Friday, December 14, 2007

Still so many questions about Lillian O'Dare

Lillian Jean O'Dare (right) poses with a friend known only as Diana.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
Dec. 12, 2007

She was found because tenants were looking for more storage space.

It was spring, 1989. Sheila Adams, a graphic artist, was renting a rambling, three-bedroom house in Vancouver's eastside. She shared the space with a boyfriend and a tree-planting buddy.

“It was big and cheap,” she said. “Great location. A short block off the Drive.”

Artists and musicians had flocked to the streets surrounding Commercial Drive, taking advantage of low rents near a lively stretch of caf├ęs and restaurants.

At 941 Salsbury Dr., between Parker and Venables, Ms. Adams's gearhead boyfriend looked for a place to store car parts. In the basement, he found a small opening in the wall. The original porch upstairs had been closed in and added to a bedroom, part of which extended beyond the foundation.

The opening was sealed by a door on which four letters were crudely painted. The door had no hinge and had been nailed shut. It was pried open.

“There was a bunch of stuff in there,” Ms. Adams said. “Suitcases. Garbage bags. Not thinking anything of it, we took it all to a dumpster.”

After the junk was removed, they decided to level the dirt floor. Ms. Adams remembers hearing her boyfriend cry, “Uh, oh!”

His shovel had unearthed a skull. A bit of skin and hair was visible, but the remains had been there for some time. Police were called. The skeletal remains were removed, and the dirt sifted for evidence.

Police estimated the body had been there for about a decade. They were off by just one year.

Another 18 years passed before science could identify it.

This year, Forensics Magazine highlighted a new technology for DNA testing known as mini-STR (which stands for short tandem repeat), in which even small fragments of biological material can yield helpful information. The development will “make it possible for law enforcement to re-examine unsolved murder and sexual assault cases that have not been addressed for years,” the magazine reported.

On July 9, the remains were identified, and five weeks later, the Missing Women Task Force revealed the victim was Lillian Jean O'Dare.

She had been reported missing on Sept. 12, 1978.

Five years ago, her name was added to the city's list of missing women, which now numbers 65. Robert Pickton has been convicted in the murders of six of the women and is accused of killing 20 more.

No one has been charged in Ms. O'Dare's death.

In August, police released a fading photograph showing Ms. O'Dare with a friend.

She is of average build, stands 5 feet 6, has carefully waved blond hair. She wears a loose-fitting white pantsuit over a brown blouse speckled with white dots. Ms. O'Dare hugs her petite friend Diana with her right arm.

Police released the photo hoping friends or family might recognize Diana, who may have been a roommate when Ms. O'Dare went missing.

Little is known about the dead woman, who was from Williams Lake.

She shared a birthday with Elvis, although the singer was nine years older than she. At her disappearance she was 34.

Ms. Adams remembers a staff sergeant from the Vancouver police pointing out the letters G-R-M-C daubed on the door.

“Do you know what that stands for?” he asked.

She guessed it was the French initials for the RCMP.

“Grim Reapers Motorcycle Club,” he said.

Later, a neighbour told her the house had been occupied by bikers. They were the targets of a drive-by shooting. The next day, the bikers vanished.

Ms. Adams called the police after the name was released this summer. She has since been reinterviewed by the RCMP.

“I'm really glad that she was identified,” Ms. Adams said. “It seems more hopeful, I guess.”

She continued to live in the house after the discovery, even though some of her friends were “creeped out.”

Long after she moved from Salsbury Drive, she continued to think about the woman, as she has the other missing women.

Ms. Adams volunteers at the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre, which was founded the year Ms. O'Dare was killed. She helps serve food at holiday meals, arranges prizes for bingo games and prepares the centre's newsletter.

A trial has ended, but women still go missing. The centre has posters of some who have disappeared in recent months. “It's not over,” she said.

Yesterday, Ms. Adams saw the photo for the first time, putting a face to a woman too long unknown.

Ms. Adams feels a responsibility to her.

Spare a moment to remember Lillian O'Dare, missing no more, but still posing so many questions.

2007 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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