Police search B.C. farm in missing women case

Courtesy of the Toronto Star

Vancouver suburb centre of probe

Daniel Girard

VANCOUVER Police are scouring a pig farm in suburban Vancouver, raising hopes of a break in the case of 50 women missing from Vancouver's downtown eastside since 1983.

Officers with a joint Vancouver Police-RCMP missing women's task force last night began searching parts of the 11-hectare site in Port Coquitlam after erecting lights and a fence to avoid the prying eyes of the media and other curious onlookers who gathered.

Police refused to say what they are looking for and stressed that no charges have been laid in connection with the women, predominantly drug-addicted prostitutes.

However, they did contact family members of those missing before the search began.

Police said one of the farm's owners, Robert Pickton, 52, now faces various firearms charges following the execution of a search warrant Tuesday. He is not in custody.

Pickton was charged with storing a firearm contrary to regulations, possession of a gun without a licence and possession of a loaded restricted weapon without a licence.

The first search warrant led police to get a second one to look for evidence in the case of the missing women, whose numbers have steadily increased as investigations have accelerated in recent months.

Task force spokesperson Constable Cate Galliford offered few details of the search, warning that it could take weeks, even months. Police also said there remain up to 1,000 suspects in the case and other properties are of interest to investigators.

"We do anticipate that we're going to have to do some excavating but at this particular time that's not the stage of the search that we're at," Galliford told reporters.

For a number of years, Vancouver police have been criticized by family members of the missing women as well as advocates for prostitutes for being unwilling admit there might be a serial killer at work. Critics said that because of their lifestyles, those who vanished were deemed unimportant and not worthy of a large investigation.

Not surprisingly, Vancouver police repeatedly denied those allegations, but nevertheless scaled back the number of investigators on the case in the summer of 2000. The RCMP joined in a few months later and the profile of the file has increased along with the number of women reported missing from the poor drug-infested neighbourhood.

A Guelph mother said she is dreading police may discover the remains of her daughter.

Pat deVries said she has a "busy life" and is not really prepared to deal with her daughter Sarah's body being found.

But it's important to her that the news does come in time.

"It's not going to be very pleasant," she said. "I am not looking forward to it."

Sarah deVries, who was 29 when she disappeared in 1998, had become involved in prostitution to support a drug habit.

Her story and those of other women who have gone missing from the Vancouver sex trade form the subject of a new book, Bad Date.

Author Trevor Greene looks at theories surrounding the disappearances, involving murderous freighter ship crews and serial killers, and also recounts the out-of-control lives of Sarah and the other women.

Wayne Leng, a friend of Sarah's who runs a Web site devoted to spreading information about the missing women, said relatives and friends are hopeful their questions may be finally answered.

But everyone is also fearful about what they might learn.

"It's a waiting game at this point," he said in a telephone interview from his home in California.

A woman whose friend disappeared in 1989 said she heard about the search and decided to have a look.

Dawn Sangret said she and her friend Elaine Dumba came to British Columbia from Regina around 1965.

"I'm not really into hearing that she's maybe under one of those mounds," she said, looking at a large gravel hill on the property.

A sister of one of the missing women spent about half an hour at the farm yesterday morning.

The mayor of Port Coquitlam, about 35 kilometres east of Vancouver, said residents are in shock.

"Certainly the discussions in the coffee shops and around kitchen tables in our small town this morning are ones of shock and disbelief," Scott Young said. He said he found out about the search Wednesday morning.

The city was working with police to locate water mains and other services in case police decided to excavate the property, located between a discount retailer and new residential development.

Relatives, friends await news on B.C. farm search

Many think missing women dead, hope for closure

VANCOUVER (CP) - Feelings and emotions from friends and relatives of some of the 50 B.C. women who have disappeared since the early 1980s ran the gamut of dread, fear and even relief today at the news of a possible break in the case.

"I have a feeling she's dead," said Sandra Gagnon, whose sister Janet Henry disappeared about June 27, 1997.

"I've thought that for quite a while because her money's still in the bank and she paid her rent and she never did go home."

Gagnon, who lives in Vancouver, called the possible break in the disappearances "nerve-wracking."

"Overwhelming is the word because you wonder if you're finally going to get answers."

Investigators trying to solve the disappearances dating back to 1983 searched a Vancouver-area pig farm Thursday.

RCMP Const. Catherine Galliford said the site, about 35 kilometres east of Vancouver in the community of Port Coquitlam, was of interest in the investigation.

Most of the missing women were drug users and sex-trade workers from Vancouver's notorious downtown eastside.

Gagon said she called police Thursday after hearing media reports about new developments in the case.

But Gagnon said police didn't give her any details about the investigation.

"I just feel really full of anxiety to the point where I just hope we'll finally get answers and I just hope that it doesn't come tumbling down and they don't find nothing."

Henry was 37 when she disappeared. She left behind a daughter who is now 16.

Wayne Leng was a friend of Sarah deVries and last saw her in April 1998.

Her disappearance prompted him to set up a Web site devoted to the missing women that contains information and news stories on most of the women.

"I think it might be a big break," said Leng, who now runs the Web site out of Ontario, Calif., where he moved two years ago.

"They (police) wouldn't go in there if they didn't have something to go on. There must be something there in order to call the families."

Leng said deVries was a prostitute who worked the downtown eastside.

"It makes me feel sick because on the one hand I want to know what happened and on the other hand I'm afraid to know what happened to Sarah."

In Parksville on Vancouver Island, Erin McGrath was awaiting word about her sister Leigh Miner, who was last seen in 1993.

"Closure is very important and putting an end to this problem that we have in downtown eastside with the women going missing."

Ironically, McGrath said, the family moved to Greater Vancouver in 1989 from San Francisco "to get away from all the crime and violence."

"My sister had a drug problem," she said. "We just didn't realize how bad it was and when she went to live in Vancouver we didn't realize that there was a place like east Vancouver."

McGrath said the family didn't know that her sister was a prostitute.

"We found that out later. We didn't know what danger she was in and we didn't know there were missing women back in 1983."

McGrath was also critical of the police efforts in keeping family informed.

"The police aren't telling us anything," said McGrath.

She said police never contacted them to update them on the missing women.

"They never got in contact with us. We always had to call the Vancouver police department."

Police seal off PoCo farm, tell family they have suspect-Feb 7, 2002 



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

Updated: August 21, 2016