Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Robert Pickton: The Vancouver Missing Women

Piggy Palace

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."

Robert William (Willie) Pickton
Robert William (Willie) Pickton

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.

David Francis Pickton
David Francis Pickton

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.

 

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