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Missing-women search expands to farmhouse

Downtown Eastside woman recalls her stay at PoCo farm

Greg Middleton
The Province

Sunday, February 17, 2002

Police late yesterday began searching the farmhouse on a Port Coquitlam pig farm that is at the centre of an investigation into the disappearance of 50 women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

The house had not been part of the initial search and was not included in the search warrant for the 4.5-hectare farm.

While police in white suits went through the house taking photographs and making notes, trailers were being trucked in to provide working and sleeping space for the dozens of officers taking part in what police say is a search that will last for months.

In the Downtown Eastside, 36-year-old Mona Miller said she counts herself lucky to still be alive after her visit to the pig farm.

"I knew when I got there I shouldn't be there," Miller said over coffee yesterday.

She said she was hitchhiking to Surrey in November 1999 when she was picked up by a "chubby, bearded man" who asked her if she wanted to come to a party, do some drugs and make some money.

"He gave me a couple of rocks," Miller said, referring to the crack cocaine that has devastated the Downtown Eastside.

"He said he would give me cash," said Miller, who has used drugs for more than 20 years.

"He said he had a few friends there and I could make a lot of money and that he would bring me back whenever I wanted."

Miller knows that every time she gets into a car with a strange man she may be risking her life.

She has roomed with three of the now-missing women and helped take care of another after a car accident.

"We always figured [whoever is behind the disappearances] was somebody we knew, somebody we had partied with," Miller said.

At the pig farm, she said, she was taken to the back of the property, which is littered with wrecked cars and old machinery.

"It was quite swampy back there," Miller said. "I was in the back of a van that was there. There were plenty of drugs in the beginning. I was drinking a lot."

She said that at first she was with one man, then others.

"All I was thinking of was the money and when I was going to get out of there," she said.

But getting out proved harder than she had figured.

"I kept saying I wanted to leave," she said.

"I'll take you, I'll take you," she remembers being told, but no one did. "Finally I just walked out in a T-shirt. I hitchhiked. I got picked up right away."

She remembers the shocked look on the face of the man who gave her a ride.

Miller isn't the first woman to have left the farm in a hurry.

In 1997, Wendy Eistetter ran screaming from the property with knife wounds. Eistetter, who still works the streets, was in hospital yesterday suffering from stomach pains. She refused to talk about the night she ran from the farm.

Charges were laid against Robert "Willie" Pickton, one of the owners of the property, but they were later stayed.

Robert's brother, David, who lived in the house at the front of the property, has told reporters his brother befriended prostitutes and brought them home.

Police say they have recovered DNA from the trailer where Robert Pickton lived.

Police moved on to the farm Feb. 5. On Friday, they hauled in tonnes of gravel on which they set up their trailers yesterday.

They said RCMP labs are giving the analysis of the DNA "the highest priority."

RCMP Const. Catherine Galliford said the missing-women task force has been in contact with Dinah Taylor, 29, whose friend Cheryl Shalala said Thursday she had not heard from her since Christmas.

"I heard on the radio that she had been found and I just screamed," Shalala said. "That was comforting news to me."

gmiddleton@pacpress.southam.ca 

 Copyright 2002 The Province

Arrogant dismissal is the wrong response

Serious questions must be addressed in missing women case

Vancouver Sun

Saturday, February 16, 2002

MLA Jenny Kwan and MP Libby Davies, who represent the Downtown Eastside in Victoria and Ottawa, have called for an inquiry into the police investigation of the 50 women missing from Canada's poorest neighbourhood. Premier Gordon Campbell, Solicitor-General Rich Coleman and Vancouver Mayor Philip Owen have dismissed the call.

"I don't think there's been any major criticism of the police department," said Mr. Owen, who as mayor is also head of the police board.

Said Mr. Campbell: "I don't think that there's any necessity at this point for a public inquiry." Mr. Coleman said the idea is "very premature."

It would certainly be inappropriate to launch an inquiry right now, in the midst of a massive police investigation centred on a ramshackle Port Coquitlam farm. If the investigation results in a trial, an inquiry will have to wait for the trial to conclude.

But we will need an inquiry, and it's wrong to simply shuffle the issue aside when families of the missing are coping with overwhelming emotions and unspeakable fears. There are troubling questions about how police handled this case, and they weigh heavily on the families.

Why did it take so long to respond to the increasing number of disappearances from the Downtown Eastside, which first spiked in 1995 and ballooned in 1997? Police only began seriously examining the idea that a serial killer might be at work in September 1998. Why was the Missing Women Review Team not formed until 1999, and why were its resources so limited? Why did a major review of police files on disappearances begin only last April?

Did internal political squabbling in the Vancouver police force impede the investigation? Is the Vancouver police department adequately staffed to handle an investigation of this sort? Are there officers in the department with the right skills? Was it a mistake two years ago to demote Kim Rossmo, a highly regarded expert in geographic profiling who was involved in the investigation, prompting his departure from the force?

Why, given that some alleged as early as 1998 that there might be a connection between the disappearances and the Port Coquitlam farm, did it take four years to reach the current juncture? Did jurisdictional conflicts between Vancouver police and the RCMP impede the investigation? Do we need a regional police force to handle investigations of this sort? Did we fail these women simply because they're prostitutes and addicts?

We may soon have answers to the question of what happened to many of these women. Certainly the police are to be commended for the work they are doing now. Their sensitivity to the families' needs has been great, as shown by their effort to contact them before news broke of the search at the Port Coquitlam farm.

We won't soon have answers to the many questions about how our police, our politicians and our society as a whole have dealt in the past with this very serious matter.

However, it's time for Mr. Campbell, Mr. Coleman, and Mr. Owen to acknowledge that we have failed the missing women, and that there are serious questions that need to be addressed. To do less is to offer yet another arrogant dismissal both of the women and their relatives, who have been asking troubling questions for too many years.

 Copyright  2002 Vancouver Sun

February 16, 2002

DNA at pig farm being analysed

RCMP labs working on human samples

By PETER SMITH -- Calgary Sun


 Every crime laboratory in Canada is now working on human DNA samples found on the Port Coquitlam pig farm where a police task force is looking for clues to 50 missing women.

 And the search is now so huge, police are building their own police station right on the farm, said task force spokesman Det. Scott Driemel.

 All day yesterday trucks brought in more than 750 tonnes of gravel to form the foundation for the police station, which will be housed in construction-type trailers on the 10-acre pig farm.

 "We are establishing permanent communication and power facilities on site for our investigators," said Driemel.

 "We are doing a detailed, careful, precise search and analysis of this property and we will not be rushed."

 Task force leaders say they have found human DNA on the site, and are getting a huge response from people offering their DNA samples for elimination.

 "We can tell you DNA that has been found, and that which is still being found is a top priority for RCMP laboratories across the country," said task force spokeswoman, Const. Catherine Galliford.

 "Today RCMP labs from Vancouver to Halifax are working on this case."

 Requests from the task force for anyone who had ever visited the pig farm to contact them to give DNA samples brought forward 30 people in the first 24 hours and many more people since.

 Task force officers descended on the pig farm last week after it was reported officers found items linked to two of the missing 50 Vancouver drug-addict prostitutes on the farm.

 One of the farm-owners, Robert (Willie) Pickton has been charged with firearms offences after weapons were found on the farm.

 But police have said Pickton and his brother, David, are not considered suspects in the disappearance of the 50 women over the past 20 years.

Search for 50 women turns pig farm into crime lab

CNN/World

February 16, 2002 Posted: 10:09 PM EST (0309 GMT)

PORT COQUITLAM, British Columbia (AP) -- Every day, outside the pig farm's gate, relatives weep for lost sisters and daughters as police perform their own grisly ritual, picking through the farm's muck to unearth clues about the fate of 50 missing women.

"I'm a basket case, wondering what's going on," said Ada Wilson, peering over the fence. Her sister, Mona Lee Wilson, 27, vanished from the streets of Vancouver in November, and police suspect she may have ended up here.

"I'd like to find her," Wilson said, "but not like this."

Since 1983, women have been vanishing from the seedy east side of downtown Vancouver, many of them drug-addicted prostitutes. For years, investigators were stymied by the case. In fact, they long maintained that there might not even be a case. With no bodies or other physical evidence of homicide, it was possible that the women had simply left, detectives said.

But as the number of disappearances increased, police and the public took more interest. A joint task force of Vancouver police and Royal Canadian Mounted Police formed last spring. In October, authorities announced they suspected homicide.

Last month, five more women were added to the missing roster, bringing it to 50 and surpassing a better-known series of killings south of the border: the Seattle area's Green River slayings of 49 women.

The Vancouver task force's first big break came Feb. 5, as police executed a search warrant on a 10-acre farm in Port Coquitlam, 22 miles east of downtown Vancouver. They charged one of the farm's owners, Robert "Willy" Pickton, 52, with unlawful possession of a rifle and pistol. They also found enough evidence to prompt another search.

Since then, up to 85 investigators have swarmed over the 10-acre farm, a muddy jumble of rundown buildings, junk cars and huge mounds of dirt bordered on two sides by new housing developments. Dozens of animals were taken from the farm by animal-welfare agents.

Officials blocked off the property with metal security fences and brought in search dogs and trucks, including a refrigerated unit. Workers in rubber boots and white "moon suits" walked slowly across the muck, mapping, taking photos and taping black plastic over the windows of a shabby trailer.

"Please rest assured investigators will examine every nook and cranny, every square foot of ground and every inch of material if necessary," Vancouver Police Detective Scott Driemel said. He said the search could take months.

What they've found so far is a closely held secret.

Driemel said "specific items of interest ... that contain certain DNA samples" were found in the trailer. But he refused to comment on news reports that cited unnamed police sources as saying identification and personal items of at least one of the missing women had been found.

Neither Robert Pickton nor his younger brother Dave Pickton, who also lived at the farm, has been charged in connection with the disappearances.

Robert Pickton was charged in 1997 with attempted murder, for allegedly stabbing a drug-addicted prostitute in his home, but those charges were later dropped.

The farm was familiar to some prostitutes who work the streets of Vancouver. They talk about a guy known as "Farmer Willy" who would invite women to parties at the farm and at a nearby house that the brothers turned into a private drinking club known as "Piggy's Palace."

Through their lawyer, the brothers have denied any involvement in the disappearances. Supports concede that the two were "rough around the edges" but say the brothers as friendly and generous. Robert Pickton's fondness for prostitutes? He felt sorry for them and gave them money, the friends say.

The dearth of information from authorities has not kept neighbors from speculating what may have happened -- especially after news reports that investigators had asked a rendering plant to examine its records about animal carcasses it had accepted from the Pickton farm.

"Everybody's talking about it," said Bill Wells, 77. "There's been a lot of grisly jokes -- you know, don't buy the pork chops."

On one point even the authorities agree: The investigation could have been more effective had more time and money been invested early on.

"Why did they wait so long to dig up this land?" Ada Wilson asked. "If they had done something before, my sister might still be here," she said.

"It is the stigma of prostitution that has permitted the disappearances to remain unsolved for so long," said Suzanne Jay, spokeswoman for the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter.

Author Trevor Greene, who wrote "Bad Date," a book chronicling the hard lives of the missing women, said he had heard the women he interviewed mention "Farmer Willy," but he never followed up on it.

"There are literally hundreds of these guys who could have done this," Greene said. "A lot of guys go downtown not for sex but to perpetrate violence. Every day there are six to 10 bad dates. These guys will take cricket bats, baseball bats, bricks to these women's faces."

If the investigation nets a killer, that will not end the fears of women who work the streets of Vancouver.

Andrea, with flaming red hair and a sleeveless top, shivered in 40-degree temperatures on a corner, waiting for a customer.

She said she has had a few bad dates in her six years on the streets, including one john who took her for a long drive and then told her how easy it would be to smash her head with the rock he was holding.

"There are a lot of psychos out there," she said, glancing up and down the street. "A lot of psychos."

Copyright 2002 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Police search farm for missing Vancouver women-Feb 7, 2002

 

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Updated: August 21, 2016