Sunday, September 27, 1998

Ann Rees
Staff Reporter

p. A24.

Mandy Elizabeth Blakemore: 1975-1998

From a loving home
to death on the skids

Drug addict Mandy Blakemore with a police officer in a downtown east-side alley shortly before her death. CBC News

With her life torn apart by drugs and prostitution, her one wish was to die. She didn't have to wait long.

She is listed as coroner's case 98-249-1257, a female Caucasian dead of natural causes at age 23.

To her family, Mandy Elizabeth Blakemore was loved, loved them in return and died a death that was anything but natural.

Mandy was a drug addict.

She was also the baby in a close and loving family, and a young mother herself.

"Mandy was just like me," said her older sister Angel, 25.

"She had a good life. Mandy loved life. She didn't want to die."

Mandy's death, says Staff-Sgt. Doug MacKay-Dunn, a longtime Vancouver drug cop, shows that anyone's child can get hooked on drugs.

"That could happen to any one of us," he said. "That could happen to any family. There but for the grace of God..."

Mandy pleaded for death just hours before her wish came true on Aug. 26.

She begged police to let her die the morning a CBC-TV news crew found her sitting on a doorstep behind a dumpster in a filthy downtown east-side alley.

Emaciated and exhausted, with tears streaming down her face, she sat holding her only possessions: A small plastic bag of rags and a crack pipe.

"Don't break it. Please, please don't break it," she begged the officer.

"I want to die right now, so I'm not really here."

Mandy died the next day.

The call her sister had feared for years came at three in the morning.

"When they phoned me, they said she was already brain-dead," Angel said.

She rushed to Mandy's bedside in Vancouver General Hospital. By the time she arrived, Mandy was dead.

"She was all toe-tagged, body-bagged, ready to go," said Angel, choking on her tears. "I had to see my sister in a body bag."

Angel wasn't even allowed to kiss her little sister goodbye.

"I couldn't touch her. She was highly infectious.

"She just looked awful."

Mandy died from an infection called bacterial endocarditis, a chronic condition resulting from intravenous drug use. She died when a blood vessel ruptured in her brain.

She was also HIV-positive and had hepatitis A, B and C.

Mandy had been addicted to heroin for 31/2 years and was a frequent crack user.

"I had known for years this would kill her one way or the other," said Angel. "It tore my life apart, and it killed her."

Angel is not certain exactly when the downward spiral began.

"Mandy was such a happy kid. She had this big smile. She had a good life. She loved her family."

The Blakemores lived a normal life in a number of small towns, including Zeballos. Art, her dad, worked in security for a mining company and Pat, her mom, operated a take-out food business.

But at age 13 Mandy revealed a terrible secret: She told her parents she had been sexually assaulted by a family acquaintance at age five.

Mandy (left) with her mom, Pat, who died in a car crash.

The family rallied behind her, supporting her when the man was arrested and charged. But they didn't realize she needed professional counselling.

The case took several years to come to court and, when it finally did, the man was acquitted.

"Mandy was about 17, and she finally gets her day in court and he was found not guilty," said Angel. "That just devastated the whole family."

Mandy became pregnant shortly afterward.

She and her boyfriend were delighted and moved in together.

"They both welcomed the baby," said Angel.

"After Mandy got pregnant with the baby, [she and her mother] got really, really close."

Her mom and dad were there when baby Mark was born. The family revelled in the baby's first Christmas.

"Mandy was a good mom. Her son meant everything to her."

But there were some family squabbles. Mandy had an argument with her father and they stopped talking.

And then, on a beautiful day in June five years ago, Mandy's world came unglued.

"Mom and dad were killed by a truck driver who fell asleep at the wheel," said Angel.

Mandy was devastated.

Not only did she miss her parents; she blamed herself for not making up with her dad.

"She felt really guilty that she had not made up with him before he died," said Angel.

"She was only 18, and here she was, a young mother with a six-month-old baby and all these feelings of guilt. And put that on top of losing her parents."

Mandy increasingly turned to alcohol for solace. And then she began to dabble in cocaine.

"She never did seek counselling," said Angel.

Mandy's relationship with her common-law husband began to deteriorate.

She went to Port McNeill to inquire about taking courses at the local college. Instead, she became friendly with people seriously involved with drugs.

"When her husband came to pick her up, she told him she wasn't going back with him."

A short time later, Mandy and her son moved to Campbell River to live with Angel and her new husband.

There were no drugs in the home, but Angel would often babysit so Mandy could go out.

"Seeing who she was seeing and where she was going, there is no doubt she was doing cocaine."

Mandy eventually moved into her own apartment with her son, and it was then that drugs began to take over her life.

"She met friends who were the wrong people," said Angel. She visited a couple of times and found Mandy holding drug parties while Mark was asleep in the apartment.

"I told her this was a problem when she started getting into all these drugs. I said, maybe you should slow down and think about giving Mark to me and my husband for a little while."

But Mandy did not want to give up Mark -- or the drugs.

Concerned for her infant nephew's safety, Angel called the baby's paternal grandmother.

"She ended up going and getting interim custody, and Mandy lost Mark," said Angel.

That was the beginning of the end.

"At that point I believe Mandy started getting very seriously into drugs. She was doing cocaine very often. She was drinking very often."

She started lap-dancing at a Campbell River bar. It was there she got involved with a drug gang.

"I believe that is when she was introduced to her first needle. She started injecting cocaine. Then I believe they introduced her to heroin. She was 20 years old."

Mandy's sister Angel: "Not only was her life taken, but part of my life was taken. Arlen Redekop - The Province

The drugs were free until Mandy was hooked, a standard practice for drug dealers.

"As soon as she was addicted, they said, 'OK, now you are mine and you have to work for me.'

"She had to prostitute, she had to table-dance, she had to go and sell it so she could keep up her habit."

Angel first realized her sister was addicted to heroin when she learned that Mandy had been forced to move into the gang's house to work as a prostitute.

"It was mandatory. They had a house where they sold their drugs and alcohol and she was prostituting out of there. Their clients would come by, pick up their drugs, pick whatever girl they wanted upstairs, do their thing, and for each john she took there was a fix. It was horrible."

Mandy became a prisoner, denied contact with her sister or anyone else outside of the house.

From there she was moved to another house -- full of addicts -- to sell drugs.

Angel realized the full horror of her little sister's lifestyle when Mandy begged her to come to the house.

"She said, 'Angel, I'm in trouble. I haven't eaten in four days, I don't have any money and I'm sick.

'I need to get high and they won't give me anything and I don't have any shoes.'"

Angel paused for a moment to compose herself.

"I had to go down there and bring some shoes. And there she is, barefoot in the middle of winter and no shoes, no food. I gave her $50. I knew it was going to go to drugs. But she was sick. She needed something. It was awful."

Angel's attempts to help Mandy get off drugs were rejected.

Family photo shows Mandy Blakemore at age six.

"I tried to help. I tried many times. I tried talking to her. I tried disowning her. I tried absolutely everything, and nothing worked.

"It got to the point where every morning she had to do a hit so she wouldn't be sick.

"You will wake up in the morning with stomach cramps, you won't be able to eat. You'll have a headache, you'll be vomiting. You'll have diarrhea. You won't be able to move. You will have body pains, you will be really, really sick. And in order to get rid of that they need to do a fix." Mandy drifted to Vancouver, to a hellish life as an addict and prostitute in the downtown east side.

The sisters lost touch.

But about 18 months ago Mandy called and asked -- for the first and only time -- for help in getting off drugs.

"She phoned me and said, 'I can't do this any more. I need help.' I said, 'That's all I need to know. Phone me back tonight. I'm going to phone around. I am going to see what I can do about getting you into detox or something.'"

Angel phoned the Campbell River hospital and every detox centre on the island.

"With a drug addict, the day they decide they want help, you have to act right away. The next day they might change their mind. I had to get her into something that day if it was going to work."

There was nothing available.

As much as she loved her sister, Angel knew she couldn't handle a heroin addict in withdrawal: "I couldn't have her at my home."

Mandy called back that night.

She said, "So, can I come down?"

"I said, 'Mandy, I don't have anywhere to put you. There is nowhere. I tried.'

"She said, 'Forget it. Nobody wants to help me, then forget it.'"

In April 1997, Mandy visited Angel to collect a $19,000 settlement from their parents' death.

The sisters went for lunch.

"She couldn't eat her lunch. She had cramps. She had to get high. And then she was able to eat.

"She had to smoke or inject heroin to go to the bathroom so her bowels would work. She had to free-base cocaine to go to sleep.

"It was awful having to watch somebody you love deteriorate."

Mandy, loaded with cash, was doing drugs every 20 minutes.

"The $19,000 was gone in two weeks. All on drugs. The only thing she had to show for it was a pair of shoes."

During the visit, Angel learned her sister was HIV-positive and had hepatitis B. Fearing that her own family could be infected, Angel told Mandy she could no longer visit.

"I told her, 'I love you, but I am not going to put my family at risk.'"

That was the last time Angel saw her sister alive.

The last time they spoke was in July. Mandy was in hospital in Vancouver with a weakened heart, caused by the bacterial infection that a month later would lead to her death.

"She told me she loved me," said Angel. "I told her I loved her. She said, 'I am sorry for everything.'

"I said, 'Don't be sorry for me. Be sorry for yourself. It's you you're hurting.'"

Less than a month later Mandy was dead.

"Not only was her life taken, but part of my life was taken," said Angel.

There is just one comfort.

"Mandy is home with me now," she says. "She's on the mantelpiece with mom and dad."

She manages a smile.

"My husband thinks it's weird. But he's just going to have to get used to it."

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Created: October 3, 1998
Last modified: October 4, 1998

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