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Maxine Wapass

Missing woman and a murder lead to eerie conclusions

Maxine Wapass

Two words ran through the minds of Saskatoon vice officers: Pig farm. Police vice squad detectives hit the streets looking for clues within hours of the death of Donna Kayson.

The timing of Kayson's death was troubling, given that police were already three weeks into trying to find 23-year-old Maxine Wapass. She had dropped out of sight under mysterious circumstances on the May long weekend.

Two native women had now disappeared from the sex and drug culture on Saskatoon's west side. With the case of a Port Coquitlam pig farm making international headlines and allegations that Robert Pickton may have been involved in the disappearance of several of the more than 25 Vancouver women missing since the mid nineties, and the recent disappearances in Saskatoon suddenly seemed eerily familiar.

The John Crawford case is also still fresh in the minds of many Saskatoon police officers. It had been a decade since a series of native women were reported missing in Saskatoon. Bad internal communications, a questionable investigation and three bodies discovered in green garbage bags at the Moon Lake Golf Course eventually led to a conviction, but Police were seen mishandling the case on several levels.

The Crawford case raised hard questions on how the native community is policed and started a tailspin of bad publicity that the department is still fighting today.

The key witness against John Martin Crawford, [convicted serial killer of Saskatoon prostitutes] petty crook Bill Corrigan, was present at the murder of Shelley Napope, but never charged with being an accessory. Instead, in a deal that smells of Karla Homolka, he was paid $15,000 to rat out his pal. (from a review of Warren Goulding's Just Another Indian: A Serial Killer and Canada's Indifference) -- Sheila Steele

Donna Kasyon was found bleeding to death.

After Kasyon bled to death at a west side bus shelter, police called vice to the scene. Police discovered Kasyon worked the streets and vice detectives canvassed people along the so-called 'stroll'. They quizzed girls about bad dates and recent johns, asking about particularly erratic behavior. Vice detectives tried to find out whether they could connect the dots between the two women.

Police say they had red-flagged the Wapass disappearance during the May long weekend almost immediately.

Though Wapass used drugs and worked in the sex trade, she contradicted this dangerous lifestyle by staying in regular contact with her family, calling her sister and staying with her every couple of days.

Maxine Wapass disappeared overnight.

This time Wapass went missing without contacting her sister and this had become increasingly worrisome for her family and police.

Maxine Wapass had vanished overnight. She spoke with her sister Marilyn about catching a ride to the reserve for the May long weekend, but didn't show at the expected time. Marilyn assumed that she had simply made other arrangements. Maxine's boyfriend on the reserve assumed she had stayed in Saskatoon.

She was missing for two weeks before Marilyn contacted police, the longest single stretch the sisters had gone without speaking in years.

Saskatoon police field around 700 missing persons reports a year. Some people return home two hours after the call, while some are gone for months before reappearing. Wapass's lifestyle, and the fact that she was known to be missing two weeks before the police were contacted, elevated the case to a different level from the beginning. Kasyon's murder gave the case a new urgency.

Maxine's sister, Marilyn has since faxed and e-mailed posters of Maxine to police and out-reach agencies across the Canada. She circulates her sister's picture in bars and at bus stops along 20th Street. She admits that she's frightened by what she sees when canvassing people on foot. She can't believe this was how her sister lived. There are variations of the same tragic story on every streetcorner of the stroll.

Maxine's sister is hopeful she will surface.

Maxine Grace Wapass was born on the Thunderchild Reserve near North Battleford and moved to Saskatoon with her mother as a teen. Neither mother or daughter coped well with the transition from reserve to city life.

Her mother slipped into a downward spiral of drugs and booze and Maxine started running with the wrong crowd at school, partying and discovering cocaine. Her mother died eight years ago. She was hit by a taxi in downtown Saskatoon. Marilyn says her mother's sudden death, with the unresolved issues from their troubled relationship, left Maxine angry and bitter.

So Maxine Wapass turned to drugs, and then to the street to pay for her addictions. She came to the stroll at a time when the scene was changing in subtle and unsettling ways.

Vice worry cases may be linked.

Police say gang involvement in the sex trade has escalated in recent months. They says there are stories of prostitutes even wearing colours on the street. This mixture of drugs, gangs and girls raises the possibility that competing Indian gangs may be moving into street prostitution. This spectre of violence over turf brings back unpleasant memories of the early 1980s in Saskatoon, when gang violence was on the increase.

The prostitution stroll has also been changing. Pressure from residents living along 21st Street is pushing the sex trade over to 19th Street and 20th Streets, onto a stretch of pawn shops, restaurants and bingo halls.

missing

After three months, Police know little about the circumstances of the disappearance of Wapass than they did at the beginning of June.

Police say they are watching the strip closely for clues.

They have not dismissed a possible connection with Kasyon's murder, but the theory holds less weight as time passes and a clearer set of facts emerge on details of her killing. The investigation comes down to a few grim possibilities.

Either Maxine Wapass left the city on her own, or with someone, and is alive but too incapacitated by drugs to contact her family. Perhaps she is somehow being held against her will. Maybe she is somewhere in Saskatoon and can't contact her family. She could also be dead and her body may be hidden.

Marilyn Wapass is not ready to accept the last possibility, not yet. She believes that Maxine will return, that the phone will ring and it will be her little sister saying everything is all right.

The official police description of Maxine Wapass says she is 106 lbs, 5 feet 2 inches tall. She has shoulder length brown hair, brown eyes and a "JJ" tattoo on her left wrist, the tattoo of a "K" on the left index finger and a noticeable scar on her right wrist.