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Missing-women search expands to bog

Police to fence, patrol the roadside slough and wetlands 24 hours a day

Suzanne Fournier
The Province

Monday, July 21, 2003

The Missing Women's Task Force prepared to search a boggy area of the Kwantlen band reserve near Mission yesterday as it expanded its investigation of women who have disappeared from the Downtown Eastside.

'The search of this area has been launched as a result of evidence uncovered during the course of the missing-women investigation,' said task force spokeswoman Cpl. Cate Galliford. Police are not offering more details about the evidence as the case continues.

An eight-member RCMP dive team and 52 anthropology students were preparing to move on to the site after police served a search warrant on the band.

The site was identified from evidence uncovered in the search of a Port Coquitlam pig farm owned by Robert Pickton, RCMP Cpl. Catherine Galliford told a news conference.

Pickton, 53, is facing 15 charges of first-degree murder in connection with a long list of women who disappeared from the Downtown Eastside over the past two decades.

"We started in this area based on evidence we uncovered during the course of our investigation," said Galliford.

A large team of anthropologists is assisting police in a search of this wetland near Mission, just off the Lougheed Highway. (Global BC)

She said police became aware of the area "just recently."

"Because we have a case before the courts we are unable to go into any detail with regard to what that evidence is or how it pertains to our investigation."

The new search site, about 350 metres long and 50 metres wide, is in a high-traffic area just east of the Ruskin Bridge in Mission on the south side of the Lougheed Highway. It consists mainly of wetlands, a slough, scrub and some taller trees.

Adjacent to the westbound lane of Lougheed Highway is a pullout, where a killer could have stopped to dispose of body parts. It is now reserved for the media to give them a direct view of the search across the road.

CREDIT: Todd Duncan, for The Province

Workers clear tall grass in wetlands east of the Ruskin Bridge on the south side of Lougheed Highway in Mission.

The Kwantlen band, which belongs to the 25-band Sto:lo Nation, has several reserves. The one police are searching is lightly populated, with only one or two families staying there on a seasonal basis.

The area is easily accessed by the public.

Police would not say if they have a "person of interest" connected to the Mission site, but a Sto:lo woman who asked not to be identified said task force members have visited several reserves lately looking for an aboriginal man in connection with the missing women.

"The constables from the Missing Women's Task Force gave us a photograph and the name of this man and told us to call the RCMP immediately if we see him and not to try to talk to him," said the woman, who is not a Kwantlen band member.

"We know him pretty well though because his son used to live here."

(Maggie de Vries)

The man, who has at least one conviction for violence against women, is believed to travel between B.C. and the U.S., where he has been living with native American relatives.

A private contracting company hired to erect a wire-link fence was busy bounding the search area yesterday as police stood guard and motorists slowed down to try to see what was going on.

Appearing incongruous with the grim task of locating a killer's possible body-dumping site is a large highway billboard advertising the movie Terminator 3.

Police have erected a tall wire-link fence on both sides of several hundred metres of the road and put up a large tent to give searchers some respite from the heat. A boat will patrol the slough to prevent unauthorized entry.

Police said they plan to patrol the site 24-hours a day.

There is no indication they plan to dig to any significant depth at the site, but they are planning to clear out scrub to make a surface search easier.

Galliford said 52 of 104 anthropology students have been reassigned from the Pickton pig farm at 953 Dominion Rd. in Port Coquitlam to the Mission site.

Two of the four soil sifters being used at Dominion Road have been shut down so the soil underneath can be excavated and searched.

The students who were manning those sifters are being transferred to Mission, Galliford said.

She said the investigation at the Port Coquitlam property is expected to continue until at least the fall.

Maggie deVries, whose sister Sarah deVries disappeared April 14, 1998, spoke briefly at the police press conference.

DeVries said she found the police search of the new site, "encouraging and horrifying, simultaneously. It gives me the sense that more will be discovered.

"It's so important just to keep returning to what this is really all about, and that's the 63 women that are missing, and one of them is my sister Sarah."

DeVries, a children's author, has written a book based on Sarah's life and diaries, and it is to be published soon.

Closing arguments are expected today in Pickton's preliminary hearing, which began in January. A decision on whether he will stand trial on all or none of the 15 charges is expected this week.

sfournier@png.canwest.com

-- with Canadian Press, Global BC

 Copyright 2003 The Province

Missing Sarah, A Vancouver women remembers her vanished sister-2003

 

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Updated: August 21, 2016