VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
VPD appears to have been blind during late 90s
December 10, 2007
The conviction of Robert (Willie) Pickton does not mark the end of an unspeakable tragedy in the same way other guilty verdicts have closed similarly heinous murder cases.
The jury in New Westminster has parsed Pickton's criminal culpability -- six confirmed findings of second-degree murder.
We now need to find out why he was able to prey on women for so long and with such impunity. Those are issues beyond the ambit of the criminal process.
But we remain a long way from answering such pressing questions, though Pickton already has been incarcerated for half a decade.
So far, Metro Vancouver law-enforcement forces have dodged scrutiny for botching the largest serial-killing investigation in national history.
The failure of police in the Clifford Olson multiple murder investigation in 1981 pales by comparison with the palpable indifference that characterized their response to the disappearance of so many women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
Olson was able to kill 11 young people across the metropolitan area between November 1980 and August 1981 mostly because it took so long for the various detachments and municipal forces to get together and target him.
Pickton benefited from the same lack of coordination and cooperation.
There were individual police officers who raised the alarm -- for instance, Kim Rossmo, the ex-Vancouver cop-turned-geographic profiler. Yet the VPD in particular appears to have been blind throughout the late 1990s while the slow-witted killer blithely operated in the city.
Our patchwork policing arrangement and lack of a regional force once again aided the twisted and demented instead of us.
How many more of these horrendous cases do we need before we're willing to admit the current system is flawed?
If there was ever a cogent argument for a regional police force, Pickton is it.
If not for the media -- in particular the hard-hitting investigative work of journalists from The Sun, who brought attention to the vanishing women, the 58-year-old pig farmer still might be choosing victims.
Pickton remained at large until February 2002 when a rookie Coquitlam RCMP officer executed a search warrant on the pig farm because of a weapons complaint. He still might be free if not for that piece of serendipity.
Yet it seems evident from what followed that had police gone to the farm earlier, they would have found the sanguinary evidence -- body parts stashed in a freezer, remains in garbage cans, personal items scattered practically everywhere .... The mind continues to boggle even after 10 months of horror-film testimony.
And the truth remains stark -- he could have been stopped much sooner.
Pickton was a prime suspect over the years but remained free -- why?
What about the persistent and persuasive suggestions others were involved in these unconscionable crimes?
It is time to ask hard questions about this investigation and what police did during the years and years and years that Pickton was slaughtering women. And why they failed to do more.
These are questions that should now be atop the public agenda. We need an explanation for what happened here in the same way we are learning through the Ottawa Air India inquiry why Air India occurred.
But we are unlikely to get it.
Sunday's verdict was only a stop along the way, not the end of Pickton's excruciatingly painful legal saga. We have waited years through the painstaking excavation of his farm and through the pre-trial legal to-and-fro, yet the prosecution of Pickton does not end with sentencing Tuesday. It grinds on.
He faces another 20 counts of murder and unless those are stayed, he will be back in court Jan. 17.
His second trial will allow police to continue to sidestep the tough questions about their conduct and hide behind the courts until the criminal proceedings are ended.
By that time, I dare say everyone involved will have retired and public enthusiasm for more proceedings will likely be sapped.
A trial on the outstanding charges would forestall for at least another two years, perhaps longer, any true attempt to do a post mortem on the case.
I think that is unfortunate.
We need accountability here.
That is the only way we will ensure something this sinister doesn't happen again. And 2010 or later is far too long to wait.
© The Vancouver Sun 2007
Police investigation began in 1998
CanWest News Service
Monday, December 10, 2007
VANCOUVER -- Dozens of women disappeared from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside between 1983 and 2001. Most were poor, drug-addicted prostitutes. Many were not reported missing for months, even years.
Few, it seemed, cared.
But by July 1998, Vancouver police were concerned enough to publicly admit they had noticed the disappearances. They assigned more officers to the missing-person section.
Over the next decade, the gravity of the situation would be realized. Here is how the case developed:
March 1999: Reporter Lindsay Kines writes a two-part story in the Vancouver Sun, titled "Missing on the Mean Streets," about the disappearance of sex-trade workers. Kines, now a reporter with the Times Colonist, confirmed that police had 20 outstanding files on missing women since 1995, 11 of them from just in the previous year. It was the first major media coverage of the case, and it increased pressure on the police.
July 1999: The attorney general released a poster offering $100,000 for information related to the case. That first poster had 31 women on it. Also, in 1999, the TV show America's Most Wanted did a show on the missing women, but progress was slow, and women continued to disappear.
April 2001: Vancouver police hand over the file to the RCMP for review.
September to November 2001: The issue of the police response is examined in an 11-part series by the Vancouver Sun. Reporters Kines, Kim Bolan and Lori Culbert established that the number of missing women was 45, many more than the 27 the public had been told about. The series also found flaws in the original police investigation -- that the file had been handled by inexperienced and overworked officers without the time or resources to do a thorough job.
December 2001: Police announce a joint task force between the RCMP and the Vancouver Police Department to tackle the investigation. The team consisted of 16 investigators and five support members.
January 2002: Police release the names of 18 additional women, saying they are now investigating the disappearance of 45 women. They also expand the number of investigators to 30.
Feb. 5, 2002: A break comes in the case, when police begin a massive search of a Port Coquitlam farm owned by Robert (Willie) Pickton and his two siblings.
Feb. 22, 2002: Pickton is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Mona Wilson and Sereena Abotsway. Both disappeared in 2001. As the months passed, Pickton was charged with other murders.
May 2002: Police bring in approximately 50 archeology students to process materials found at the farm.
June 2002: Excavation begins on the farm. Over the following months, police revealed that DNA from some missing women was found there.
September 2002: The list of missing women grows to 63.
January 2003: Pickton's preliminary hearing begins.
July 2003: The preliminary hearing ends.
Nov. 18, 2003: The excavation and search of the family farm is complete.
Jan. 3, 2006: Pickton appears in B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster and pleads not guilty to 27 counts of first-degree murder.
March 2006: One charge is dropped.
October 2006: Pickton's trial is split in two -- the first to deal with six charges, the second to deal with 20 others.
Jan. 22, 2007: The first trial begins.
Dec. 9, 2007: Pickton is convicted of six counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of Wilson, Abotsway, Andrea Joesbury, Georgina Papin, Brenda Wolfe and Marnie Frey.
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2007
Updated: August 21, 2016