23 Women Have Disappeared in Vancouver

May 13, 1999

By Greg Heakes

Kim Stallknecht/APB
Vancouver marchers
VANCOUVER, British Columbia ( -- The smell of burning sweet grass hung in the air and the steady beating of drums echoed through the church where about 300 people gathered to remember 23 prostitutes who have mysteriously disappeared from Vancouver's streets.

Immediately following the two-hour church service on Wednesday, the group marched through the downtown east side to a waterfront park to lay flowers at a stone monument and listen to speeches from social activists, politicians and grieving relatives.

Sex-trade workers, Indian tribe leaders, police, civil servants and friends of the missing women also attended the service at the First United Church.

Stephanie Marie Lane
Families seek closure

Family members talked of daughters who kept in regular contact until they just vanished one day. Some of the women left photos of their children in rooms in run-down hotels, and others didn't bother to cash their welfare checks.

"The hardest thing is not having closure," said Michele Pineault, the mother of Stephanie Marie Lane, who left a 1-year-old son behind when she disappeared two years ago. "But for me, this is the start of the healing process.

"It's hard when you can't get someone out of your mind. I think about her every day, every minute of the day. [Her son] sees me crying all the time, and it's hard to explain to him.

"I don't believe I will ever see my daughter again."

Pineault, whose daughter would be 23 on May 28, now knows she can lean on the others who were there Wednesday for support. "I always thought I was going through this alone," she said. "But talking to some of the other moms has made me realize they are feeling the exact same pain as me."

Work of a serial killer?

A reward of $100,000 (Canadian) was recently offered to try to find out what happened to the 23 prostitutes.

They disappeared over the last four years from the city's "hooker stroll" in Vancouver's poverty- and drug-plagued East End, where 400 people died of drug overdoses in 1998.

The families believe the disappearances are the work of a serial killer, but police say they have no evidence of this, although they do admit that some are likely to have met foul play.

Vancouver's red-light districts have about 500 prostitutes, many of whom are Native women from small western Canadian towns who gravitate to the city because of its warm climate.

Angela Rebecca Jardine
Prayers said for the women

The altar at the church was brightly decorated with flowers and 23 candles -- one for each missing woman.

The ceremony was a mixture of native Indian culture and Christian hymns and readings, beginning with a healing circle, followed by a candle-lighting ceremony and the playing of "Amazing Grace."

Angela Rebecca Jardine's mother was too ill to travel from her home in Sparwood, British Columbia, 370 miles east of Vancouver, so she sent a candle, two photographs and letter, which was read during the service.

"She pursued life with the volume up loud," her mother wrote. "Her persona was loud and her mannerisms sometimes made the people around her cringe.

"Each night I ask God to send an angel to watch over our daughter."

Jardine was last seen on Nov. 20. She left behind all her belongings in her $325-a-month room at the Portland Hotel and an uncashed welfare check.

Janet Gail Henry
Remembering better days

Debra Chartier, 14, spoke of her mother, Janet Gail Henry, who lived in a rooming house on the east side.

"I am trying to remember all the good things she did for me," said Chartier, who lives with her father.

Pineault said her daughter, Stephanie Lane, was a straight-A student in elementary and high school in the East End, where she grew up.

"Her Grade 7 teacher came to me and said, 'In a teacher's life, you come across one exceptional student, and your daughter is like that.'"

Lane became a stripper at 18 and then got hooked on heroin and cocaine.

Pineault said her daughter tried many times to leave the streets.

"She would come home to detox. For four days she would be throwing up, and then on the fifth day she would start to feel better and leave."

Reward offer raises expectations


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The disappearance of the women has been front-page news in the local papers and touched people from all walks of society, including one transit worker who felt compelled to show up in uniform at the church service.

"I personally didn't know any of these women," he said. "But they could have been passengers on my bus."

After the service, the 300-strong congregation marched to Crab Park, where speaker Libby Davies, New Democratic Party MP Vancouver East, said she welcomed the reward.

"We hope the reward and better public awareness brings new information to resolve the disappearance of the women," said Davies.

Vancouver Mayor Philip Owen has bowed to public pressure and is now backing the reward. Owen, who also spoke at the rally, said last month that prostitutes lived transient lifestyles, and he wasn't in favor of a big reward for a "location service."

"Police have six full-time constables looking for evidence of a serial killer. Hopefully something will be uncovered," he said.

Greg Heakes is a writer in Vancouver.

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

Updated: August 21, 2016