Mayor to propose skid-row reward

Mayor backs reward in hooker mystery
The Province
Bob Stall

Sunday, April 25, 1999

Warns about wording as he responds to clamour over missing women.

Is a serial killer murdering prostitutes in Vancouver?

Suddenly, it seems that we care to find out.

The mayor of Vancouver is bending under public pressure and this week will propose a $100,000 reward fund to help discover what has happened to 23 women missing in the past few years from the city's downtown east side.

Jon Murray, The Province / Stephen Lane, 2, holds a picture of his missing mother, Stephanie Lane. With him are Stephanie's mother, Michele Pineault, brother Michael, 12, and father, George.

Mayor Philip Owen tells me he will recommend to the Vancouver police board that a very carefully worded reward, or series of rewards, totaling $100,000 be offered for information on the disappearances and possible murders of the skid-row prostitutes and drug addicts, some of whose stories have been told here.

The police board, chaired by Owen, meets Wednesday. It has seven members -- five provincial appointees and two city representatives -- including the mayor as chairman.

The board will vote on Owen's recommendation and is certain to support it because the five provincial members will feel bound by Attorney-General Ujjal

Dosanjh's promise this month to provide the bulk of the reward money if it is requested by police board chairman Owen.

Until our conversation, Owen had given the impression he wasn't in favour of a substantial reward in the cases of the missing women. He had said there was no evidence of a serial killer at work and he wouldn't finance "a location service" for hookers.

But he showed me that the clamour of the families, media and public has got to him and he has rethought the whole issue.

He confirmed that the B.C. government has offered to put up $70,000 if Vancouver chips in $30,000.

The $100,000 total would be the same as two other rewards offered last month for information leading to arrests of those responsible for a skein of Lower Mainland home invasions, and those who committed a string of recent garage robberies in west-side Vancouver.

That reward (and obvious concern) for garages in the city's more affluent areas was the mayor's proud brainchild, but it stood in unfortunately clear contrast to the lack of reward (and apparent lack of concern) for the missing prostitutes in the very poorest neighbourhood.

Families of the women who disappeared were quick to point this out in recent weeks. Columns and articles on this page (They aren't from Kerrisdale, and Lack of caring real enough) and elsewhere told stories of the missing women.

They are/were Elaine Allenbach, Cindy Louise Beck, Linda Jean Coombes, Marcella Helen Creison, Sarah Jean deVries, Sheila Catherine Egan, Marnie Lee Frey, Catherine Louise Gonzalez, Michelle Gurney, Inga Monique Hall, Helen Mae Hallmark, Janet Gail Henry, Tanya Marlo Holyk, Angela Rebecca Jardine, Catherine Maureen Knight, Kerry Lynn Koski, Stephanie Marie Lane, Jacqueline Michelle McDonell, Diana Melnick, Jacqueline Maria Murdock, Dorothy Anne Spence, Kathleen Dale Wattley, Olivia Gale Williams and other women whose names to date may not have been reported.

They are/were real daughters, mothers and sisters, almost all of whom kept in regular contact with someone until the day they abruptly disappeared, leaving behind their belongings, bank accounts, welfare cheques and no hint of travel plans.

"My gut feeling is that some of them have met with foul play," Vancouver Const. Lori Shenher said last week. Shenher is one of two smart and overworked detectives on the cases full-time. (A third is on temporary assignment with them.)

"This is developing into a very major issue," Mayor Owen said in our conversation, regarding the question of posting a $100,000 reward. "Everybody's jumping on to it and getting connected.

"I think it's worth having a very close look at it because the press are pointing that out and the public are wanting it, and certainly the families are wanting a little more attention and a little more seriousness."

He said a $100,000 reward will be posted after the wording is carefully worked out.

"We have to make sure we don't have a big reward out there for a missing person's issue. We don't want a person in Vancouver saying, 'My sister Carol's now in Portland. Send me a hundred thousand bucks.'

"So then you think of making it a reward for information on a homicide of some kind, or some kind of serial activity."

Here, he pointed out, there would be problems ranging from the feelings of the families to the effects on the women, who may be placed in greater peril.

"Do we want to go on the assumption that they've all been brutally murdered?

"Families could say, 'You've already written off my daughter? What if she's badly wounded somewhere? What if she's kidnapped somewhere? Or a hostage somewhere? What if somebody's got her locked up in a cabin somewhere? You've concluded that she's dead. I don't want to conclude that.'"

Owen worries that the wrong wording on a reward notice could even trigger a murder.

"I have a horror of something like those girls in Belgium who were locked up for almost a year in a basement -- and because we put this $100,000 reward out, he murders them and then two months later, he says, 'I found these bodies.'

"Maybe I'm getting out of line. Maybe my imagination is running ahead, trying to think of all the parameters of it, but it's my job to think of all sides."

His aim, he said, is "to find a way of encouraging someone to come forward with some evidence.

"But we've got to craft it so that it solves the issue and gives us the evidence we need and doesn't cause some kind of negative situation."

The mayor said he has come to feel deeply for the families of the missing women: "I've got two daughters and three granddaughters and it scares me to think that they'd disappear with some pedophile, some punk."

Michele Pineault, mother of Stephanie Marie Lane, who went missing in January 1997, said the mayor's backing of a $100,000 reward is "marvelous, because it offers a little bit of hope."

Maggie deVries, whose sister Sarah disappeared one year ago this month, said the mayor's commitment is "fantastic" because it provides official acknowledgment that something has happened to the women.

"And it says that their lives are important."


Maggie deVries has organized a memorial service for the 23 women, scheduled for Wednesday, May 12, the day her missing sister Sarah would be 30 years old.

The service will begin at First United Church, East Hastings and Gore, at 2 p.m., and continue at Crab Park, at the foot of Main Street, where a bench will be dedicated to the women. Relatives of the disappeared women will be transported from all over B.C.

If you can help with donations to augment the cost of the bench, plaque, travel, flowers and canopies, cheques can be made out to Missing Women Memorial, account 27270-8060-059, and dropped off at any branch of the Bank of Montreal.

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