Sister's sorrow began when calls stopped

Courtesy of Times Colonist, Victoria, BC
Monday, May 14, 2001

Louise Dickson Times Colonist staff

Catherine Knight

Geri Stewart knew something was wrong when the phone calls stopped.

Her sister Cathy used to call from a Vancouver pay phone once a month just to let Geri know she was alive.

``Most of the time she was stoned,'' the Esquimalt woman said. ``She was right out of it. But she phoned to tell me she loved me, that everything was all right. She never really told me how she was, though.''

In 1995, the phone calls stopped. Cathy Knight vanished just before her 29th birthday. She was one of the first of 24 sex-trade workers who have disappeared from Vancouver's downtown eastside in the past six years.

Geri's sorrow increases every year as Cathy's May 5 birthday approaches with still no word and no closure. This year, she felt impelled to write a memorial to her sister in the classified section of the Times Colonist.

Cathy's photograph, a grim mug shot, is on the missing posters found in every police station, RCMP detachment and ferry terminal in B.C.

The ugly, expressionless photograph has been flashed on the TV show America's Most Wanted.

Somehow this attention comforts her older sister, who always wished she could do more to help Cathy.

``It's strange, but it's comforting to know her family are not the only ones who know she's missing,'' she said, lighting up a cigarette at the kitchen table at her home in Esquimalt.

``I can't remember the last month I heard from her, but it was getting close to her birthday. Then all of a sudden she wasn't there any more. It was heart-wrenching. I've got these visions that her bones are in a bush somewhere. But I still don't know if her bones are there because of foul play or because she overdosed.''

Cathy was the youngest of the nine Knight children. Geri said she grew up in poverty in a condemned house in Vic West with an alcoholic father and a mother who couldn't care for her.

``We had a rough upbringing,'' said Geri. ``We all grew up in the same environment with physical, emotional and sexual abuse and we're all survivors of that. We were all sort of abandoned, left to fend for ourselves.

``When I was really little I used to sleep in the Goodwill boxes they put out on the street corners. That was my safety net. Our Dad would come home drunk and you'd beat it out of there. I remember feeling sad when they got rid of (the boxes). I wondered if there were other children out there who used to sleep in them.''

Geri and her older sister left home as soon as they could. That meant family life for Cathy deteriorated even more.

``She was just so lovable. Blue-eyed, blond hair, chubby-cheeked and searching for what we were all searching for -- somebody to love us. But I think Cathy never felt loved. I think when you grow up with a lot of poverty, a lot of abuses, alcoholism, you don't know the meaning of love.''

Geri, who is 11 years older than Cathy, married at 18. She wasn't around when 15-year-old Cathy started selling herself on street corners. But a year later, Geri took her in for six months and became her surrogate mother.

``She was just living on the street at that time. She started dabbling in drugs and had a critical overdose with Tylenol. She couldn't take the emotional pain, so she turned to drugs and alcohol.''

Cathy's drug addiction became relentless. By the time she was 20, Geri knew she had lost her. She would, from time to time, take Cathy in, give her a bath and try to clean her up.

``She was full of sores and abscesses, and she'd rip me off too, because that's what drug addicts do. She was shunned by loved ones and family. I always loved her, but I had to put a wall there.''

Each time after Cathy left, Geri would sterilize her home and burn Cathy's clothes. It made her feel guilty.

One night, Geri was called to the emergency department at Royal Jubilee Hospital. Cathy was in the parking lot wearing nothing but a short leather jacket. She was just wired, said Geri.

About 1993, a few years after Geri graduated from nursing school, she discovered Cathy was a patient in the next unit at Victoria General Hospital.

``She was in really rough shape. She had infected IV sites. The doctors had to make an incision and drain her arm. Big gouges had to come out of her arm.

``It's sad. There were times I wish she'd hurry up and overdose many times before she went missing. I loved her so much, but the pain was unbearable. I'd secretly pray, `Just give yourself enough to finish it,' not only for herself but for us too. It was just too painful to see this beautiful young lady turned into a drug-ridden form of a human being.''

Cathy moved to Vancouver's eastside in 1994 and disappeared a year later.

A few years ago, Geri went to a meeting at the East Vancouver police station with relatives of the other women missing from the Lower Mainland. They gave DNA samples and talked to detectives.

``There were a lot of angry feelings. People said the police weren't paying attention. I kind of defended them because Cathy could be gone for weeks on end.''

Still, Geri wishes the police could find her sister's remains and find the man or men involved in her disappearance and the disappearance of so many women.

``I don't believe I'll ever have closure until they find her body, but realistically, I don't think they ever will.''

Geri wonders if her sister was picked up by crew aboard a freighter and is now lying at the bottom of the ocean, or if Cathy overdosed and was dumped because someone didn't want to get into trouble.

``That's what I really hoped happened to her. Or I hope if some psycho did mutilate her, that she was so stoned, she wasn't aware of it.''

Geri remembers the day Cathy was born. She was excited, but she also thought: ``another one.''

She still thinks ``another one'' when she sees an item in the news about prostitutes or missing women.

``I see my sister again,'' she said sadly. ``I know in my heart she's gone. But I'm glad she's gone as opposed to living the kind of life she was living.''

This article is part of a series from the Times Colonist titled (Mysteries of the Prostitute Killings) 

Catherine Maureen Knight

How Many Monsters?-May 27, 2001



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