VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Please note the following article referred to David Lowther of Victoria who was the victim of a stabbing by Ross Contois. Any other reference to David Lowther in this article is erroneous. Incorrect information was printed in this article. Please refer to "Apology to David Lowther" at the end of this article..
54 lives and 54 mysteries in B.C.
'The mind works overtime' as police search pig farm
Mark Hume, with files from King Lee in Victoria
VANCOUVER - While rumours swirl in the case of Robert "Willie" Pickton and the Port Coquitlam pig farm where police say at least six sex trade workers were murdered, court documents provide an insightful glimpse into the lives of those associated with the deeply troubling case.
Police have 54 names on a list of women who went missing from the Downtown Eastside and allege the remains of some have been found on the Pickton farm.
Under fire for not acting sooner, police are determined now to run a tight, disciplined investigation with no leaks. Search warrants have been sealed and almost no information is being released.
And so there are stories -- wild, unsubstantiated and untraceable --about the indignities that the missing women might have suffered on the pig farm.
Suzanne Jay, a director of a Vancouver rape counselling centre, spoke for many when she told a reporter for the Los Angeles Times: "The police tell us almost nothing, and we are left to imagine the most grisly scenes imaginable."
"The mind works overtime and people always want to volunteer gruesome tips to me," says Deborah Jardine, whose daughter, Angela, is among the missing.
It is only in court that the full story will be told and the factual record established. However, turning to the courts now, one can already find legal documents that help sketch the background of the individuals involved.
Robert "Willie" Pickton was charged with attempted murder in 1997 after Wendy Lynn Eistetter, a drug addict and sex trade worker with a wild and reckless past, was picked up on the roadside by a couple driving past the pig farm at 1:45 a.m. She was partially clothed, had been stabbed several times and was covered in blood.
According to a police information report, Mr. Pickton "did attempt to commit the murder of Wendy Lynn Eistetter, by stabbing her repeatedly with ... a brown-handled kitchen knife." The information alleged he "confined" her and committed aggravated assault on March 23, 1997.
Ms. Eistetter's mother has said her daughter was handcuffed and attacked, but managed to get a knife, stabbed Mr. Pickton and ran. He later showed up at Eagle Ridge Hospital, where he was treated for one stab wound.
Ms. Eistetter had been picked up by Mr. Pickton earlier in the evening and taken to the pig farm.
Provincial Court Judge Kenneth Page released Mr. Pickton on a $2,000 cash bond with the undertaking that he stay at the farm and not have any contact with Ms. Eistetter.
"You are to abstain completely from the use of alcohol and non-prescription drugs," Judge Page ordered.
"I don't take them," Mr. Pickton replied, according to transcripts.
A trial date was set, but the charges were stayed before the matter went to court because, according to Geof Gaul of the Attorney-General's office, "there was no likelihood of conviction."
A lawyer, speaking not for attribution, said the decision was shocking given the wounds Ms. Eistetter suffered.
Mr. Pickton is now charged with the murders of Sereena Abotsway, 29, Mona Wilson, 26, Heather Bottomley, 25, Diane Rosemary Rock, 34, Jacqueline McDonell, 26, and Andrea Joesbury, 23.
Ms. Eistetter, like many of the other sex trade workers who visited the pig farm, has a criminal record.
In a 1998 incident, six months after the charges were dropped against Mr. Pickton, Ms. Eistetter was arrested in the Downtown Eastside after stealing a police cruiser and dragging a constable along a back lane.
Police said she was apparently high on cocaine when she jumped behind the wheel of a patrol car when two officers got out to question the driver of a vehicle they had pulled over.
An officer who tried to grab the wheel through a window was dragged down an alley for a short distance before the car crashed into a building.
Police said it took them more than 10 minutes to get Ms. Eistetter out of the car, because she was kicking and biting emergency personnel.
That was just one in a long line of run-ins Ms. Eistetter had with police, stretching back over a decade, to a 1987 charge for the theft of $1,400 worth of cigarettes. Most of her crimes appear to have been petty thefts committed to support a drug habit. She gave as her last address what turns out to be vacant land in an industrial zone at the edge of the Downtown Eastside. Her mother says she doesn't know where to find her daughter, who "lives on the street."
Similar patterns emerge in the records of others.
Heather Bottomley, who went missing in April, 2001, and whose remains police say they found at the farm, has a Vancouver Police control sheet in her court file that cautions: "Violent suicide risk." The records show she had a scar on her right wrist, brown hair and hazel eyes, was 155 centimetres tall and weighed 50 kilograms. When she was picked up and strip-searched after failing to pay for a cab ride, her effects were listed as: ID, condoms, a ring and a lighter. Cash: $0.00.
One entry contains a physical description sadly not uncommon for women on the Downtown Eastside: "Two bruised eyes from previous injury."
Details on the arrest sheet provide a stark portrait of the life that sex trade workers lead on the city's Low Track.
Business address: Welfare.
Andrea Dawn Joesbury, 23, who disappeared in 2001 and whose remains allegedly also were found at the farm, had been living in the Downtown Eastside since she was 16. She came from Surrey. She was a prostitute and heroin addict.
Police records show she had green eyes, blond hair, weighed 45 kg and was 152 cm tall. She cut her hair close and in the mug shot clipped to the sheet, appears to have been beautiful at one time. She had track marks on her arms and a scar on the fourth finger on her right hand. She was arrested numerous times for possession of heroin and one court order instructed her to report at least once a week to the Mental Patients Association at 222 Main Street. She was picked up with $5, a toothbrush and one candy in her pocket.
She had a daughter with her boyfriend, Mohammed Khogaini, whom she names as her next of kin. She lived with him in room No. 201 at the Roosevelt Hotel, a shabby residence for drug addicts. By coincidence, the day I found her files on the courthouse computer, Mr. Khogaini was in drug court, just one floor above.
We sat on a hallway bench for a moment and talked about Ms. Joesbury. He says she was a sweet, pretty girl who came to visit him several years ago to score some heroin. He supplied her with drugs and she stayed. They had a child together. He was in jail when she vanished. When he asked about her, he was told she was last seen heading out to Port Coquitlam.
"I think she went a few times," he said of the pig farm.
He said she knew her life was dangerous.
"She said I don't know how I'm still alive ... She was a very nice girl. She didn't hurt anybody."
Mona Lea Wilson, 23, is the 50th name on the list of missing women. Police allege they found traces of her remains on the farm.
Court records show she was born in Kelowna, B.C., and her past includes charges for theft under $5,000 (stealing food from Safeway and, in a separate incident, from Westfair Foods Ltd.), uttering threats to cause death or serious bodily harm and attempting to obtain goods by false premises. Police records describe her as an aboriginal woman, 168 cm tall, weighing 66 kg, with brown eyes and brown hair. Physical marks indicate how rough a life she was leading. She had scars on her forearms, back and hip.
Sereena Abotsway, 25, went missing in August, 2001. Police say they found evidence that she was murdered at the pig farm. Her father lived in the Downtown Eastside and died there of a drug overdose.
Like many of those named on the list of missing women, Ms. Abotsway's court record notes she "failed to appear" for a court hearing. At the time she vanished, a warrant was out for her arrest. She had failed to appear on a charge of stealing chocolate bars from The Bay.
Jacqueline McDonell, 23, was a known drug user and sex trade worker who arrived in the Downtown Eastside sometime in 1998. She came from the small smelter town of Trail, in British Columbia's Kootenay region. She was reported missing in Vancouver in February, 1999.
Police allege she was murdered by Mr. Pickton between Jan. 21 of that year and Feb. 5, 2002.
A warrant was out for her arrest on a minor drug charge at the time she vanished.
Front line street workers have described her as "a fabulous girl" who didn't seem to fit in with the hardened hookers on the Low Track.
Diane Rosemary Rock, 34, was reported missing to police in December and her name was added to the missing women's list last January.
A cursory search found she had no criminal record, which set her apart.
The Vancouver Sun reported she worked with developmentally challenged adults in Abbotsford, at the MSA Community Living Society, until April of last year. Co-workers said there was no indication she was a drug addict or prostitute -- but she was known at drop-in centres in the Downtown Eastside which are used by sex trade workers and drug addicts. Without warning she took a leave of absence from her job last spring -- and never returned.
David Francis Pickton, co-owner of the pig farm and one of three children of Leonard Pickton and Louise Arnal (who died in 1978 and 1979, respectively), boasted to a reporter after Willie was arrested that "[I] might have been in trouble with the law when I was younger ... but any charges I've ever got, I've beat."
But court records show he was convicted of sexual assault in 1992, was fined $1,000 and given 30 days probation. The woman said Pickton was interrupted in the act by someone coming into the trailer and she escaped.
In April, 1998, the City of Port Coquitlam filed an application under the Livestock Protection Act to kill a black and tan German Shepherd that belonged to Mr. Pickton.
No details were provided, but a stay of proceedings was later entered by Crown counsel Richard Romano.
In August 2000, David Pickton was charged with using "deceit, falsehood or other fraudulent means" to defraud Shell Canada of gas valued at under $5,000. He was also charged with attempt to use a Shell Canada credit card that was the property of Western Canada Transportation. There was a stay of proceedings on count one. He pleaded guilty on the second charge and was given a conditional discharge, with four months probation.
Documents also show that in 1996, David and Robert Pickton registered Piggy Palace Good Times Society with the government. The non-profit society was to "organize, co-ordinate, manage and operate special events, functions, dances, shows and exhibitions on behalf of service organizations, sports organizations and other worthy groups."
Shortly after it was established, the Society, the Pickton brothers and their sister, Linda Louise Wright, were taken to court by the City of Port Coquitlam for allegedly contravening the zoning bylaw. The statement of claim says the farm was in an agricultural zone and "the use of the land for the assembly of persons for recreations, charitable, or cultural purposes and for entertainment purposes is prohibited."
The claim said the Picktons had "altered a large farm building on the land for the purpose of holding dances, concerts and other recreations and entertainment events."
Despite warnings from the city, court files note that ads were placed in local newspapers promoting the party hall.
In an interview with The Province, David Pickton said he built the dance hall and had up to 1,800 people at parties there.
Randy Shaw, the local Fire Chief, obtained an injunction to block a New Year's Eve party that was planned. Doug and The Slugs, a popular Vancouver band that briefly enjoyed national fame, was booked to play.
Mr. Shaw stated that 400 people were expected and the building "poses an imminent and serious danger" because it wasn't up to the fire code.
An order under the Fire Services Act was issued blocking the party -- but Mr. Shaw stated that the Picktons planned to go ahead anyway.
"On Dec. 31, 1998, at approximately 10:30 a.m., I attended and observed a refrigerated truck parked in front of the premises and individuals unloading a palette of beer," Mr. Shaw reported in court documents.
He obtained a court order restraining the Picktons from using the land for assemblies. The court stated that "any peace officer be authorized to arrest and remove any person" found at the party.
In January, 2000, the society lost its non-profit status for failure to file financial statements with the government.
The Piggy Palace dance hall is among the places being searched by the missing women's task force.
Court records also show Mr. Pickton was in three vehicle accidents in Vancouver. In 1988, a truck he "owned or operated" rear-ended a car at Oak and 57th Ave. In July, 1991, he was driving a car that collided with several others at Knight Street Bridge. In October, 1991, near Oak and 71st Ave., a red Ford dump truck he owned and in which he was a passenger at the time, collided with a car. Court files show that all the accidents led to lawsuits against Mr. Pickton, but they were settled out of court.
David Pickton is not a suspect in the murder investigation, police say.
Following Willie Pickton's arrest, many friends and associates have spoken with reporters, describing him as a good, hard-working man. Few have been more supportive than Gina Houston -- who has visited him in jail and describes herself as a suspect -- and her husband, Ross Edward Contois.
They have provided the media with a number of explanations of events related to Mr. Pickton. Commenting on a report that a woman had once been heard screaming at the pig farm, Ms. Houston said that was her and Mr. Contois having an argument.
"The person identified Willie, but I had the truck for five months or six months, and all these incidents that they were talking about with Willie being in the truck, it couldn't have happened, because I had the truck and I never lent it to Willie," she said.
Mr. Contois confirmed the alibi, saying: "But that was me doing that."
Mr. Contois also supported Mr. Pickton's good character, saying: "Willie would never hurt a soul."
Both Mr. Contois and Ms. Houston have court records.
In July, 2001, Mr. Contois was charged with two counts of assaulting Ms. Houston in Port Coquitlam. The court files show a stay of proceedings was entered on both charges, on Oct. 18, 2001, without providing details.
Ms. Houston was also charged in January, 1999, with "committing an assault upon M.S.", an unidentified person, in Port Coquitlam. The court record said she used a weapon, "to wit: an electrical cord." The file contains no details, but notes she was acquitted in June, 2000.
Mr. Contois has a long criminal record involving several convictions for assault against both men and women. He received a three-month jail sentence, in 1989, after pleading guilty to assaulting Janet Lee Johnson, in Langford, just outside Victoria. He also got three months for assaulting Anastasia Dorothy Young, in a separate incident, in Langford. And in a third incident, involving the same two women, he pled guilty to assault and mischief, and was given 18 months in jail.
Other court records show he was given a one-year sentence for possession of a dangerous weapon -- a knife -- and five years each on charges of assaulting Janet Lee Williams and Kenneth John Toland. He was also prohibited from having any weapons for 10 years.
In a 1989 incident, Mr. Contois pleaded guilty to aggravated assault of David Lowther. He was given a nine-month jail sentence after stabbing Mr. Lowther, who later had his own problems with police. Mr. Lowther is awaiting trial in Nanaimo on a charge of second-degree murder in the death of John Weynerowski, whose body was found dumped near the Mount Washington ski resort on Vancouver Island.
In the trial for assault on Mr. Lowther, the court was told that Mr. Contois' record was mostly "offences to do with alcohol" and that "by way of committed criminal activity ... Mr. Contois has not settled into that mold, though his history suggests that's a course that's now easily open to him."
Mr. Contois' record also includes convictions for being unlawfully at large, failing to remain at the scene of two separate traffic accidents and theft.
In 1995, he pleaded guilty to aggravated assault of Robert Alexander East, in Victoria, for which he was given nine months jail and 22 months probation, as well as a life-time ban from using firearms, ammunition and explosive substances.
In 1999, Mr. Contois was in a car accident. He was sued by the driver of the other vehicle, but the trial was adjourned when a settlement was reached out of court. The accident took place on the Mary Hill By-Pass, near the Port Coquitlam pig farm.
firstname.lastname@example.org TONIGHT: The reconstruction of evidence at the Pickton farm, tonight on Global National.
Apology to David Lowther
An article in yesterday's National Post referred to David Lowther of Victoria, who was the victim of a stabbing by Ross Contois; Mr. Contois was convicted of aggravated assault as a result. Any other reference to David Lowther in that article is erroneous. Andrew Lowther, in an unrelated matter, is awaiting trial in Nanaimo, B.C., on a charge of attempted murder. Incorrect information concerning David Lowther was published in yesterday's newspaper, which the Post completely retracts and for which it sincerely apologizes.
Courtesy of the
Updated: August 21, 2016