In 2006, Jessie Foster disappeared. Eight years later, her family is still haunted
The volunteers mingle inside the small trailer in Las Vegas, Nev., as a coffeepot brews quietly in the background. They take their seats as Shannon Forsythe with Run 2 Rescue, an American organization aimed at restoring victims of sex trafficking, details the day's events.
"[We were told] about this girl who looked very similar to Jessie Foster," Forsythe tells the volunteers gathered in the trailer before her. "We immediately went down there to find out if it was her, and we couldn't tell.
"The picture actually went to mom and mom could not verify if that was her daughter, because that's how similar [they were]."
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Forsythe was but one member of a group of volunteers who travelled in February 2014 to Las Vegas. For four days they followed up on leads in the case of Jessie Foster, a Canadian woman who has been missing for eight years. They were there on behalf of Jessie's mother, Glendene Grant, who continues her own investigation from home in Canada into her daughter's disappearance.
One of the group's goals was to find a homeless woman who reportedly bore a strong resemblance to the missing Canadian. After locating the woman, the volunteers were stunned: she was blonde like Jessie. She had perfect teeth and thin lips, just like Jessie.
Law enforcement was called. As the woman had drug paraphernalia on her, police were able to arrest her and take her in for fingerprinting. The volunteers were excited; the resemblance was undeniable. However, when the results came back, disappointment set in: it wasn't her.
Jessie Foster is still out there, waiting to be found.
"SHE LEAVES THE HUGEST GAP"
March 28, 2014, marked eight years since Jessie Foser last communicated with her family after vanishing from Las Vegas in 2006. At the time, police had few leads and, as the years passed by, the case slowly grew cold. But to her family and friends, the mystery of what happened to the beautiful blonde is a question that still demands an answer.
Produced by: Hannah Kost and Danielle Semrau
"Anytime you have something and there's a piece missing, it's really noticeable," says Jessie's mother, Glendene Grant. "And Jessie is that noticeable piece of us that's missing. For the tiniest little female adult, she leaves the hugest gap in our family."
In 2005, Jessie Foster was not unlike many other young women her age. She had graduated from high school only three years before, and had big plans. She dreamed of opening her own beauty salon; she had always been good at makeup and hair, and her own locks were always carefully styled.
She worked hard, holding down at least two jobs, if not three. In fact her father, Dwight Foster, says that he had never known his daughter to only work one job. She was incredibly ambitious.
Dwight encouraged his daughter to travel and in 2005, Jessie decided to take a break from working to see the world. That May, Jessie travelled to Las Vegas for what her parents initially believed was to only be a three or four day trip. Instead, Jessie stayed in Las Vegas for 10 months, meeting and becoming engaged to a man she met there. She came back only once for Christmas.
That holiday was the last time her family saw her.
"THOSE ARE THE KINDS OF THINGS THAT HAUNT YOU"
Jessie's life in the United States was comfortable. Her neighbourhood was an affluent North Las Vegas suburb: she lived in an expensive home with her wealthy fiancé, and she often called her parents from beside the pool in her backyard.
After Jessie stopped communicating with her parents in 2006, they reported her missing, and Dwight hired a private investigator. Her fiancé told investigators she simply left with her luggage, never to return. That would be the last reported sighting of Jessie Foster.
"Was she running to something, was she running away from something?" Dwight wonders, as he imagines his daughter's mindset in the hours leading up to her disappearance. "Those kinds of things haunt you, and if you let your mind wander into those areas you're going to drive yourself insane. And I am proof of that."
Dwight says what they do know is that as of April 1, 2006, Jessie's phone hadn't been used and her bank accounts hadn't been accessed.
She had fallen off the face of the earth.
Over the next few months, what investigators were able to uncover only seemed to yield more questions.
The private investigator Dwight had hired discovered that Jessie had been hospitalized with a broken jaw and had been arrested twice for prostitution.
The circumstances of Jessie's disappearance are a web of dead and loose ends, and different scenarios torment Dwight.
He eventually made the journey down to Sin City himself, where he says he walked up and down the strip with his daughter's photograph in hand, asking people if they had seen her.
Venturing off the streets into air-conditioned hotel lobbies, Dwight says he would stop hotel management and staff to ask if they recognized Jessie.
"I was walking through the hotels and I was showing her picture, managers of hotels would come down and look and they would say, 'Oh, I know her,'" he recalls. "Seems she was very well known on the strip. Made me want to throw up right there. You're not supposed to know my damn daughter."
"I WILL CONTINUE TO CALL MYSELF THE LEAD INVESTIGATOR"
The questions are unending: what had been going on in Jessie's life in the months leading up to her disappearance? What had happened to her? And, most importantly, where is she now?
No one seems to have any definitive answers. But everyone—from her family to her friends to those who have heard her story—has a theory about what happened to her, pieced together from unearthed fragments of her life.
Jessie's hospital records suggest to Glendene that her daughter was connected to violent individuals in Las Vegas. The later revelation that Jessie had been arrested for prostitution spoke loudly to Glendene.
She believes that her daughter is a victim of human trafficking.
"It's like all of a sudden I realized, taken to another country, beaten and forced into the sex trade—yeah, that's exactly what that is," Glendene says.
"I call myself, and I will continue to call myself, the lead investigator on Jessie's case."
Glendene scours the Internet daily for busted human trafficking rings. She follows up on tips. She relays them to Crime Stoppers, the RCMP and the Las Vegas police.
Dwight, meanwhile, thinks that his daughter—deeply ambitious and, as he describes it, financially driven—had the intention of entering the prostitution business rather than being lured into its grasp.
The two parents, separated since Jessie's infancy, have been driven further apart by their diverging conclusions. But Dwight is quick to acknowledge both he and Glendene simply can't be sure.
"We know so much up until April 1," Dwight says. "The second she stopped communicating with us, well, this could have happened, that could have happened, this could have happened or, kaboom, that could have happened. Nobody knows."
Produced by Hannah Kost and Danielle Semrau
What happened to Jessie Foster remains a question demanding an answer. Until that moment comes, Jessie's loved ones are left trying to put a puzzle together that is missing crucial pieces.
"IT WAS LIKE THE BEAUTIFUL SWAN STORY"
Leading up to her disappearance in the spring of 2006, Jessie Foster had moved back to Kamloops to live with her mother, three sisters and stepfather, Jim Hoflin. She had grown up in the mountain town but, as a teenager, had decided to move to Calgary, Alta., to live with her father, Dwight Foster, and her stepmother, Tracy Foulds.
She had spent the better part of two years living in the big city, and had blossomed. When she had first arrived in Calgary, Dwight says that she had been a tomboy with long hair parted right down the middle and his family's teeth.
"She had the horrible set of teeth," Dwight says, chuckling. "And she knew it. Bad teeth run in my family. So we made an appointment, we went in, and two and a half years and $7,000 later, she has a perfect set of pearly whites."
Dwight says that fixing Jessie's teeth brought about a change in his daughter. She became more confident, and her style began to evolve. More friends began to show up on his doorstep and by the end of her 2002 graduation year Jessie was confident and popular.
"It was like the beautiful swan story," he says.
"DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU'RE INTO, JESS?"
Three years after graduating from high school, Jessie moved back to Kamloops. Her father had always encouraged her to travel, and it seemed like she was about to get the opportunity. In April of 2005, a friend from Alberta invited her to go to Florida. Neither of her parents had met the man who, like Jessie, had been a fixture on the DJ circuit in Calgary.
Florida was a new experience for Jessie. She went parasailing, swam in the ocean and got some sun. Shortly thereafter, Jessie and her new travel companion journeyed to New York; Atlantic City was their next destination.
Jessie was travelling like she never had before. And while her parents had wanted her to explore the world, they became increasingly suspicious about the nature of the trips when they learned that she had not been paying for them. Her travel companion was footing the entire bill.
"[That] really started to get me worried," Dwight recalls. "'Do you know what you're into, Jess, what's this all about, who is this guy, what does he want from you?'"
Jessie would take another trip to the United States—this time, to Las Vegas, for her 21st birthday. Her parents anticipated that her stay in Las Vegas, like the others, would be short. But it wasn't. Jessie would remain there for the next 10 months.
She had only been in Las Vegas for a short time when friends introduced her to a wealthy man nearly twice her age. Their relationship moved quickly from the start. Glendene says that within a few months of meeting each other and beginning to date, they had already moved in together. Shortly thereafter, Jessie's parents say they found out that the two were engaged.
Jessie never brought her new fiancé home to meet her parents, but Glendene and Dwight say the relationship was volatile. Both say that the couple fought a lot, and Dwight recalls hearing the two argue on the phone when Jessie was in Calgary for a visit.
"It wasn't conversation, it was screaming, cursing, name-calling," he says. "And I finally said, 'Jess, call me out of touch, call me an old fogy, but that doesn't sound like love to me.'"
Dwight says that Jessie justified the fighting, saying that the two were just passionate people who argued to express themselves, but it still made her parents uncomfortable.
"I even said to him, 'Why in the world are you with a 21-year-old girl when you're past your mid-30s?'" Glendene recalls. "'Why don't you just pack it in, send her home and you guys can go on your merry way?'"
"YOU'RE NOT TELLING US SOMETHING"
Jessie returned to Kamloops to celebrate Christmas in 2005; it was a holiday she had always eagerly anticipated as a child.
"She's really a little girl when it comes to Christmas," Dwight remembers. "First one up in the morning, first one with the Santa hat on."
But this time was different. Her family was just settling into the routine of having her home when she unexpectedly announced the morning of the 25th that she would be leaving for Las Vegas that evening.
"We get up Christmas morning and she tells us she needs to go back to the airport that day," Glendene says.
"I've never talked to Glendene in any depth about her leaving that day," Dwight says. "But I would have loved to have known what was on her mind and what she was thinking, and how leaving must have made everybody wonder, 'What is up girl? You're not telling us something.'"
"WHY ISN'T SHE CALLING?"
Jessie walking through airport security is the last image her mother, stepfather and sisters have of her.
Her sudden departure on Christmas morning had been unsettling for her family, but over the next few months, she continued to call and keep in touch with her parents and siblings. She was constantly texting her sisters, and called Glendene and Dwight a couple of times a week.
Produced by Hannah Kost and Danielle Semrau
According to Glendene, near the end of March 2006, Jessie left a birthday message for her stepmother who, along with Dwight, was in Mexico. Her message was upbeat and she seemed happy.
Shortly thereafter, Jessie's sister mentioned to Glendene that she had not been able to reach her. The next day, Glendene's other daughter said she couldn't reach Jessie either. The silence was unnerving; Jessie was always in contact with her family and friends.
Glendene began to phone her daughter. It wasn't long before she had filled up Jessie's voicemail with panicked messages, and had sent her several emails demanding that Jessie call someone, anyone.
A province away, Dwight arrived home from Mexico, and he and Tracy began to listen to their voicemail. Jessie's message began to play, brightly wishing Tracy a happy birthday. Then, a message from Glendene: she hadn't been able to get ahold of Jessie for a few days.
Have you heard from her? She asked.
"An intense fear gripped my heart," Dwight remembers. "I felt right there something really serious had happened... And all these thoughts came creeping into my head. What's happened? Did she have an accident? Where is she? Why isn't she calling?
"I hired a private detective the next day."
Jessie would be officially reported missing on April 9, 2006.
"YOUR LIFE LITERALLY STOPS"
Jessie was missing. Her family and friends were in shock, paralyzed by the news.
"This is not something that happens to us," Dwight says. "And everybody says that, you know. This happens to other people. But you know what, that's bullshit. Because it happens to us, it does happen to us... It can happen to me, it can happen to anybody."
Glendene became crippled by her loss. She couldn't work, couldn't take care of her home and couldn't leave the house. For a time, she turned to alcohol.
"Your life literally stops," Glendene recalls. "My doctor put me on antidepressants for a while and those didn't help...because I wasn't chemically imbalanced, I was sad. And they don't have sad pills, which is probably why I tried the booze. "
For Dwight, time seemed to move faster. Days felt like hours, weeks like days. Waking up every morning became difficult, with thoughts always turning to Jessie.
"You just lose track of your life and the routine that you're so used to," Dwight says. "I started to fall apart at that point. It's not a fun feeling when you can feel yourself losing your grip."
Jessie's parents say that the investigation into her disappearance was revealing little. Her case had fallen to the North Las Vegas police, which didn't have a missing persons unit, and because Jessie was 21, she was considered old enough to be missing if she wanted to be.
"When you don't have a body, you don't have a crime scene," Dwight says. "We were limited as to the next move."
The North Las Vegas Police Department was contacted for comment, but did not respond by press time.
Meanwhile, what Dwight's private investigator was uncovering brought up more questions for the family than answers. Records he accessed revealed that Jessie had been beaten and hospitalized with a broken jaw. He also learned that she had been arrested for prostitution twice: first in June of 2005, and then again in September.
The news was a blow to the family. While Jessie had mentioned to her father that she was working for an escort agency, she had maintained that she had been a receptionist.
"If had known then what I know now... I would have contacted the local police, I would have contacted the border patrol, I would have contacted the FBI," Dwight says. "To this day, I am destroyed by it. Because you always wish you had done more to protect your child."
This new information forced them to ask themselves a hard question: What had been going on in the months leading up to Jessie's disappearance?
"I'M OVERCOME WITH ANGUISH AND ANGER"
Walking into the home of Dwight Foster, one notices the china cabinet against the dining room wall. Family photographs line its shelves: his stepdaughter at her wedding, him and his wife at the beach, school photos of grandchildren.
And there amongst them are photographs of Jessie.
Jessie would have turned 30 this May, a milestone that would have called for a celebration had she not been missing. As it stands, the photos that adorn the mantles and walls of her parents' homes are those of a young woman. Her disappearance has immortalized her at 21 years old.
"This is one of my favourite pictures of her right there," Dwight says, selecting a photograph off the shelf of a smiling Jessie at her graduation banquet. "It's just the glow in her cheeks... she just looks really, genuinely happy in that picture."
Dwight gazes down at the photograph of his daughter, stroking the image of her face as he places it carefully back. There's a tenderness about how he handles the picture, and a deep, palpable sadness.
Dwight Foster misses his daughter.
Since her disappearance, Dwight has become alienated from many of his family members and friends. His depression, he notes, has probably made him difficult to be around. But there's something else too: Dwight Foster's opinion about what happened to his daughter is not a popular one.
"Jessie was a willing participant in the beginning," he says. "She looked at this life as a viable way of making lots of money, making it quick. 'Get in and out.' I think that's where Jessie's head was. 'If I hook up with the right people I'll keep control of it.'"
Dwight says believing that his daughter walked willingly into the lion's den has made him an angry man. His life, which was once filled with music and laughter, has been overtaken by the grief he feels for his daughter. Even at night, he has nightmares about what happened to Jessie. Waking up, his first thoughts are of her.
"I know that this has taken years off of my life," Dwight says. "I've lived with so much stress and heartache in these past years that I'm not healthy anymore. I'm overcome with anguish and anger."
Dwight's guitars are no longer touched. He doesn't see many friends. He is, he says, like a flashlight with dead batteries; no matter how much the flashlight is shaken in a frustrated effort to turn it on, it doesn't and it won't—the batteries are dead.
"WE DECIDED TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE"
Glendene Grant sits at her desk in her Kamloops, B.C. home. She begins playing a song as she leans into the microphone at her computer. She is hosting her weekly BlogTalkRadio show about human trafficking and missing persons.
"I just want everyone to know that the song we're playing tonight is by One Republic. It's called Come Home, and it's been dedicated to Jessie Foster—missing almost eight years—by Mary. Thank you, Mary."
Mothers Against Trafficking Humans, or MATH. While not a registered organization, Glendene has still been able to successfully raise awareness about human trafficking through it. On her radio show she interviews others who share similar experiences. She speaks at conferences and schools, telling Jessie's story.Four years ago, Glendene launched
"We decided to make a difference," Glendene says. "Alive or not, Jessie is educating the world on human trafficking. She was a victim of human trafficking long before she went missing. So she's either a murdered victim of human trafficking or an alive and missing victim of human trafficking."
Glendene has become a spokesperson and Jessie has, as she describes it, become the face of the issue in Canada. MATH has helped her cope and it's helped her heal.
But the catalyst for Glendene's healing process was the birth of
her granddaughter, Maddie, in December of 2007.
"That was a rebirth also for the rest of us," Glendene says, her voice cracking. She wipes the tears from under her glasses. "Because now we can't live in 2006 anymore... and I started realizing I had three grown daughters who needed—I mean who needed—a mom."
In her downtime, Glendene focuses on her family. She has three daughters and four grandchildren. All of them are often at the house she shares with her husband Jim. It's a happy home, filled with love and laughter. Jessie, too, is very much a part of their lives.
"PEACE AND SERENITY ARE TWO THINGS YOU MISS"
It has been nearly a decade since Dwight and Glendene's daughter slipped from their lives like a ghost, leaving so much capsized in her wake. They endure, suspended in limbo.
"When you have a missing loved one," Glendene says, "peace and serenity are two things you miss."
For now, Jessie's fate continues to be a mystery. But mysteries, Glendene says, need to have an ending.
"I need to know," Glendene says. "I need her to come home. Jessie needs to come home alive or dead... and if she's not alive, then we'll deal with that."
Dwight has become a person he no longer recognizes. He avoids looking at himself in the mirror; his life is quiet, static.
He believes his little girl is dead.
"Is she out there?" Dwight ponders. "A simple text: 'I'm okay, stop looking for me. I'll get in touch with you when I can.' But nothing. Nothing means nothing."
For Glendene, it's different: the unanswered question drives her activism and her faith that her daughter is still alive.
"I might see Jessie again, I don't know," Glendene says. "There's always that hope. So I haven't put an ending to it with Jessie, and I won't put an ending to it."
Produced by Hannah Kost and Danielle Semrau
Time passes. The grandchildren get older. The photos of Jessie remain on their shelves.
Most evenings Glendene finds time to sit at her computer. Its soft blue light casts her features in relief. She searches for unidentified remains found, human trafficking rings busted, missing persons. News, any news.
There is work to be done.
For more on this story visit: www.jessiefostervanishingpoint.com
- By DANIELLE SEMRAU and HANNAH KOST