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One of two slain escorts told friends ‘I keep myself safe’

New Westminster Police and forensic teams examine the apartment complex of 211 Eleventh Street in New Westminster on Tuesday. Two escorts where found dead in their apartments this month.

Ben Nelms/The Globe & Mail

To their friends, Karen Nabors and Jill Lyons were friendly women who walked their dogs every day, usually to a nearby park at a New Westminster elementary school. Though both worked as online escorts, posting advertisements across a network of Lower Mainland adult websites, friends say the women only met each other because they lived in the same building and both owned chihuahuas.

But over the past two weeks, both women have died in what police say are suspicious circumstances, and the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team is warning other escorts to take precautions until more is understood about how – and why – Ms. Nabors and Ms. Lyons died.

As police await results of forensic testing for the two deaths, they defended themselves Tuesday against concerns a public warning hadn't been issued when Ms. Lyons was found dead in her apartment two weeks ago. Sergeant Jennifer Pound, IHIT spokesperson, said police initially believed the 45-year-old woman may have taken her own life.

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"Upon first response, there was evidence to suggest that the death of Jill Lyons was a suicide," Sgt. Pound said in a press statement. "However, the New Westminster Police continued to process the scene as a suspicious death in order to retrieve any and all evidence that could be located."

An autopsy performed on Ms. Lyons was inconclusive and police are waiting for the results of a toxicology test, Sgt. Pound said. Ms. Lyons had been dead for three days before she was found, according to the B.C. Coroner's Service. It was after Ms. Nabors, 48, was found dead in on Sunday that IHIT issued the warning. Though police say there is evidence suggesting foul play in Ms. Nabors' death, an autopsy has not yet been completed.

Escorts who work in the area confirmed that two online ads belonged to Ms. Lyons and Ms. Nabors, respectively. Ms. Lyons used the name "Jennifer" or "Jenny" in her ads, while Ms. Nabors went by "Tianna." Both women advertised "in call" services, meaning customers would come to their apartment.

"I asked her, 'do you have a safety plan in place?' And she said, 'Oh yeah. I keep myself safe,'" said a woman who has been friends with Ms. Nabors for four years, and asked to remain anonymous. But she never got details on what the safety plan was, or whether Ms. Nabors had a way to alert anyone if she had trouble with a client.

"She wouldn't pick up any calls after 6, because that's usually when the weird crowd would be calling," said Martin Piasta, who lived across the hall from Ms. Nabors. "She said that's what kept her safe all those years, because the people who would be calling her after 6 would be drug addicts and so on."

Friends say Ms. Nabors had a strong support system in the area, including two adult sons who she kept in touch with.

Ms. Lyons also had family in the area. An obituary posted in the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper on Aug. 20 said that she was survived by two sons and five siblings. It said a family gathering had been held in her honour on Aug. 18.

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Both women, however, have also been through the court system. Ms. Lyons was arrested in March 2004 for aggravated assault after she and her husband attacked her ex-husband in Vancouver. Ms. Nabors was charged with theft under $5,000 in November 1995, shortly after she went through a divorce.

But Ms. Nabors wasn't ashamed to be working as an escort, her friend said. "She was so light about it. She would make fun," the woman said. "Being an escort was only one aspect of her life. She was very outgoing. She smiled and said hello to everybody. I envied her confidence."

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