VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Journalist recounts Canada's most infamous murder case
November 8, 2008
LUNENBURG - To most people the subject is, at best, disturbing.
But for Stevie Cameron, documenting the murder trial of British Columbia pig farmer Robert Pickton was "the best research and writing experience of my life."
Ms Cameron, who is a veteran newspaper, magazine and television journalist and a former host of CBC's "Fifth Estate," has devoted the last several years of her career to writing books.
Among her more memorable efforts are "On the Take," a recount of the Brian Mulroney years of government, and "The Last Amigo," which highlights the activities of Karlheinz Schreiber in the notorious Airbus scandal.
For the last six years, however, much of Ms Cameron's life has been dedicated to covering the story of the dozens of prostitutes who began disappearing off the streets of East Vancouver back in 1995, most of whom turned up murdered on Robert Pickton's farm located about 30 kilometres outside the city.
Ms Cameron, who has written one book on the subject entitled "The Pickton File," is now working on a second effort, "The Pig Farm," set to publish when the second Pickton trial has wrapped up and a publication ban on evidence has finally been lifted.
In Lunenburg recently to address a gathering of the Lunenburg County First! Chowder Club, Ms Cameron outlined the gruesome details of the Pickton case – how the defendant lured drug-addicted prostitutes from Vancouver's downtown east side to a filthy mobile home on his pig farm where, after engaging in sex, he stabbed, shot or strangled them.
He then dismembered their bodies in his slaughterhouse and stashed the remains in barrels, pits and freezers or fed them to the pigs.
Some were even taken to a rendering plant which turned them into tallow for cosmetics, fertilizer or animal feed.
Despite the enormity of the crimes for which Mr. Pickton was being tried, Ms Cameron said word of what was really happening inside the courtroom did not get out to the public during the first trial.
"News reports appeared most days, but the stories were very, very short and perfunctory," she explained. "There were 378 journalists accredited to that story and almost no one ever came. Their bosses reacted to the public horrors of this case, so they just pulled right back. The readers were sending them complaints about the stories and they didn't want to read this, so they buried the stories and they cut them."
The court also instituted a crippling publication ban which resulted in many of the details of the case being restricted from public scrutiny.
"To this day, a huge amount of this case is still under a ban," she explained. "He was found guilty on six counts of murder last year and was sentenced to 25 years without a chance of parole. But you probably know that there are still 20 first-degree counts of murder [outstanding] and that he is supposed to go to trial on these counts. This publication ban is on the 20 … so the judge pulls any evidence against the six that affects that trial."
Ms Cameron said the trial not only represents the biggest criminal investigation in Canadian history in terms of manpower, with hundreds of people working on the case, but is also the longest trial ever undertaken in this country - seven years and counting - and has cost the Canadian taxpayer in the neighbourhood of $200 million.
It is also the largest crime scene in Canadian history with 14 acres of land that had to be painstakingly searched, "and it was also the only trial I have ever come across with 18 lawyers and 13 paralegals all working for one man.
"Willie Pickton. And on your nickel."
Although Mr. Pickton has been charged with 26 murders, the actual number of prostitutes he has killed is likely much higher.
Following his arrest in 2002, he told an undercover police officer in his cell that he had killed 49 women and was "aiming for 50," and that "after a little break," he planned on killing another 25.
Ms Cameron said that over a 20-year span beginning in the 1980s, the numbers bear out his claim as a total of 69 women disappeared from the city's east side during that period.
She pointed out that Mr. Pickton and his brother were known to police, and in fact he was charged with attacking a prostitute at his trailer in 1997 but that action was quashed when his victim refused to appear in court.
Police also had a tip in 1998 that Mr. Pickton was taking prostitutes from the east side to his Port Coquitlam farm and by 1999 he was considered "the number 1 suspect in the case," yet no investigation was started.
"So, why did it take so long to catch him?" she asked. "Because the Vancouver police didn't want to admit for a second that there was a serial killer in their city. This is the first big story of the Pickton case - the Vancouver Police Department's failure."
© 2008 Lighthouse Media Group
Updated: August 21, 2016