The search for a friend

vancouv0402_02thmb.jpg (1801 bytes)  Search for Sarah - this site - how it began:

Sarah deVries disappeared Tuesday, April 14, 1998 at approximately 4:30 in the morning at the corner of Princess and Hastings.


    On Monday April 13 at about 7 PM Sarah called.  She wanted to come over and visit for awhile. I had known her for just over 5 years and we had become good friends over time. So I picked her up at the Beacon Hotel on East Hastings and Carroll St. where she was waiting and then drove back to my place.  We talked and had something to eat and she took some vitamins.  Sarah always tried to stay in the best of shape despite her lifestyle.  She needed some of her clothes and so she grabbed a pillowcase of clothes to take with her. [her clothes were always getting stolen].  At around 8:30 PM I took her back down to Hastings and Carroll Streets to the Beacon Hotel where she had been staying with her boyfriend.  The last words we said to each other were, be cool my friend and she said I'll call you.  That was the last time I saw Sarah. She was to disappear approximately  6-8 hours later from the corner of East Hastings and Princess Avenue.
   Just over a week had passed and I had not heard from her and that was unusual.  I went and talked with Bernie on Princess where she had lived for many years.  He hadn't seen her nor had anyone else.  This was not like her.  I walked up and down Hastings St. asking almost everyone I came into contact with if they had seen her or knew her.  Sarah was well known on the east side.  No one had seen her.  I then called 911 to put in a missing persons report and was told you had to be family to do that so immediately I called Sarah's sister Maggie, and she filed a missing persons report.
     I was the first of her friends to go in for an interview with Det. Al Howlett of the VPD Missing Persons Unit.  I gave him the latest picture of Sarah and then was interviewed.   I told him it was not like her to just up and disappear.  Family and friends agree.  Sarah's support was here and she had many ties to the downtown eastside community.  She could not and would not have left the city on her own.  Something terrible must have happened.  She was not the transient type who moved around from place to place.  Sarah was afraid to leave Vancouver.  She also has two children, Jeanie and Ben who live with her mother Pat and Aunt Jean back East and she would not have wanted them to think something terrible had happened.
     At that time in April of 1998 she was the fifth woman involved in the sex trade to go missing from the downtown eastside.  I started my own search for Sarah, trying to trace her last movements after leaving my place.  She had left all her belongs here, including her journals.  A few weeks later I began a poster campaign, hitting the downtown eastside with posters and talking with as many people as I could. Other friends of Sarah's helped in distributing posters.  Eventually I met Sylvia who had been with her the night she disappeared.  She had met her five days previous and they had become fast friends.  Both shared a lot in common.  Sarah was 28 and Sylvia was 29.  Both were born on May 12 and adopted.  They were also the same size.  She last saw her at about 3 am Tuesday April 14, 1998.  Sylvia and Sarah had gone to work the street at the corners of Princess and Hastings.  Sylvia on the Southeast corner and Sarah on the Northwest corner.  Sylvia was picked up first and headed east on Hastings to circle the block and head back downtown. After talking with her prospective date, they agreed to disagree and Sylvia got out. That was approximately one minute later. Sarah had disappeared from the corner of East Hastings and Princess Avenue.  She has not been seen since.  I have talked with Sylvia many times and never was there any indication that she was about to leave Vancouver.  Her feeling was that something terrible had happened to her.  This information from Sylvia I gave to the detective.  They were never able to get Sylvia to come in for questioning.   However Det Shenher who took over the case approximately 8 months ago did meet with her one day on the street.  Sylvia was drug sick and not able to come in.  At this time Sylvia cannot be located.
     In the search for Sarah, along with her sister Maggie, a 1-800 number was added to our missing person posters.   In the early days of her disappearance I tried desperately to get the media involved.  No-one it seemed was interested in covering a story on a missing eastside hooker.  Eventually the Province ran an article.  Then finally the media became more involved.  The Sun was interested as they were already working on a story related to 4 missing women.  Global News also interested ran a story of Sarah and the other missing women on the downtown eastside.  Other articles followed.
     In the meantime came a pager call saying that Sarah had been spotted at the York Hotel in Calgary.  It sounded legitimate. Maggie, Sarah's sister and I talked it over and decided it must be checked out.  So off to Calgary I went.   I contacted outreach organizations in Calgary,  supplied them with posters and information and contacts.  Went with the Calgary Police to the York Hotel to check with the manager and tenants.  No one recalled ever having seen her.  She had not been a resident there.  I drove around all the working  strolls with posters and no one recognized her.  I posted in a lot of different areas and handed out posters to sex trade workers to distribute.  Then headed back to Vancouver.
     Then came more media.  Sarah's disappearance and that of the other women were getting the attention needed.  Sarah, like the other missing women was not someone who just up and left to go on a holiday somewhere to another city, to leave her family, friends and all her belongings behind.  She was a member of the community with a strong network of friends. And very well known and liked on the east side. 
     We continued with the poster campaign, getting help from some of Sarah's other friends.  Her sister and I postered on the weekends and talked with east side residents.  I continued to stay in contact with her mother and sister.  She had always made it a point to stay in touch with her family.
     I had posted the disappearance into many net newsgroups and had responses from people offering to add a web page for Sarah. I contacted troubleshooters and they posted a missing persons on their site. Another site that has posted is catnip's spirit. Also placing a classified ad 6 months ago at in Reno, Nevada that covers all of North America, 255 cities in all.
     Then came the three pager calls July 26, 12:10 Sunday morning.  Someone had said she was dead, so drop the case.  The calls came back to back. These are the calls: "Sarah's dead," so there will be more girls like her dead.  There will be more prostitutes killed. There will be one every Friday night. At the busiest time. "You'll never find Sarah again. So just stop looking for her, all right? She doesn't want to be seen and heard from again, all right? So, bye. She's dead."  "This is in regard to Sarah. I just want to let you know that you'll never find her again alive because a friend of mine killed her, and I was there."  I contacted the Vancouver Province and they ran an article on Monday on the pager calls.  Global News and Vancouver Television subsequently ran stories on their newscasts which again put the missing women back in the public focus. Sometime after I contacted America's Most Wanted and informed Producer Tom Morris of what was going on here in Vancouver.  I knew that AMW had been asked before by a family member of one of the missing women to help in locating her sister but had been turned down because of the amount of letters they receive asking to help locate a person.  It just wasn't possible for them to do that.  However with more than one missing woman they would more than likely be able to do something so we proceeded on that basis. He advised me to keep him posted and they would see what they could do.  Meanwhile more women were going missing.  With all the information and the number of women missing America's Most Wanted decided to do the story.  I was informed of this and told it would be approximately two months before they could get started.
     The media attention picked up for awhile. The official missing sex trade workers stands at 22 since 1995 through into 1999. 1 from 1986. {see update at end of article}
     The website started in January 1999 with the name DOWNTOWN VANCOUVER-eastside
      We've heard some say that women like Sarah chose their lifestyles, to be prostitutes and drug addicts.  I know that's not true.  Sarah never made a concious choice to be a drug addict or a prostitute.  She desperately wanted out,  but was unable to break free.  Heroin and cocaine owned her.  I knew her as a very caring person who was tormented by her life on the east side.  She was a very sensitive complex person with a lot of anger.  After all she was living a life in hell.  But Sarah had a great sense of humor and liked to tell dirty jokes.  Not all her days were bad.  I miss her.......


Christmas of 1997 we had breakfast at her sister Maggies. Sarah got to chat with her mom and children back east. She cherished that day. We had blueberry pancakes. The last movie we saw together, Titanic, I think,  meant a lot to her.  She only left her seat once during the three hour and twenty minute show.  

There are now 50 women officially listed as missing from the downtown east side of Vancouver. Sylvia has been located and recently filled out a statement of her time with Sarah. It is posted on this website. 

Sept 30, 1999. Linda Jean Coombes and Karen Anne Smith have been found. Both are deceased. 29 women remain missing.

sarbenthumb.jpg (16162 bytes) Sarah and Ben 

Sylvia's statement on the morning Sarah disappeared

Sylvia speaks about her friend

"Sarah de Vries was twenty-nine years old when she disappeared on April 14, 1998. She left behind a seven year old daughter and a two year old son, living with her mother, their grandmother. She was in regular contact with her mother and her sister and had many close friends in her community on the Downtown Eastside. Sarah loved to write and she loved to draw. No matter how difficult her life was at times, she never stopped putting pen to paper. And, though she was never able to free herself from a life she hated, she helped many young women and girls get off the streets and go home. She was loving. She was loved. She was tough. She loved to laugh. And she was loyal down to the tips of her toes."

Love Maggie & Family




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

Updated: August 21, 2016