Police are asking additional victims and witnesses to come forward after charging a 43-year-old Surrey man with four sexual assaults dating back to 1994.
Burnaby RCMP began its investigation after learning of a possible sexual assault and robbery on Dec. 4 against a woman, a sex-trade worker, who had been taken to Burnaby from the Downtown Eastside.
Due to the nature of the assault, it became Burnaby RCMP’s No. 1 priority, said Burnaby RCMP Chief Supt. David Critchley at a press conference Monday at the Burnaby detachment.
Immediately, Burnaby RCMP notified Vancouver Police Department which then took steps to warn other sex trade workers in the area, he said, stressing the two police agencies, and more than 50 officers, have been working closely together on the file.
A second sexual assault took place in Burnaby on Dec. 18, which investigators believed was linked to the first.
Thanks to a “tenacious” VPD sex crimes analyst, and dozens of police investigators, key pieces of the puzzle were linked together and police in both cities began combing through past unsolved cases dating back to the 1990s.
As a result, Shalendra Kumar Sharma, 43, of Surrey has been charged with four counts of sexually assaulting four women, two in December 2011 and the others in 1994 and 1997. He is also charged with four counts of confining the women and one count of kidnapping.
In addition, Sharma is charged with two counts of assault and one count of uttering threats in connection with the two December incidents. He was arrested Feb. 17 and is currently remanded in custody and due back in court March 2.
In all four cases, the victims were sex-trade workers taken from the Downtown Eastside to South Burnaby where they were sexually assaulted.
Police believe there may be more victims or witnesses.
“Given that Mr. Sharma is currently in custody, and poses no current threat to the public, police will not be releasing his photo at this time as investigators need to protect the integrity of the ongoing investigation,” Critchley said. “That decision will be continually assessed.”
To help jog the memories of possible victims and witnesses, police released a list of vehicles which Sharma owned or had access to between 1994 and the present: a 2007 red Ford Escape from October 2006 to the present; a 2003 blue Ford Explorer, from January 2004 to February 2010; a 1997 red Ford Explorer from March 1999 to October 2006; and a 1991 red Pontiac Sunbird, from January 1994 to May 1997.
Sharma, who works as a labourer in a manufacturing plant, was not known to police prior to these incidents, Critchley said.
“The investigation is continuing at this time, but there’s nothing to indicate Mr. Sharma is linked to any missing women,” he said in response to questions of possible connections to the Downtown Eastside’s missing women.
“What we have learned from the past is that it’s critical and crucial that we share information.”
Critchley commended the two women who came forward in December, saying it was one of the women who provided a crucial piece of evidence that helped link the different cases.
VPD Const. Lindsay Houghton said the VPD’s sex crimes analyst mined through much data to find out who the suspect was while the VPD’s sex-trade liaison gave out 55 911 emergency cellphones and notebooks to sex-trade workers, asking them to report anything suspicious or sightings of the suspect or his vehicles.
Anyone who may have witnessed or been the victim of an assault, sexual assault or theft by someone driving the vehicles associated with Sharma is asked to call Burnaby RCMP, 604-294-7922, or to remain anonymous, Crimestoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).