Robert Pickton: The Vancouver Missing Women
Police are never entirely without suspects when prostitutes are victimized. In fact, a more common problem is too many suspects, with streetwalkers often unwilling to file charges or testify at trial. So it was in Vancouver, as the task force began logging names and descriptions of potential predators.
One whom the detectives considered was 36-year-old Michael Leopold, arrested in 1996 for assaulting a Low Track streetwalker, beating her and trying to force a rubber ball down her throat. A passerby heard the girl's screams and frightened Leopold away, but he surrendered to police three days later. Granted, he had been in custody since then, held in lieu of bond while he awaited trial, but with disappearances dating back to the mid-1980s, any sadist with a propensity for attacking hookers rated a closer look. Leopold regaled a court-appointed psychiatrist with his fantasies of kidnapping, raping and murdering prostitutes, but he insisted that the 1996 assault had been his only foray into real-life action. Task force investigators ultimately absolved Leopold of any involvement in the disappearances, but he had a rude surprise in store at his trial, in August 2000. Convicted of aggravated assault, Leopold received a 14-year prison sentence, with credit for the four years served before the trial.
Another suspect in the case was 43-year-old Alberta native Barry Thomas Neidermier. Convicted in 1990 of pimping a 14-year-old girl, Neidermier apparently left prison with a grudge against streetwalkers. In 1995 he was jailed again, this time for selling contraband cigarettes from his Vancouver tobacco shop, driven out of business by a heavy fine. In April 2000, Vancouver police charged Neidermier with violent attacks on seven Low Track hookers, the charges against him including assault, kidnapping, sexual assault, robbery, unlawful confinement and administering a noxious substance. None of Neidermier's alleged victims were drawn from the Vancouver missing list, and Constable Anne Drennan told reporters, "It's impossible to say at this point whether or not Neidermier may be related to those cases. Certainly he is a person of interest, and he will continue to be a person of interest."
More frustrating still were the suspects described to police without names or addresses. On August 10, 2001, Vancouver police announced their search for an unidentified rapist who attacked a 38-year-old victim outside her Low Track hotel a week earlier. "During the attack," police spokesmen said, "the man claimed responsibility for sexually assaulting and killing other women in the Downtown Eastside." The victim had escaped by leaping from her rapist's car, and while she offered a description to authorities, the boastful predator remains at large.
And there are countless more, besides. The Downtown Eastside Youth Activities Society maintains a daily "bad date" file, page after page of reports from local prostitutes who have been threatened or injured by nameless "tricks." Their tales run the gamut from verbal abuse to beatings and stabbings, presented as a warning for those who support themselves and their habits on the streets.
All in vain.