Officer who investigated missing women got scare while posing as prostitute

BY NEAL HALL, POSTMEDIA NEWS JANUARY 30, 2012

VANCOUVER – The officer first assigned to investigate the missing women case recalled Monday that she got a scare while posing undercover as a prostitute.

Vancouver police Const. Lori Shenher said she did “John” stings in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and, while posing as a sex trade worker, was grabbed by a man in a car.

The man wouldn’t look at her while he talked to her, Shenher told the Missing Women inquiry.

And when they had negotiated sex for $50 through the open window of the man’s car, she recalled looking away to signal other officers nearby working as her “cover team” when the man grabbed her arm through the window.

She said it shocked her, even though she had a gun under her coat.

When the man was arrested, Shenher said, police found the man had a gun on the front seat of the car and was wanted on a Canada-wide warrant for robbery.

She also talked to many of the women working the sex trade on the street.

“It’s a very lonely life, a very difficult life,” Shenher recalled about street prostitution. “Standing in the shadows in industrial areas.”

Most women working the survival sex trade become drug dependent “because of the day to day horror of this work,” she told the inquiry.

Shenher said she also developed a relationship with some of the women working the streets, including Angela Jardine and Serena Abotsway – two of the women who disappeared.

“When the two of them went missing, I knew very definitely that we had a problem,” she told the inquiry, which is probing why it took so long to catch serial killer Robert Pickton.

Shenher was assigned to the Vancouver Police Department’s missing person investigation in July 1998, when she had been seven years with the force.

By August 1998, she wrote a memo to then detective-inspector Kim Rossmo, a geographic profiler and expert in serial crime.

In her memo, Shenher suggested the women who had gone missing may have met foul play and the person responsible “has the means to dispose of bodies.”

She testified that she tried to relay this to her superiors, who felt the missing women would eventually show up.

She said the male police managers had an outdated view of the sex trade in Vancouver, believing the women worked a circuit in Western Canada.

But Shenher stressed to the male managers that the missing women hadn’t cashed their welfare cheques, hadn’t contacted their children and “they weren’t at the Calgary Stampede.”

She was asked what would have happened if she had banged on the table and told her bosses: “There’s something serious going on here.”

“I’ve thought about that for 13 and half years,” Shenher said.

“I was thinking ‘This is what a serial killer looks like. It’s not a man with horns.’ ”

She said she didn’t bang on the table because she didn’t want to be dismissed as a zealot.

She felt she had to work hard to try to find the evidence.

She also saw how Rossmo was treated when he wanted to issue a public warning that a serial killer might have been responsible for the dozens of women who had gone missing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

Rossmo testified last week that the inspector in charge of major crime, Fred Biddlecombe, who also oversaw the missing person unit, had a temper tantrum when Rossmo wanted to issue his news release.

Instead, Biddlecombe directed Shenher to locate the missing women.

Shenher said she felt she would be treated the same way as Rossmo because she was not very experienced, so continually consulted with more seasoned homicide detectives.

“I probably drove the homicide detectives crazy, running things by them,” she told the inquiry.

She recalled the missing person files were all on paper, in binders and were not computerized.

Shenher recalled she had to ask for a computer to organize the files.

She also handled three key informants who contacted police in 1998 and 1999, who suggested Pickton had killed one and possibly all of the missing women.

One of the informants told police that a woman had witnessed Pickton with the body of a woman in a barn on the Pickton farm in Port Coquitlam, B.C.

Shenher passed along the information to the Coquitlam RCMP, which had jurisdiction to investigate possible murders on the Pickton farm.

Shenher worked on the case tirelessly until she was granted a transfer in 2000 out of the missing person unit.

Women continued to go missing until Pickton was arrested on Feb. 5, 2002.

Vancouver police Deputy Chief Doug LePard, who did an analysis of the police failures in the case, blamed senior managers for not taking the case more seriously and devoting more human resources to it.

The force had repeatedly apologized for not catching Pickton sooner.

Last Friday, the commanding officer of the RCMP in B.C. apologized for the Mounties not doing more.

Two key RCMP investigators – Mike Connor and Don Adam – are expected to testify this week.

Vancouver Sun

nhall@vancouversun.com

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