VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Missing women’s case broke open one year ago
Wednesday, February 05, 2003
Just over a year ago, Lynne and Rick Frey were among dozens of families begging police to find out what happened to their missing loved ones.
Like 60 others, Marnie Frey was struggling with an addiction problem in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside when she vanished in August 1997.
But a year ago today, police got a massive break when a search warrant was executed at a Port Coquitlam pig farm co-owned by Robert (Willy) Pickton.
That break led to Canada's largest-ever serial murder investigation with more than 100 investigators, technicians and scientists committed to the joint RCMP-Vancouver police missing women task force.
It led to 15 first-degree murder charges against Pickton, who remains incarcerated as his preliminary hearing continues.
And it also led to answers for at least 19 families like the Freys, who have been told their loved one's DNA has been discovered on the farm.
Last November, RCMP Inspector Don Adam, who heads the task force, travelled with three others to the Freys' Campbell River home to tell them Marnie's remains had been found on the Pickton farm, although no charges have been laid in her murder.
Lynne Frey thought the news would bring closure, but all it has brought are mixed emotions.
"I am more angry now than I was when Marnie was just missing," Frey said Tuesday.
Last weekend, she and Rick travelled to the Lower Mainland to take part in a march of families to mark the first anniversary of the police search.
It was the first time she had been at the farm since she learned of Marnie's death.
"We still haven't learned what happened to her," said Frey, adding that police have not yet provided the paperwork to get a death certificate.
"There is still so much we don't know."
A year ago today, Ernie Crey was shocked when police called him to say there might be a break in the missing-women probe.
Glenn Baglo, Vancouver Sun / Tannia Ellingham, owner of Lattay's Bistro near the Port Coquitlam courthouse, has served families and media involved in the Pickton case.
His sister Dawn vanished in December, 2000 and the family joined the ranks of others struggling to come to terms with the loss. But the hope of learning Dawn's fate remains elusive -- so far police have not linked her disappearance to the Pickton farm.
"We are sort of in this grey territory where we don't have answers," Crey said. "But we have to keep in mind that just a year ago, no particular suspects had been identified. This past year, an individual has been charged and a preliminary hearing is under way."
Police are saying less and less about the investigation, except that it is expected to continued "for many months to come," according to RCMP Constable Catherine Galliford.
Last summer, Solicitor-General Rich Coleman said the police budget for the investigation was $10 million this fiscal year.
His ministry would not provide up-to-date figures Tuesday. Nor would the ministry of the attorney-general, which is covering the cost of prosecuting Pickton, providing security for his preliminary hearing and funding the defence team.
Port Coquitlam has struggled with the notoriety of the Pickton case. Reporters from around the world have descended on the community looking for graphic details, camping out on the courthouse steps, setting up laptops in restaurants and cafes.
At one point, so many television satellite trucks were parking their vehicles at the local Me & Ed's pizza parlour that the manager pleaded with the B.C. government's court services for help.
He didn't want money, he said, but at least the media mob could buy the occasional pizza. The situation has since been resolved.
Tannia Ellingham bought Lattay's bistro across the street from the courthouse last April.
She had no idea what she was in for until she drove to her new business one day, turning the corner to see dozens of reporters, news trucks, camera operators, photographers and the curious. "I didn't know it was a Pickton court day," she said in a recent interview. "It was unbelievable."
She has had reporters sipping coffee and tapping out stories on their laptops only to race out the door without their computer when they see an interview subject leaving the courthouse.
"It is really interesting to watch. I have learned a lot about how the media works," she said.
The interest in the case has meant an increase in business. But it has also driven away regular customers who for a time, were not able to find parking, or didn't want to be in the spotlight.
The city briefly took away more than a block of street parking because of security concerns, but put it back after business owners complained.
The hardest thing, she said, has been watching the relatives of the missing women who have gathered in her cosy bistro, breaking down. "You feel like you can't do anything to help them," she said. "It is so sad."
For Irene Thompson, who works for the coffee bar inside the courthouse, it has also been difficult to watch the drama.
Grief-stricken relatives of the missing women arrive daily to hear the evidence against Pickton at his hearing, which is covered by a sweeping ban on publication. "It was hard to see the families," she said. "They sure feel animosity."
A few kilometres from the courthouse, the farm at 953 Dominion has changed dramatically from a year ago, when two Sun reporters and a photographer were first to arrive on the scene.
The front gate of the rundown property bore a no-trespassing sign. Another sign threatened an attack by a pit bull with AIDS. Scrap vehicles, trailers and debris littered the property, which was bordered by ditches filled with garbage. A woman's purse was visible in the bushes.
A Rottweiler roamed the entrance, barking. An RCMP officer stood at the gate, refusing to confirm that police were there in connection with the missing women's investigation.
Now it is neat and tidy. Atco trailers used by the police dot the 22-acre site. Berms have been built up at former access points. Metal fencing with yellow crime scene tape encases the entire site. A guard at the new entrance off Dominion scrutinizes everyone who attempts to enter.
White plastic tents shelter those combing through mounds of soil for evidence.
Ditches outside the property have been replaced by sidewalks, elevated like the new road, several metres above the old entrance.
Makeshift memorials put up by the families are long gone. So are the media trucks and cars that created pandemonium for locals a year ago.
Despite the magnitude of the case, many Port Coquitlam residents think normalcy will one day return.
"Once it is out of the news, people will put it out of their minds," Ellingham said. "People will think again about Terry Fox and the good things about Port Coquitlam."
© Copyright 2003 Vancouver Sun
Updated: August 21, 2016