VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Pain and Hastings - Killer on the Loose
On the downtown eastside of Vancouver 50 women have vanished without a trace. One of the earlier disappearances was in 1983. From 1995 to 2001 the number of women who had vanished jumped to 26. April 13th 1998 is a day I can never forget. It was the day that I last saw my friend Sarah deVries. She was the 5th of 11 women to disappear that year. When I hadnít heard from her in over a week and nobody had recalled seeing her in quite some time I knew that something had happened. It was at this time I made an attempt to report her missing only to be told that you must be family and so immediately called her sister who then filed a missing person report. There was no indication from the police or anyone that women were disappearing off the streets and so we never suspected the possibility of a serial killer or killers.
Posters were made and distributed throughout the downtown eastside. I contacted media sources everywhere trying to get coverage on Sarahís disappearance. It was a difficult and frustrating time because nobody was interested in covering the disappearance of a prostitute from the downtown eastside. What Sarah had said to me was true, "When a girl goes missing down here nobody cares." In an interview with missing persons I felt that they were not taking this seriously. One comment was, well she has taken off somewhere, "these girls" are transient. Sheíll show up. I told the detective that was not true, that I knew Sarah and she had ties in the community, her friends and most importantly her children and family.
In May of 1998 the Province finally ran a story on Sarahís disappearance. Still it was not enough attention on the missing and so we continued distributing posters and talking with residents on the eastside. Many, including shop owners had very kind words to say about Sarah. She was well liked on the eastside.
Together with Maggie, Sarahís sister, we added a 1-800 number to the posters with a reward offered from her family. Some tips were received, one of which led us to Calgary where someone had reported seeing her at the York Hotel. A trip to Calgary turned up nothing. The Calgary Police were supportive and took me through the York hotel questioning the manager and guests. Contact was made with agencies in Calgary and posters were distributed throughout the strolls. Then I returned to Vancouver. More calls came in, some from friends of Sarahs, who were shocked to learn she had disappeared. Then three calls on the 1-800 number came early Sunday morning on July 26th 1998. "Sarahís dead, I know because I killed her." "There will be more prostitutes killed, one every Friday, so just drop the case." The Province and TV news stations picked up the story on the pagers calls. It was a year later before Vancouver Police were able to identify those as crank calls. Then in late July 1998 I received a call from Bill Hiscox about a pig farmer named Willie, who later turned out to be Willie Pickton who is currently charged with the murders of 15 women from the eastside. At that time he had told me about womenís identifications and clothing on the farm in a mobile home owned by Willie. Also that Willie had been charged with attempted murder in 1997 of a prostitute and then in early 1998 the charges were stayed. Gradually we became aware that more women were missing and were continuing to disappear.
Late 1998, early 1999 I put together the website "DOWNTOWN Vancouver eastside" at http://www.missingpeople.net in memory of Sarah. It soon included all the missing women. Help with the website came from my friends Kathy who bought the software and Deborah and Sandra who have helped tremendously with the website. It was also at this time that I was given the names of reporters to contact who were working on stories of sex trade workers missing on the eastside. One of them was Lindsay Kines, a reporter for the Vancouver Sun. I met and was interviewed by Lindsay on a Sunday and told him about Sarahís disappearance and wanting someone to write her story. I gave him all the information I had along with photos and some copies of her writing and then cleared it with Sarahís mother and sister for interviews. Out of this came what I believe is the most significant and important story on Vancouverís missing women. "MISSING ON THE MEAN STREETS" was written by Lindsay Kines a reporter for The Vancouver Sun on March 3, 1999. This two-page story has given the missing women the attention, focus and importance they deserve.
In January of 1999 Sarahís sister Maggie deVries started planning a memorial service for her and the other families of the missing. It was going to be on Sarahís birthday May 12, 1999. A memorial committee was formed which included Lynn Frey, mother of Marnie Lee who is one of the missing, along with representatives from the church and various community groups and myself. The memorial service took place on May 12, 1999 at the First United Church and was followed by a march through the streets down to CRAB Park, (Portside Park) with a dedication and guest speakers. Approximately 400 people attended.
There isnít anyone who can understand the pain and suffering these families are going through unless they have been there. Although I have lost a friend I loved and I suffer, I cannot imagine the immense suffering of losing a sister or daughter and not knowing what their fate is.
Along the way I have met many families and have become friends with some and we all continue to work on keeping the memory of these women alive. We do what can be done to keep the awareness going by networking and talking with media. The website is part of that awareness.
Sarah with daughter Jeanie
"Sarah de Vries was twenty-nine years old when she
disappeared on April 14, 1998. She left behind a seven year old daughter and a
two year old son, living with her mother, their grandmother. She was in regular
contact with her mother and her sister and had many close friends in her
community on the Downtown Eastside. Sarah loved to write and she loved to draw.
No matter how difficult her life was at times, she never stopped putting pen to
paper. And, though she was never able to free herself from a life she hated, she
helped many young women and girls get off the streets and go home. She was
loving. She was loved. She was tough. She loved to laugh. And she was loyal down
to the tips of her toes."
Updated: August 21, 2016