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Case Reviewer: Flood of Pickton tips should have galvanized investigation sooner

BY SUZANNE FOURNIER, THE PROVINCE  JANUARY 19, 2012


A flood of accurate tips about Robert Pickton in 1998 plus his attempted murder of a prostitute in 1997 should have galvanized the Vancouver police and RCMP into joining forces to hunt him down, a police expert testified on Thursday.

The best time to pursue a homicide investigation is when information is “fresh,” yet it would take another five years and a dozen more women’s deaths for police to halt Pickton’s killing spree, Peel Regional Police Deputy Chief Jennifer Evans told the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry.

Evans, asked to review the police investigation into Canada’s worst serial killer said the ball was dropped in those two pivotal years, due to the absence of “a strong dedicated and engaged Senior Management Team” in either the VPD or the RCMP.

Evans agreed with lawyer Darrell Roberts, acting for the mother of one of Pickton’s victims that Vancouver police “should have and could have exercised a search warrant then for Pickton’s Port Coquitlam farm,” as early as 1998. Police would have quickly found human remains and hundreds of Pickton’s “trophies” collected from the women he brought to the farm and then slaughtered.

Evans testified Vancouver police should have realized from what sources were telling them that Pickton was either kidnapping or “luring with drugs and alcohol” the women who were going missing from the Downtown Eastside.

In her lengthy report to the inquiry, Evans’ documents that the VPD got it’s first reliable tip on July 27, 1998 from Bill Hiscox, a man who had done some work for Robert “Willie” Pickton and his brother Dave Pickton, in their demolition business P & B Salvage.

In many subsequent phone calls and meetings with VPD Det-Const. Lori Shenher, Hiscox told that “Willie” Pickton was picking up prostitutes in Vancouver and transporting them to his Port Coquitlam farm, where he had “trophies” of women’s purses, clothing and ID.

Hiscox told both the VPD and later Coquitlam RCMP in a Crimestoppers call that Willie had been heard to say that he put bodies through a grinder and either fed the material to his hogs or disposed of bodies at a rendering plant.

Hiscox also knew that Pickton had tried a year earlier to kill a Vancouver Downtown Eastside sex trade worker, who fought back and got away. Hiscox, and other sources soon to emerge, warned police that Pickton was “trying to hire people to find (the woman) and bring her to the farm where he would finish her off like her should have the first time.”

Shenher got in touch with Coquitlam RCMP Cpl. Mike Connor, who corroborated what Shenher’s source was telling her and confirmed that Pickton had been charged in 1997 with the attempted murder of a Downtown Eastside woman who broke free from handcuffs at Pickton’s trailer, got into a knife fight with him and fled naked from the farm. The woman, known to the inquiry as “Victim ‘97” or “Ms. Anderson” actually died at hospital but was revived. RCMP collected Pickton’s blood-spattered clothing, a used condom, handcuffs and bandages but never had them tested for DNA. The inquiry is looking into why charges against Pickton stemming from the 1997 attempted murder never went to trial.

Over the next year, 1998, a flood of details emerged about Pickton’s butchering of women on his farm, with eyewitness Lynn Ellingsen describing to three people a horrific “gutting” of a woman in Pickton’s barn. Those three people also went to police. Leah Best, Ross Caldwell and Ron Menard, all hangers-on at the Pickton farm, could not stop talking to police about Pickton’s savagery toward women, particularly Vancouver sex trade workers, Evans notes in her report.

“The information that various police officers received regarding Pickton was specific, unique and incredible,” Evans said in her report. On Thursday, Evans testified she stands by those conclusions, saying that junior officers in both police forces tried hard to act on the information they were getting, but got no support from senior managers.

Evans concluded that the “while (junior) investigators grasped how dangerous Pickton was, “someone in authority, either in the RCMP or the VPD needed to champion a coordinated effort to these investigations.”

In Feb. 2002, a rookie RCMP officer wrote up a firearms search warrant for the Pickton farm and police discovered massive evidence of the missing women. Laden with human remains and the missing women’s belongings, the farm was subjected to a lengthy forensic search.

The dates discussed at the inquiry today are especially poignant to Lori-Ann Ellis, who broke down in tears outside the courtroom. The blood of her sister-in-law Cara Ellis was on Pickton’s stained jacket that was recovered by police in 1997 but never tested for DNA. Tomorrow, Jan. 20, is the fifth anniversary of Cara’s disappearance. Police believe Cara, who would be 39 this year, was killed by Pickton on that day or the next night.

Cara’s DNA wasn’t sent for DNA testing to RCMP labs until 2004 and her family finally learned of Cara’s fate in 2006.

Two months after Cara Ellis’ blood was splashed all over Pickton, he picked up the woman on March 23, 1977 whom he almost killed. Had police tested for DNA then, they would have found Ellis’ blood and that of another missing woman Andrea Borhaven.

“The inquiry can get bogged down in details and forget that we are talking about the lives of real people, women like my sister-in-law Cara, who didn’t have to die in such a horrible way,” said Ellis, who lives in Alberta but has attended much of the inquiry proceedings.

“I can only pray that Cara was unconscious when she was killed by Pickton and that she didn’t suffer,”said Ellis.

“What a police force did back in 1997 may not seem like a big deal but testing for DNA would have saved Cara’s life.”

The inquiry is sitting Monday to Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. until the end of April, with Commissioner Wally Oppal pledging to hand in his final report by the end of June, 2012.

sfournier@theprovince.com

 

 

Email: wleng#missingpeople.net 

Missing Women Tip Line: 1-877-687-3377

Updated: August 21, 2016