to capture, torture and kill a number of Eastside prostitutes. The psychiatrist got permission from the Supreme Court of Canada to reveal this confidential information and the Crown is trying to get Leopold, now in the Fraser Regional Corrections Centre, declared a dangerous offender. With the exception of Michael Leopold, the police in Vancouver have no suspects and no leads.

 Most of the missing women's families have provided the police with mouth swabs in order to help in DNA identification if a body is found


ELM STREET-Vancouver's Missing Prostitutes
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ELM STREET article P8
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Missing Women Tip Line: 1-877-687-3377

Updated: August 21, 2016