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Bic-Hang Chau
"We fear the worst"
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Thursday, 21 December, 2000, 15:14 GMT
The families who wait
All four young women have disappeared without trace
All four young women have disappeared without trace
by BBC News Online's Peter Gould

Christmas is a time when families come together. Sons and daughters return home to join the traditional celebrations.

But for the families of four young women, who disappeared in West London, the festive season can only heighten their sense of loss.

In each case a much-loved daughter has suddenly gone missing without trace. And despite the efforts of the police, there is no satisfactory explanation.

In each case, it is thought highly unlikely that they would have left home without saying a word to friends or relatives.

Yet in the words of one police officer, they have "disappeared off the face of the earth".

Vanished without trace

Nineteen-year-old Elizabeth Chau, a student from the suburb of Ealing, was heading home when she vanished. A closed circuit TV camera captured her image as she walked past the police station.

The family is going through a mourning period, where you don't know what has happened, but you still need to grieve

Bic-Hang Chau

She was five minutes from home. Her sister, Bic-Hang, says she had no problems that would have caused her to suddenly leave.

"Elizabeth is very responsible," she says. "She isn't the kind of person who would run away so we have to fear the worst, that she has been abducted or murdered."

Several months after Elizabeth Chau disappeared, Lola Shenkoya, a 27-year-old graduate in computer technology, also went missing. She too was last seen in the centre of Ealing.

The similarities are striking. In each case, their clothes and possessions remained behind.

Their bank accounts have been untouched since their disappearance. And both are said to have been close to their families, with no obvious problems.

The police have been comparing the two cases, and Bic-Hang Chau sees similarities between Elizabeth and Lola.

"They are both very young looking - younger than they are - and they are homey girls. It looks as if they have been victims of something sinister."

Disappeared in Hammersmith

Two other cases in West London are also causing concern.

Last summer, Iwona Kaminska, a 20-year-old Polish theology student disappeared while on holiday in London. She was last seen after leaving a shop in Hammersmith.

She was another attractive young woman, seemingly happy with life, and with no reason to go missing. She had just a few pounds in her handbag when she vanished.

When they disappeared
Elizabeth Chau,
16 April 1999
Lola Shenkoya,
3 January 2000
Iwona Kaminska,
13 July 2000
Sinead Healey,
18 October 2000

And in October last year, also in Hammersmith, 26-year-old Sinead Healey went missing without a word of explanation to her friends and family.

Sinead, described as a vivacious redhead, worked in a minicab office. Her parents in County Tipperary, Ireland, can only wait for news.

It is the lack of any obvious explanation in these four cases that is disturbing. But Scotland Yard says it is not linking either of the Hammersmith cases with the disappearance of the two women from Ealing.

The random nature of an attack by a stranger, with no link to the victim, makes this one of the most difficult crimes to solve.

And with any missing person case, the practical problem for the police is how long they can justify deploying considerable resources on investigations that appear to be leading nowhere.

It can be years before the truth is revealed. In the case of Fred and Rosemary West, they were able to murder repeatedly before suspicions were finally aroused.

Lack of evidence

Those who abduct and kill strangers are the most devious of criminals. Outwardly they live normal lives, rarely attracting suspicion. But they plan their crimes in meticulous detail, and develop techniques for putting potential victims at their ease.

The families and friends of these young women will not want to dwell on such thoughts, even if some do now fear the worst.

For all these families, the absence of a much-loved daughter will be especially painful this Christmas.

Anyone with any information should contact the following police incident rooms

Elizabeth Chau 0208 358 1777

Lola Shenkoya 0208 358 1777

Iwona Kaminska 0208 247 8265

Sinead Healey 0207 321 9251


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