Robert William PICKTON
Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Rape - Dismemberment - Pig farmer
Number of victims: 6 - 49
Date of murders: 1995 - 2001
Date of arrest: February 2, 2002
Date of birth: October 26, 1949
Victims profile: Sereena Abotsway, 29 / Mona Lee Wilson, 26 / Andrea Joesbury, 22 / Brenda Ann Wolfe, 32 / Marnie Lee Frey, 25 / Georgina Faith Papin, 35
Method of murder: Strangulation with a piece of wire - Shooting
Location: Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada
Status: Sentenced to life in prison, with no possibility of parole for 25 years – the longest sentence available under Canadian law for murder
Robert William "Willie" Pickton (born October 26, 1949) of Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada is a former pig farmer and serial killer convicted of the second-degree murders of six women. He is also charged in the deaths of an additional twenty women, many of them prostitutes and drug users from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. In December 2007 he was sentenced to life in prison, with no possibility of parole for 25 years – the longest sentence available under Canadian law for murder.
During the trial's first day of jury evidence, January 22, 2007, the Crown stated he confessed to forty-nine murders to an undercover police officer posing as a cellmate. The Crown reported that Pickton told the officer that he wanted to kill another woman to make it an even 50, and that he was caught because he was "sloppy".
On February 5, 2002, police executed a search warrant for illegal firearms at the property owned by Pickton and his three siblings. He was taken into custody and police then obtained a second court order to search the farm as part of the BC Missing Women Investigation, when personal items (including a prescription asthma inhaler) belonging to one of the missing women were found. The farm was sealed off by members of the joint RCMP–Vancouver Police Department task force. The following day Pickton was charged with storing a firearm contrary to regulations, possession of a firearm while not being holder of a licence and possession of a loaded restricted firearm without a licence. He was later released and was kept under police surveillance.
On Friday, February 22, 2002, Pickton was arrested and charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Sereena Abotsway and Mona Wilson. On April 2, 2002 three more charges were added for the murders of Jacqueline McDonell, Diane Rock and Heather Bottomley. A sixth charge for the murder of Andrea Joesbury was laid on April 9, 2002 followed shortly by a seventh for Brenda Wolfe.
On September 20, 2002 four more charges were added for the slayings of Georgina Papin, Patricia Johnson, Helen Hallmark and Jennifer Furminger. Four more charges for the murders of Heather Chinnock, Tanya Holyk, Sherry Irving and Inga Hall were laid on October 3, 2002, bringing the total to fifteen, making the investigation the largest of any serial killer in Canadian history.
On May 26, 2005, twelve more charges were laid against him for the killings of Cara Ellis, Andrea Borhaven, Debra Lynne Jones, Marnie Frey, Tiffany Drew, Kerry Koski, Sarah Devries, Cynthia Feliks, Angela Jardine, Wendy Crawford, Diana Melnick, and Jane Doe (unidentified woman) bringing the total number of first-degree murder charges to 27.
Excavations continued through November 2003; the cost of the investigation is estimated to have been $70 million by the end of 2003, according to the provincial government. Currently the property is fenced off, under lien by the Crown in Right of British Columbia.
In the meantime, all the buildings have been demolished. Forensic analysis was very difficult because the bodies of the victims may have been left to decompose or allowed to be eaten by insects and pigs on the farm. During the early days of the excavations, forensic anthropologists brought in heavy equipment, including two 50-foot (15 m) flat conveyor belts and soil sifters to find traces of remains.
On March 10, 2004, it was revealed that human flesh may have been ground up and mixed with pork from the farm. This pork was never distributed commercially, but was handed out to friends and visitors of the farm. Another claim made is that he fed the bodies directly to his pigs,
A preliminary inquiry was held in 2003, the testimony from which was covered by a publication ban until 2010. At the preliminary inquiry it was revealed that in 1997 Pickton had been charged with attempted murder in connection with the stabbing of a sex worker. The woman survived and testified at the 2003 preliminary inquiry that after driving her to the Port Coquitlam farm and having sex with her, Pickton slapped a handcuff on her left hand, and stabbed her in the abdomen. She also had stabbed Pickton. Later both she and Pickton were treated at the same hospital, where staff used a key they found in Pickton's pocket to remove the handcuffs from the woman's wrist.
The attempted-murder charge against Pickton was stayed on January 27, 1998, because the woman had drug addiction issues and prosecutors believed her too unstable to testify. The clothes and rubber boots Pickton had been wearing that evening were seized by police and left in an RCMP storage locker for more than seven years. Not until 2004 did lab testing show that the DNA of two missing women were on the items seized from Pickton in 1997.
Pickton's trial began on January 30, 2006 in New Westminster. He pleaded not guilty to 27 charges of first-degree murder in the Supreme Court of British Columbia. The voir dire phase of the trial took most of the year to determine what evidence might be admitted before the jury. Reporters were not allowed to disclose any of the material presented in the arguments.
On March 2, 2006, one of the 27 counts was rejected by Justice James Williams for lack of evidence.
On August 9, 2006, Justice Williams severed the charges, splitting them into one group of six counts and another group of twenty counts. The trial proceeded on the group of six counts. The remaining 20 counts could have been heard in a separate trial, but ultimately were stayed on August 4, 2010. Because of the publication ban, full details of the decision are not publicly available; but the judge has explained that trying all 26 charges at once would put an unreasonable burden on the jury, as the trial could last up to two years, and have an increased chance for a mistrial. The judge also added that the six counts he chose had "materially different" evidence from the other 20.
Much of the evidence heard during the voir dire phase of the trial in 2006 was never heard by the jury because of rulings by the trial judge. This evidence was covered by a publication ban up until August 4, 2010.
Jury selection was completed on December 12, 2006, taking just two days. Twelve jurors and two alternates were chosen.
The date for the jury trial of the first six counts was initially set to start January 8, 2007, but later delayed to January 22, 2007.
January 22, 2007 was the first day of the jury trial at which Pickton faced first-degree murder charges in the deaths of Marnie Frey, Sereena Abotsway, Georgina Papin, Andrea Joesbury, Brenda Wolfe and Mona Wilson. The media ban was finally lifted and for the first time Canadians heard the details of what was found during the long investigation. In his opening statement, Crown Counsel Derrill Prevett told the jury of evidence that was found on Pickton's property, including skulls cut in half with hands and feet stuffed inside. The remains of another victim were stuffed in a garbage bag in the bottom of a trash can and her blood-stained clothing was found in the trailer in which Pickton lived. Part of one victim's jawbone and teeth were found in the ground beside the slaughterhouse, and a .22 calibre revolver with an attached dildo containing both his and a victim's DNA was in his laundry room. In a videotaped recording played for the jury, Pickton claimed to have attached the dildo to his weapon as a makeshift silencer.
As of February 20, 2007, the following information has been presented to the court:
The items police found inside Pickton's trailer - A loaded .22 revolver with a big, spiky black, hindu made dildo over the barrel and one round fired, boxes of .357 Magnum handgun ammunition, night-vision goggles, two pairs of faux fur-lined handcuffs, a syringe with three millilitres of blue liquid inside, and "Spanish fly" aphrodisiac.
A videotape of Pickton's friend Scott Chubb saying Pickton had told him a good way to kill a female heroin addict was to inject her with windshield-washer fluid. A second tape was played for Pickton, in which an associate named Andrew Bellwood said Pickton mentioned killing prostitutes by handcuffing and strangling them, then bleeding and gutting them before feeding them to pigs.
Photos of the contents of a garbage can found in Pickton's slaughterhouse, which held some remains of Mona Wilson.
In October 2007, a juror was accused of having made up her mind already that Pickton was innocent. The trial judge questioned the juror, saying "It's reported to me you said from what you had seen you were certain Mr. Pickton was innocent, there was no way he could have done this. That the court system had arrested the wrong guy." The juror denied this completely. Justice Williams ruled that she could remain on the jury since it had not been proven she made the statements.
Justice James Williams suspended jury deliberations on December 6, 2007 after he discovered an error in his charge to the jury. Earlier in the day, the jury had submitted a written question to Justice James requesting clarification of his charge, asking "Are we able to say 'yes' [i.e., find Pickton guilty] if we infer the accused acted indirectly?"
On December 9, 2007, the jury returned a verdict that Pickton is not guilty on 6 counts of first-degree murder, but is guilty on 6 counts of second-degree murder. A second-degree murder conviction carries a punishment of a life sentence, with no possibility of parole for a period between 10 to 25 years, to be set by the trial judge.
On December 11, 2007, after reading 18 victim impact statements, British Columbia Supreme Court Judge Justice James Williams sentenced Pickton to life with no possibility of parole for 25 years - the maximum punishment for second-degree murder, and equal to the sentence which would have been imposed for a first-degree murder conviction. "Mr. Pickton's conduct was murderous and repeatedly so. I cannot know the details but I know this: What happened to them was senseless and despicable," said Justice Williams in passing the sentence.
British Columbia Court of Appeal
The B.C. Court of Appeal rendered judgment in June 2009 on two appeals, one brought by the Crown (prosecution) and the other brought by the defence.
On January 7, 2008, the Attorney General filed an appeal in the British Columbia Court of Appeal, against Pickton's acquittals on the first-degree murder charges. The grounds of appeal relate to a number of evidentiary rulings made by the trial judge, certain aspects of the trial judge’s jury instructions, and the ruling to sever the six charges Pickton was tried on from the remaining twenty.
Some relatives of the victims in the case were taken back by the announcement of a Crown appeal, especially because Attorney-General Wally Oppal had said a few days earlier that the prosecution would likely not appeal. Although Pickton had been acquitted on the first-degree murder charges, he was convicted of second-degree murder and received the same sentence as he would have on first-degree murder convictions. The relatives of the victims expressed concern that the convictions would be jeopardized if the Crown argued that the trial judge had made errors. Opposition critic Leonard Krog criticized the Attorney-General for not having briefed the victims’ families in advance.
Oppal apologized to the victims’ families for not informing them of the appeal before it was announced to the general public. Oppal also said that the appeal was filed largely for “strategic” reasons, in anticipation of an appeal by the defence. The prosecution’s rationale was that if Pickton appeals his convictions, and if that appeal is allowed, resulting in a new trial, the prosecution will want to hold that new trial on the original 26 charges of first-degree murder. But the Crown would be precluded from doing so unless it had successfully appealed the original acquittals on the first-degree murder charges, and the severance of the 26 counts into one group of six and one group of twenty.
Under the applicable rules of court, the time period for the Crown to appeal expired 30 days after December 9, when the verdicts were rendered, while the time period for the defence to appeal expired 30 days after December 11, when Pickton was sentenced. That is why the Crown announced its appeal first, even though the Crown appeal is intended to be conditional on an appeal by the defence. If the defence had not filed an appeal, then the Crown could have withdrawn its appeal
On January 9, 2008, lawyers for Pickton filed a notice of appeal in the British Columbia Court of Appeal, seeking a new trial on six counts of second-degree murder. The lawyer representing Pickton on the appeal is Gil McKinnon, who had been a Crown prosecutor in the 1970s.
The notice of appeal enumerates various areas in which the defence alleges that the trial judge erred: the main charge to the jury, the response to the jurors’ question, amending the jury charge, similar fact evidence, and Pickton’s statements to the police.
Decisions of the Court of Appeal
The British Columbia Court of Appeal issued its decisions on June 25, 2009, but some parts of the decisions were not publicly released because of publication bans still in place.
The Court of Appeal dismissed the defence appeal by a 2:1 majority. Because there was a dissent on a point of law, Pickton was entitled to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, without first seeking leave to appeal. His notice of appeal was filed in the Supreme Court of Canada on August 24, 2009.
The Court of Appeal allowed the crown appeal, finding that the trial judge erred in excluding some evidence and in severing the 26 counts into one group of 20 counts and one group of 6. The order resulting from this finding was stayed, so that the conviction on the six counts of second degree murder would not be set aside.
Supreme Court of Canada
On June 26, 2009, Pickton's lawyers confirmed that they would exercise his right to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. The appeal was based on the dissent in the British Columbia Court of Appeal.
While Pickton had an automatic right to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada based on the legal issues on which Justice Donald had dissented, Pickton's lawyers applied to the Supreme Court of Canada for leave to appeal on other issues as well. On November 26, 2009, the Supreme Court of Canada granted this application for leave to appeal. The effect of this was to broaden the scope of Pickton's appeal, allowing him to raise arguments that had been rejected unanimously in the B.C. Court of Appeal (not just arguments that had been rejected by the 2-1 majority).
On July 30, 2010, the Supreme Court of Canada rendered its decision dismissing Pickton's appeal and affirming his convictions. The argument that Pickton should be granted a new trial was unanimously rejected by the Justices of the Supreme Court of Canada.
Although unanimous in its result, the Supreme Court split six to three in its legal analysis of the case. The issue was whether the trial judge made a legal error in his instructions to the jury, and in particular in his "re-instruction" responding to the jury's question about Pickton's liability if he was not the only person involved. Writing for the majority, Madam Justice Charron found that "the trial judge's response to the question posed by the jury did not adversely impact on the fairness of the trial". She further found that the trial judge's overall instructions with respect to other suspects "compendiously captured the alternative routes to liability that were realistically in issue in this trial. The jury was also correctly instructed that it could convict Mr. Pickton if the Crown proved this level of participation coupled with the requisite intent."
Mr. Justice LeBel, writing for the minority, found that the jury was not properly informed "of the legal principles which would have allowed them as triers of fact to consider evidence of Mr. Pickton’s aid and encouragement to an unknown shooter, as an alternative means of imposing liability for the murders." However, LeBel J. would have applied the so-called curative provision so as not to overturn Pickton's convictions.
Reaction and aftermath to the court proceedings
Discontinuance of prosecution of other counts against Pickton
B.C. Crown spokesman Neil MacKenzie announced that the prosecution of Pickton on the 20 other murder charges would likely be discontinued. "In reaching this position," he said, "the branch has taken into account the fact that any additional convictions could not result in any increase to the sentence that Mr. Pickton has already received."
Families of the victims had varied reactions to this announcement. Some were disappointed that Pickton would never be convicted of the 20 other murders, while others were relieved that the gruesome details of the murders would not be aired in court.
VPD management review of investigation
The Vancouver Police Department issued a statement that an "exhaustive management review of the Missing Women Investigation" has been conducted, and the VPD intends to make the Review available to the public once the criminal matters are concluded and the publication bans are removed. In addition, the VPD disclosed that for several years it has "communicated privately to the Provincial Government that it believes a Public Inquiry is necessary for an impartial examination of why it took so long for Robert Pickton to be arrested."
At a press conference, Deputy Chief Constable Doug LePard of the VPD apologized to the victims' families, saying "I wish from the bottom of my heart that we would have caught him sooner. I wish that, the several agencies involved, that we could have done better in so many ways. I wish that all the mistakes that were made, we could undo. And I wish that more lives would have been saved. So on my behalf and behalf of the Vancouver Police Department and all the men and women that worked on this investigation, I would say to the families how sorry we all are for your losses and because we did not catch this monster sooner."
Calls for public inquiry
British Columbia Attorney General Michael de Jong announced that a decision on whether to hold an inquiry would be made soon.
Certain of the families of Pickton's victims have called for a public inquiry into the handling of the case. Last week, [date needed] Vancouver Police Deputy Chief Doug LePard apologized for the department's failure to catch Pickton sooner, admitting mistakes were made. Police also revealed they believe there are at least 16 other missing women for whose deaths Pickton is responsible.
B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell said Thursday a decision on whether to call a public inquiry into the Pickton investigation would be made by the provincial cabinet in the coming weeks.
Both the VPD and the RCMP support a public inquiry, as does Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson.
The RCMP said that it continues to investigate the deaths of missing women, with a task force including 51 staff.
As well as families of the victims, several newspapers called for a public inquiry. A Toronto Star editorial noted, "Now that the legal wrangling is over, there is a bigger question to confront: how did the Port Coquitlam pig farmer manage to lure vulnerable women — many of them prostitutes from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside — to their deaths for 14 years before police arrested him?" The Winnipeg Free Press argued, "the families of all victims deserve fuller answers". Others argued that a public inquiry would be a wasted expense: "Better they take the millions of extra public dollars it would all cost and put it into actual stepped up services to help the street workers and addicts, who still ply their trade on the downtown eastside, get the real medical and psychological help they need."
Transfer to penitentiary
During a court hearing on August 4, 2010, Judge Williams stated that Pickton should be committed to a federal penitentiary; up to that point he had been held at a provincial pretrial institution.
Stay of Final 20 Murder Charges
Pickton had faced a further 20 first degree murder charges involving other female victims from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. On February 26, 2008, a family member of one of the 20 women named as alleged victims told the media that the Crown had told her a trial on the further 20 counts might not proceed.
On August 4, 2010, Crown prosecutors stayed the balance of the pending murder charges against Pickton, ending the prospect of any further trials.
The 20 charges were formally stayed by crown counsel Melissa Gillespie shortly after 4 p.m. during a British Columbia Supreme Court hearing at New Westminster.
Most (but not all) of the publication bans in the case were lifted by the trial judge, James Williams of the British Columbia Supreme Court, after lawyers spent hours in court going through the various complicated bans.
On August 6, 2010, various media outlets released a transcript of conversations between an RCMP undercover operator and Pickton in his holding cell. While the RCMP censored the undercover officer's name throughout most of the document, his name was left uncensored in several portions of the document that the RCMP released to the public. This uncensored version was available to the public, through Global News, CTV, and the Vancouver Sun, for about an hour before being pulled an re-edited. It is not known the extent of the damage this mistake caused the undercover officer.
On December 17, 2007, Pickton was convicted of second-degree murder in the deaths of six women:
Count 1, Sereena Abotsway (born August 20, 1971), 29 when she disappeared in August 2001.
Count 2, Mona Lee Wilson (born January 13, 1975), 26 when she was last seen on November 23, 2001. Reported Missing November 30, 2001.
Count 6, Andrea Joesbury, 22 when last seen in June 2001.
Count 7, Brenda Ann Wolfe, 32 when last seen in February 1999 and was reported missing in April 2000.
Count 16, Marnie Lee Frey, last seen August 1997.
Count 11, Georgina Faith Papin, last seen in 1999
Pickton also stood accused of first-degree murder in the deaths of twenty other women until these charges were stayed on August 4, 2010.
Count 3, Jacqueline Michelle McDonell, 23 when she was last seen in January 1999.
Count 4, Dianne Rosemary Rock (born September 2, 1967), 34 when last seen on October 19, 2001. Reported missing December 13, 2001.
Count 5, Heather Kathleen Bottomley (born August 17, 1976), 25 when she was last seen (and reported missing) on April 17, 2001.
Count 8, Jennifer Lynn Furminger, last seen in 1999.
Count 9, Helen Mae Hallmark, last seen August 1997.
Count 10, Patricia Rose Johnson, last seen in March 2001.
Count 12, Heather Chinnock, 30 when last seen in April 2001.
Count 13, Tanya Holyk, 23 when last seen in October 1996.
Count 14, Sherry Irving, 24 when last seen in 1997.
Count 15, Inga Monique Hall, 46 when last seen in February 1998.
Count 17, Tiffany Drew, last seen December 1999.
Count 18, Sarah de Vries, last seen April 1998.
Count 19, Cynthia Feliks, last seen in December 1997.
Count 20, Angela Rebecca Jardine, last seen November 20, 1998 between 3:30- 4p.m. at Oppenheimer Park at a rally in the downtown Eastside of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Count 21, Diana Melnick, last seen in December 1995.
Count 22, Jane Doe —charge lifted; see below.
Count 23, Debra Lynne Jones, last seen in December 2000.
Count 24, Wendy Crawford, last seen in December 1999.
Count 25, Kerry Koski, last seen in January 1998.
Count 26, Andrea Fay Borhaven, last seen in March 1997.
Count 27, Cara Louise Ellis aka Nicky Trimble (born April 13, 1971), 25 when last seen in 1996. Reported missing October 2002.
As of March 2, 2006, the murder charge involving the unidentified victim has been lifted. Pickton refused to enter a plea on the charge involving this victim, known in the proceedings as Jane Doe, so the court registered a not-guilty plea on his behalf. "The count as drawn fails to meet the minimal requirement set out in Section 581 of the Criminal Code. Accordingly, it must be quashed," wrote Justice James Williams. The detailed reasons for the judge's ruling cannot be reported in Canada because of the publication ban covering this stage of the trial.
Pickton is implicated in the murders of the following women, but charges have not yet been laid (incomplete list):
Mary Ann Clark aka Nancy Greek, 25, disappeared in August 1991 from downtown Victoria.
Yvonne Marie Boen (sometimes used the surname England) (born November 30, 1967), 34 when last seen on March 16, 2001 and reported missing on March 21, 2001.
Dawn Teresa Crey, reported missing in December 2000. Crey is the main subject of a 2006 documentary film about murdered and missing Aboriginal women in Canada, entitled Finding Dawn.
Two unidentified women.
After Pickton was arrested many people started coming forward and talking to police about what was going on at the farm. One of these witnesses that came forward was Lynn Ellingsen. Ellingsen claimed to have seen Pickton skinning a woman hanging from a meat hook years earlier; she did not tell anyone about this out of fear for her life This fear would seem justified, especially after Wendy Eistetter's incident in which she was stabbed by Pickton, managed to get away and even tell police, yet right before trial all charges were dropped and nothing happened to Pickton.
August 2006 'Pickton Letters'
In August 2006, Thomas Loudamy, a 27-year-old Fremont, California resident, claimed that he had received three letters from Robert Pickton in response to letters Loudamy sent under an assumed identity.
In the letters, Pickton allegedly speaks with concern about the expense of the investigation, asserts his innocence, quotes and refers to the Bible, praises the trial judge, and responds in detail to (fictional) information in Loudamy's letters, which were written in the guise of Mya Barnett, a 'down on her luck' woman.
The news of the letters' existence was broken by The Vancouver Sun, in an exclusive published on Saturday, September 2, 2006, and as of that date, neither law enforcement nor any representative of Pickton has verified the authenticity of the letters. The Sun, however, has undertaken several actions to confirm the documents' authenticity, including:
Confirming that the outgoing stamps are consistent with those of the North Fraser Pretrial Centre (NFPC), where Pickton is being held;
Confirming through a representative of Canada Post that the outgoing stamps are not forgeries; and
Confirming that the machine (identifiable with a serial number included in the stamp) used to stamp the envelopes is the machine used by the NFPC.
Loudamy claims not to have kept copies of his outgoing letters to Pickton, and as of September 4, 2006, no information on their existence has been forthcoming from Pickton or his representatives.
Loudamy has a history of writing to accused and convicted criminals, in some instances under his own identity (as with his correspondence with Clifford Olson), and in others in the guise of a character he believes will be more readily accepted by the targets of the letters. Loudamy, an aspiring journalist, claims that his motivation in releasing the letters is to help the public gain insights into Pickton.
Pickton in popular culture
The Seattle punk band The Accüsed wrote a song about Pickton called "Hooker Fortified Pork Products" on their 2005 Oh Martha! album. The song's "protagonist" is named "Willie P" (Pickton is generally referred to as Willie by those who know him) and "B.C. backyard butcher" who is said to have "been cruising the east end" (a reference to Vancouver's downtown east side.) The song describes how the hookers are thrown into a wood chipper. It includes a portion that is spoken in a caricature of a hillbilly accent which begins with the words "well howdy eh'!" ("Eh" is common in comic impressions of Canadians). It describes the pork products as being "chock full of heroin and AIDS."
The German psychobilly band Mad Sin wrote a song about Pickton called "Pigfarm". The song was released on their 2007 album "20 years in Sin Sin".
A 2007 episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation titled "Leapin' Lizards" includes a passing reference to a Canadian "farmer" who fed his murder victims to his pigs.
A low-budget American horror movie, Killer Pickton (2005), was released in Australia in 2007, and then promptly withdrawn from release after legal complaints by the Canadian government.
In 2009, the television series Criminal Minds featured an episode set in Sarnia, Ontario, which followed a case where a large number of victims were killed and their bodies were fed to pigs. Most of the other elements of the crime, however, were significantly different from the real case. In Canada, the episode aired with an additional content warning stating that this specific episode might upset some viewers, due to the storyline being closely tied to actual events.
The book Swastika by Michael Slade used Pickton as the basis for one of its characters, a Vancouver serial killer who fed the remains of his victims to pigs.
Quebec rock band EXtério wrote a song entitled "Le seigneur des agneaux" which can be translated as "The lord of the lambs" and filmed a music video about Robert Pickton in 2009.
The Canadian television crime drama "Da Vinci's Inquest" featured an ongoing storyline about a serial killer targeting Vancouver-area prostitutes who apparently disposed of the bodies at a pig farm. The program ended in 2005, two years before Pickton's trial.
The slam death metal band Devourment (band) wrote a song about Pickton called Fed To The Pigs
Woman turns up after two decades
11 june 2006
VANCOUVER (CP) - Police are removing one of the names from the list of missing women in B.C. after the woman called police and her family to say she is fine and is living in the southern United States.
Linda Grant contacted her family earlier this week after going on the Internet and finding her name on the list.
She disappeared in 1985, saying she moved away when she was 25 after losing custody of her two young daughters.
When Grant's name is removed from the list, there will still be 67 missing women.
RCMP say Grant is now asking for privacy until she meets with her family.
"The family of Linda Grant is very pleased to have made contact with her, and they now request that the media respect their privacy for the time being," the police said in a statement.
"This privacy is very important to the family as they continue to go through an emotional time, making arrangements for reunification."
Grant is one of 68 women reported to have disappeared from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside over two decades.
She contacted police and her B.C. family after seeing her photo and name on the list while surfing the internet to learn more about accused serial killer Robert Pickton.
The Port Coquitlam man is accused of killing 26 women, mostly sex trade workers from Vancouver's gritty downtown area.
Grant said in an earlier interview she moved away when she was 25 "to the farthest place I could get" after losing custody of two young daughters.
RCMP Cpl. Tom Seaman said Grant's identity has been confirmed and she has now been removed from the task force list and her photo will be removed from the missing women poster when the poster is next reprinted.
Although the task force has not held a news conference or issued any statements about their investigation in more than a year, Seaman said it is still involved in investigating the missing women.
But the two most high-profile members of the unit have moved on.
Cpl. Catherine Galliford, who was a spokesperson for the task force, was moved to the force's child exploitation unit about two years ago.
Seaman said the other spokesperson, Det.-Const. Sheila Sullivan, was also promoted to another unit so RCMP headquarters is handling communications for the time being.
"She is still a spokesperson for the task force but is on other duties right now because of a promotion," said Seaman.
Seaman was unable to say how many members are involved in the task force.
by Charles Mudede
The Geography of Pig Farmer Robert Pickton, the Man Suspected of Having Killed Over 60 Vancouver, BC, Sex Workers
Women started disappearing from Vancouver, BC's Downtown Eastside, or the DES as it's commonly known, in the early '80s, about the same time that women started disappearing along the broad and busy "strip" that separates the hotels from the international airport in SeaTac.
The missing women from both cities were from the same class: poor, often homeless, often addicted to drugs, often selling sex to generate an income. The only difference between the two--save the fact that more black women went missing in the Seattle area while more Native American women went missing in the Vancouver area--is that the remains of many of the missing Seattle women resurfaced in the garbaged wild areas around the airport, beside the freeways, and, most infamously, along the banks of the Green River. In Vancouver, if the vanished women did not return to the DES alive, or show up in another city, they did not return at all.
Vancouver's police department was slow to take an interest in the vanishing women. Perhaps because the police in Canada were as indifferent to the plight of these women as our local police departments were to our missing women. However, law enforcement officers in SeaTac and Seattle had to take the crimes seriously because bodies were turning up, corpses had to be examined and explained to a frightened community. Vancouver's police had next to nothing: no bodies, no physical evidence, no autopsies to perform.
The lack of bodies, coupled with the police department's prejudices and contempt for the pimps, drug dealers, addicts, and sex workers who make up over a third of the DES' 15,000 residents, opened a space in which the killer operated with all almost no interference from the law. The Green River Killer, by way of contrast, didn't have it so easy; he had to be cunning, always one step ahead of the law, as he mocked the investigators and the public by leaving more and more corpses to be discovered.
Shortly after the Royal Canadian Mounted Police served a warrant to a small-scale farmer named Robert Pickton on February 5, 2002, Vancouver's missing women began to reappear. But the vanished returned not as whole bodies but as body parts. In the freezers Pickton used to store unsold meat, the feet, heads, and hands of two missing women were reported to be found. Also found on the junk-strewn farm were ID cards, clothes, and teeth.
"A special team investigating the cases," reported the New York Times on Saturday, November 23, 2002, "arrived and found body parts in a freezer, as well as purses and other personal effects later linked to the missing.... Not one body has been found intact, and a wood chipper and Mr. Pickton's pigs are believed to have devoured much of the evidence."
The Scene of the Crimes
"There are no whole bodies at the pig farm," says Elaine Allan, a former coordinator for a DES drop-in center for sex workers. While employed there in the late '90s, she worked with almost 20 of the women who are believed to have been murdered by Robert Pickton, dismembered, and fed to his pigs. In her late 30s with medium-length hair, an intelligent air, and attentive eyes, Allan's voice expresses an almost aching sensitivity for the victims.
"I can't tell you exactly what they have found on the farm because of the ban on that information. You know about the ban?" I say that I do, but the local papers have reported about the feet, teeth, and bones. Everyone knows about the body parts, the pigs, the wood chipper, the freezers. Indeed, the animal rights organization PETA had planned to place a large ad in the Province describing the murders in horrifying detail. ("They were drugged and dragged across the room," the PETA ad began. "Their struggles and cries went unanswered.... They were slaughtered and their heads were sawed off.... Their body parts were refrigerated.... And their bones discarded. It's Still Going On. Please remember that this scenario is a reality for more than 640 million sensitive individuals who lose their lives every year in this country for nothing more than the taste of their 'meat.'")
What detail could Allan possibly tell me that wasn't already known? Was there more than dismembered women in the meat freezer, in the teeth of the wood chipper, or the guts of the pigs? Were there worse details, more horrifying details?
"Yes," she says. "It's worse than you can imagine."
Allan and I are in a rented car as we have this conversation, heading toward Pickton's farm, which is in Port Coquitlam, 40 minutes southeast of downtown Vancouver. The sky is clear, the sun shines, the traffic is light, and my guide to the gates of hell is all nerves and sorrow. A few days before, Allan attended Robert Pickton's preliminary hearing in Port Coquitlam's courthouse. The prosecutors had charged Pickton with 15 counts of first-degree murder--they could have filed an additional seven charges. The courtroom was packed with friends and relatives of the victims and reporters from around the world. Robert Pickton was also in the courthouse, in a bulletproof glass box.
"He seemed such a stark figure, really ominous," Allan says. "When I looked at him he made me feel very, very sad because that's who it is, that's him. The man responsible for all the missing women."
Before reaching the farm, we make a stop at Port Coquitlam's courthouse just to stare at it, so I can see with my own eyes a building that had been visited by the evil one not a week before.
We drive off, heading south on Lougheed Highway toward one of this growing suburb's last main streets, Dominion Avenue, before the city of Port Coquitlam ends at the Pitt River, and the swamps and woods of Pitt Meadows begin.
Pressed again for details, Allan issues me another warning.
"If you report on any evidence that was revealed in the court you are breaking the law, and could be arrested," Allan says. "You must respect our laws; you are in Canada now, and this is how we do things."
Indeed, this is how they do things. Judges in Canada can order reporters not to report facts they know or uncover, in order to insure a fair trial. The more notorious the crime, the hungrier the public is for details, and the likelier a judge is to order reporters not to report--this is in stark contrast to the United States, where a reporter who knows the most damning details may report them, is expected to report them, and wins awards for reporting them.
In Allan's defense of the Canadian judiciary system there is a hint of hurt pride, a national sense of shame. After all, Canada is supposed to have a superior social safety net. If you lose your job in the United States--your apartment, your family, your savings--the government will not step in and stop your fall from decency to bankruptcy to the streets. But here in Canada, this relative social utopia, this country with free medical care, and in Vancouver, with its generous welfare programs, the social safety net somehow failed all of these women--they fell from the streets to the mud of a death farm on the edge of the city.
"The police knew about Pickton's farm in 1998," Allan says as we continue to head toward the farm. "Pickton was even charged with attempted murder in 1997. There was even a detective, Kim Rossmo, who was fired because he suggested there was a serial killer working the DES area. The police just didn't think it was worth the trouble, until America's Most Wanted broadcasted that there was a serial killer in Vancouver."
According to Allan, not many people in the DES were surprised when the police went to the farm and made the big discovery.
"The women I worked with knew the guy, knew about the farm," she says. "When his car came around, they knew he was a bad date." (A client who enjoys hurting or killing sex workers is considered "a bad date.")
Entering what is called the Dominion Triangle Area ("Port Coquitlam's Newest Commercial Area," according to the city's website), we find on one side of the street a brand-new mall that includes Save-On-Foods, Costco, the Home Depot, and Starbucks, and on the other side there are brand-new and still-under-construction townhouses. Toward the east are small farms with cornfields, horses, and other animals. The spaces between these commercial and residential sites (the new townhouses, the old small-scale farms, the gleaming mall) are muddy, with patches of wild grass and heaps of concrete rubble. Across the street from the Dominion Triangle Area's massive Costco sits Robert Pickton's pig farm.
The pig farm has an address--953 Dominion Avenue--and it is, according to the Vancouver Sun's Kim Bolan, Canada's "Ground Zero."
"The excavation and search for human remains at the [farm] resembles the massive undertaking at Ground Zero after the World Trade Center disaster," Bolan writes.
The site is nothing like what an urban person imagines a farm should look like. There are no picket fences, chicken coops, water wells, or weather cocks. Indeed, when I see the farm it has much in common with the WTC excavation--there are earthmovers, dump trucks, payloaders, and conveyor belts. The sinister pig barn was removed months ago, as well as the farmhouse and its lone brick chimney; the animals, the mountains of hay, the junk of old farm machinery are all gone. Were it not for the yellow police tape that runs along the fence ("Stop. Crime Scene. All Vehicles/Persons Subject to Search."), the death farm might look like a construction site for a new mega-store coming to the Dominion Triangle Area.
The men and women working on this former farm, who are by the conveyor belt, or leaving the site and walking over to the mall to buy lunch at Save-On-Foods or needed tools from the Home Depot, are forensic scientists, odontologists, foot morphologists, chemical biologists, and archaeologists. The one field of forensic science that is playing absolutely no role in this investigation is forensic entomology, the study of insects that devour a corpse. When a fresh corpse is exposed to the elements, insects like blowflies lay eggs in wounds and other orifices within minutes. By examining the life cycles of these insects forensic entomologists can determine the exact time of death.
Gail Anderson, a professor at nearby Simon Fraser University's School of Criminology, is one of the top scientists in the field. Ironically enough, Anderson uses dead pigs for her research because their torsos are similar in size to human torsos, and also pig skin is similar to human skin. Sometimes Anderson dresses up her dead pigs in human clothing, so she can study the different ways insects attack a clothed corpse. But this particular crime scene does not need assistance from Gail Anderson--there were no corpses, clothed or unclothed, in which flies and other insects could lay their eggs. The scientists at work on the death farm are looking for the smallest of traces; shifting through the dirt for bone fragments, for anything that is large and fresh enough to yield its DNA.
100 years of Pig Farming
In 1905, 52 years after the first Europeans settled in the area that is now called Port Coquitlam, William Pickton, the great-grandfather of the accused serial killer, bought land near a mental hospital. William Pickton raised hogs. His children grew up and raised hogs, and his children's children grew up and raised hogs, all on the very same farm. Then in the late '50s the Picktons were forced to sell their farm and move. They had to make way for Lougheed Highway.
In 1963, Leonard Pickton and his wife, Helen Louise, bought 40 acres of swamp for $18,000, towed their blue-and-white farmhouse to the site, and began raising children and pigs. They had two sons, Robert and David, and a daughter, Linda, who was not brought up on the farm but in the city, where she attended boarding school. Linda eventually married a businessman, and currently lives in the relatively posh neighborhood of South Granville, near downtown Vancouver.
Linda's brothers, Robert and David, remained on the farm, with its @#%$, it smells, its blood and butchery. The boys' father died in 1978 and their mother followed him to the grave in 1979. The brothers, then in their late 20s, inherited the farm with their sister.
In 1994, the Picktons struck it rich. Their farmland, purchased for $18,000 in 1963, was worth $300,000 in 1993. By 1994 it was valued at $7.2 million. In the fall of 1994, they sold a part of their farm for $1.7 million to Eternal Holdings, a townhouse development company. That same year the city of Port Coquitlam also bought a chunk of their land, for $1.2 million, and turned it into a park. In 1995, Port Coquitlam's school district bought a piece of the pig farm for $2.3 million, and built Blakeburn Elementary School on the site.
It was around this time, when the Picktons became millionaires, that the women began to go missing in alarming numbers from the DES. In 1995, Catherine Gonzales went missing; a few months later, Catherine Knight went missing, then Dorothy Spence, then Diana Melnick, then Tanya Holyk, then Olivia Williams, then Frances Young, then Stephanie Lane, Helen Hallmark, Janet Henry--the count didn't cease until 2001.
According to Lincoln Clarkes--a photographer who took pictures of five of the women whose remains would ultimately be found on the farm (they can be seen in his book, Heroines)--another factor contributed to the sudden rise of missing women: After making his small fortune, David Pickton left the family farm and moved a mile or less down the road to a new property on 2552 Burns Road, where he opened a party hall called Piggy's Palace in 1996.
Robert Pickton now had the resources and the freedom to do as he pleased.
Seven or so years ago, a longshoreman, who asked not to be named and currently lives in an apartment building in Sunrise Hastings, Vancouver, BC, went with an "old friend/coworker from the railway" to a "Halloween bash [at Piggy's Palace]." He described the night to The Stranger in these hellish terms: "I arrived at the party at about 9:00 p.m. It was dark and raining and muddy, and there were lots of motorcycles, old cars, and a big pig roasting on a spit. There were kids in costumes, some dressed as witches. The little kids were running around, and playing in the dark. There wasn't much light. There were lots of women, who looked like hookers.... The party spilled all over the grounds and there were people in the house and in the trailer doing the wild thing. I recall walking by a shack with a 40-watt light bulb hanging over the door and machinery was running inside. Here, I got a death chill. The hairs raised on the back of my neck and my feet froze to the ground. I didn't want to be there anymore, so I left and walked home."
The longshoreman's account is by no means exceptional; many who visited Piggy's Palace had similar impressions: It was wild, people were doing drugs and eating roasted pig. "I was about to eat the pig, but when I saw [Robert Pickton tearing apart] the pig with his hands, I decided not to.... His hands were dirty," said the longshoreman.
"I only went once and I'd never go again," said an unnamed woman in a wonderful short article that was published in the Now (a Port Coquitlam newspaper) a few days after Pickton was served a warrant by the police. "It's a very raunchy crowd, lots of cocaine, lots of really, really bad, badass people.... I did not want to be a part of it."
Piggy's Palace, however, had a double life. Records posted on crimelibrary.com show that Piggy's Palace was a "nonprofit society" dedicated to raising money for "sports organizations and other worthy groups." The long tin shed on 2552 Burns Road was visited by almost everyone in Port Coquitlam. And not just badass people: two mayors, several city council members, local business and civic leaders, ice hockey moms, high school and elementary school students--they all came for "functions, dances, concerts and other recreations" at Piggy's Palace. Port Coquitlam Coun- cillor Darrell Penner, according to the Now, visited Piggy's Palace "a few times," believed that thousands of people had been to the place, and, though he had enjoyed some roasted pork, was certain it did not come from 953 Dominion Avenue, that is, from pigs that had been eating the women murdered on the Pickton farm.
But where else could it have come from?
It's common knowledge that Robert Pickton was, by the mid-'90s, no longer a serious commercial pig farmer. He was a wealthy man. Raising hogs now was more of a hobby. He bought the pigs, fattened them, and sold the meat to friends, or roasted them for the bikers, prostitutes, mayors, and Little Leaguers who partied at Piggy's Palace. The entire city of Port Coquitlam (pop. 53,000), it seemed, was feeding on pigs that had been fed by the suspected serial killer Robert Pickton.
Thousands of Consumer Products
It wasn't just the guests of Piggy's Palace who consumed Pickton's pigs. The unusable remains of the pigs Robert slaughtered and served to his friends and neighbors--pig entrails, brains, bones, nerve tissue, and gore--were taken by truck to a rendering plant near the DES called West Coast Reduction Ltd. Many are certain that the partial remains of the murdered sex workers were also trucked to West Coast Reduction Ltd.
Located on 105 North Com- mercial Drive, West Coast Reduction's facility is impressive. It's a complex of huge cylindrical cookers, storage tanks, office buildings, industrial stacks, and railroad tracks. Underground pipelines connect it with one of the biggest ports on the Pacific Rim; huge orange cranes loom just behind it, and the surrounding air is relatively clean, although once in a while the smell of something awful wafts from an unidentifiable source. The plant turns animal bones, guts, fish, blood, pig entrails, used restaurant grease, and, now many believe, the remains of sex workers into a number of consumer products, like lipstick base, soaps, shampoos, and perfumes. These commodities that improve human appearance are shipped all over the world.
Six blocks up from the rendering plant, the most fashionable part of Vancouver begins. Commercial Drive is lined with restaurants that serve Cuban finger foods, theaters that screen Bollywood films, and stores that sell Italian shoes. Here hipsters visit a wild variety of trendy cafes, tapas bars, spas, heath-food groceries, and cosmetic shops. All of these urban pleasures are walking distance from the rendering plant, the place where Robert Pickton brought the intestines of his slaughtered hogs for more than 20 years, according West Coast Reduction's records. After emptying his truck, he is believed to have picked up sex workers, sometimes within a block of the plant.
"Vancouver residents have recently learned... that fragments of some of these dead women's bodies may have entered the food chain through the rendering plant," writes cultural historian Denise Blake Oleksijczuk in an essay titled "Haunted Spaces." (As well as beauty products, rendering plants also make food for farm animals that humans consume.) Oleksijczuk cites a statement made by the regional director of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Sheila Fagnan, to the Vancouver Sun: "[We] made inquiries after learning that Robert Pickton had met the women he is accused of killing on his trips to the rendering plant.... Any testing that would have been done [at the plant] would be around surveillance for chemical residues. I can't imagine any testing that would distinguish, um, you know--[one] animal matter... from another."
The Heart of the DES
The DES area, where Pickton picked up many of the women he allegedly murdered, is only 10 blocks west of the rendering plant. Pickton liked to hang out in the seediest hotels on East Hastings Street, the most notorious of which are the Roosevelt Hotel, on Main Street and East Hastings, and the Astoria Hotel, on Hawks Street and East Hastings. During another visit to Vancouver, I went to the Roosevelt Hotel, which is in the heart of the DES, near the Carnegie Community Centre.
The building is not wide--barely 20 feet of street front--thus making it hard to find. When I located it, I talked to an East Indian concierge through an exceptionally sturdy double-hung gate that blocks the entrance. He asked if I wanted to visit someone and I said yes, Robert Pickton's girlfriend, who for 18 months lived on the death farm. She is reported to be a junkie, half sensible, and is now infamous for having arranged fatal farm visits for several women who were staying at the Roosevelt Hotel. One of those women was Andrea Joesbury, who lived in room 201, disappeared in June 2001, and whose remains were found on the farm the following year. I wanted to see if Pickton's suspect girlfriend was still staying in the Roosevelt Hotel. But I was told that no one by that name was registered in the hotel.
The Astoria Hotel is six blocks east of the Roosevelt Hotel. On the ground floor of the Astoria sits a sunless bar. The booze, as one might expect, was cheap; but the floor beneath the bar, as one might not have expected, vibrated, at times rather violently, as if a train were passing underneath. The cause of these unsettling tremors was a boxing ring in the hotel's basement. Under a fluorescent light, local toughs beat each other soundly enough to shake the bar stools above. The bartender, a biggish, handsome East Indian man in his mid-30s, who wore a flashy silver chain around his neck, served me a reasonably strong drink. I asked him about Pickton.
"That faker--he used to sit right over there," the bartender said, pointing to an empty table. "He sat there all the time, by himself."
What kind of person was Pickton?
"He was a wannabe, you know, he wanted to be a biker, a Hells Angel, a mean leather guy. But everyone knew he was a weasel, a wannabe." The bartender claims he wasn't surprised when he heard Pickton was a serial killer. "I mean you can't imagine hanging out with a guy like that without something bad happening."
Starting from Astoria Hotel, there is an uninterrupted course that leads to the mouth of Dominion Avenue. After a drink or two, Pickton simply had to head east with a prostitute by his side, swerving to the left as East Hastings turns into Inlet Drive, and then swerving left again, as Inlet Drive becomes Barnet Highway and passes above Simon Fraser University, where Professor Anderson experiments with the corpses of clothed pigs. A sharp left turns Barnet Highway into St. John Street; after a mile, Barnet Highway resumes, momentarily, before dissolving into Lougheed Highway, the very highway whose construction in the '50s and '60s forced Ma and Pa Pickton to move and settle on Dominion Avenue in 1963. Thirty-three years later, a partially clothed DES sex-trade worker and drug addict, Wendy Lynn Eistetter, stumbled out onto Dominion Avenue at 1:45 a.m., covered in blood, fleeing Robert Pickton, who according to the police report had stabbed her "repeatedly with... a brown-handled knife." Though the police charged Pickton with attempted murder on March 23, 1997, it was later dropped because the prosecutors believed they would not get a conviction (who would the jury believe, a millionaire pig farmer or an impecunious junkie?). After the law set Robert Pickton free, up to 30 more women went missing in the DES area.
When I drive out to the farm with Elaine Allan we also stop at the gate to Piggy's Palace. The owner of the house, David Pickton, is not at home; and the tin shed that stretches above a clump of bushes, rubble, and tall grass is unoccupied. That anyone would attend a party at this "palace" defies belief. There is nothing festive about this property; it looks like an industrial wasteland surrounded by farms that produce the strangest of fruits, the most alien of vegetables. There is a rumor that the man charged with the Green River murders, Gary Ridgway, once visited Piggy's Palace, and that would make perfect sense; he would have been happy here amongst the garbage, pickup trucks, rubble, wild grass, trees, and mud--it would have reminded him of the scenes of his many alleged crimes.
Before leaving the Dominion Triangle Area, Allan and I visit a makeshift memorial across the street from the pig farm and next to the Costco. In front of a white tent there is an odd garden of old and new flowers, snapshots and news photos, short poems, and what appear to be personal items, like teddy bears, left by friends and relatives of the murdered women. The police and scientists still occupy the farm, still search for the remains, still exit its gate to visit the Starbucks at the mall. Eventually the investigation will end, the police tape will come down, and the scientists will depart. What will happen to Canada's most notorious pig farm then?
"They must build a park," Allan says without hesitation, "a place where the souls of these women can roam in peace."
I agree with Allan's vision, of course, but I doubt there will ever be a park on this site. Construction presses in along the border of the pig farm. The developers are still building and selling townhouses. One real-estate agent told me that the value of the homes near the farm have not decreased but increased. A house along Dominion Avenue goes for around $300,000 Canadian dollars--roughly $230,000 American. The developers want Pickton's land, and a memorial to sex-trade workers and drug addicts who were murdered in the heart of this thriving suburban area just won't do.
Allan seems angered by my pessimism, but a short drive around the neighborhood--with its fathers cutting lawns, mothers planting flowers, children riding mountain bikes, all within meters of the death farm--makes it clear that the indifference the police demonstrated toward the vanishing women is identical to the indifference this suburban community is demonstrating toward the body parts recovered in its midst.
"They must build a park in their memory," Allan says, looking out the window of the car. "How can people live on the grave of these women? Their ghosts will haunt them."
"The Case of the Missing Vancouver Sex-Trade Workers"
Though they have no corpses or hard evidence to back their claims, prostitutes and social workers in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside suspect a serial killer is responsible for the disappearance of more than 29 local sex-trade workers. Police are less certain. "We have no crime scenes, we have no bodies... It's very frustrating." Vancouver police spokeswoman Constable Anne Drennan told the press. "It's one of the most difficult files we've ever worked because of the lack of clear evidence."
Patricia Gay Perkins was the first to disappear in 1978, but she was not reported missing until 1996. Six more women vanished between 1978 and 1995. The pace picked up in 1995 with three new disappearances; three more in 1996; six in 1998; and eight more in 1997. As of this writing, two prostitutes have been reported missing in 1999. The victims range in age from 19 to 46. Most are described on missing-persons posters as known drug users and prostitutes frequenting Vancouver's ravished Downtown Eastside.
The missing women reportedly sold sex to feed their intravenous cocaine and/or heroin habits. Some had HIV, hepatitis or both. They all left behind their belongings, bank accounts, children in foster care, welfare checks. "You're talking about women on welfare who didn't pick up their last welfare check, who left their belongings in a dingy hotel room." said Constable Drennan. "It's not as though they could just jump on a plane and fly to Toronto."
One missing woman, Angela Jardine, disappeared in her bright pink formal gown, leaving in her dingy hotel room an eerie reminder of her possible untimely death -- an unmailed Easter card addressed to her parents saying: "Know how much I love you, Mother and Dad? A whole bunch!" Stephanie Lane disappeared leaving behind a child with her mother and an uncashed welfare check. Though having into a life of prostitution and drugs, Lane kept in contact with her mom, always calling her for birthdays and holidays. It's been three years since she last heard from her.
The issue of the missing women was brought to national prominence in March, 1999 when Jamie Lee Hamilton, a transsexual and former prostitute now director of a drop-in center for sex-trade workers, called a news conference to bring the disappearances to public attention. At the news conference Hamilton and others were highly critical of the police's lackadaisical attitude towards the missing prostitutes.
At first, friends and relatives of the missing blamed authorities for ignoring the situation. Some families, disenchanted by the police investigation, have hired detective agencies to look into the situation. Six months after repeated protest marches and memorial services for the missing women, local authorities have changed their tune and stepped up their investigative efforts. "You can always say somebody is not doing enough," Drennan said. "We are doing everything literally we can think of that we can do. We're not afraid to acknowledge there could be a serial killer or multiple killers."
Though during a phone conversation on December 8, 1999 Constable Drennan said emphatically that nothing pointed towards a serial killer being involved: "Nothing at all suggest the existence of a serial killer." When asked for an interview for this book, Constable Drennan said the situation in Vancouver was "not suited for a book on serial killers considering there is no evidence or bodies."
The women on the streets and those closest to them disagree with the Constable's opinion. "The women here don't talk about it very much because they're so scared," said Elaine Allan, executive director of the Women's Information Safe House, a drop-in center for sex trade workers. Surprised by the Constable's position, Allan remarked on the fact that no missing women have been reported since the case was featured on America's Most Wanted. Some women believe its a border-hopper, perhaps even infamous Green River Killer, coming from the United States to satisfy his murderous fantasies. Some think it is a snuff film ring, or a lethal merchant marine crew kidnapping the women and murdering them at sea. Others, according to Allan, try not to think. The alternatives are to grim.
Using the mass publicity of prime time television on both sides of the border, investigators featured the case in the crime-busting TV program America's Most Wanted. The show aired July 31, 1999, fanfaring the $100,000 reward. It prompted over 100 calls to the program's Washington headquarters. "Only 20 were thought to be useful; the task force is investigating them," said Drennan. Reaching investigative overdrive, the Ministry of the Attorney General and the Vancouver Police Board Authorized a $100,000 reward for information leading to the resolution of the case. Adding to the effort one of Vancouver's largest private detective agencies, CPA Confidence Group, offered four of their "cadaver" dogs to search selected areas, looking for decomposing human remains. There was even an attempt spearheaded by local business leaders to give cell phones to prostitutes with 911 on the speed dial. The idea was quickly dismissed because of fears that the sex-trade workers would use their new toys to conduct their age-old business.
Police say that Vancouver, being flanked by the sea and mountains, is the perfect spot for stashing bodies out of sight. "The possible grave sites are endless," Drennan said. "If there is a predator out there, he may have a common grave site. But finding that is so difficult." Though a more plausible explanation would be a person, like Chicago killer John Wayne Gacy, stashing the bodies in a basement, or someone dumping them in the open sea. "I think it's a combination." said Elaine Allen. "There's so many women missing it's almost ridiculous to think its one person doing it"
John Lowman, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University, believes a combination of several factors could explain the mystery. Since 1985, at least 60 prostitutes in British Columbia have been killed by johns, drug dealers and pimps. "It suggests that these missing women may well have met the same fate," Lowman said. It is not unusual for women who sell sex in the street and are addicted to drugs to disappear. They check in for rehab. They leave the streets. They move to another city. They overdose. They commit suicide. They are committed to hospitals. In the past, police say, women reported missing usually reappear within a year or two, dead or alive. "All of sudden that wasn't happening anymore," Drennan said. "They just stayed missing. That's what became most frightening." And though all circumstantial evidence indicates foul play, investigators cannot confirm that any of the disappearances are even related.
Police have sent missing-persons reports to psychiatric hospitals, morgues and welfare offices across Canada and the United States. Of the original 31 women reported missing, only two of them were located, both dead. One, Karen Anne Smith, died February 13, 1999 from heart problems related to Hepatitis C in an Edmonton hospital. She was last seen on the streets of Vancouver in 1994. The other, Linda Jean Coombes, died of a heroin overdose in an east Vancouver bowling alley February 15, 1994.
To keep track of the prostitutes two law enforcement agencies have asked them to record personal data on registries that would give police clues if they were to disappear. The registries -- which have been signed by 60 prostitutes -- include questions about previous bad dates, stalkers, or anything or anyone they were concerned about? It also records who would most likely know if they were missing. The prostitutes are also taking self-defense lessons and have been given special codes and asked to call in occasionally to let authorities know they are still alive. "A lot of them are being more cautious now, working by day or with somebody else," said Deb Mearns, who coordinates safety programs for the prostitutes.
Using a new vice squad computer program, the Deter and Identify Sextrade Consumers (DISC) database, investigators hope to identify more suspects. The program allows officers to index every piece of information they gather about johns, pimps and prostitutes into a searchable database. The information includes regulars in the red-light districts, their nicknames, physical and vehicular descriptions, and even states if they have a specific perversions or tattoo.
Deputy Police Chief Gary Greer, former district commander for the Downtown Eastside, said he believes the street women make the perfect target for a serial killer. They readily get into cars with strangers, not many people notice their disappearance, and fewer still would report them missing. "With a prostitute who goes by a street name, who's picked up by a john, and then another john, whose intention is to be unseen, to be anonymous - for a predator, that's perfect," Greer said.
Constable Dave Dickson, a 20-year Downtown Eastside veteran who was the first policeman to notice the disappearances, believes prostitutes still working the streets are upset by the mystery, but not enough to change their ways. "If they're heavily addicted and need money, they're probably going to jump in the car with a guy no matter what anyone tells them... They come from such horrible backgrounds, they've been sexually abused their whole lives. They're not afraid of anything."
The Downtown Eastside Youth Activity Society (DEYAS) has compiled a list of bad johns from information obtained from task force, social workers and sex-trade workers, which they distribute every week to prostitutes and police . The list -- called the Creep List -- already has 50 potential suspects. "There are a lot of bad dates out there," Dickson said. "Where do you start when you've got a thousand guys capable of doing something like this? Some of them don't come down here for sex. They come down to beat on the girls."
Allen says the streets around the Downtown Eastside are dark and isolated, making the women "vulnerable to men who want to get off being violent. They might not be serial killers, but they are still very dangerous customers." At the WISH Drop-In Center, Allen says all the women she sees, "have been beaten up by creeps and face it every night when they go out."
Like the victims in the serial killer cases in Spokane and Chicago, the women disappearing in Vancouver come from the most vulnerable and damaged segment of society. "More than 90 percent of them were abused as kids. A smaller percentage started doing drugs, got into the life and couldn't get out." Allen believes all her clients are suffering from some sort of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a disorder more commonly associated with battle-shocked veterans and torture survivors.
"Incest abuse victims, if they were in treatment with a psychiatrist, would be getting anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medication, sleeping pills, but these women who are not in treatment. They self-medicate. That's what the heroin is all about. that's why we're here. That's why all these women are here."
Vancouver police have been talking to officers in Spokane and Portland, comparing notes about their recent cases of cluster killings. But with no crime scenes, corpses or any other tangible evidence, Vancouver authorities have little notes to compare. Local officers have also spoken to King County detective Tom Jenson who is the only investigator left working on the Green River Killer case. Being just 117 miles north of Seattle, there is the possibility that a serial killer could be simultaneously working on both sides of the border.
Authorities have also sought advice from Detective Lt. William Siegrist, of Poughkeepsie, New York who investigated the case of Kendall Francois. In 1998 Francois was arrested for serial killing eight prostitutes over a two-year period. Francois stashed the bodies of his victims in his family's home. In both the Vancouver and Poughkeepsie cases, prostitutes with close ties to the community who were in contact with their families on a regular basis vanished without a trace. In the Poughkeepsie cases Siegrist reported that Francois had sex with more than 50 prostitutes and was well-known on the street. Francois also had a history of committing acts of violence against the women.
Vancouver's Downtown Eastside -- which is steps away from the city's trendy Hastings Street -- is a neighborhood of junkies, pawn shops, saloons and run-down rooming houses. It's known worldwide for its high HIV rate. It is estimated that more than a quarter of the local junkies and 80 percent of Eastside prostitutes have tested positive for HIV. The local needle-exchange center at the DEYAS hand out about 2.4 million needles a year, more than any other center in North America.
Due partly to Vancouver's mild winters, the area is a magnet for runaways, drifters, impoverished Indians and mentally ill people, many of whom end up living in the streets doing drugs and turning tricks. Whereas in 1998 only 18 people were murdered in Vancouver, 193 died from overdoses of heroin, cocaine or illicitly bought methadone. "We don't have a lot of success stories," said Allan, whose drop-in center is used by nearly every prostitute in the Downtown Eastside, especially the ones that are ravished by drugs.
Allan knew one of the women, Jacquilene McDonell, one of the last to go missing. "It was tragic," she recalls when she found out Jackie disappeared. "She was young, was articulate, she was nice, she was 21-years-old, had a son, was kind of tripping on her drugs, she was too good for this place." Like the others, Jackie's existence on earth was surrounded by tragedy. "Their forearms are solidly scared with cigarette burns and deep cut marks," she says of the women she mothers at her center. "They're signs of being extremely abused from a young age. They have to self-mutilate because the pain in their head is so bad, those are the one's that are going missing."
"I really hope it is a serial killer," said the Rev. Ruth Wright of Vancouver's First United Church, a community cornerstone for 114 years which houses the WISH drop-in center for sex-trade workers. The alternative, according to the reverend, "would mean there are 31 separate killers out there and that much evil would be too much." Wright, a veteran of the ravaged Downtown Eastside, has survived the neighborhood's ballooning AIDS epidemic and the effects of a 1993 lethal batch of heroin that killed 300 junkies. However, this new scourge is what she finds most horrifying.
Allan believes the 29 missing prostitutes could have been killed at sea. Prostitutes are often lured onto ships at the Vancouver harbor with promises of free heroin and eager johns, but end up as sex-slaves in a heroin daze until they are thrown overboard. Authorities see this as a possibility. "Whether the boats could be involved is one of the possibilities we're looking into," said police spokeswoman Anne Drennan. Allan knows, from conversations with prostitutes at the Safe House, that the ships play a pivotal role in their lives.
"Many of the women I've talked to have been on the boats," she said. "Many of these sex-trade workers are heavily into heroin addiction, desperate for their next fix. Also remember, something like 95 percent of all the heroin coming into Canada hits the shore first right here in Vancouver." Sailors make a large percentage of the prostitute's clientele. Consequently, it's not uncommon for them to go on a boat. Once onboard the women are kept captive as the ship's sex-toy. Some escape, others, who knows.
Allen says that usually the younger women whose drug habits raging are out of control are the one's that end up in the ships. "The lure of the drugs," she says, "the lure of being able to do more dates" gets the women to work the port. Many of those who go on the boats try to have someone "keep their six" -- a street expression meaning watching their back. In a story related to Allan at the drop-in center, one woman was locked in a cabin in a Filipino freighter with a big block of heroin and was only let out after her friend "keeping her six" -- a Russian sailor -- threatened to go to the police with pictures of her getting on board.
"It would be very easy to hide someone on a boat," said Allan. "When you get to open sea and you're on nightwatch it would be very easy to toss someone overboard." Women working the streets near the docks told the Calgary Sun they believe the sea slaughter is a feasible explanation for the disappearances. Dumped from freighters and international commercial ships far out in the Pacific Ocean, the bodies would forever vanish. Though, if several men were involved, one would eventually talk. Plausibly, it could be a foreign crew coming into town periodically.
On Portside Park, overlooking the harbor, a memorial stone dedicated to all the Downtown Eastside murder victims has been unofficially made into an altar in honor of the missing women. There Wayne Leng remembers with sadness his missing friend Sarah DeVries, a 29-year-old heroin-addicted prostitute who disappeared in 1998. Leng, a 50 year-old automotive technician , was the last person to see her alive. Consumed with finding her, Leng has done everything from plastering posters all over Vancouver's red-light district to making a web site dedicated to the missing prostitutes.
Warm and friendly, the disappearance of Black Sarah, as she was known by everyone in Vancouver's red light district, was a particularly hard blow for the Downtown Eastside. Unlike other victims, Sarah came from an upper middle class family who have put the time and energy to bring to attention the enfolding tragedy. DeVries' sister Maggie, who has been openly critical about the authorities' attitude, has put a grieving face to the endless cavalcade of unsolved cases. Together with Wayne Leng they have turned Black Sarah into the symbol for the missing .
DeVries, like the 28 other women, was a street junkie and prostitute. Like the others, she was shooting up to $1,000 worth of drugs a day in between tricks. She had HIV and hepatitis. Like the others she worked an area known as the Lower Track where $10 can buy oral sex. Some might even go cheaper, for a pack of cigarettes and a rock of cocaine.
But unlike the others, she came from an affluent family that got involved after she disappeared. DeVries had a restless mind that she revealed in a journal full of poems, thoughts and drawings. In a strange twist of fate, she appeared in a TV documentary where she appears talking to the camera and shooting-up. "When you need your next fix, you're sick, puking, it's like having the flu, a cold, arthritis, all at the same time, only multiplied a hundred times," she said to the camera. Sarah said there are only three ways off the streets. "You go to jail, you end up dead, or you do a life sentence here."
Here is one of her poems reflecting her tragic struggles with drugs and life on the streets.
Woman's body found beaten beyond recognition.
You sip your coffee,
Taking a drag of your smoke,
Turning the page,
Taking a bite of your toast.
Just another day, just another death,
Just one more thing for you to forget,
You and your soft sheltered life,
Just go on and on,
For nobody special from your world is gone.
Just another Hastings Street whore
Sentenced to death.
No judge, no jury, no trial, no mercy.
The judge's gavel already fallen,
Sentence already passed.
Sadly, Sarah poems will remain as the voice of 29 victims that lived and died on the margins of society, for no fault of their own. She is but another lost life cut short by someone preying on the weak and vulnerable. Someone who sees no value in life: another ruthless predator on the loose...
On Willy's Pig Farm, Sifting for Clues
Canadian Police Think They've Found the Pieces of a Grisly Puzzle, and 15 Missing Women
By DeNeen Brown
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, September 5, 2004; Page D01
PORT COQUITLAM, B.C. -- DNA was all that remained of Dawn, police told him. With that announcement, his baby sister, missing for four years, was reduced to three letters.
Nobody told him what parts of her body were found on the notorious pig farm in Canada. Was it her leg, arm, foot, head? Ernie Crey remembers that police came to his door one evening and announced that his sister had been added to the long list of women who allegedly disappeared at Robert William "Willy" Pickton's pig farm. The farm is where police say remains of women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside section were found.
Now, Crey is driving the highway east, driving to that pig farm, hoping himself to find answers. He passes the Downtown Eastside, a version of hell populated by prostitutes, drug addicts and pimps. He passes a rendering plant. His big hands grip the steering wheel. His dark eyes focus on the road. He shows no emotion. He says that when he weeps, he weeps alone. He turns off the air conditioning and rolls down the windows. The traffic out of Vancouver is creeping. Crey is taking the long route to the death site.
Sandra Gagnon, whose sister has been missing for seven years, rides in the back seat. She makes small talk about the weather. It hides her angst. Neither Crey nor Gagnon has recently been to the pig farm, once the site of a massive police investigation. Forensic experts -- including 102 anthropologists -- spent two years sifting through 370,000 cubic yards of mud and pig manure, looking for pieces of missing women.
Crey slows the car and turns off the highway. The farm, 20 miles east of Vancouver, is behind a Save-On-Foods grocery, a Costco and a Denny's restaurant. The farm, or what was once a farm, is quiet. No more yellow tape. No more news cameras. The makeshift memorials have been cleared away. What is left is just dirt. Even the buildings were destroyed as police searched.
Crey parks, and he and Gagnon get out and walk along the chain-link fence that surrounds the site. They look out over the landscape. A red truck pulls up.
"That looks like Dave Pickton, the brother," Crey says.
A short man in dirty jeans with dirty blond hair and burnt-red skin climbs down from the truck. A German shepherd follows him. Crey and Gagnon brace to be told to leave, but the unexpected happens. Dave Pickton, younger brother of the accused serial killer, walks over.
"You must be Ernie," he says to Crey. "I seen you on television."
Then Dave Pickton reaches out to shake the hands of the siblings whose sisters may have been slaughtered.
The Defendant on Display
If Willy Pickton is convicted, he will become one of the most prolific serial killers in Canadian history. He is charged with killing 15 women, and prosecutors have indicated they intend to charge him with seven more as police investigate the cases of 63 women who have disappeared from Downtown Eastside during the 20 years before his arrest.
Canada's most notorious serial killer is Clifford Olson, who killed 11 children in British Columbia in the 1980s. The United States' worst serial killer operated south of Vancouver, in Seattle -- the "Green River Killer," Gary Ridgway, killed 48. By comparison, Jeffrey Dahmer killed 17 men from 1978 to 1991, and Ted Bundy is believed to have killed 28 women in the late '70s.
Crey and Gagnon got their first chance to look at Pickton a year ago during his preliminary hearing at a courthouse six miles from the farm. As relatives crowded into the small courtroom, Pickton sat in a glass cage. Up close, he looked meek. He was wearing a maroon sweater and black pants. His graying hair fell in strings over his blue collar. He cocked his head slightly as he listened to the case against him. Sometimes he smiled faintly to himself as he wrote with his long, skinny fingers on white paper in a green notebook behind bulletproof glass. Sometimes he slept. When he was awake, he stared blankly, never acknowledging the victims' relatives in the courtroom. His eyes seemed to be the color of water.
The relatives came because they wanted to find answers, about what happened to their daughters, sisters, mothers, to find out what kind of man would do "this" to so many women. Many were shocked when they saw the suspect: Up close, Pickton's size was incomprehensible. He was just 155 pounds, a tiny man accused of being a monster.
"If you were to see him, you wouldn't get the hint of pure evil," says Gagnon.
Pickton, 54, ran an unlicensed slaughterhouse. Human remains may have been mixed with pigs' there, officials say. Police have said they recovered DNA, but will give no details, and news reports have cited unnamed police sources as saying personal items -- teeth, purses, identification, bone fragments -- from women were found.
The Pickton farm in Port Coquitlam, B.C., in 2002. In a massive police investigation, forensic experts -- including 102 anthropologists -- spent two years sifting through 370,000 cubic yards of mud and pig manure, looking for pieces of missing women.
Pickton has pleaded not guilty. His trial is expected to begin next spring. Because of a publication ban in Canada on evidence presented in the preliminary hearing, not all that is known or said can be written about. As a newspaper with international distribution, The Washington Post observes the ban. Still, eerie details have been revealed.
Vanished From the Streets
Vancouver's Downtown Eastside is Canada's poorest postal code. These blocks, littered with bloodstains, crack vials and dirty condoms, are often called the "Low Track," or skid row. They hold Canada's highest concentration of prostitution, drug addiction, homelessness and mental illness. In the shadow of mountains and under broad daylight, addicts poke needles into their arms searching for good veins. Dealers oversee them, as they scratch sidewalks looking for crumbs of drugs. Prostitutes sell their bodies for $10, $15, $20, enough to feed drug habits, then return to these streets for more.
On these corners, sexual predators proliferate. And this is where the story of Vancouver's missing women begins. Each day, prostitutes are beaten, raped, robbed, tied up, held down, doused and burned. Some men slam car doors on their legs. One man tried to cram a ball down a prostitute's throat. Another took women to hotels and forced them to drink until they poisoned themselves.
Prostitutes from these corners, it is said, liked to hang out at Pickton's pig farm or at a nearby place called Piggy's Palace, a barn turned into a bar where Pickton's brother, Dave, threw parties and people ate roasted pig.
The Pickton brothers and a sister, Linda, had grown up in the Vancouver suburb of Port Coquitlam. According to local records, their parents, Leonard and Helen, bought the pig farm in 1963 for $18,000 Canadian. In 1979, after their mother died, the children inherited the farm. Fifteen years later, it was assessed at more than $7 million. Parts were sold to a developer, the city and the school district.
Instantly, the children became wealthy. Dave managed the farm, and Robert worked his slaughterhouse. (By this time, Linda, who had gone off to school before the family moved to the farm, was married and lived elsewhere.)
Neighbors described Willy as slow but not retarded, a man who never drank alcohol or smoked cigarettes. Some say he was nice. They say the Picktons' parties were for charity and his employees.
Relatives say that many women never returned from them, and that they told police but were ignored.
"That farm was the dredges of the earth," says Jamie Lee Hamilton, who works the streets in Downtown Eastside. "It was a hellhole. You can say to someone, 'Don't go,' but if they are an addict, the addiction overcomes the senses. . . . Police had known about the farm for quite some time, but nothing changed."
Police say that, because of the nature of the prostitution life, it was hard to know whether a woman was really missing or just gone.
The first woman on their list disappeared in 1983. It would take 19 years and 62 more women before police admitted that one person might have killed so many.
"Up until three years ago, the Vancouver city police were adamant the disappearance of women could not be attributed to a serial killer," says Crey. "They said the women were too transient, that if you looked hard enough, you would find them in another city."
In 1997, nearly five years before Pickton's arrest, a woman told police she had escaped from the pig farm. She said she had gone there for drugs and booze, but he tried to handcuff her so she stabbed him with a kitchen knife. He stabbed her back, she told police, but she got away.
Pickton was charged with confining and stabbing Wendy Lynn Eistetter, but the charges were later dropped. Eistetter was described in media reports as a drug-addicted prostitute and not considered a credible witness.
The number of missing women spiked from 1998 to 2002, according to a report by the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres, an activist group concerned about how the stigma of prostitution allowed so many women to go missing without investigation. "More than 30 women disappeared since police first investigated Pickton as a suspect in 1997," according to the report.
Constable Dave Dickson of the Vancouver Police Department says people on the streets may have suspected the farm but there were no reports to police. "No one was coming forward," he said in a recent interview. "Some people were going out there with no problem."
In 1999, Inspector Kim Rossmo said he believed a serial killer was at work, but the police department dismissed the theory. "We're in no way saying there is a serial murderer out there," Inspector Gary Greer told reporters at the time.
It wasn't until the women's relatives and Eastside organizations started holding rallies and demanding that police investigate that the department created a task force. "They eventually decided to post a reward," Crey says.
On Feb. 5, 2002, after a tip that Pickton had unregistered guns on his farm, police raided it.
What they saw cannot be reported because of the publication ban, but they saw enough to get another warrant, this time to search for missing women.
Pickton was arrested Feb. 22.
For nearly two years afterward, investigators searched the pig farm, stripping trailers and buildings, sifting through tons of dirt, searching for body parts. Forensic experts were flown in to determine whether what was found was from a human or from a pig. When the search ended, police say, they had collected thousands of samples of human DNA.
Cpl. Cate Galliford, Royal Canadian Mounted Police spokesperson for the Joint Missing Women Task Force, says police are still processing thousands of "exhibits" from the farm. "Our investigation is continuing and we are continuing to look at other potential suspects."
Pickton's attorney, Peter C. Ritchie, who has declined requests for interviews, released a statement saying no "remains" have been found at the farm. In what may be a glimpse of Pickton's defense, Ritchie said: "While DNA evidence can be enormously complex, there are some simple and basic concepts that may not be well known. For example, an object that you touch may have your DNA on it. Your DNA may appear in places where you have never been depending on the transportability of an item that you have touched. The bus that you coughed in may contain your DNA. A speck of DNA may be on the candy wrapper that you left on the bus. The pen that you hold has a trace of your DNA and can hardly be described as containing your 'remains.' "
Based on DNA, the first charges laid against Pickton were for the slayings of Mona Wilson and Sereena Abotsway.
As police uncovered more and more evidence, Pickton was charged in the slayings of 13 other women: Diane Rock, Jacqueline McDonell, Heather Bottomley, Andrea Joesbury, Brenda Wolfe, Jennifer Furminger, Helen Hallmark, Patricia Johnson, Georgina Papin, Heather Chinnock, Tanya Holyk, Sherry Irving and Inga Hall. Prosecutors have said they intend to add charges against Pickton for seven others: Marnie Frey, Tiffany Drew, Sarah de Vries, Cynthia Felix, Angela Jardine, Diana Melnick and an unidentified woman called Jane Doe.
Last March, the provincial health officer warned the public that human remains may have been blended with meat at the pig farm, then distributed. People were horrified, particularly in Downtown Eastside.
Officials say the meat was not sold commercially -- Pickton had no license -- but was given away. "Some was served at barbecues and some was given to close associates of Robert Pickton," the officer of health, Perry Kendall, said in an interview.
"We have reason to believe there is a strong possibility that some of the products from the Pickton farm -- how much we simply do not know -- may still be sitting in some people's freezers in the lower mainland."
The alert failed to produce anyone who received meat from the farm, Kendall said. "This case is unique in my experience."
Brothers and Sisters
At the gate surrounding the now-vacant farm, Gagnon is reluctant to shake the hand of the brother. Her stomach is turning. She is about to faint. She has waited so many years for answers about her missing sister, answers that still seem years away. Never did she imagine she would be this close to even the brother of a man accused of killing so many women. And Dave Pickton begins apologizing.
He talks fast for the next 45 minutes. Says he is leveling the ground on the site and putting up a wire fence. Says, "Too many people got hurt here already." Says he knows nothing about the slayings that allegedly happened on the farm. Says he was always away working -- he had construction and demolition business up north. He says he left Robert behind to look after himself. "My brother had it too easy," Dave Pickton says. "Just take care of the property. That's all he had to do. It's horrible. I'm really, really sorry."
He says he hates pigs. Hates the smell of them. Hates the smell of pig blood. Hated the smell of his brother, who liked to slaughter them. "When you kill pigs, you got the funny smell on you. That funny smell. When you butcher animals. Nobody kept track of him. Filipinos, they come and order the meat. I drive down there and everybody is waiting for a pig."
He says Robert was always simple. "I'm baffled. I beat my head against the wall. He couldn't operate equipment. He didn't have the intelligence, the coordination."
He says he doesn't believe his brother did it. "My brother, I don't think he could pull it off because he wasn't smart enough. He had a lot of weird people hanging around him. . . . Somebody had some intelligence. You see weird people pull down there all the time, 'Willy, can I use the phone in the trailer?' "
He says, "Lots of people come down and help him do slaughtering. Do you know how many pigs my brother killed a year? Two thousand. Lots of people down there slaughtering. I walk in and people say, 'Willy told me I could slaughter this pig.' He wasn't the only one."
At some point, Gagnon stops Dave Pickton and asks again whether he had ever seen her sister Janet. Gagnon said the last person who saw Janet alive recalled that she said she was going to "Uncle Willy's to party." Did she go to Piggy's Palace? Gagnon asks. Is Piggy's Palace as bad as she heard?
Dave Pickton says he had not seen her sister and offers to take the grieving siblings to Piggy's Palace to show them it was a decent bar.
There, he unlocks the metal door to the barn made of corrugated steel that was once a notorious nightclub, where many of the missing women were said to have partied. Dave Pickton points at the disco lights and the bar, all salvaged from demolition sites. He says it was a good, clean place to party and nothing bad ever happened there.
Dave Pickton says again that he doesn't think his brother had the intelligence to pull off mass murder. "My brother don't associate with people. When I was going for coffee, he sit in the truck and wait." Then he pauses and says: "I don't know him any more. I thought I knew him like a book. It's devastating."
He says he doesn't watch television or listen to the radio because he doesn't want to hear news of his brother's case. "It's a nightmare for me knowing I was not watching what was going on in my back yard," he says.
Dave Pickton once more says he is sorry to Ernie Crey and Sandra Gagnon. Gagnon recoils again at the outstretched hand. All she wants to know is what happened to her sister. She asks again whether Dave may have seen her sister. "I want to find my sister," she says. "I only know somebody said she was going to Uncle Willy's to get stoned. Then she was gone."
But Dave Pickton says he doesn't know her.
He apologizes: "You go to sleep at night and you think, 'Why, why? How? Not even why, but how? How could he do it with so many people in his yard?' "
The two grieving siblings leave the barn, walk through the mud and climb back into the car to head downtown. Gagnon wants to wash her hands as soon as possible, so they pull over to find a washroom.
"Do you get nightmares, Ernie?" Gagnon asks.
"Yeah," Crey answers. "There are many nights when I don't sleep. Our people would say their spirits are not at rest."
Likely serial killer linked to eight more missing women
AFP , VANCOUVER, CANADA
Friday, Oct 08, 2004,
Police on Wednesday linked eight more missing women to an area pig farmer accused of being Canada's worst serial killer.
Authorities say Robert Pickton is likely to go on trial next year on charges of first degree murder in the deaths of 15 of 69 prostitutes and drug addicts who have mysteriously vanished from this west coast city over the past quarter century. Police have linked Pickton to nearly half the missing women, and are appealing for help from the public in tracing the rest of the women on the list.
"We cannot solve these cases alone," said police spokeswoman Sergeant Sheila Sullivan, who said a new poster with all the women's names and photos will be distributed. Prosecutors have said they will also lay charges against Pickton in the deaths of seven other of the woman, and police said they've identified the DNA of nine other women on Pickton's pig farm, for a total of 31.
Three of the women discovered on the farm remain unidentified, and on Wednesday police repeated earlier pleas for families to report missing persons.
Pickton, a middle-aged, long-haired farmer was arrested in 2002 after police raided his property in Port Coquitlam, 35km east of Vancouver. He is to appear in court in December for a trial date to be set. All women on the list vanished over a 25-year period from Vancouver's downtown Eastside.
Here is the list of women who have disappeared from the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver since the early 1980s:
Lillian Jean O'Dare - September 1978.
Wendy Louise Allen - March 1979.
Rebecca Guno - June 1983
Sherry Rail - January 1984.
Yvonne Marlene Abigosis - January 1984.
Linda Louise Grant - October 1984.
Sheryl Donahue - May 1985
Leigh Miner - December 1993.
Laura Mah - August 1985.
Elaine Allenbach - March 1986.
Teressa Williams - July 1988.
Ingrid Soet - August 1989.
Nancy Clark - August 1991.
Mary Lands - 1991.
Kathleen Wattley - June 1992.
Elsie Sebastien - October 1992.
Gloria Fedyshyn - January 1993.
Sherry Baker - 1993
Teresa Louis Triff - April 1993.
Angela Arseneault - August 1994.
Catherine Gonzalez - March 1995.
Catherine Knight - April 1995.
Dorothy Spence - August 1995.
Diana Melnick - December 1995.
Tanya Holyk -October 1996. (Robert Pickton charged with first-degree murder)
Olivia Williams - December 1996.
Frances Young - April 1996.
Stephanie Lane - January 1997.
Sharon Ward - February 1997.
Cara Ellis - 1997.
Police have found evidence of 30 victims at notorious pig farm:
Maria Laura Laliberte - January 1997.
"Kellie" (Richard) Little - April 1997.
Helen Hallmark - June 1997. (Robert Pickton charged with first-degree murder)
Janet Henry - June 1997.
Marnie Frey - August 1997.
Jacqueline Murdock - August 1997.
Cindy Beck - September 1997.
Andrea Borhaven - sometime in 1997.
Sherry Irving - April 1997. (Robert Pickton charged with first-degree murder)
Cindy Feliks - November 1997.
Kerry Koski - January 1998.
Inga Hall - February 1998. (Robert Pickton charged with first-degree murder)
Sarah deVries - April 1998.
Elaine Dumba - Apri 1998.
Sheila Egan - July 1998.
Julie Young - October 1998.
Angela Jardine - November 1998.
Marcella Creison - December 1998.
Michelle Gurney - December 1998.
Ruby Anne Hardy - 1998.
Tania Petersen - 1998.
Tammy Fairbairn - 1998.
Jacqueline McDonell - January 1999. (Robert Pickton charged with first-degree murder)
Georgina Papin - March 1999. (Robert Pickton charged with first-degree murder)
Brenda Wolfe - February 1999. (Robert Pickton charged with first-degree murder)
Wendy Crawford - November 1999.
Jennifer Furminger - December 1999. (Robert Pickton charged with first-degree murder)
Tiffany Louise Drew - December 1999.
Dawn Crey - November 2000.
Debra Jones - December 2000.
Sharon Abraham - 2000.
Patricia Johnson - March 2001. (Robert Pickton charged with first-degree murder)
Yvonne Marie Boen - March 2001.
Heather Bottomley - April 2001. (Robert Pickton charged with first-degree murder)
Heather Chinnock - April 2001. (Robert Pickton charged with first-degree murder)
Angela Josebury - June 2001. (Robert Pickton charged with first-degree murder)
Sereena Abotsway - August 2001. (Robert Pickton charged with first-degree murder)
Diane Rock - October 2001. (Robert Pickton charged with first-degree murder)
Mona Wilson - November 2001. (Robert Pickton charged with first-degree murder).
Robert Pickton: The Vancouver Missing Women
by Michael Newton
Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is the poorest neighborhood in British Columbia--in all of Canada, for that matter. No other slum or ghetto in the country matches the squalor of this 10-block urban wasteland, with its rundown hotels and pawn shops, stained and fractured sidewalks, gutters and alleyways littered with garbage, used condoms and discarded hypodermic needles. Downtown Eastside has another name as well, used commonly by residents and the police who clean up after them. They call the district “Low Track,” and it fits.
Low Track is Vancouver’s Skid Row. Its cold heart is the intersection of Main and Hastings, nicknamed “Pain and Wastings” by the denizens who know it best. Low Track is the heart of British Columbia’s rock-bottom drug scene, estimates of its junkie population ranging from 5,000 to 10,000 at any given moment. The drugs of choice are heroin and crack cocaine, supplied by motorcycle gangs or Asian cartels that stake out choice blocks for themselves and defend their turf with brute force. Most of Low Track’s female addicts support their habits via prostitution, trolling the streets night and day, haunted creatures rendered skeletal by what one Seattle Times reporter has dubbed “the Jenny Crack diet.” Safe sex is an illusion in this neighborhood, which boasts the highest HIV infection rate in North America.
Low Track’s recent history is a tale of unrelenting failure. Vancouver lured affluent tourists by the hundreds of thousands to Expo ’86, but the prospect of easy money brought a corresponding influx of the poor and hopeless, most of them gravitating to Downtown Eastside. Around the same time, competition among drug cartels flooded the district with cheap narcotics, encouraging a new generation of addicts to turn on, tune in and drop out. Surrounding districts passed new laws to purge their streets of prostitutes, driving the women out of Burnaby and North Vancouver, into Downtown Eastside. In 1994, federal cutbacks left welfare recipients short of cash, while mental hospitals disgorged patients onto the streets. By 1997, careless sex and shared needles had taken their toll in Low Track, one-fourth of the neighborhood’s residents testing HIV-positive. So far, government needle-exchange programs have failed to stem the plague, despite provision of some 2.8 million needles in Low Track each year.
Low Track is infamous for its “kiddy stroll,” featuring prostitutes as young as 11. Some of those work the streets, while others are secured by their pimps in special trick pads. New prospects arrive in Low Track every day, runaways and adventure-seekers dubbed “twinkies” by those already trapped in The Life. A 1995 survey of Downtown Eastside’s working girls revealed that 73 percent of them entered the sex trade as children and the same percent were unwed mothers, averaging three children each. Of those, 90 percent had lost children to the state; fewer than half knew where their children were. Nearly three-quarters of the Low Track prostitutes were Aboriginals. More than 80 percent were born and raised outside Vancouver. In 1998 they averaged one death per day from drug overdoses, the highest rate in Canadian history.
But there were other dangers on the street, as well. Three years before Expo ’86 opened its gates, prostitutes began to vanish from Low Track. By the time police noticed the trend, 14 years later, more than two-dozen had already disappeared without a trace.
Streetwalkers are by nature an elusive breed. Many begin as adolescent runaways and never lose the habit of evasion, changing names and addresses so often that investigators have no realistic hope of tracking a specific prostitute for any length of time. When hookers vanish--as opposed to being slain and left in garbage dumpsters or motel rooms, in canals and vacant lots--no one can say with any certainty if they have disappeared by choice or through foul play.
Too often, no one cares.
No pattern was discernible in the early cases. Rebecca Guno, 23, was last seen alive on June 22, 1983, reported missing three days later. Most of Downtown Eastside’s vanished women were not so promptly missed. The next “official” victim, 43-year-old Sherry Rail, would not be reported missing until three years after her January 1984 disappearance. Thirty-three-year-old Elaine Auerbach told friends she was moving to Seattle in March 1986 but she never arrived, reported missing in mid-April. Teressa Ann Williams, a 26-year-old Aboriginal, was last seen alive in July 1988, reported missing in March 1989. Fourteen months elapsed between the August 1989 disappearance of 40-year-old mental patient Ingrid Soet and the report to police on October 1, 1990. The first black victim, Kathleen Wattley, was 39 years old when she vanished in June 1992, reported missing on the 29th of that month.
The unknown predator(s) took a three-year vacation before claiming 47-year-old Catherine Gonzales in March 1995, her disappearance reported to authorities on February 9, 1996. The year’s second victim, in April, was 32-year-old Catherine Knight, missing seven months before police received the report on November 11. Dorothy Spence, a 36-year-old Aboriginal, vanished four months after Knight, in August 1995, but her disappearance was reported earlier, on October 30. The year’s last victim was 23-year-old Diana Melnick, lost in December, reported missing four days after Christmas.
Again the hunt was stalled, this time until October 1996, when 24-year-old Tanya Holyk disappeared (reported on November 3). Olivia Williams rated less concern at age 22, her December 1996 disappearance ignored until July 4, 1997.
Stephanie Lane, the youngest victim so far at age 20, was hospitalized for an episode of drug psychosis on March 10, 1997. Released the following day, she was last seen alive at the Patricia Hotel on Hastings Street. Janet Henry survived a near-miss with serial killer Clifford Olson in the 1980s, drugged but spared by Olson for reasons unknown, yet she wound up in Low Track a decade later and met another predator. Henry was reported missing on June 28, 1997, two days after her last contact with relatives.
August 1997 was the most lethal month to date, three women lost, although police would not learn of those cases for more than a year. Marnie Frey, age 25, was not reported missing until September 4, 1998. Nineteen days later, on September 23, the first missing-person report was filed on 32-year-old Helen Hallmark. Jacqueline Murdock, 28, was not reported missing until October 3, 1998. Detectives still have no idea exactly when or where the women vanished.
The next official victim, 33-year-old Cindy Beck, dropped out of sight in September 1997, but her disappearance was reported on April 30, 1998, four months before the first of August’s missing women. Andrea Borhaven’s friends recall that she “never had an address” and “just bounced off the walls.” She vanished sometime during 1997, they believe, but no one bothered to inform police until May 18, 1999. Thirty-nine-year-old Kerry Koski was popular, by contrast: she disappeared in January 1998 and was reported missing on the 29th of that month.
Four more women would vanish before Vancouver police took an interest in the case. Jacqueline McDonnell, 23, disappeared in mid-January 1998, officially reported missing on February 22, 1999. Inga Hall, age 46 or 47, was last seen alive in February 1993, her disappearance logged with remarkable celerity on March 3. Twenty-nine-year-old Sarah Jane deVries was last seen alive on April 14, 1998, reported missing by friends the same day. She left behind a diary filled with observations on a stunted life, including this: “I think my hate is going to be my destination, my executioner.” Sheila Egan, a prostitute since age 15, vanished at 20, in July 1998 (reported on August 5).
As that lethal summer waned, detectives in Vancouver were about to have a nightmare thrust upon them. It continues to the present day, and only time will tell if it will ever be resolved.
The official search for Vancouver’s missing women began in September 1998, after an Aboriginal group sent police a list of victims allegedly murdered in Downtown Eastside, with a demand for a thorough investigation. Authorities examined the list and pronounced it flawed--some of the “victims” had died from disease or drug overdoses; others had left Vancouver and were found alive--but Detective Dave Dickson was intrigued by the complaint and launched his own inquiry, drawing up a list of Low Track women who had simply disappeared without a trace. There were enough names on that second list to worry Dickson and inspire his superiors to create an investigative task force.
The four-year search for answers had begun.
Vancouver police began their review with 40 unsolved disappearances of local women, dating back to 1971. The lost came from all walks of life and all parts of Vancouver, but the search for a pattern narrowed the roster to 16 Low Track prostitutes reported missing since 1995. By the time detectives made their first arrest in the case, that list would grow to include 54 women, vanished between 1983 and 2001, with 85 investigators assigned to the case, but in the early stages of the search police were busy trying to decide if they had a serial killer at large in Vancouver.
One who thought so was Inspector Kim Rossmo, creator of a “geographic profiling” technique designed to map unsolved crimes and highlight any pattern or criminal “signature” overlooked by detectives assigned to individual cases. In May 1999 Rossmo reported an unusual concentration of disappearances in Downtown Eastside, but police dismissed the notion in their public statements, insisting that the vanished women might have left Vancouver voluntarily, in search of greener streets. Inspector Gary Greer advised the press, “We’re in no way saying there is a serial murderer out there. We’re in no way saying that all these people missing are dead. We’re not saying any of that.” Rossmo, meanwhile, stood by his theory and resigned from the force after receiving a punitive demotion. His subsequent lawsuit against Vancouver P.D. was dismissed.
Internal dissension was not the only problem faced by police in their search for Low Track’s missing women. Canada’s Violent Crime Linkage System did not track missing persons without some evidence of foul play, and task force investigators were so far empty-handed. In the absence of a corpse or crime scene, even a specific date for most of the disappearances, forensic evidence was nonexistent. Pimps and prostitutes were naturally reluctant to cooperate with the same officers who might throw them in jail. (At one point, detectives identified a man who had serially assaulted five streetwalkers in two months, but none of the victims would file a complaint.) Resources were perpetually limited, despite increasing media attention to the case.
Still, the detectives forged ahead as best they could. In June 1999 they met with relatives of several missing women, seeking information and DNA material for prospective identification of remains. Police and coroners’ databases were reviewed throughout Canada and the United States, as were various drug rehabilitation facilities, witness protection programs, hospitals, mental institutions and AIDS hospices. Burial records at Glenhaven Cemetery were examined, going back to 1978. Grim news came from Edmonton, Alberta, where police had logged 12 unsolved prostitute murders between 1986 and 1993. Closer to home, four hookers had been killed and dumped around Agassiz in 1995 and 1996, but none of them were from the Low Track missing list.
The search went on, each new day reminding officers that they were literally clueless, chasing shadows in the dark.
Dead or Alive?
Four more prostitutes vanished from Downtown Eastside while the task force was compiling data, in the last three months of 1998. Julie Young, age 31, was last seen alive in October, finally reported missing on June 1, 1999. Angela Jardine, a 28-year-old addict with the mental capacity of a 10-year-old child, had been working Low Track’s streets for eight years when she vanished in November 1998, her disappearance reported on December 6. Michelle Gurney, age 30, dropped out of sight in December, reported missing three days before Christmas. Twenty-year-old Marcella Creison got out of jail on December 27, 1998, but never returned to the apartment where her mother and boyfriend were preparing a belated Christmas dinner. Police learned of her disappearance on January 11, 1999.
Not every woman on the missing list was gone forever, though. Between September 1999 and March 2002, five of the lost were found, dead or alive, and thus were deleted from the roster of presumed kidnap victims.
The first to vanish had been Patricia Gay Perkins, 22 years old when she abandoned Low Track and a 1-year-old son in an effort to save her own life. An incredible 18 years elapsed before she was reported missing to police, in 1996. Another three years passed before she saw her name on a published list of Vancouver’s missing hookers, on December 15, 1999, and telephoned from Ontario to tell police she was alive, drug-free and living well.
Another survivor, also discovered in December 1999, was 50-year-old Rose Ann Jensen. She had dropped out of sight in October 1991 and was reported missing a short time later, added to the official missing roster when Vancouver’s task force organized in 1998. Police found her alive in Toronto while scanning a national health-care database. Vancouver Constable Anne Drennan told reporters that Jensen had left Downtown Eastside “for personal reasons. It doesn’t appear she knew she was being looked for.”
Relatives of Linda Jean Coombes twice reported her missing, in August 1994 and again in April 1999. Unknown to her family or police, Linda had died of a heroin overdose on February 15, 1994, her body delivered to Vancouver’s morgue without identification. Her mother viewed a photo of the “Jane Doe” corpse in 1995 but could not recognize her own child, wasted by narcotics, malnutrition and disease. Identification was finally made in September 1999, via comparison of DNA material submitted by the family, and another name was removed from the official victims list.
A similar solution removed Karen Anne Smith from the roster. Reported missing on April 27, 1999, she had in fact died on February 13, 1999, at the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton. The cause of death was listed as heart failure related to hepatitis C. Once again, DNA contributed to the belated identification.
Another Low Track prostitute, 24-year-old Anne Wolsey, was reported missing by her mother on January 1, 1997, though the actual date of her disappearance was anyone’s guess. Five years later, in March 2002, Wolsey’s father called from Montreal to tell police his daughter was alive and well. Estranged from his ex-wife by a bitter divorce, Wolsey’s father--like Anne herself--had been unaware of the police report filed in Vancouver until a suspect’s arrest renewed media interest in the case.
Five out of 54 deleted from the list of vanished women, but their slots never remained empty for long. There were always new victims, it seemed, but where had they gone?
Police are never entirely without suspects when prostitutes are victimized. In fact, a more common problem is too many suspects, with streetwalkers often unwilling to file charges or testify at trial. So it was in Vancouver, as the task force began logging names and descriptions of potential predators.
One whom the detectives considered was 36-year-old Michael Leopold, arrested in 1996 for assaulting a Low Track streetwalker, beating her and trying to force a rubber ball down her throat. A passerby heard the girl’s screams and frightened Leopold away, but he surrendered to police three days later. Granted, he had been in custody since then, held in lieu of bond while he awaited trial, but with disappearances dating back to the mid-1980s, any sadist with a propensity for attacking hookers rated a closer look. Leopold regaled a court-appointed psychiatrist with his fantasies of kidnapping, raping and murdering prostitutes, but he insisted that the 1996 assault had been his only foray into real-life action. Task force investigators ultimately absolved Leopold of any involvement in the disappearances, but he had a rude surprise in store at his trial, in August 2000. Convicted of aggravated assault, Leopold received a 14-year prison sentence, with credit for the four years served before the trial.
Another suspect in the case was 43-year-old Alberta native Barry Thomas Neidermier. Convicted in 1990 of pimping a 14-year-old girl, Neidermier apparently left prison with a grudge against streetwalkers. In 1995 he was jailed again, this time for selling contraband cigarettes from his Vancouver tobacco shop, driven out of business by a heavy fine. In April 2000, Vancouver police charged Neidermier with violent attacks on seven Low Track hookers, the charges against him including assault, kidnapping, sexual assault, robbery, unlawful confinement and administering a noxious substance. None of Neidermier’s alleged victims were drawn from the Vancouver missing list, and Constable Anne Drennan told reporters, “It’s impossible to say at this point whether or not Neidermier may be related to those cases. Certainly he is a person of interest, and he will continue to be a person of interest.”
More frustrating still were the suspects described to police without names or addresses. On August 10, 2001, Vancouver police announced their search for an unidentified rapist who attacked a 38-year-old victim outside her Low Track hotel a week earlier. “During the attack,” police spokesmen said, “the man claimed responsibility for sexually assaulting and killing other women in the Downtown Eastside.” The victim had escaped by leaping from her rapist’s car, and while she offered a description to authorities, the boastful predator remains at large.
And there are countless more, besides. The Downtown Eastside Youth Activities Society maintains a daily “bad date” file, page after page of reports from local prostitutes who have been threatened or injured by nameless “tricks.” Their tales run the gamut from verbal abuse to beatings and stabbings, presented as a warning for those who support themselves and their habits on the streets.
All in vain.
Late in 1998, task force detectives got their best lead yet from 37-year-old Bill Hiscox. Widowed two years earlier, Hiscox had turned to drugs and alcohol after his wife died, rescued from the downhill slide when his foster sister found him a job at P&B Salvage in Surrey, southeast of Vancouver. The proprietors were Robert William “Willie” Pickton and his brother David, of Port Coquitlam. Hiscox’s helpful relative was Robert Pickton’s “off-and-on” girlfriend in 1997, and Hiscox picked up his paychecks at the brothers’ Port Coquitlam pig farm, described by Hiscox as “a creepy-looking place” patrolled by a vicious 600-pound boar. “I never saw a pig like that, who would chase you and bite at you,” he told police. “It was running out with the dogs around the property.”
Hiscox had grown concerned about the Picktons after reading newspaper reports on Vancouver’s missing women. Robert Pickton was “a pretty quiet guy, hard to strike up a conversation with, but I don’t think he had much use for men.” Pickton drove a converted bus with deeply tinted windows, Hiscox told authorities. “It was Willie’s pride and joy,” he said, “and he wouldn’t part with it for anything. Willie used it a lot.” The brothers also ran a supposed charity, the Piggy Palace Good Times Society, registered with the Canadian government in 1996 as a non-profit society intended to “organize, co-ordinate, manage and operate special events, functions, dances, shows and exhibitions on behalf of service organizations, sports organizations and other worthy groups.” According to Hiscox, the “special events” convened at Piggy Palace--a converted building at the hog farm--were drunken raves that featured “entertainment” by an ever-changing cast of Downtown Eastside prostitutes.
Police were already familiar with the Pickton brothers. David Francis Pickton had been convicted of sexual assault in 1992, fined $1,000 and given 30 days’ probation. His victim in that case told police Pickton had attacker her in his trailer, at the pig farm, but she managed to escape when a third party came in and distracted him. Port Coquitlam authorities sought an order to destroy one of David’s dogs in April 1998, under the Livestock Protection Act, but the proceedings were later dismissed without explanation. Pickton had also been sued three times for damages, resulting from traffic accidents in 1988 and 1991, settling all three claims out of court.
Soon after Piggy Palace opened, the Pickton brothers and their sister, Linda Louise Wright, found themselves in court again, sued Port Coquitlam officials for allegedly violating city zoning ordinances. According to the complaint, their property was zoned for agricultural use, but they had “altered a large farm building on the land for the purpose of holding dances, concerts and other recreations” that sometimes drew as many as 1,800 persons. Following a New Year’s Eve party on December 31, 1998, the Picktons were slapped with an injunction banning future parties, the court order noting that police were henceforth “authorized to arrest and remove any person” attending public events at the farm. The “society” finally lost its nonprofit status in January 2000, for failure to provide mandatory financial statements.
Other charges filed against Robert Pickton were more serious. In March 1997 he was charged with the attempted murder of a drug-addicted prostitute, Wendy Lynn Eistetter, whom he stabbed several times in a wild melee at the pig farm. Eistetter told police that Pickton handcuffed and attacked her on March 23, but that she escaped after disarming him and stabbing him with his own knife. A motorist found Eistetter beside the highway at 1:45 a.m. and took her to the nearest emergency room, while Pickton sought treatment for a single stab wound at Eagle Ridge Hospital. He was released on $2,000 bond, but the charge was later dismissed without explanation in January 1998.
The stabbing had crystallized Bill Hiscox’s suspicion about Robert Pickton, whom he called “quite a strange character.” Aside from the assault, Hiscox told police, there were “all the girls that are going missing, and all the purses and Ids that are out there in his trailer and stuff.” Pickton, Hiscox told detectives, “frequents the downtown area all the time, for girls.”
Police recorded Hiscox’s statement and a detective accompanied him to the pig farm, afterward vowing “to push the higher-ups, all the way to the top, to investigate.” Subsequent press reports indicate that the farm was searched three times, apparently without result. The brothers would remain on file, “persons of interest” to the inquiry, but no surveillance would be mounted on the farm.
Back in Vancouver, meanwhile, the list of missing women grew longer, with no end in sight.
As a new millennium dawned in Vancouver, the task force investigation had expanded to include more than three times the number of missing women initially listed in 1998. Some of the new presumed victims had been missing since the mid-1980s, their disappearance recognized only now, while others continued to vanish from Low Track with the search still in progress. Warnings and surveillance went for nothing, it seemed, as more women dropped out of sight.
From the ’80s, police now listed presumed kidnap victims Leigh Miner, last seen in December 1984, and Laura Mah, whose date of disappearance was listed simply as “1985.” Details were equally lacking for vanished Nancy Clark (1991), Elsie Sebastien (1992), and 17-year-old Angela Arsenault (1994). Detectives had a month for Frances Young--April 1996--but no other details were available concerning the 38-year-old woman’s final days.
Police acknowledged the disappearance of three more women in 1997, bringing that lethal year’s total to nine, but evidence remained elusive. One of the three, 52-year-old Maria Laliberte, had made her last known appearance in Low Track on New Year’s Day, but victims Cindy Feliks and Sherry Irving proved less accommodating, their movements so erratic that police could not pinpoint the season of their disappearances, much less specific dates.
And so it went. Thirty-seven-year-old Ruby Hardy vanished sometime in 1998, but she was not reported missing until March 27, 2002. Wendy Crawford, Jennifer Furminger and Georgina Papin all disappeared in 1999, ignored until police listed their names in March 2000. A month later, on April 25, 2000, detectives acknowledged the February 1999 disappearance of 32-year-old Brenda Wolfe. Tiffany Drew, age 27, vanished on December 31, 1999, but she would not make the list for another two years, reported missing on February 8, 2002.
At times it seemed a hopeless cause, but Vancouver police persevered. Slowly, publicity began to make a difference, if only in the speed with which new missing persons were reported. Dawn Crey, 42, was last seen alive on 1 November 2000, reported missing on December 11. Forty-three-year-old Debra Lynn Jones vanished on December 21, 2000, her disappearance logged on Christmas Day. Police stalled unaccountably on listing Patricia Johnson, last seen alive on February 27, 2001, but 34-year-old Yvonne Boen was listed on March 21, 2001, only five days after she vanished. Heather Bottomley, a 24-year-old described in Vancouver police reports as a “violent suicide risk,” held the record, reported missing the same day she vanished, on April 17, 2001. Heather Chinnock disappeared that same month, followed by Angela Josebury in June and Sereena Abotsway in July. Thirty-four-year-old Diane Rock vanished on October 19, 2001, reported missing on December 13. Mona Wilson, 26, was last seen alive on November 23, 2001, added to the list a week later.
Whatever progress detectives had made in tracking disappearances, the killer--if indeed there was a killer--seemed to have grown more brazen, striking at a pace unrivaled since the disappearances began. Police, for their part, could only watch and wait for their faceless quarry to make a mistake that would finally place him within their grasp.
Because the Downtown Eastside disappearances spanned nearly two decades, Vancouver police had to consider the possibility that some sexual predator identified with other crimes might be responsible for some of the earlier cases. Unfortunately, in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest generally, there was no shortage of serial killers competing for attention.
First among equals in that respect was Seattle’s elusive “Green River Killer,” blamed for the death or disappearance of 49 women--mostly prostitutes or runaways--between January 1982 and April 1984. The “River Man” was also suspected of 40-plus slayings in neighboring Snohomish County, but his murder spree had ended with a whimper, leaving police and FBI profilers wringing their hands in frustration. Finally, on November 30, 2001, DNA evidence led to the arrest of 52-year-old Gary Leon Ridgway, charged with murder in four of the Green River slayings. Vancouver police acknowledged reports that Ridgway had visited their city, but no evidence surfaced connecting him to Low Track’s missing women.
Another long-shot candidate was Dayton Leroy Rogers, a sadistic foot fetishist dubbed the “Molalla Forest Killer, who began stalking prostitutes around Portland, Oregon in January 1987. By August of that year he had claimed eight lives and injured 27 other victims, identified after he carelessly performed his last killing before multiple witnesses. Incarcerated since August 7, 1987, Rogers was examined and finally rejected as a possible suspect in the Vancouver abductions listed before that date.
Keith Hunter Jesperson was a British Columbia native, born in 1956, who washed out of training for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police after an injury left him unfit for active duty. Instead, he hit the road as a long-haul trucker, traveling widely across North America--and murdering various women in the process. Nicknamed the “Happy Face Killer,” for the smiling cartoon signature on letters he sent to police, Jesperson was jailed for a Washington murder in March 1995. At one point he claimed 160 slayings, describing his female victims as “piles of garbage” dumped on the roadside, and while he later recanted those statements, convictions in Washington and Wyoming removed him permanently from circulation. Once again, however, no link could be found between “Face” and the vanished Low Track hookers.
Other prospects were considered and rejected in their turn. George Waterfield Russell, sentenced to life imprisonment for the murders of three Bellevue, Washington women in 1990, was discounted because he enjoyed posing his mutilated victims, putting them on display after he slaughtered them in their own homes. Robert Yates, convicted in October 2000 of killing 13 prostitutes around Spokane, Washington, suspected of two more murders in a neighboring county, could not be placed in Vancouver for any of the local disappearances. John Eric Armstrong, a US Navy veteran arrested in April 2000, confessed to slaying 30 women around the world, but his statements excluded Vancouver and no evidence was found to contradict him.
In Vancouver itself, police cast an eye on twice-convicted rapist Ronald Richard McCauley. Sentenced to 17 years in prison on his first conviction, in 1982, McCauley was paroled on September 14, 1994. A year later, in September 1995, he was charged with another assault, convicted and returned to prison in 1996. While never formally charged with murder, he is described by police as their prime suspect in the slayings of four Low Track prostitutes killed in 1995 and early 1996. Three of the victims were dumped between Agassiz and Mission, where McCauley resided; the fourth was found on Mt. Seymour, in North Vancouver. Besides those cases, in July 1997 Vancouver police declared McCauley a suspect in the 1995 disappearances of Catherine Gonzales, Catherine Knight and Dorothy Spence. No charges were forthcoming, however, and McCauley was forgotten four years later, as the spotlight focused on another suspect.
This one, too, would be familiar to detectives from the early days of their investigation--and their belated reconsideration would cause no end of grief for the authorities.
The Body Farm
Vancouver residents were unprepared for the announcement when it came, on February 7, 2002. That morning, Vancouver Constable Catherine Galliford told reporters that searchers were scouring the Pickton pig farm and adjacent property in Port Coquitlam, first examined back in 1997. “I can tell you a search is being conducted on that property and the search is being executed by the missing-women task force,” she reported. Robert Pickton was already in custody, jailed on a charge of possessing illegal firearms. Bailed out on that charge, he was arrested once more on February 22, this time facing two counts of first-degree murder. Authorities identified the victims as Sereena Abotsway and Mona Wilson.
Pickton professed to be “shocked” by the charges, but relatives of the victims were equally agitated, noting that both women vanished three years after Piggy Palace was identified as a potential murder scene. On March 8, investigators declared that DNA recovered from the farm had been conclusively identified as Abotsway’s. A month later, on April 3, Pickton was charged with three more counts of murder, naming victims Jacqueline McDonnell, Heather Bottomley and Diane Rock. A sixth murder charge, for Angela Josebury, was filed against Pickton six days later. As in the first two cases, all four victims had been slain since Bill Hiscox had fingered Pickton as a suspect in the Low Track disappearances. May 22 a seventh first-degree murder charge was filed against Pickton when the remains of Brenda Wolfe were found on his farm.
If Pickton was the Low Track slayer, survivors asked, why had the searches of his property in 1997 and 1998 failed to uncover any evidence? More to the point, how could he abduct and murder additional victims between 1999 and 2001, when he should have been under police surveillance?
Proclaiming his innocence on all charges, Pickton was scheduled for trial in November 2002, but detectives were not finished with their search at Piggy Palace. The full operation, they announced on March 21, 2002, might drag on for as much as a year. As for other victims and any further charges, they refused to speculate. No charges have been filed against David Pickton or any other suspect.
Tabloid headlines screamed their verdict in Vancouver on 10 April 2002: “54 WOMEN FED TO PIGS!”
But were they?
Suspect Robert Pickton, charged with seven murders so far, is presumed innocent until proven guilty, his tentative trial date still six months away at this writing. Police searching his pig farm have declared that they will not be finished with their work before spring of 2003. With results from that search pending, the fate of 47 other missing women remains conjectural--and some critics suggest that the official list is only the tip of the iceberg.
On February 13, 2002, nine days before Pickton was slapped with his first murder charge, spokesmen for Prostitution Alternatives Counseling Education claimed that 110 streetwalkers from British Columbia’s Lower Mainland had been slain or kidnapped in the past two decades. Computer data obtained from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police placed the number even higher: 144 prostitutes murdered or missing with foul play suspected over the province at large.
It may be comforting to think one human monster is responsible for all those crimes, at least within Vancouver, but is it a realistic hope? Before Pickton’s indictment, detectives favored other theories. Some believed a long-haul trucker was disposing of Vancouver’s prostitutes, while others thought the missing women had been lured aboard foreign cargo ships, gang-raped and murdered by crewmen, then buried at sea. Still others rejected the serial killer hypothesis until the very day of Pickton’s arrest. The only thing certain about Vancouver’s mystery, at this point, is its bitter divisiveness.
Victoria attorney Denis Bernsten announced on April 17, 2002, that he will file a multimillion-dollar class-action suit against Robert Pickton, the Vancouver Police Department and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, seeking damages for relatives of the missing and murdered women. Bernsten accused police of “willful negligent action” in the case, telling reporters, “Deaths may have been prevented. All of these women were somebody’s child. Someone loved them.”
Among surviving relatives, meanwhile, there is dissension over calls for a public inquiry into police handling of the four-year investigation. Lynn Frey, stepmother of missing Marnie Frey, told the press, “Everyone’s fighting about lawyers, inquiries or fundraising, yet none of that is going to bring our loved ones back.” Several Aboriginal families complain of “interference” by Vancouver Police Department’s native liaison unit, allegedly telling them not to speak with journalists. Victim Helen Hallmark’s mother defied the ban, declaring, “We need to meet among ourselves and I’m tired of the native liaison unit telling us what to do.” In response to the perceived whitewash, Kathleen Hallmark announced plans to retain a partner of famed attorney Johnny Cochrane and pursue her legal remedies in court.
In the midst of so much tumult, Canadian musicians declared their intent to release a special song, “A Buried Heart,” with proceeds from its sale directed toward construction of a drug treatment and recovery center in Downtown Eastside. Artists signed on for the project at last report included headliners Sarah McLachlan and Nellie Furtado, Colin James, Gord Downey and John Wozniak. No site so far has been selected for the new facility. In a parallel effort, Val Hughes--sister of missing Kerry Koski --told reporters that a Missing Women’s Trust Fund has been established at the Bank of Montreal, accepting donations for construction of a “rapid opiate detoxification center in the Downtown Eastside.”
Beyond hope for the future, there is anger. Val Hughes supports the ongoing task force investigation, but she told The Province, “Like all family members, I feel molten rage when it comes to the Vancouver city police. Their view was that it didn’t matter if a serial killer was at work, as long as it was confined to one geographical area where the women were expendable people no one cared about. They told us our loved ones were just out partying. We want a full public inquiry, not to interfere with the criminal prosecution but to get answers.”
Those answers, if they come at all, are still a vague and distant object of desire.