British Columbia

Chelsea Poorman's body lay in Shaughnessy for more than a year. But her death was not considered suspicious

Chelsea Poorman vanished from downtown Vancouver in September 2020. Nineteen months later, her body was found near a vacant mansion. Now her family is demanding answers.

Vancouver police's abrupt closure of 24-year-old's case shows investigation wasn't taken seriously: mother

Chelsea Poorman went missing on Sept. 6, 2020, shortly after having dinner with her sister and attending a party in an apartment on Granville Street. Before she disappeared, she texted her sister that she was leaving the party to meet up with a man. (Submitted by Sheila Poorman)

The mother of a 24-year-old Cree woman whose body was found in Vancouver's Shaughnessy neighbourhood in late April says she believes police failed to treat her daughter's disappearance with the urgency that was needed — even after she warned them that her daughter had a physical disability and brain injury.

The Vancouver Police Department (VPD) said in a press conference that Chelsea Poorman's death is not considered suspicious, though the cause of her death has not been determined.

But Sheila Poorman said after telling reporters the case was closed, police told her privately they would continue investigating.

"They apologized behind closed doors. It was just hard to hear the words that they're saying in the media about them closing the case. And, you know, that this is not suspicious and there's no foul play," she said.

"For them to dismiss me when I told them my daughter is vulnerable — I said she has a disability, she has a brain injury. They didn't take that into consideration."

Chelsea Poorman went missing on Sept. 6, 2020, shortly after grabbing dinner with her sister and attending a party in an apartment on Granville Street. Before she disappeared, she texted her sister that she was leaving the party to meet up with a man.

Her body was found outside an empty mansion near 36th Avenue and Granville Street on April 22, 2022, spotted in the backyard by a construction worker. Vancouver police said she likely died on or near the property the night she disappeared.

Sheila Poorman said when she was found, Chelsea was missing several fingers and part of her skull, details that have not been released by police. Her cellphone wasn't found with her body, and was later traced to Victory Square in downtown Vancouver.

A memorial for Chelsea Poorman is pictured outside a house at 1536 West 36th Ave. in Vancouver on May 10. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The neighbourhood where Poorman was found is among the richest in Canada.

By mid-May, 36th Avenue in Vancouver's Shaughnessy area is shrouded in cherry blossoms. Homes worth tens of millions are hidden from street view by thick, manicured hedges and passcode-protected gates. 

Poorman said she doesn't understand how her daughter, who wore a leg brace and had rods in her arm and leg, ended up on the vacant property, or how her body went unnoticed by neighbours for so long.

But she said her concerns around how her daughter's case was being handled started immediately after her disappearance.

Poorman filed a missing persons report with the VPD on Sept. 7, 2020, notifying them of her daughter's physical and mental disabilities, both the result of a devastating 2014 car accident. She was alarmed when it took 10 days for a public notice to be issued about her disappearance.

"It just seemed like they didn't care. I felt like Chelsea didn't matter to anybody," she said.

In November the case was transferred to the VPD's homicide unit. An officer told Poorman the transfer happened because the unit had more resources to investigate, and they had determined that Chelsea was vulnerable.

"I'm like, 'I told you guys in the beginning that's she's vulnerable.' I said, 'Now, two months later, you're going to come to me and say now you're taking this case seriously?" she said.

"I was horrified."

The intersection of West 37th Avenue and Granville Street is pictured in Vancouver on Friday, May 6. The remains of Chelsea Poorman were found on a property near the area, a block over on 36th Avenue, more than a year and a half after her disappearance. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Growing desperate, Poorman and her other daughter Paige spent the following months organizing rallies and plastering the streets of Vancouver with missing-person posters.

She said while her daughter's body was found on April 22, she wasn't notified by police until two weeks later.

"They said that they wanted to make sure 100 per cent that it was her. She had the same clothing. They knew that Chelsea had hardware in her body," she said.

Neighbours on 36th Avenue were reluctant to share their thoughts on the case, but some said several sprawling properties were searched after Poorman's body was found.

Sheila Poorman, Chelsea's mom, spent months combing the streets of Vancouver, plastering them with missing-person posters. (CBC/Ken Leedham)

The owner of the property, which is valued at over $7 million, has been out of the country for years.

A caretaker was known to come and mow the front lawn, but it wasn't until a construction crew entered the backyard that Chelsea's body was found.

Vancouver police said the investigation into Poorman's death and disappearance was "detailed and complex," but that there was "insufficient evidence to suggest her death was the result of a crime."

"We know this news is unlikely to satisfy family, friends, and community members who knew Chelsea, loved her, and believe her death must have been the result of foul play," said a statement from police.

Sgt. Steve Addison, a media liaison officer with the VPD, said at a press conference that the cause of her death would likely never be known.

The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) and the Federation of Indigenous Nations, which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan, where the Poorman family is from, issued statements calling for Vancouver police to apologize to the Poorman family and continue investigating the case.

"The abrupt halt of the case from the VPD is emblematic of the absolute crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls," said the statement from UBCIC.

Chelsea Poorman, left in both photos, was 24 years old when she went missing after leaving an apartment in downtown Vancouver in September 2020. (Submitted by Sheila Poorman)

Chelsea Poorman was a middle child with two sisters. She was born and raised in Regina, the family from the Kawacatoose First Nation in Saskatchewan.

She dreamed of being a makeup artist, a fashion designer, a musician. She was known for bringing hot coffee to people living on the street when temperatures in Regina would plunge.

Sheila Poorman said the 2014 car accident derailed her daughter's life. She said her brain injury meant she was mentally "a few years younger" than her age, making it difficult for her to build the life she wanted.

She moved to Vancouver in July 2020 to be closer to family and access mental health supports, and was living in Burnaby with her boyfriend when she went missing.

"[The accident] damaged the way she thought. She was very vulnerable. In her little life she went through a lot. And that's why people would take advantage of her a lot," said Poorman.

"And that's what's so sad — she didn't deserve what happened to her."