Behind serial killer cases, Canada's "forsaken" women

Thu Jan 31, 2013 7:24am EST
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By Allison Martell and Teresa Carson

(Reuters) - Sarah de Vries started running away when she was 13, in 1983. She lived in cheap apartments and grim hotels in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia - places that would let a teenager turn tricks. Later, she got hooked on heroin.

Sarah's big sister, Maggie, remembers a bubbly, adorable baby. But life was not always easy. Of mixed race, with some black and aboriginal ancestry, Sarah was targeted by racist bullies, and sometimes felt disconnected from her white adoptive family.

In 1995, she wrote about how many women were missing from her neighborhood, Vancouver's rough Downtown Eastside.

"Am I next? Is he watching me now?" she wrote in a journal her sister published years later, after Sarah, too, disappeared. "Stalking me like a predator and its prey. Waiting, waiting for some perfect spot, time or my stupid mistake."

We know now that the Downtown Eastside was where serial killer Robert Pickton found his victims, picking up sex workers, killing them, and disposing of their bodies on his pig farm.

Investigators charged him with 26 murders, but only six counts went to trial. Found guilty in 2007, Pickton was jailed for life, the toughest sentence possible in Canada, which has no death penalty.

Vancouver police now admit they made mistakes probing the murders, and a public inquiry report released last month, entitled "Forsaken", highlighted a "systemic bias" against the victims, paired with public indifference.

Canada is still wrestling with what the Pickton case means. It prompted questions about the fate of scores of other missing and murdered women, and in the years since Pickton's 2002 arrest, police have set up new task forces to investigate some of the disappearances.   Continued...

A supporter lights candles surrounding photos of murdered women outside the Missing Women's Commission of Inquiry being made public in Vancouver, British Columbia in this December 17, 2012, file photo. REUTERS/Andy Clark/Files