VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Relatives of missing Vancouver women view photos of personal items
Sunday, March 10, 2002
SURREY, B.C. - Relatives of about 50 women missing from Vancouver's downtown eastside faced a grim task Sunday as they viewed photographs of items that may have belonged to the women.
Sandra Gagnon, whose sister Janet Henry disappeared in June 1997, said she saw running shoes, clothes, rings and moccasins in dozens of photographs pinned to a board at a satellite office of the Surrey RCMP detachment.
"It's a bit heart-wrenching because we were brought into a room to see if we could identify any of the belongings of our family members," she said.
"I didn't see anything that belonged to my sister but on the other hand, I don't know what my sister was wearing when she went missing."
Gagnon, one of 80 family members who met with police, said relatives who exited the room looked mournful.
"It's sad, it's heart-wrenching but on the other hand, we need closure," said Gagnon, adding she was also feeling stressed about the loss of her 23-year-old son Terry, who died a month ago.
Police officers, on hand to collect any information from the relatives, had hoped some of the items could be identified in order to speed up an arduous investigation.
"From the very start, the relatives of the missing women have played an important role in helping the police put together a jigsaw puzzle containing thousands of pieces," RCMP Const. Cate Galliford told reporters before the meeting.
Reporters from a Seattle television station also attended the news conference outside the police offices where families were still arriving to talk with police.
Investigators from the joint RCMP-Vancouver police task force have travelled to Seattle to interview Gary Ridgeway, charged last December with four of an estimated 49 of the so-called Green River murders in Washington state. Those killings stopped in 1984.
The Vancouver women, many prostitutes or drug addicts, disappeared from the city's drug-riddled downtown eastside between 1983 and late 2001.
Many of their friends and relatives have said police initially failed to properly investigate because of the women's social and economic status.
Ernie Crey, whose sister Dawn disappeared in November 2000, said police had asked families to bring articles of clothing, photographs, diaries or anything that could help in the probe.
Crey said his sister Lorraine viewed the photographs Sunday because she had had a closer relationship with Dawn.
"It's never easy because as much as I want to hear that they discovered something that tells me what became of my sister, I don't want to hear that she lost her life," Crey said.
"It's a time for mixed emotions and reflection. You can't help but think back to your memories."
Crey, who last caught a glimpse of his sister three years ago, shortly before she disappeared, said he is heartened and encouraged by the most recent police efforts.
"We have to remember that a little over a year ago, there was little confidence in the work of the police but I think this past year has proven that this is a serious investigation and after all, it has culminated in two charges against one particular gentleman."
Investigators stepped up their probe Feb. 6 when they began searching a suburban Port Coquitlam pig farm.
Robert Pickton, 52, an owner of the farm, was charged Feb. 22 with first-degree murder in the deaths of Sereena Abotsway and Mona Wilson.
A memorial service for Abotsway was planned for Monday at noon in Vancouver.
Police would not confirm reports that items found at the pig farm belong to any of the women.
Last week, Liberal MLA Tony Bhullar filed a complaint with the Police Complaints Commission over how the investigation was initially handled.
Bhullar has said the complaint deals specifically with allegations that police did not follow up on information that they had received years ago. He wants a public inquiry.
Families have said they had told police about the 4.5-hectare pig farm, about a 45-minute drive east of Vancouver, years ago but that nothing was done.
On Friday, a provincial court judge banned publication of three 1997 search warrants involving Pickton.
Judge Pedro de Couto ruled both the warrants and police information should be sealed because the intense publicity surrounding the case could prejudice Pickton's right to a fair trial.
Pickton was charged with attempted murder after a woman fled his home in the middle of the night on March 23, 1997.
Wendy Lynn Eistetter was bleeding from several stab wounds and ran to a neighbour's for help.
Pickton was accused of stabbing her with a knife, assault with a weapon, unlawful confinement and endangering Eistetter's life by committing an aggravated assault.
The Crown stayed the charges in January 1998.
Police did not comment Sunday after meeting with the families.
© Copyright 2002 The Canadian Press
Updated: August 21, 2016