Says There's No Evidence 20 Women Were Killed or Abducted

April 9, 1999

By Robert Anthony Phillips


Sarah de Vries

VANCOUVER, British Columbia ( -- Blunt-talking Mayor Philip Owen says he's not in favor of offering a $100,000 reward to try to find out what happened to 20 prostitutes who disappeared from his city, saying he's not financing a "location service" for hookers.

Police and city officials are being pressured by several families of the women to offer cash for information. Social service workers and several of the families believe the women may have been the victims of a serial killer.

"There's no evidence that a serial killer is at work," Owen told in a telephone interview. "No bodies have been found. They [the police] have a procedure for homicides and missing people, and they are following it. I don't think it is appropriate for a big award for a location service."

Will discuss issue at meeting

He scoffed at claims by relatives of the missing women that the prostitutes had close ties to their families and wouldn't just vanish from the streets.


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"That's what they say," Owen said. "There's been prostitutes moving around ... and it never came up before. I didn't get a letter or a phone call from anybody before this and some of these girls have been missing for a year. All of a sudden ... it becomes a major event."

"This is really distressing," said Deborah Jardine, whose daughter, Angela, is one of the missing prostitutes. "That's the problem. They are not treating these women as they would any other missing person. Obviously the system prioritizes placement in society."

Owen is chairman of the Police Board, which sets Police Department policy. The panel is scheduled to discuss the reward issue at an April 28 meeting. He said other members of the panel might have different views on the reward issue.

Police don't know what to do

Police say they are unsure whether to recommend some sort of reward in the missing prostitutes' case. The department only recommends rewards to help solve cases where specific crimes are committed and suspects are being sought.

Constable Ann Drennan, spokeswoman for the department, said that in the cases of the missing women, there is no evidence that the women were killed and no suspects.

"It's difficult for us to try to figure out what way a reward would be beneficial and how it would be offered," Drennan told "These are missing persons cases."

Police acknowledge that they risk being accused of insensitivity to the families if they don't offer a reward and are now discussing what to do. Several relatives of the missing women have already accused the police of not fully investigating the disappearances because the women are prostitutes.

Police have denied the charge.

Families make demands on police

Besides the reward, several families of the missing women are demanding that police publicly acknowledge that the disappearances may be related, and that the women may have been abducted and murdered. They also want a task force of investigators set up to investigate the case.

Drennan said advocates for prostitutes and families became upset when the city, Police Department and provincial officials chipped in to offer $100,000 rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of people responsible for a string of home invasions and for another robbery case.

But Drennan emphasized that the rewards were offered for specific crimes with possibly identifiable suspects.

'Screaming into a void'

Maggie de Vries, who has organized the families and is the sister of one of the missing prostitutes, doesn't buy that rationale.

She wants police to acknowledge that many of the women were killed. Her sister, Sarah de Vries, has been missing since April 1998, and Maggie de Vries believes her sibling is dead.

"The time has come for them to be creative and to try something different," de Vries told "There are no suspects; they need to find suspects and find out what happened.

"I know that something terrible has happened. ... There are no bodies, no blood on the street and no physical evidence, but there are lots of other kinds of evidence. I'm very happy with the detectives; they've worked hard and have exhausted all avenues. It's time to take new action.

"For the police to say no crime has been committed is ludicrous," de Vries said. "It's like we're screaming into a void."

De Vries said she has organized 10 families in her letter-writing campaign to the mayor, the Police Board and also to the attorney general of the province. She said the families plan to attend the board's April 28 meeting.

Unusually high number of hookers missing

Police say the 20 prostitutes have disappeared from the Downtown Eastside area, a major red-light district in the city, since 1995. In 1998, 11 women vanished, investigators said. Police say the number of disappearances in 1998 was unusually high.

However, investigators emphasized that the women are prostitutes, drug addicts or alcoholics who lead transient lives. One of the missing women was tracked to Arizona, where she was in a mental hospital after going on a crack binge, getting arrested and giving police a phony name.

But relatives say that many of the women had ties to the community and always kept in contact. Maggie de Vries said her sister had not gone longer than two weeks without calling her, and that was several years ago.

Attorney general targeted

Meanwhile, the province's top law enforcement official has also been asked by the families to post a $100,000 reward and create a task force to investigate the disappearances of the women.

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh, said it is up to the Police Board to authorize a reward. The spokeswoman said the ministry might help fund a reward or task force, or even assign a prosecutor -- if asked by the board.

Wayne Leng, a friend of Sarah de Vries and a Vancouver resident who has pushed for the police to do more to search for the missing women, said there are plenty of reasons to believe the disappearances are linked.

"The fact that these women were drug addicted, involved in the sex trade and disappeared in the Downtown Eastside and no bodies found are common links," Leng said in a letter to Dosanjh.

"These missing women's families and friends need to know that everything possible is being done to solve these disappearances," Leng wrote. "They need closure."

Robert Anthony Phillips is an editor (



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

Updated: August 21, 2016