By Frank Larue
The murders of Rose Roper and Betty Osborne in the late sixties proved that Native women were marked when it came to sexual abuse and murder. When Gilbert Jordan (a.k.a. The Boozing Barber) showed up on Vancouver’s Eastside they also became the target of a serial killer.
Jordan was arrested in 1961 for kidnapping a five-year-old Aboriginal girl. Even though the girl was found in his car far from the reserve, a stay of proceedings ended the trial. Later that year, Gilbert Jordan reappeared in the daily newspapers when he halted traffic on the Lions Gate Bridge in Vancouver, threatening to jump. At a subsequent trial, he was charged with contempt after giving the judge a Nazi salute. Clearly, Jordan had complete contempt for the judicial system.
A raging alcoholic himself, Jordan developed a deadly new practice of seducing and poisoning women with alcohol. The bars on skid row were often hangouts for heavy drinkers and drug addicts, so Jordan didn’t look out of place nor did he attract attention that would lead to a police investigation. He would find a woman in a bar, then buy her drinks until she was inebriated enough to go home with him. Once behind close doors, Jordan would continue to give the woman booze until she was passed out, then he would pour more alcohol down her throat until she was dead.
One of his first alcohol poisoning victims was switchboard operator Ivy Rose. Her nude body was found in a hotel room on the Eastside of Vancouver in 1965, but Jordan was never charged. Ivy Rose’s death was considered accidental, even though her blood alcohol level was a lethal 0.51. Her murder was just the beginning of a series of killings for which Jordan always eluded punishment.
Jordan was brought up on charges several times but was not convicted until 1974 when he was living in Prince George. He was found guilty of indecent assault, which came with a sentence of just two years in prison. The Crown counsel wanted him declared a dangerous sexual offender upon his release in 1976, but the request was denied in court.
Jordan never showed remorse about his conduct; in fact, he was charged with more sexual charges the same year he left jail. Eventually, his luck ran out. Not long after his release, he was convicted of kidnapping a woman from a mental institute and raping her. If the court wanted proof that Jordan was a dangerous sex offender, there it was: raping a woman who was mentally impaired was finally reason enough to lock him up and throw away the key. Unfortunately, the courts cast a blind eye on his former convictions and his multiple charges and treated him with more empathy than he deserved.
Jordan’s sentence was only two years and two months—another miscarriage of justice that resulted in tragic repercussions when Jordan was released from jail and went on a killing spree that took the lives of seven women. He made use of his incarceration by learning a profession and opened a barber shop in the Eastside of Vancouver upon his release.
Jordan settled in with little fanfare. His shop was close to Hastings Street, near the kind of bars he liked to use as stalking ground. Once Hastings leaves the downtown core and reaches the Woodworth’s building, the scenery changes drastically as pawn shops and sleazy hotels and abandoned buildings with boarded windows create a seedy backdrop for Vancouver’s Eastside.
Bars are everywhere, but the most notorious are on the block of Hastings between Columbia and Main street. The Sunrise Hotel was often a haven for junkies, and waiters had to sweep up the needles left on the dance floor after the band finished playing. Celebrity junkie Cathy Smith was once arrested there. Across the street is Brandi’s, where patrons can watch porno movies while they drink. The Pennsylvania, the Regent, the Balmoral were all bars that catered to hard core drinkers.
Jordan was a heavy drinker and a regular in bars along Hastings, where he blended in well with the locals. Jordan was short and stocky, with a bald head and thick black-rimmed glasses. His meek appearance in the shadow of burnt out junkies, wired hookers, and cokeheads made him look anything but dangerous. It was easy for him to find the kind of women he felt were “on their last legs”—alcoholics like himself who didn’t mix with the drug crowd and appreciated a free drink.
From 1980 to 1987 Jordan killed seven women, three of whom came back to his barbershop where he taunted them to consume more and more alcohol until finally they passed out. Jordan then poured alcohol down their throats until the women were comatose. Three aboriginal women were found dead in his barber shop, and the police never charged him with a crime. These deaths were ruled accidental. It wasn’t until his sixth victim (a white woman named Vanessa Buckner) was found dead in a room at the Niagara Hotel that police began to take an interest in stopping him. Vanessa (unlike the other victims) wasn’t a heavy drinker, but at the time of her death her blood alcohol level was more than eleven times the legal limit. Family members knew Vanessa was a victim of foul play and pressured the police for action.
Ironically, it was Jordan himself who tipped off police by reporting the death of Vanessa Buckner in an anonymous phone call. Police tracked the telephone call to Jordan’s room at the Marble Arch Hotel and strip joint. A month later, an Aboriginal woman named Edna Shade was found dead in a hotel room and Jordan’s fingerprints were found on a vodka bottle and several glasses. The police monitored Jordan’s actions for the next week, and they captured Jordan on tape coaxing his victims into dangerous states of intoxication. “Have a drink,” he said. “Down the hatch, baby! Twenty bucks if you drink it right down. See if you’re a real woman.”
The Vancouver Police finally interrupted Jordan as he was attempting to poison another victims; the woman was already unconscious as Jordan tried to force more Vodka down her throat. He was arrested and charged with the murder of seven women, but unfortunately was convicted of only one: Vanessa Lee Buckner. He was sentenced to fifteen years in jail, but his time was reduced to nine years on appeal. He ended up serving only six of those years—a final insult to women’s groups who felt that serving less than year for each woman Jordan killed was a long way from true justice.
Jordan apparently never felt any remorse for his actions. In an interview with the Vancouver Sun, he told writer Jim Beatty: “I didn’t give a damn who I was with. I mean, we’re all dying sooner or later, whether it’s in this bar, across the street, or wherever.”
Gilbert Paul Jordan died in the late ‘90s, and even though this should have inspired a sigh of relief from women’s groups such as Sister’s in Spirit, there was already another psychopath stalking women in Vancouver’s Eastside: an even more sadistic killer who would take the lives of 53 women before he was captured. His name is Willie Pickton.