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Woman describes in warrant how serial offender lured her to suite where Indigenous teen was later found dead

An unsealed court document has revealed more details about how a man deemed a “danger to the public” apparently lured women to his Downtown Eastside apartment, where his body — and, later, the bodies of a woman and a missing Indigenous girl — were found last year. 

The CBC went to court in November 2022 to unseal a search warrant executed by the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) in Van Chung Pham’s home in February 2021, as officers investigated a complaint of sexual assault.

Pham was charged with the offence in February 2022, just a week before police found his body in the suite at 405 Heatley Ave. where they would later discover the remains of 14-year-old Noelle O’Soup and the unnamed woman — which they missed when officers found Pham.

The deaths of Noelle, of the Key First Nation in Saskatchewan, and the unnamed woman remain under investigation by the VPD’s Major Crimes Unit. Pham was deemed to have died of an overdose.

The search warrant details the lengths police went in their attempts to locate a suspect identified only by a phone number, the name “Jimmy,” and the few things the alleged victim could recall from the scene of the crime.

But taken together with a raft of immigration documents previously obtained by CBC that revealed Pham’s involvement in the overdose death of another woman — and how he was released with virtually no restrictions when it became apparent that attempts to deport him from Canada were futile — the warrant raises as many questions as it answers.

Most notably: How could a man deemed a “danger to the public” by immigration officials and ordered deported end up living among some of the country’s most vulnerable citizens, selling drugs and allegedly preying on women?

A dark corridor in an apartment building.
A hallway of the Heatley Block at 405 Heatley Ave., Vancouver, pictured on Sept. 29, 2022. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Account of assault

The search warrant says VPD Const. Dijana Mehic obtained the document to search Pham’s apartment on Feb. 5, 2021, three months after a Burnaby RCMP officer told her a woman alleging sexual assault was waiting to be examined at Burnaby General Hospital.

Later that day, Nov. 19, 2020, the RCMP officer told Mehic the victim left the hospital before he could get any identification.

According to the warrant, Mehic couldn’t find any information about the woman on a national police database, so she sent an internal email to VPD officers working the Downtown Eastside “to advise if they have dealt with or deal with a female by this name.”

Two days later, she was contacted by a beat enforcement officer who knew the victim.

Mehic said she went to the woman’s residence and “she advised me that she did attend [the hospital] on Nov. 19, 2020, after having been sexually assaulted by a male friend of hers who she knows only as ‘Jimmy.'”

“She described herself as a recreational drug user, but advised she is not a sex trade worker and has never participated in the sex trade,” the warrant reads. 

“When she ran into ‘Jimmy,’ he offered her free drugs in exchange for hanging out with him. Not assuming anything of ‘Jimmy,’ she agreed to hang out with ‘Jimmy’ for the day, enticed by the free drug offer.”

Mehic said the victim claimed “Jimmy” offered her crack and heroin after she accompanied him to his room. She said he became “pushy” when she said she typically used only heroin, so she took the crack as well.

“Immediately, she felt a high she had never experienced before and this caused her to be ‘out of it’ for a moment, rendering her unconscious briefly,” the warrant says.

A squat building at East Hastings Street in Vancouver.
A Vancouver police constable obtained a warrant to search Pham’s apartment at 405 Heatley Ave. on Feb. 5, 2021, three months after a Burnaby RCMP officer alerted the VPD to a report of a sexual assault. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The subsequent details of the alleged sexual assault are redacted.

“She moved to a small bed next to the couch, in an effort to get away from ‘Jimmy,’ who she thought might be blocking the doorway,” the court document continues.

“She ran out of the suite with what clothing she could gather but realized only once outside the main lobby door that she left her purse and some of her personal belongings inside, believing she was still partially undressed.”

The search warrant said at the time of the interview no DNA evidence could be collected or injuries documented because “too much time had passed between the offence date and the date the police conducted the victim interview.” 

Phone tracking pinpointed address

Armed with only a cellphone number provided by the victim, Mehic obtained a production order from Rogers that allowed a police analyst to match the phone to Pham.

Police also used a database that uses GPS information to track the movement of phones — tying Pham’s device to the address at 405 Heatley Ave. based on the fact that it was there 49 per cent of the time, and mostly between the hours of 1 a.m. and 10 a.m.

The day before Mehic sought the warrant, another detective with the sex crimes unit spoke with Pham’s landord.

“[He] advised Jimmy Pham pays him rent through social services,” the warrant reads. “He has observed Jimmy Pham occasionally bringing ‘sketchy looking women’ up to his suite.”

A bare room with a fridge, stove, and window.
This picture was included in an advertisement for one of the rental rooms in the Heatley Block in the Downtown Eastside. (Craigslist)

The search warrant lists some of the results of a search of Pham’s name on the Police Records Information Search Environment database — known as PRIME.

It mentions a mugshot, but does not go into detail about the series of convictions for break and enter and drug trafficking that ultimately saw him ordered deported to Vietnam in 2016.

No publicly available photos of Pham have been identified, though the search warrant identifies him as 46 years old, five feet two inches tall and weighing 119 pounds, with balding hair.

The alleged victim said Pham had a “prepubescent build, skinny, short stature, looked younger than he is based on his body type,” and that while he pretended to not speak much English, he could easily communicate. In court recordings previously obtained by CBC, Pham spoke exclusively through a translator.

Remains were missed by police

Mehic stated that the purpose of the search would be to corroborate the few details that the woman Pham allegedly sexually assaulted could recall about his room: the black leather couch; the small bed; a 1990s-style green blanket with a star or triangle print.

The search warrant does not mention the fact that a woman died of an overdose in Pham’s old room at the Hotel Canada on June 27, 2019. Pham, who reported the death, was initially arrested and investigated for homicide by the VPD.

On the same day the warrant was granted, the court sealed the document from public view in a “secure place” within the Vancouver provincial court registry because it contained details of an alleged sexual assault.

It was kept there until the CBC applied to make it public — after Pham, Noelle and the unnamed woman were found dead.

Noelle O'Soup is seen smiling for the camera. She has long brown hair.
Noelle O’Soup’s family are demanding answers as to how government and judicial systems failed to protect a vulnerable Indigenous girl from falling into the clutches of a man like Pham, whose criminal record spans nearly three decades. (Submitted by Cody Munch)

Vancouver police found Pham’s body in his apartment in February, but initially missed the remains of Noelle and the woman. They returned to Apartment 16 of the Heatley Block more than two months later after neighbours complained about a foul smell. 

A Vancouver police officer linked to the case is currently under investigation for alleged neglect of duty under the Police Act in connection with the officer’s conduct while attending the apartment where the bodies were found.

Noelle, a member of Key First Nation in Saskatchewan, fled a provincially run group home in Port Coquitlam, B.C., in May 2021 when she was 13. The RCMP, who have jurisdiction in that area, said they actively searched for her.

There are few details of how Noelle met Pham after she fled her group home, which was run by the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD).

Noelle’s uncle Cody Munch, who was in the process of applying for custody for his niece when she went missing, said he’s received few answers from the VPD or MCFD.

“It just seems like they’re not doing their job. You know, go and do a quick scan of the apartment and then just leave it,” he said.

Munch said he hopes the ongoing investigation into Pham by VPD’s Major Crimes Unit will show he was a serial predator.

Jenny Kwan, MP for Vancouver East and the NDP critic for Housing, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, said the assault investigation into Pham, triggered just weeks after his release from immigration custody, further highlights that he should have remained detained. 

“It was absolutely horrifying to read that an individual [was] recognized to be a danger to the public, and yet in spite of that immigration made the determination that there was no legitimate reason to detain the person,” Kwan said.

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