Police could have caught serial killer Robert Pickton years earlier and likely
prevented the deaths of more than a dozen women, an internal Vancouver police
The report has remained under wraps for more than a year because of court
proceedings, publication bans, and now because the B.C. government wants time to
study the findings.
But sources familiar with its contents say one of the report's main conclusions
is that women's lives could have been saved.
The report, which runs to more than 400 pages, is likely to stir controversy
because, while it finds considerable fault with the Vancouver police
investigation, it also lays much of the blame on the RCMP for failing to nab
Pickton sooner, sources say.
The report says Coquitlam RCMP took the lead in pursuing Pickton as a suspect as
early as 1998, because he lived in their jurisdiction, where the murders were
suspected to have occurred.
While some RCMP investigators took the case seriously at first, the detachment
eventually let it languish for months despite frequent prodding from Vancouver
detectives, the report says.
The review concludes that there was enough evidence pointing at Pickton as the
prime suspect by mid-1999 for the RCMP to start pulling out all the stops in
their investigation -- some 21/2 years before Pickton's eventual arrest in
During that period, more than a dozen women, some of whose DNA was later found
at Pickton's farm, vanished from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
Vancouver police Deputy Chief Doug LePard wrote the report, which is circulating
within government and which Vancouver police officers have been allowed to read
at police headquarters for training purposes.
LePard spent years reviewing the case, interviewed all the major players, and
does not spare his own department, detailing extensive problems with the
Vancouver Police Department's handling of the file, sources say.
A number of those problems were first documented by the Vancouver Sun in a 2001
report, which found that the department relied upon overworked police officers
without the time or resources to do a thorough job. The investigation was also
hampered by infighting, computer problems and inadequate training, police
sources told the Sun at the time.
LePard confirms a number of those concerns, according to some of the same
sources for the original Vancouver Sun report. But LePard's report notes that
while the Vancouver police investigation was inadequate, it still identified
Pickton as a suspect, only to have the RCMP drop the ball.
In one instance, Pickton agreed to a voluntary search of his property, but the
RCMP never followed up on that offer, the report says.
The Vancouver police have been seething for years that they have borne the brunt
of criticism for the case, while the RCMP took credit for finally arresting
Former Vancouver police chief Jamie Graham, who assigned LePard to do the
review, told the Vancouver Sun in 2002 that the attacks on the Vancouver police
were "scandalous" and inaccurate. At the time, the department was incensed by an
NBC Dateline report, which suggested Vancouver police had the name of the prime
suspect all along, and did nothing with it until the Mounties rode in to save
Graham, who is now chief of the Victoria Police Department, declined to comment
on the contents of LePard's report yesterday.
But sources say the report sets the record straight by showing that the RCMP
were leading the pursuit of Pickton from the outset and let him get away. The
report says police never fully committed to the theory that a serial killer was
at work, and that that undermined requests for more resources, sources say.
Those findings, combined with the recent revelation that DNA evidence linking
Pickton to two of the missing women remained in an RCMP storage locker for seven
years before it was tested, are likely to fuel calls for a public inquiry into
the police investigation.
Attorney General Mike de Jong has so far refused to commit to an inquiry, saying
he needs time to read the internal Vancouver police and RCMP reviews. He is
expected to take the matter to a provincial cabinet meeting next month.
Vancouver police, which have supported calls for a public inquiry, will not
comment on the internal review until after the cabinet meeting, Const. Jana
McGuinness said yesterday.
Former Vancouver police officer Kim Rossmo, who has written a book on criminal
investigative failures, said LePard's report suggests the need for a "focused,
Now teaching at Texas State University, Rossmo was provided a copy of LePard's
report after signing a confidentiality agreement.
"Fascinating is the word," he said, when asked for his reaction to the report.
"It is a significant autopsy into a failed criminal investigation, and there's
much to be learned from it.
"Despite my involvement with the case, and my continued connection through
various people, I've learned a lot that I did not know before."
Rossmo said any politicians or journalists already dismissing calls for an
inquiry should wait until they've seen the report. "I think it's absolutely
essential that this be made public for the good of policing and for community
safety," he said.
It's well known that Pickton first surfaced as a suspect in the summer of 1998.
At the time, Wayne Leng, a friend of one of the missing women, had set up a
toll-free line for information on her whereabouts. He received a tip on the line
about Pickton and passed it along to Vancouver police.
Investigators followed up and interviewed the tipster, who told them a woman had
spotted bags of bloody clothing and women's identification while cleaning
The detectives also knew that Pickton had been accused of trying to murder a
sex-trade worker at his farm in March 1997. Both he and the woman suffered
serious injuries in the incident and all the charges against him were later
stayed. (It was in the aftermath of this incident that police seized Pickton's
boots and clothing, but the items were not tested until 2004 -- two years after
his arrest. The tests detected the DNA of two of the missing women.)
The tip about the bloody clothing, along with the earlier attempted murder
charge against Pickton, elevated him on the list of suspects. RCMP and Vancouver
police investigators pursued Pickton throughout 1998 and into 1999, showing his
picture to sex trade workers at Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and even putting
him under surveillance.
By mid-1999, Vancouver police had developed a second source who told them about
a woman who claimed to have seen a butchered body on Pickton's property. Police
tracked down the woman and interviewed her in August 1999. The woman would later
become a key witness at Pickton's trial, but at the time of the first police
interviews, she denied seeing a body.
Up to this point, there had been talk of getting a wiretap or running an
undercover operation. But the provincial unsolved homicide unit got involved,
challenged the reliability of some of the source information, and the
investigation apparently stalled at this point, sources say.
Coquitlam RCMP continued to take responsibility for pursuing Pickton as a
suspect. But LePard's report says the RCMP went for months without doing
anything on the case. The report also criticizes senior managers within the
Vancouver police for failing to press the RCMP to do more.
It wasn't until February 2002 that a rookie RCMP constable gained access to the
farm on a warrant looking for firearms, and found items belonging to the missing
Pickton was eventually charged with murdering 27 women whose body parts or DNA
was found on his farm. He was convicted on six counts on Dec. 9, 2007, one other
charge was stayed, and the Crown this month stayed the remaining 20 charges
after the Supreme Court of Canada rejected Pickton's bid for a new trial. The
DNA of six other missing women was also found at the farm, but Pickton was never
charged in those cases.