The Desperate Quest


Voices: Despite dedicated detectives, predators believe that women in the poorest part of our city are fair game.

The desperate quest for our missing sisters and daughters:


My sister, Sarah deVries, disappeared from the Downtown Eastside almost exactly a year ago, on April 14, 1998. Her 30th birthday is approaching, on May 12th. We, her family and the families of other missing women, are planning a memorial for that date.

We are also pressuring the police to take further steps to find out what has happened to our daughters, sisters and mothers. To that end, we have written to Attorney-General Ujjal Dosanjh and to the chair of the Vancouver police board, Philip Owen. I have been pleased to see in the last few days that the attorney-general, the police board and the police department are seriously considering offering a reward similar to those offered in the case of the garage robberies and the home invasions.

I have been satisfied with the work that Lori Shenher and Al Howlett, the two detectives assigned to these cases, have done. Detective Shenher has maintained regular contact with my mother and with me. She has taken what we have to say seriously, allowing our knowledge of Sarah to inform her investigation. She has interviewed everyone she could.

She has compared the situation in Vancouver with the situation in other Canadian cities to determine that no more than one or two prostitutes have been reported missing anywhere else. She is compiling data to determine that nowhere near these numbers of prostitutes went missing from Vancouver before 1997. She is dedicated and creative.

But she and her partner have done everything they can. They have no more leads to follow, no one else to interview. They need more information. More than 20 women have disappeared without leaving a clue as to their whereabouts. I have talked to family members of 10 of those women and in almost every case the mother or sister believes or suspects that her daughter or sister is dead. And in every case families are desperate to find out what has happened to their loved ones.

Most of the cases are similar to Sarah's: The women kept regular contact and had lived in the Downtown Eastside for many years. That contact ceased abruptly at the same time that welfare cheques were no longer picked up and the women were no longer seen in their neighbourhood.

A public perception exists that women like my sister lead transient lives. In some cases, they do move from hotel to hotel and even from city to city, but for many years Sarah had a fixed address, and she had been living in the same area for a decade or so. She was a member of her community. When I postered the Downtown Eastside last summer, I discovered that everyone knew my sister and that she was missed.

There is nothing inherently transient about the lifestyles of women who are addicted to drugs and work the streets to support their habits. I think that as they get older, they get more and more tied to one spot. And only one of the missing women was younger than 20, while at least 13 were 25 or older. And most of the families I have spoken to have indicated that their sister or daughter, like Sarah, had lived in the same area for some time.

Sarah couldn't get on a plane, she would have gone into withdrawal. She couldn't buy a bus ticket; she needed all her money to buy drugs.

Police spokespeople say over and over again that no evidence indicates that a crime has been committed. And, indeed, they have found no concrete evidence. But more than 20 cases remain unsolved. More than 20 families are desperate for information. And predators are being sent the message that women in the poorest part of our city are fair game.

So, I would say to the police it is time to take further steps: to acknowledge a possible pattern, to set up a task force, to offer a reward and to offer police protection to anyone who might be afraid to come forward with information.

Maggie and Sarah.jpg (60563 bytes)

A TENDER MOMENT: Maggie deVries, left, embraces her sister, Sarah, about four months before Sarah disappeared.

She's focusing on the living-Dec 6, 2001



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

Updated: August 21, 2016