Friday, September 19, 2008

ARTICLE #54) A year ago, a young woman with a secret vanished in Las Vegas

Wednesday, April 4, 2007
A year ago, a young woman with a secret vanished in Las Vegas: 'I get a strong feeling that ... she needs to be found and rescued'
Globe & Mail by Cathryn Atkinson

Whenever Glendene Grant needs to hear her daughter's voice, she goes to her laptop and calls up an audio file she made a year ago. In it is a recording taken from Jessie Foster's cellphone.

Only one word in the message is spoken by the young woman from Kamloops, who disappeared in Las Vegas on March 28, 2006, but it is all Ms. Grant has to connect her with her daughter's physical presence.

First, a messaging-service voice tells her, "You have reached the voicemail of. . . ." And she hears her girl say her name: "Jessica."

Then the messaging-service voice returns, telling her to "speak after the beep."

For weeks after Ms. Foster went missing, her mother and the rest of the family followed those instructions, leaving increasingly frantic messages that were never returned.

Eventually, Ms. Grant, a 49-year-old Internet technician, decided to download her daughter's voicemail before it, too, disappeared.

"Now I only have to go over to the computer," she said. "That's when I feel obsessive, when I hear her voice two, three, four times in a row."

If Ms. Foster is still alive, she will turn 23 next month. The second oldest of four sisters, Ms. Foster, a straight-A student in high school, worked at Boston Pizza in Kamloops and later lived with her father in Calgary before starting what was supposed to be a short tour of the United States. Her mother said she had planned to go to college on her return.

Instead, she moved to Las Vegas in May, 2005, telling her family she had met a rich man, 39-year-old Peter Todd, and fallen in love.

"She told us she liked it there and wanted to stay, and that he was living off a trust fund. We had no reason not to believe her," said Ms. Grant, although she added that she was concerned her daughter would be residing in the U.S. illegally.

For 10 months, Ms. Foster would e-mail, call or text message her mother or sisters almost daily, telling them stories of the glamour of the casinos and of seeing stars like Cameron Diaz and Justin Timberlake sitting at the next table in restaurants.

Then, nothing.

After her daughter vanished, Ms. Grant and her former husband Dwight Foster, Ms. Foster's father, reported her missing to the North Las Vegas Police Department and the RCMP. And they hired a private detective who, after a short search, gave them the devastating news that their daughter had been known as "Taylor," and had been prostituting herself through a Las Vegas escort service.

Ms. Foster, they learned, had been arrested twice and her boyfriend was not from a rich family, but had gained his apparent wealth from unknown means. He had an ex-wife who had been arrested for prostitution herself, and Mr. Todd had been arrested for spousal abuse, the private detective said. This was confirmed by North Las Vegas police.

After Ms. Foster's disappearance, Mr. Todd was twice interviewed by police, and said she had moved out several days after her last call home, North Las Vegas police said. No evidence has been discovered to show that she had either left town or met a violent end, they said. Mr. Todd is not considered a suspect in the case, and now refuses to speak to the media.

Officer Tim Bedwell of the North Las Vegas police described the case as "the most investigated non-crime our department has ever taken on." He explained that their jurisdiction does not cover "the Strip," where the main casinos are located and where Ms. Foster worked, but the suburban outskirts of the city where she resided with Mr. Todd.

"There's been nothing new in this case for a very long time. It is fundamentally a cold case. This is a missing adult and we have no evidence of any criminal wrongdoing," he said. "It's very frustrating for her family. From a police department perspective, it is frustrating that we can't offer them any help or closure."

As the investigation continued, Ms. Grant said it became apparent to her that missing prostitutes do not warrant the same attention as other missing people in the eyes of the police and the news media. She said she has been disappointed by the Las Vegas police response, and that of the FBI, which became involved in Ms. Foster's case last August.

"You are not what you do," she said angrily. "It was like she was to blame for what happened to her."

Officer Bill Castle, spokesman for Las Vegas police's metropolitan division, which covers the casinos, said no statistics are kept on how many prostitutes go missing each year.

"It's not a statistical database we make -- based on their occupation," he said. "There is a significant number of people who go missing involuntarily because something bad has happened to those who deal in criminal activity, whether it be prostitution or drugs. That lifestyle places people in jeopardy."

The life-changing experience of having a missing child has thrust Ms. Grant into a kinship with the families of other missing people throughout North America. She stays in touch with those she has befriended, and trades information where possible. With her Internet skills, she has created an impressive website and online newsletter that she monitors daily. Her understanding employers let her work when she feels able.

When asked why she has turned the search for her daughter into a nearly full-time occupation, she broke down. Through sobs, she said: "I just can't see doing anything else for one of my babies. I brought her into this world and I'll be damned if someone's going to take her out of this world without me knowing what the hell happened.

"I look at it this way. If it wasn't for me every day spending all my moments looking for Jessie, I can honestly believe that nothing would be done on a daily basis. I feel that in the whole world I am the only person doing something every single day for over a year."

Mr. Foster, she said, has accepted that his daughter is dead and has moved on. Ms. Grant does not feel that way.

"From the second that her death is proven, I will have the rest of my life to mourn her. I am really, really, really close with my daughters, and I just think I would feel something in the depth of my heart if she was dead. I think she is being kept against her will," she said. "I get a strong feeling that she needs to be found and rescued."

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