Missing women memorial leaves trail of unpaid debts

A project to commemorate murdered and missing women in B.C. has stalled, while the man behind the effort has a criminal history and is currently facing fraud and theft charges in two provinces.

Organizer facing unrelated criminal charges

Man behind the project is charged with unrelated fraud and theft 4:21

A CBC News investigation has learned that a project to commemorate murdered and missing women in B.C. has stalled, while the man behind the effort has a criminal history and is currently facing fraud and theft charges in two provinces.

Sean Kirkham launched 'The Living Stones' memorial project last year, promising to place 62 stone plaques at the last known locations of murdered and missing women using funds from a non-profit that he created called the 'Canadian Foundation for Creative Development and Innovation.'

To date, only four plaques have actually been laid, and many of the people who helped get the project off the ground and produce the plaques say they have not been paid for their work.

Many left unpaid

The first plaque laid remembers Cara Ellis, who was murdered by Robert Pickton. Ellis' relative, Lori Ann Ellis, flew from Alberta to B.C. to lay the plaque, alongside NDP leader Adrian Dix and Vancouver police Chief Jim Chu.

Ellis, who was unemployed at the time, claims that Kirkham promised to pay her back $500 in travel expenses, but never did so.

"What I ended up with in return was being in debt, and he looked like a hero and made me look like a liar," Ellis says.

"So it was very hurtful."

Similarly, the man that was tasked with manufacturing the plaques, Geoff Tuck, was never paid, despite donating all of the labour costs and asking only $800 for materials.

"I don't really care about the money, but I do care about the fact that this whole thing was a big farce," Tuck told CBC News.

Michael Matthews, a former board member for Kirkham's non-profit, says he has cut ties with Kirkham. (CBC)

The City of Vancouver even gave Kirkham's foundation a $7,000 grant to repair street murals as part of the project, but the people who did that work have not been paid either, according to Michael Matthews, a former board member on the foundation.

"Where that went to? No one else saw the cheques," he says.

Matthews has since broken ties with Kirkham, but says that he suspects Kirkham of anonymously attacking him online.

Kirkham recently sent a letter to the families of the missing and murdered women informing that he is dissolving the non-profit because of "recent events in his life," and that he never meant to create controversy over financial issues.

A criminal history

CBC News has also learned that Kirkham was convicted of making false statements to the FBI as a police informant, during an investigation into a high profile nightclub owner in New York in the 1990s.The nightclub owner was later exonerated.

In 2008, he travelled to Europe, and a man with the same name was identified online as running multiple rental scams in Paris, Prague and Budapest.

In Canada, Kirkham currently faces 20 separate charges for fraud and theft dating back to 2007 in Whistler, and fraud, identity theft and forgery from 2008 to 2010 in Montreal.

The charges carry up to 14 years in prison if Kirkham is convicted.

Earlier this summer, Kirkham attended a fundraiser at the home of Vancouver billionaire Jacqui Cohen, who said that his cheques for three $2,000 tickets and a winning $14,000 bid for a trip to Belize have all bounced.

Kirkham has recently launched a new website calling for a national inquiry into missing and murdered women that asks for tax-deductible donations from the public.

The Canada Revenue Agency said it has no record of a registered charity filed under his name.

As for the remaining plaques that were never laid, Michael Matthews hopes they end up in the right hands.

"I'd like to see them go back to the families. It would be the one thing that they have to remember their daughters, their mothers, their sisters," he said.


  • This story was updated to correct the name of Geoff Tuck, which was previously reported as Geoff Works.
    Oct 17, 2013 11:00 PM PT

With files from the CBC's Eric Rankin


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