Robert Pickton: The Vancouver Missing Women
More women victims were linked to the pig farm owned by 54-year-old Robert Pickton. The recent discovery increased the tally to 30 women whose remains have been found on the farm. Fox News reported some of the gruesome details: "Police found human body parts in freezers used to store unsold meat. They also discovered remains in a wood chipper -- the victims' bodies turned into pig feed."
Unlike crime news coverage in the U.S., the details of the worst serial murder case in Canadian history are banned from media coverage in Canada. While this approach protects the accused from pretrial publicity that could affect a jury, it also denies the public an opportunity to hold the police accountable for the speed and quality of their investigation.
According to CBC News, Ernie Crey, an aboriginal leader, and many others have been very critical about the tardy police investigation into this case. The Crime Library reported on this problem repeatedly from 2000 onward. Like many cases where the victims are prostitutes, police assume that the missing women have just moved to other areas to ply their trade. The cases are treated very differently than if a large number of middle class women disappeared.
The Toronto Star interviewed RCMP task force spokesperson Corporal Cate Galliford who told them, "Believe it or not, we're still in the somewhat early stages of our investigation."
The six women who were recently identified are: Yvonne Boen, Dawn Crey, Wendy Crawford, Andrea Borhaven, Kerry Koski,and Cara Ellis. Three of the nine women remain unidentified.
Robert Pickton now faces 22 counts of murder. He has been charged with 15 counts of first-degree murder. His trial is not expected to begin until 2005.
The strict publicity ban on Picton's preliminary trial hearing in July of 2003 was instigated to ensure information was not broadcast to potential jurors before the case was brought to trial but, despite the ban, evidence from the hearing leaked out and was reported widely. Peter Ritchie, Pickton's lawyer told reporters that the leaks were precisely what he was afraid of. "Our concern all along is that we cannot control that," he said, "so we're going to have to follow that to see what has been published."
Prior to the announcement, family members of some of the missing women accused the Vancouver police of "mishandling the investigation" stating that they had "ignored evidence" that a serial killer was responsible and didn't take the matter seriously because "many of the women were prostitutes and drug addicts."
Dr. Elliott Leyton, author of a popular book on serial killers called Hunting Humans, defended the police stating: "Responsible people have to be careful about making wild pronouncements about possible serial killers. When we are not sure if it is true, then it is inappropriate to throw people into a state of panic. Prostitution is a very dangerous profession and many of the people in it are wanderers and not well–connected to any conventional system of government controls or social services. So they can drift away from the system without being noticed for a very long time, even when nothing may have actually happened to them."
The accusations that police mishandled the investigation gained new momentum when former detective and geographic profiler Kim Rossmo claimed that he had told police a serial killer was probably responsible for the disappearances of prostitutes in the Vancouver area but was ignored. Rossmo, has since sued the Vancouver department for wrongful dismissal when they failed to renew his contract.
The announcement of the new search site came just one day before a preliminary hearing in a Port Coquitlam, B.C. provincial court into the case was to begin hearing final submissions from the Crown and lawyers for Pickton.
The new site, approximately 65 kilometres east of Vancouver, is located in a high-traffic area adjacent to Highway 7, also known as the Lougheed Highway. Galliford reporters: "We started in this area based on evidence we uncovered during the course of our investigation," adding that police became aware of the area "just recently."
She said that some investigators from the Port Coquitlam farm would be searching the new site plus an eight-member team of RCMP divers. She also said that the investigation at the Port Coquitlam property was expected to continue until at least the fall and stated that two of the four soil sifters being used at the pig farm have been shut down so the soil underneath can be excavated and searched and the 52 anthropologists who were manning the sifters would be sent to the new site. The area has since been fenced off and under 24-hour protection.
Prior to the press release, Vancouver police contacted family members from all 63 missing women to inform them of the new investigation. Maggie deVries, the sister of one of the alleged victims was one of those contacted and later told reporters: "It's encouraging and horrifying simultaneously, it gives me the sense that more will be discovered."