Missing Person filed closed days after it was opened, inquiry told

The civilian working in the Vancouver police Missing Persons unit closed a file days after it was opened for a young woman who disappeared and was a victim of serial killer Robert Pickton.


VANCOUVER - The civilian working in the Vancouver police Missing Persons unit closed a file days after it was opened for a young woman who disappeared and was a victim of serial killer Robert Pickton.

Lila Purcell recalled that her older sister, Dorothy, who died in 2006, was very upset with Sandy Cameron, the civilian working in the missing person unit, who said she was closing the file in November 1996.

Dorothy had told Cameron she had received a hang-up call one night and passed the number along to Cameron, who called the number - the women who answered said Tanya had been partying the night before at the house.

"She (Cameron) went on and on about Tanya abandoning her child," the sister recalled, adding Cameron threatened to call social services to take Tanya's 11-month-old baby, who was being cared for by Dorothy.

Cameron told Tanya's mother that she was closing the file because Tanya was just partying, which is what Cameron suspected from the start, the sister recalled.

She said her sister wrote a letter of complaint about how the missing person report was handled.

Tanya Holyk was reported missing on Nov. 3, 1996.

Her DNA was found at the Pickton farm seven months after his arrest in 2002.

Pickton was charged with Tanya's murder but was part of the second trial, which resulted in charges stayed in 2010.

"I just wish the investigation had gone deeper," Lila Purcell said.

"I wish more had been done," she added.

"She had become a file, a number, that was just put aside," the aunt said.

"I believe if it was done properly, this man (Pickton) would have been caught sooner and perhaps a few lives would have been saved."

Purcell said she helped raise Tanya, who was very close to Purcell's own daughter.

"She was like a daughter to me," she said of Tanya.

She added that no one from the Vancouver police department contacted her about Tanya's disappearance.

Purcell and her sister were from a family of 14 children.

Tanya was reported missing after she failed to show up for her birthday on Oct. 22, 1996, which was out of character for her.

Dorothy began phoning people to locate Tanya and eventually called the VPD missing person unit.

At the time, Dorothy thought that she was speaking to police and didn't realize that Cameron was a civilian in the missing persons unit.

The inquiry has heard that Cameron offended many families who reported their loved ones missing.

Cameron was often dismissive of families of missing women and sometimes made racist comments.

Purcell said her niece had a happy childhood and grew up in east Vancouver but started doing cocaine after she met her boyfriend, Gary, and eventually began working as a street sex worker.

"We were not able to save her from the life she fell into," Purcell said.

She recalled Tanya went into rehab when she learned she was pregnant.

Tim Dickson, the lawyer at the inquiry representing Vancouver police, apologized to Purcell for how her family was treated by police.

"The Vancouver police truly regrets how your niece's missing report was handled and Pickton wasn't caught sooner," the lawyer said.

Dickson told Purcell that her niece's file was not closed but was later investigated by detectives in the Missing Person unit.

The inquiry was told earlier that Cameron was eventually transferred out of the unit, almost four years after the VPD received the first complaint about her.

The inquiry first heard from families of Pickton's victim last October, when the inquiry began.

Daphne Pierre, the sister of Jackie Murdock, whose DNA was found on the Pickton farm, reported her 25-year-old sister missing on Aug. 14, 1997.

She went to see the RCMP in Prince George, which said they would send the report to Vancouver police.

But the RCMP never sent the file until a year later.

"I assumed Vancouver police were looking for her," recalled Pierre.

At the time she reported her sister missing, Pierre was living in Prince George.

And when she moved to Surrey in 1998, she learned the VPD didn't receive the missing report from the RCMP.

She said she would have appreciated more frequent contact by police.

But she didn't hear until 2004 that Jackie's DNA was found on Pickton's farm, but didn't have enough to charge him

In 2010, she said, police revealed that her Jackie's DNA was found on a used condom wrapper and police believed she was killed by Pickton.

"I don't think they did a very good job," Pierre said.

"They didn't even ask for a picture of her," she recalled.

Pierre said Jackie had five children and left home in July 1996 and hitchhiked to Vancouver.

Pierre and her husband went looking for Jackie three months later and found her across the street from the Balmoral Hotel.

"What are you doing down here?" Pierre recalled asking her sister.

"Mom wants you home for Christmas. Your kids miss you," Pierre told Jackie, who was doing cocaine, alcohol and pills.

She said the last time she heard from Jackie was in November 1996.

Jackie called and was with a male friend, who was driving in Surrey, where Pierre and her husband were living at the time.

"Come here and have coffee," Pierre recalled saying to Jackie.

She could hear Jackie ask her male friend if they could drop by to visit her oldest sister.

"No, we don't have time," she heard the man say.

"That was the last time I talked to her," Pierre said.

She added she hasn't given up in her search to locate her sister's remains.

Janet Henry was reported missing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside by her sister, Sandra Gagnon.

The sister called 911, saying her sister may be suicidal because she had been raped.

Even though a man had been charged for the rape, Henry was feeling down after the crime committed against her.

Gagnon recalled her sister had previously been the victim of another serial killer, Clifford Olson.

"He drugged her and she didn't remember what happened," she told the inquiry.

"She was fortunate to get away," she said, adding her sister may have become one of Pickton's victim."

Janet's DNA was never found at Pickton's farm.

Gagnon, in her first contact with police, asked them to check Janet's room at 367 E. Hastings.

But police didn't check her room for 19 days, the inquiry was told.

Gagnon, who said she talked to her sister almost every day, had heard her 36-year-old sister was working the streets at the time she disappeared.

Janet had a daughter who is now 27, she said, and she promised the daughter she would do everything she could to find Janet.

"Why didn't they take it seriously?" Gagnon said of the police response.

"Police didn't do a lot of things they were supposed to be doing," she said, crying.

Gagnon did credit one Vancouver police officer, Det.-Const. Lori Shenher.

"She was always there to listen," she said.

Police told her that they believe Janet ended up on Pickton's farm.

"It was hard to go home to Alert Bay with no body," she said.

She said she had another sister raped and murdered, "so that's why I became a fighter for Janet."

She recalled the night the family heard about Robert Pickton's arrest, Gagnon's son took his own life.

Gagnon said one of her brothers drank himself to death, and her twin bother was killed after being struck by a police car.

"It's been tough," she said.

"I hope one day we'll find answers for Janet."

Here are the other family witnesses to be heard this week: Marilyn Kraft step-mother of Cindy Feliks, deceased; Bonnie Fowler (sister of Georgina Papin, deceased); and Lisa Bigjohn (sister of Mona Wilson, deceased).

On Wednesday the inquiry is expected to hear the testimony of Roxanne Smith, the victims services worker who was present in 1998 when Crown counsel Randi Connor interviewed a women called Ms. Anderson at the inquiry.

Pickton was charged with the attempted murder of Anderson after a knife attack in 1997.

Anderson survived after she slashed Pickton with the knife and ran to the street and flagged down a passing car.

Connor testified last week that she decided to stay the charges on Jan. 26, 1998, because she felt Anderson could not testify because she was too high on drugs.

She recalled she felt it was up to police to reactivate the charges if Anderson was in better shape.

Anderson did testify in 2003 against Pickton at his preliminary hearings, where he was accused of multiple murders.

Richard Romano, now a judge, is set to testify Thursday about his role in staying the charges against Pickton in 1998.

At that time, Romano was the administrative Crown for Port Coquitlam.

Pickton was convicted of six murders in 2007.

He once confided he killed 49 women, including 19 after the Crown stayed the charges in 1998.



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

Updated: August 21, 2016