VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
'Wow. How did this happen?' commanding officer thought first day of Pickton farm search
BY NEAL HALL, VANCOUVER SUN FEBRUARY 23, 2012
VANCOUVER -- The commanding officer of the Coquitlam RCMP detachment told the Missing Women inquiry today that he was shocked when he found out that police were searching the farm of serial killer Robert Pickton.
Former RCMP Supt. Ric Hall, who retired in 2005 after 40 years with the force, said he drove over to Pickton's farm in Port Coquitlam the morning of Feb. 6, 2002.
"Wow. How did this happen?" he recalled thinking at the time, Hall told the inquiry.
"I found out there was a major investigation going on at the farm and I drove out there," he said.
"Clearly we had a major event happening in our detachment area," Hall testified.
""I think about this almost daily," he said.
"When I think about what I could have done better, I don't think I probably would have handled my people the same way."
He recalled a rookie Coquitlam RCMP officer, Const. Nathan Wells, had executed a search warrant the previous day to look for illegal weapons.
But Wells's search also found evidence related to the missing women investigation.
The search was halted until police could get another search warrant to investigate suspected homicides.
That search would continue for 18 months and became the largest forensic crime scene search in Canadian history.
The remains and DNA of 33 missing women were eventually found on Pickton's farm.
Hall is being questioned about the events that led up to the search.
He recalled Coquitlam RCMP worked with Vancouver police to investigate Pickton as a suspect after the VPD received a series of tips from informants starting in June 1998 - a month after Hall took over the job as the commanding officer of Coquitlam RCMP.
Hall recalled being told by Insp. Earl Moulton, who was in charge of operations, that Pickton was under investigation and a surveillance operation was planned.
Hall said he was later briefed that surveillance had produced nothing to carry the investigation forward.
The turning point in the Pickton investigation, Hall recalled, was a discussion he had in the summer of 1999 with Cpl. Frank Henley, who said there was nothing to believe about the information regarding Pickton.
Henley was with the provincial Unsolved Homicide Unit, which assisted Coquitlam investigator Cpl. Mike Connor in his investigation of Pickton.
Vancouver police had passed along information from informants that a woman named Lynn Ellingsen had witnessed Pickton butchering a woman in his barn one night.
Henley and another officer interviewed Ellingsen, who denied making statements to other about seeing Pickton butchering a woman.
"He said he did not believe the information to be true and they were going to go ahead with a cold interview with Pickton," Hall recalled of his conversation with Henley, whom Hall had worked with when they were both at Surrey RCMP.
Commission counsel Art Vertlieb asked Hall if he was aware that Connor had a completely different view - Connor felt Ellingsen was lying because Pickton was paying her to keep quiet.
"Mike Connor is very upset to this day about Henley's actions," Vertlieb pointed out about Connor's earlier testimony at the inquiry.
"I was not aware of it in 1999," Hall testified.
"At the time, no one came forward to me to present a dissenting view," he added.
He said Connor could have talked about it with Moulton and asked for more resources.
"Or he could have knocked on my door," Hall said.
Connor testified that Henley's assessment effectively killed the Pickton investigation.
Connor recalled he was promoted and was taken off the Pickton investigation. But even after that, he would sit outside Pickton's farm, hoping to catch him in the act.
More than a dozen women were killed by Pickton on the farm between 1997 and his arrest on Feb. 5, 2002.
Connor had investigated Pickton's 1997 knife attack on a Vancouver prostitute on the farm.
The woman had fought for her life and was repeatedly stabbed after Pickton slipped a handcuff on one of her wrists.
She slashed Pickton with the knife and fled to the street, where she flagged down a passing car.
She later died at hospital but was revived and survived.
Pickton was charged with attempted murder and unlawful confinement but the charges were dropped by the Crown in early 1999, days before the trial.
The inquiry, which will probe why the charges were stayed, has heard testimony that prosecutor Randi Connor felt the victim was an unreliable witness because she was a drug addict.
The inquiry won't sit Friday but will continue Monday with a new format - a discussion panel.
The first panel will include Wayne Leng, Maggie de Vries and Jamie Lee Hamilton, who were actively involved in trying to get police to investigate the growing number of women who were disappearing from the streets of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
Leng was a friend of Sarah de Vries, one of the missing women killed by Pickton.
Leng set up a website to coordinate information about the missing women and passed along tips from police from an informant, Bill Hiscox.
Sarah's sister, Maggie de Vries, lobbied Vancouver police, then Vancouver mayor Philip Owen and then attorney general Ujjal Dosanjh for more action on the missing women investigation.
Maggie de Vries wrote a book, Missing Sarah, about her experiences.
At the time, Vancouver police managers were in denial that a serial killer was preying on women.
The force kiboshed a draft press release that VPD Det.-Insp. Kim Rossmo wanted to issue, which included a public warning that a possible serial killer was on the loose.
Pickton was convicted of sex murders a his first trial in 2007.
After Pickton lost all appeals, the Crown decided not to proceed on a second trial on another 20 murder counts.
Pickton, now 63, confided to an undercover officer after his arrest that he killed 49 women.
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun
Updated: August 21, 2016