Heather Chinnock

Hated hooker label, couldn't shake drug and booze

By Steve Mertl
The Canadian Press

In the strange pecking order at work on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, Heather Chinnock did not see herself as a prostitute.

``She was a big-time booster,'' recalls Maggy Gisle, who once also worked the neighbourhood's bleak streets and knew many of the women who became Robert Pickton's alleged victims.

``Whatever you wanted she could steal. She used to steal on a regular basis from Save-on Meats. She used to boost from Army and Navy (discount department store).''

According to police, Heather Gabrielle Chinnock was last seen in April 2001. She was listed as missing a few weeks later when she didn't return for her clothes or pick up her welfare cheques.

Chinnock, 30 when she vanished, lived the chaotic life of a drug addict but would not have liked being labelled a streetwalker, said Gisle, now a homecare nurse.

``She didn't work the streets. She was adamant about not being a prostitute,'' said Gisle.

``Once in a while you'd see her drinking in the bars with the old men. They'd give her a little bit of money every once in a while during the day and she would go and get high.''

But her apparent calling was shoplifting, sometimes to order.

``I really liked her because she was straight up,'' said Gisle. ``Like `What do you want? I'll get it for you. C'mon, how much?' I got a bang out of her.''

Her protestations aside, Chinnock took a couple of arrests for communicating for the purposes of prostitution, serving a three-day sentence for one and a nine-month suspended sentence for another.

She also served a day in jail for possessing stolen credit cards and was facing a theft charge when she disappeared.

Gisle remembers Chinnock as happy-go-lucky but how she ended up on the Downtown Eastside's unforgiving streets is largely a mystery.

Gary Bigg, who describes himself as Chinnock's best friend and shared apartments with her in Surrey and Burnaby, said Chinnock was born in Denver, Colo., but came to British Columbia as a teenager when her mother married a Canadian.

The family lived in the small town of Marysville, near the Kootenay city of Cranbrook.

A distant cousin who lives in the B.C. Interior said he never met Chinnock and the cousin's sister, a Seattle resident, said she believes Chinnock had family connections in the U.S. Midwest.

``Her mother seemed all right,'' said Bigg, who has described himself in the past as Chinnock's fiance.

``Heather used to tell me she used to take off. She wasn't happy there.''

Somewhere along the way, Chinnock got into drugs and drink, addictions she wanted to shake but never could.

``She talked about it but the drugs and the booze had the best of her,'' said Bigg.

Bigg, 58, met Chinnock through a friend in 1989 and the two became close friends. He has said she had two children.

``She had a good heart,'' he said. ``She was very giving.''

The last time Bigg saw her was April 1, 2001, ``the day of the transit strike.''

``She was in Surrey and was depressed because she had no money for booze and drugs,'' he said.

Bigg left shortly afterward on a trip to Florida.

``When I come back she'd gone missing and nobody knew where she was,'' he said.

After he returned from another hop to Phoenix there was still no sign of Chinnock.

``I was the one that reported her missing,'' said Bigg.

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