VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
'Sense of urgency' to investigate Pickton farm came almost two years after initial report: Deputy Chief
SUZANNE FOURNIER, THE PROVINCE November 9, 2011
Dave Pickton, brother of now-convicted serial killer Robert Willie Pickton, told suspicious RCMP officers who wanted to interview Willie in 1999, to come back in "the rainy season."
RCMP Const. Ruth Yurkiw obliged, after Dave told the Port Coquitlam farm where both brothers lived -- and Willie slaughtered pigs -- would be "really busy" in the summer of 1999. It wasn't until January 2000 that Pickton was interviewed, after four solid informants had already come forward with horrific reports of Pickton slaughtering a woman hanging from a meat hook in his barn.
That witnessed slaughter is believed to have taken place between February and April of 1999, but Commission Counsel Art Vertlieb noted that in all, 13 women disappeared from the Downtown Eastside after the summer of 1999. Of the 13 women, 11 deaths were eventually linked by DNA to the Pickton farm.
Vancouver Deputy Chief Doug LePard, on his third day of evidence at the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, related this incident of apparent RCMP incompetence, along with several other cases of police bungling -- some involving LePard's own police force.
Commissioner Wally Oppal, a former judge, asked incredulously: "Dave Pickton asked the police to defer the interview until after the rainy season?" LePard had to say yes.
Willy Pickton, who had street smarts but below-average intelligence, eventually told RCMP once they finally talked to him in early 2000, to take a look around his farm, but no one followed up on his offer.
LePard noted that it would not be until Feb. 5, 2002 that a very junior Coquitlam RCMP Const. Nathan Wells, writing up only his second search warrant, got police on the farm looking for weapons and they stumbled over evidence of the missing women. Wells, LePard said wryly, "broke the case."
Before 2002, however, both the VPD and RCMP had strong evidence, as early as 1998, from tipster Bill Hiscox of a man named Willy, who worked with P and B Salvage and had a Port Coquitlam farm where women's purses, ID and blood had been observed. Hiscox was cultivated as a source for years by the VPD's Missing Persons Det. Const. Lori Shenher, who worked alone on the missing women's case and warned VPD to brass and the Downtown Eastside Community as early as 1999 that a serial killer likely was spreying on women in their midst. Shenher eventually became "burnt out" and left Missing Persons, although she later received a commendation from the VPD after Pickton had already been arrested. Shenher is also expected to testify.
Yet it was not until 2001 that any police force felt "any sense of urgency," LePard admitted, explainging that util then police thought the missing women were "historical homicides." The evidence of disappearances revealed -- the police finally realized -- that not only was a serial killer still active, but he had accelerated his pace, stepping up the pace that women were snatched from once every two months to every six weeks.
RCMP also had an eyewitness to the barn slaughter, as well as three friends of that eyewitness who seperately and "without colluding" their evidence, approached Burnaby and Coquitlam RCMP and unburdened themselves about the disturbing events the reluctant eyewitness had told them.
Lynn Ellingsen, a drug-addicted woman who was staying in Pickton's trailer, was the person who witnessed the slaughter of the Downtown Eastside sex worker that she helped Pickton lure out to the farm with promises of drugs, booze and cash. Ellingsen described variously the woman being "strung up" with Pickton "gutting and skinning her." That murder is believed to have occurred between February and April of 1999. RCMP spoke to Ellingsen several times. Police also knew Ellingsen was blackmailing Willie Pickton, forcing him to give her money at regular intervals so she wouldn't tell police what she'd seen.
Ellingsen's "friend" Ron Menard, who along with Ross Caldwell and Leah Best corroborated Ellingsen's graphic description of the murder, also told police he was offered $200 by Pickton to bring Ellingsen to the farm so he could kill her too.
A frightened Ellingsen tried to renege on her story but RCMP believed she was telling the truth, LePard acknowledged, telling the Commission that Ellingsen also was worried she would be charged as an accomplice.
A litany of policing decisions that all combined to let Pickton keep killing was outlined on the stand by LePard Wednesday. Pickton knifed and nearly killed a DTES sex worker that he took to his farm in 1997, but charges connected to the incident were stayed by the Crown in 1998, a decision that is one of the matters that the inquiry is examining.
LePard confirmed to Commission counsel Art Vertlieb that the 1997 evidence, including Pickton's bloodstained clothes and bandages, was not analyzed until 2001, in a sucessful bid to eliminate Pickton as a suspect in the Fraser Valley murders of three prostitutes. However, no police force analyzed the blood-stained Pickton clothing with reference to other missing women until 2005, at which time the DNA of two Pickton victims was confirmed, two young women named Cara Ellis and Andrea Borhaven. Ellis' sister-in-law Lori Ann Ellis, who lives in Calgary, has attended the inquiry every single day. Pickton will never stand trial for the murder of Cara Ellis, or those of 19 other women, after 20 charges were stayed by the Crown in August, 2010.
And LePard had to admit that on Aug. 23, 2001, a 22-year-old civilian named Brian Oger, hired to analyze VPD files, concluded in a hardhitting report that there was ample evidence of a serial killer preying on Downtown Eastside sex workers. Oger, like so many before him, was ignored.
LePard is expected to be on the stand all this week.
Lawyer Cameron Ward, who is representing the families of 20 missing or murdered women, said outside the courtroom, "Had police responded to the amply evidence they had from 1998 forward, not only would the $200 million spent to prosecute Robert Pickton have been saved, some 13 or 14 lives would have been saved.
"This is a shocking and inexcusable tragedy."
Two more families, of Pickton murder victim Tanya Holyk and missing woman Olivia Williams, who disappeared back in 1996, have come forward in the last week, increasing Ward's client list to 20 families, many of whom are believed to be intent on pursuing a civil lawsuit against the VPD and RCMP once the inquiry is completed.
Commissioner Wally Oppal has extended inquiry hearings to the end of April but has pledged to hand in his final report to government by the end of June, 2012.
The inquiry, which will stand down next week, is otherwise open to the public, Monday to Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., on the eighth floor of 701 West Georgia.
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Updated: August 21, 2016