Roosevelt Hotel: Last known address

Flophouse was home to missing prostitutes and girlfriend of man accused of murder


Thursday, March 7, 2002

VANCOUVER -- The Roosevelt Hotel is a narrow, yellow-brick building in the heart of Vancouver's infamous skid row. Had it been cared for or situated in a wealthier locale, it might have become a boutique-style hotel.

But its address is East Hastings Street, just a couple of buildings west of Main Street in the heart of the city's drug-riddled Downtown Eastside. Its residents pay by the month -- in advance. Many simply hand over their welfare cheques to manager Chi Sing Leung.

The rent isn't cheap: $545 a month for a shoe-box-sized room with a sink, fridge and hot plate. The bathroom is down the hall. Mice are rampant.

Guests and visitors must ring a doorbell to be admitted. A camera trained on the hotel's front steps surveys street activity, which doorman Stephen Arsenault watches on television monitors in the hotel's first-floor office.

Nearly every resident is a daily user of hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine, a lifestyle that brings a chaotic tenor to the establishment. The uncarpeted hallways echo with high-pitched laughter one minute, angry shouts the next.

It's the same with the moods of residents. One woman, who gave her name as Marina Smoker, was loquacious in one interview last week. The next day, she refused to talk. "I've got pneumonia," she said, curled up in a tattered armchair, coughing. "Go away."

The reason people live at the Roosevelt is easy access to drugs. Transactions are made openly on Hastings Street at all hours, seven days a week.

At least two of the 50 women who have vanished from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside lived there; Andrea Joesbury, until she disappeared last June, and Dawn Crey, who vanished the year before.

In 1999, it was home to the girlfriend of Robert William Pickton, the Port Coquitlam hog farmer who is charged with killing two of the missing women, Mona Wilson and Sereena Abotsway.

The manager says Dinah Taylor lived there off and on until she moved in with Mr. Pickton.

Residents and staff say Ms. Taylor, who also used drugs, was a fixture at the Roosevelt. Some liked her, some didn't. But everyone interviewed agreed that the reason she visited the hotel was to bring women to the farm to party at Mr. Picton's trailer. They said she offered money and free drugs.

The doorman, Mr. Arsenault, said Ms. Taylor used the hotel office phone to call Mr. Pickton to tell him who was coming back to the farm with her. Ms. Taylor affectionately referred to Mr. Pickton as Willie or Uncle Willie.

"She was always here getting things set up for Willie," Mr. Arsenault said. "She used the phone right here."

The doorman said Mr. Pickton was at the hotel about three times, each time to pick up Ms. Taylor.

On the hotel's third floor, Valerie Hewlett lives with her boyfriend, Mike Webber, in a squalid room strewn with clothes, half-eaten snacks, empty pop bottles and overflowing ashtrays.

Ms. Hewlett, who said she was high during an interview, lay on her bed, picking at a piece of skin on her left arm. Mr. Webber, who said he doesn't use drugs, ate a hamburger at a table in the corner.

Ms. Hewlett, 30, apologized for the squalor, saying her room got wrecked when another resident broke in looking for drugs.

She said she didn't go to the Port Coquitlam farm because she didn't like Ms. Taylor. However, Mr. Webber said he once drove Ms. Taylor to Mr. Pickton's trailer on the property, which is where police are now focusing their search. Earlier this month, they asked anyone who had visited Mr. Pickton's trailer to come forward and provide DNA samples.

On Feb. 5, police began an intensive search of Mr. Pickton's Port Coquitlam hog farm. It has now become one of the largest police investigations in Canadian history involving more than 80 investigators. Mr. Pickton owns the farm along with his younger brother David and a Vancouver sister.

Police arrested Mr. Pickton at his Surrey business on Feb. 22 and charged him with two counts of first-degree murder. He has made a brief court appearance and is due back on April 2.

Residents who lived near the Port Coquitlam farm said the brothers often threw wild parties where drugs flowed and which prostitutes from Vancouver frequented.

A spokeswoman for the joint RCMP-Vancouver police task force probing the missing women said police have been in contact with Ms. Taylor.

RCMP Constable Catherine Galliford would not comment on reports that Ms. Taylor is in protective custody.

Courtesy of The Globe and Mail

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

Updated: August 21, 2016