VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
B.C. farm excavated in missing-women search
Probe likened to hunt for human remains in Trade Center rubble
WESTERN CANADA BUREAU
PORT COQUITLAM, B.C. — Investigators combing a suburban pig farm formore evidence of 50 missing women have begun a massive excavation of the site — a process police liken to the search of the rubble at the collapsed towers of the World Trade Center.
Four months to the day when police descended on the property 35 kilometres east of Vancouver, archeology students began sifting through soil dug up on the farm of Robert William Pickton, 52, who faces seven charges of first-degree murder.
"This is a very slow, long, tedious process," said Detective Scott Driemel, a spokesman for the joint RCMP-Vancouver Police missing women task force.
"Literally, no stone is left unturned," he said. "This is a unique and huge project and it will go on in a careful and deliberate manner for a long time yet to come."
Until now, the search has consisted of a surface probe of the derelict buildings and abandoned vehicles littering the 14-acre site, which is now part of one of the largest police investigations in Canadian history. The search is to continue for at least another eight months.
At a nearby Pickton-owned site — known as Piggy's Palace and notorious for wild, all-night parties — police have recently begun a second search. The probe at that location is in its initial stages, and there are no signs of an excavation.
At the farm, which Pickton owns with his brother and sister, some of the 26 students with experience in human osteology, or bones, wore hardhats, earmuffs, safety goggles, fluorescent vests, overalls and gloves yesterday while examining soil moving along a conveyor belt.
Heavy equipment, including a large excavator, two dump trucks, a rubber-tire loader and soil screener, was fired up. The earth was first searched for heavier material before it was set on the 16-metre conveyor belt and meticulously sifted by hand.
`This is a unique and huge project...
RCMP Constable Cate Galliford, another task force spokesperson, said the process is "quite similar" to the one employed by crews looking for human remains in the truckloads of rubble excavated from the New York site hit by terrorists Sept. 11.
But police, who weeks ago said they'd found remains of some of the missing women — mostly drug addicts and prostitutes from Vancouver's downtown eastside — would say only that students are now searching for "foreign matter that might be of interest to investigators."
The students and heavy equipment operators who have been hired to work on the farm have been subjected to background security checks, signed confidentiality agreements and been threatened with firing and possible criminal charges if they publicly divulge any details of the work they do at the farm.
Police also refused to comment on local television news reports earlier this week that investigation sources said a freezer found on the property contained human body parts, including the feet, hands and heads of two women Pickton is accused of killing.
Reports also said Pickton's younger brother, David, felt his sibling was being framed and the body parts and other evidence may have been planted by a former farm employee.
Police have been calling families of the women, some of whom have been missing since 1983, to say that they regret the information was made public. They refuse, however, to confirm or deny the reports.
"What some people want to know about this case is the kind of information that, if made public, could jeopardize a fair trial, could jeopardize a prosecution," Driemel said.
"We, as police, don't think that should happen. We don't believe that needs to happen.
"And we have a legal responsibility — as part of the criminal justice system — to not let it happen."
Pickton is due to make his next court appearance on Tuesday.
The Toronto Star
Updated: August 21, 2016