The 51st missing woman?

Suzanne Fournier
The Province

Tuesday, March 19, 2002

Wayne Leng took a photograph of Sylvia Skakum -- who was with his friend Sarah DeVries the night she vanished -- because he feared Skakum might herself fall victim to whatever was causing women to disappear from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Now Leng is pushing police to add Skakum's name to the official list of 50 missing women.

"Sylvia came forward when I was putting up posters about Sarah to tell me she'd been with Sarah the night she disappeared, and that they had become very good friends in a short time because they had so many things in common," recalls Leng, 52, who maintains a website dedicated to the missing women from his home in California, where he now works as an automotive technician.

"Both Sylvia and Sarah were well-educated and articulate and they both came from middle-class adoptive homes," recalls Leng.

"They were exactly the same size, so they swapped clothes a lot, and they were both energetic and fun-loving. They were born on the same day, May 12, a year apart -- Sarah in 1969 and Sylvia in 1968. Both were mothers, and they both loved their kids."

Leng says he met Skakum in May, 1998, a month after Sarah DeVries was picked up on a street corner and never seen again.

He stayed in touch for almost a year with Skakum, who had been earning $4,000 a month as an accountant before she became addicted to drugs. They exchanged reminiscences about Sarah and other missing women.

"I took Sylvia's photo, because she was afraid, as I was, that she could disappear like Sarah. Within a year, Sylvia was gone, too."

Skakum's photo and description have been circulated for more than a year in the Downtown Eastside but no one has reported seeing her, nor has she been in touch for more than two years with her child or adoptive parents.

Leng said he has provided all information about Skakum to Vancouver police but her name has not been added to the list.

The Vancouver Police-RCMP Joint Missing Women Task Force will not speak to the media, except for a news update on Wednesdays.

Up to 80 officers are conducting an intensive search of a Port Coquitlam pig farm. One of its owners, Robert William [Willie] Pickton, 52, has been charged with the first-degree murders of Sereena Abotsway, who was 29 when she disappeared in August last year, and Mona Wilson, 26, who disappeared last November and who is the 50th woman on the list.

Meanwhile, Gina Houston, a friend of Pickton's, has told the media that police may also consider her a suspect and that she may be arrested soon. Houston says police seized personal belongings from her storage locker in Port Coquitlam, including furniture, dishes and children's toys. She said police also searched an adjacent locker belonging to Pickton.

"They've been making my life a living hell -- the police," said Houston.

Dave Pickton, 50, Pickton's younger brother, said "Gina's telling the truth" about the police investigation.

Dave Pickton confirmed he got a letter from his brother about the storage locker "but I haven't taken a thing out of it."

He says he's been to the jail once to visit Willie, who has been in custody since Feb. 22. Responding to media reports that Willie was interrogated and videotaped for 12 hours by police, and has begun providing information, Dave Pickton scoffed: "Sure he's talking. You lock anybody up in a six-by-eight cell for three weeks and they'd start talking too."

But Pickton denied reports that he's worried about his brother's mental health or that Willie has appeared confused.

As for the pig-farm search, Pickton told The Province: "Dig up the whole works . . . because the end is when they finish digging."

Pickton also insisted it is not significant that off-duty police officers have partied at the farm in the past or at nearby Piggies' Palace, his after-hours club that drew large crowds to boisterous but well-run parties featuring booze and live music. 

 Copyright 2002 The Province

Sylvia speaks on Sarah-1999



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Updated: August 21, 2016