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The subject who is truly loyal to the Chief Magistrate will neither advise nor submit to arbitrary measures. She was out on the sidewalk walking along the same block for 90 minutes. It has been 21 years since Melinda Sheppit's nearly naked body was found next to a dumpster in a downtown parking lot. She had been strangled and one of her snakeskin stilettos was missing. The killing of a prostitute doesn't always rock a city, but that one did. Sheppit was just 16 years old. She came from a good family.
And police said she had been working the streets for just three weeks before her demise. They also said an arrest was imminent. More than two decades later, her homicide remains unsolved. But there are tantalizing hints of a turning point in the case, and perhaps in the cases of other sex workers who have lost their lives while plying their trade in Ottawa — a city where prostitutes have been pushed out of the downtown core to seedier neighbourhoods where they are unlikely to cross paths with tourists.
Police Chief Vern White has told local sex workers that a serial killer may have been operating here for the past 21 years. Charles Bordeleau, the force's assistant chief, said there have been six unsolved killings of prostitutes in Ottawa since , and detectives have noticed what might be a link between an unspecified number of them. He would not name the victims. But "as soon as we identified that pattern, we felt it prudent and our responsibility to go out and communicate with women, and particularly sex-trade workers, around safety issues," Assistant Chief Bordeleau said.
The sex workers and the people who support them say the mindset of the police has changed greatly as a result of the crimes of Robert Pickton. Police in Vancouver sustained heavy criticism because it took years after Mr.
Pickton killed his first victim for them to acknowledge a pattern in the subsequent disappearances of women from that city's Downtown Eastside. Chris Bruckert, vice-chair of POWER, an Ottawa support group for prostitutes, and a professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa, applauded the Ottawa police for their recent warning. But, she said, they continue to make mass arrests of sex workers that drive the trade into the back alleys, where the women are less safe.