Friday, July 09, 2004


Underbelly of Vancouver
Downtown Eastside


It was a beautiful summer day on July 10th, 2002 when a 39 year old aboriginal woman was brutally murdered in the Pendera building on West Pender Street.

Pendera was built in 1990 by Jim Green, the former chief organizer of the Downtown Eastside Residents association. Mr Green, now elected as a city councilor believed that the way to eradicate homelessness was to house people. Pendera was one of the crown jewels in a series of buildings under Mr Green's tenure at DERA, that was built. The Pendera received a heritage award on Febuary 17, 1992 for neighbourhood revitalization. Also interesting to note is that Pendera sits on the site where the original Sun building stood. In 1923 a photo was taken of Harry Houdini planning an escape from the building and which many onlookers from below watched. The framed photograph majestically graces a wall in the foyer of Pendera.

So with the Pendera having so much history, I guess it was only a matter of time before Pendera would become known for another reason. Sadly this was the vicious attack of a poor defenseless aboriginal women in an isolated bunker of the building.

So what exactly happened on this hot summer day in 2002. Well some things are known. Ms Herman frequently visited the building, most likely providing companionship to some of the retired fishermen and loggers who reside at 133 West Pender. In return, she may have received a meal or some spare change. Perhaps she may even had provided services to some of the oldtimers. But surely it couldn't have been one of these relatively harmless seniors who took her life. Then if not one of them, then who?

Well this much is known. At close to 6pm Violet Herman was speaking to a staff member of DERA through the bars of what is known as the Cage. Essentially the Cage is a sitting area near the front south side entrance to the building. Once upon a time the Cage housed a wonderful waterfall and pond, which similar to leaky condos also had sprung a few leaks. And with the advent of the neighbourhoods deterioration, a few yahoos were either pissing in the pond or dumping garbage in it. Now, building residents sit there to enjoy a smoke while watching people walk by on Pender. On the day Ms Herman was killed, a longtime resident observed her shortly before 6pm speaking with the staff. At this time, the resident went up to her apartment to watch the news. She claims that noone else was present at the Cage at the time Violet was outside.

At around 6:25 pm, local newsmaker Jamie Lee Hamilton who writes this blog and who also lives at the Pendera was retouching her makeup and recalls the following. I was about to meet a few business associates down the street at the historic Lotus hotel, when I heard this loud thump. I assumed that the noise came from below me on the north side of the building. Because it was a hot summer evening, I had my balcony doors open along with my other windows. The unit I reside in looks north to the abandoned Woodward's department store. Uncertain where the thump had come from, I remember thinking and hoping it wasn't one of my neighbours falling.

Departing from my apartment at 6:30 pm, I took the elevator to the lobby. I was hoping to catch the staff in order to inform him about the thump I had heard. Noone was in the office nor was there anyone in the Cage. The building seemed to have a stillness to it. As I exited the doors, walking down the street to meet my associates at the Lotus, I kept thinking gee that's odd there wasn't anyone around the Cage. Seeing my associates outside enjoying a cigarette, I pushed this thought from my mind and joined them.

After concluding my business around 8pm then walking to the seven eleven store, a half block from the Lotus to purchase a phone card, I returned to my building at around 8:30 pm. I observed upon my entry that some residents were now sitting in the Cage but still no staff was present. I couldn't thereby report the loud thump. I then went upstairs to my unit and phoned a friend.

Receiving no answer to my call, I overhead voices outside which seemed to be originating from the alley. I went out onto my balcony and observed a few police officers down below. I overheard one speaking into his walkie talkie saying, 'it appears we have one dead native female'. I thought oh no and my first reaction was to phone my neighbour on the 7th floor but first I should phone the media. My reasoning for this was that I had concerns over the bungling by the Vancouver Police Dept on the Downtown Eastside Missing women cases. And like so many of the missing women, this victim also according to the police was aboriginal.

As early evening progressed into night, residents of Pendera had visits from police members. We were informed that our building was a crime scene and noone could leave their apartments or if they were downstairs in the common areas, as I was, we couldn't return to our units. The elevators also were closed off to us. As police conducted their lengthy six hour investigation, I learned that the body of the deceased, who became known a few days later as Violet Herman had died at the hands of a killer who savagely murdered her in the bunker of our building. The bunker had been built as a fire escape to the north of the building. My thoughts this night was that someone from inside our building could possibly be the killer and this gave me a chilling feeling. But who could it have been?

Well two years later there still hasn't been anyone charged with this heinous crime but I have uncovered some facts on this case and here they are.

The Lotus hotel which which sits at the southwest corner of Abbott And Pender streets has a series of cameras which face Pender, Abbott and the lane between Pender and Hastings. Violet Herman was picked up on these tapes walking east on Pender street turning left/north onto Abbott Street, then turning left/west into the alley. These movements would place her most likely returning to the rear of Pendera.

Hence, here is my theory. Violet was informed by someone in the Pendera to go around to the back bunker door. There, whoever it was had callously plotted the crime and was laying in wait for her. They probably had a smile on their face as they opened the bunker door for Violet to enter. An engagement of sorts no doubt happened, then the unnamed individual brutally killed Violet. The coroner placed the time of her death at approximately 6:30 pm. Interestingly, the Police provided the neighbourhood with flyers of Ms Herman's death. Whenever they were placed on the notice board or walls of the Pendera, just as suddenly they would disappear. Police often as they are were tightlipped, nevertheless they shared publicly that whoever killed Violet probably had lots of blood on them.

I have received other facts on this case, however I must be careful in disclosing what I know. I do this only for my own protection as the killer is roaming free out there. He knows me that I am certain. His demeanor and motives I believe pose great risk to Sex Trade workers and other marginalized women. Justice must be done and the individual who carried out this heinous crime must be held accountable.

Tomorrow will mark the 2nd anniversary of Violet's untimely death. Please remember her and the other women of the Downtown Eastside who have been tragically taken from us. And most importantly, don't ever let the police forget that the case of Violet Delores Herman remains unsolved.

Jamie Lee Hamilton
(604) 781-3361