Tanya Holyk

Though her last words to her sister were of hatred,
Tanya Holyk always cared

By Stephanie Levitz
The Canadian Press

``I hate you, I hate you,'' Tanya Holyk shouted at her sister before hanging up the phone.

They were the last words Cathy Hall would ever hear her say.

It was August of 1995 and Tanya was calling from detox, begging her sister to take her and her young son into their home.

She didn't want to return to a life of drugs and prostitution in Vancouver and wanted to go back to Klemtu, B.C., the place that had saved her once before.

Hall told her sister to just wait a couple of weeks until her house was finished and then she would send for her.

``I'd never heard her be so angry with me,'' Hall, now 37, said.

``It was always laughter, saying I love you. That day was a totally different Tanya altogether. I had never heard those words come out of her mouth.''

Holyk abruptly hung up.

It would be a full year before Hall would hear news of her sister again.

As she strolled through downtown Vancouver in the fall of 1996, a poster caught her eye.

A picture of her sister was tacked up to a telephone pole.

She was missing.

The sisters were seven years apart in age, but a lifetime apart in experience.

The girls had different fathers, Cathy's is dead while Holyk's father Peter Holyk lives somewhere on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Their mother, Dorothy ``Dixie'' Purcell, had given Hall up for adoption when she was two years old.

Hall's adoptive parents lived in the small First Nations community of Klemtu, where she was raised.

Growing up, Tanya Holyk lived much of the time with her first cousin Valerie Purcell in a townhouse in downtown Vancouver.

Tanya Holyk

Though she was three years younger, Purcell, 28, says she and Holyk were like sisters and the best of friends.

``I would wear her clothes,'' Purcell remembered. ``I wanted to be like her.''

They took a trip to Disneyland and would play in the park while their families played softball nearby.

``She taught me lots of things,'' Purcell said. ``Some of them good things, some of them not so good things. But they all stayed with me.''

Purcell said Holyk never really talked about Hall, but one day she mentioned she was finally going to meet her sister.

That day, Hall also met her mother Dixie Purcell for the first time.

When Hall arrived at the Vancouver airport, standing next to her mother was a young girl, who ran and jumped on Hall as soon as she saw her.

She looks like me, Hall thought, and asked Purcell who she was.

Your sister Tanya, she was told.

After dropping the bombshell, Purcell left the girls at her apartment and went out to play softball.

The sisters were alone.

They talked into the night, about school, about sports, with her long legs, 14-year-old Holyk was trying to play basketball _ and when it was time for bed, Hall tucked her new-found sister in.

Hall had learned while in Vancouver that Dixie Purcell liked to party and brought men back to the apartment she shared with Holyk.

When Hall left Vancouver, she took Holyk with her.

Back in Klemtu, Holyk moved in with Hall, her then-husband, their newborn son Jeremy and her in-laws.

``It didn't take her long to get along with people, to meet people,'' Hall said in an interview. ``She wasn't a stranger to anybody and fit in with the family.''

Holyk started school and loved doing book reports.

Many nights, Hall would tiptoe into her sister's bedroom to shut off the light and pry a book out of her hands.

Holyk was helpful around the house and often babysat Jeremy so Hall and her husband could take a much-needed night out.

``But every time I looked at her, thoughts came into my mind,'' Hall said.

``I kept asking the same questions over and over. Why did mom keep you, why didn't she give you up like she gave me up? Why did mom love you so much and didn't love me?''

Hall tried to be a mother to the rambunctious teen, but parents started complaining that Holyk was a bad influence on their children.

``I couldn't chase after her anymore,'' Hall said. ``I had just started my marriage, just started my family, I couldn't handle my sister. At that time, when I had her, I hated her.''

She sent Holyk back to Vancouver.

They kept in touch by phone and eventually, Hall learned her sister had a drug problem.

Hall's relationship with their Dixie Purcell was nonexistant.

She said her mother was angry at her for not being able to look after Holyk in Klemtu. Hall blamed Purcell for bringing drugs and alcohol into Holyk's life.

``I hated her for that,'' Hall said.

The night Holyk called from the detox centre, Hall learned she'd given birth to a baby boy who she'd named Gary.

It was the same name Hall had given to her newborn.

``Her son meant everything to her,'' said Valerie Purcell, adding he was the reason Holyk fled an abusive relationship for a safe house in Chilliwack, B.C., where she also got off drugs.

Purcell said Holyk was clean for about two months and had moved into an apartment.

She was trying to pull her life together but the lure of drugs proved to be too strong.

``She had the access,'' said Valerie Purcell. ``She could get the drugs, she could get the money, she had a friend who would drive her to Vancouver and back. An addiction is an addiction.''

When Holyk went missing, Dixie Purcell immediately contacted police and kept pushing them to look into her daughter's disappearance.

The police just ignored her, she told CNN in February of 2002.

``Tanya was just out having fun. Don't bother us. Don't waste our time,'' Purcell said she was told.

``I just stood there with the phone in my hand for 10 minutes, just looking at it.''

The search for Holyk and the later murder charges laid in her death took their toll on her mother's health.

``I think that was part of the reason why she got so sickly and whatnot,'' Hall said.

``She fought and fought and fought for my sister to be looked for and nothing was ever done about it until it was too late.''

Dixie Purcell died in January 2006.

Hall is still furious with her mother and the rest of the family that no one bothered to let her know her sister had gone missing.

The last conversation with Holyk still haunts her and she believes she failed her sister.

``Just another couple of weeks and I could have taken her home. She could have been safe.''

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