Jacqueline McDonell

Jacquie was only passing through Downtown Eastside
but wound up dead

By Dene Moore
The Canadian Press

It seemed like the Downtown Eastside was just a blip on Jacquie McDonell's otherwise bright radar.

Intelligent, well-read and more hippie than hardcore addict, McDonell seemed like she would soon move on to better things, said Elaine Allan, who got to know the young woman while Allan worked at a drop-in centre for sex-trade workers in Vancouver's notorious Downtown Eastside.

"She was the kind of kid that sort of struck me as being the sort that would have gotten a VW van together and would have grabbed a bunch of friends and they would have driven down to Mexico and you wouldn't see them for six months," Allan told The Canadian Press.

"And that's what I thought when I hadn't seen her for a while, I thought, `She's taken off on some fun adventure.' It was just sickening to think that wasn't the case."

McDonell was a regular at the drop-in centre and the pair got to know one another.

"She was a good kid," Allan said. "She was from small-town B.C. and she just had that casual, small-town friendliness."

Whenever she came in to the centre, McDonell would rummage through the latest donations looking for books, usually leaving with one or two.

"She was a smart cookie," Allan said. "She was well-read. She liked to discuss the books that she read. She liked to discuss ideas, politics."

She said McDonell was very aware of what was going on in the world outside the rundown neighbourhood.

"She'd been exposed to things as a person growing up, ideas and the news," Allan said.

According to reports, McDonell was originally from Ontario but grew up and went to school in Trail, B.C., where she lived on and off with her mother and stepfather.

She struggled in school and didn't finish, dropping out to become a young mother at 18.

"(Her daughter) was everything to Jacquie," a childhood friend, Willo Bartels, told author Trevor Greene in his 2001 book on the missing women case, Bad Date: The Lost Girls of Vancouver's Low Track.

"I remember when she was born, Jacquie was so happy. She went overnight from being a loving, fun, caring but kinda flaky girl to being very responsible. All the money she had went to her daughter."

A few years later, McDonell began dating a recovering drug addict and together, they slid into the oblivion of addiction.

In the spring of 1998, Bartels said McDonell left the Kootenay city for Victoria, where her father and Bartels both lived.

McDonell admitted to her friend she was a drug addict. She talked about getting clean but instead lost custody of her daughter, who ended up in the care of McDonell's mother and stepfather.

It was then she drifted toward Vancouver and the Downtown Eastside.

Maggy Gisle, a recovering drug addict who lived in the area for 16 years, remembered McDonell from her short time on the streets.

She recalled McDonell and another woman, who is also among the missing, working a deaf mute routine to get money from passers by.

"They used to do sign language back and forth and they used to panhandle on Granville Street," Gisle said.

Whatever she did to make ends meet on the Downtown Eastside, she didn't do it for long.

Within months of her arrival, McDonell was among the missing.

"For me, that's why Jacqueline's disappearance was so tragic _ she just hadn't been around for very long," Allan said.

Police records say Jacqueline Michelle McDonell was last seen on Jan. 16, 1999.

She was 22 years old. Her daughter was four or five.

2006 The Canadian Press

MISSING LIVES - The Canadian Press

Five years ago a pig farm near Vancouver became one of Canada's largest crime scenes
What followed were headlines about the massive forensic investigation and 26 murder charges against Robert William Pickton.
Far from the headlines have been the stories of the dead women. Twenty-six women who lived on and disappeared from the streets of Canada's most dismal inner-city neighbourhood Vancouver's bleak Downtown Eastside. Twenty-six missing lives.

In the five years since the Pickton pig farm made national headlines, the memories of the women have faded even further from the public spotlight. When mentioned, they are usually referred to only as "drug addicts" or "street prostitutes." They are often only numbers 26 victims, their names seldom used in news reports. All of the stories behind the names have never been told. Until now.

The Canadian Press, Canada's independent news agency, felt those stories needed to be told. Six reporters from across the country spent hundreds of hours researching details not previously reported. The result is Missing Lives: profiles on each of the 26 women.

Missing Lives reveals the 26 women as daughters, sisters, mothers: troubled souls whose lives touched others in lasting ways.



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

Updated: August 21, 2016