VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Pickton knew he was under surveillance during killing spree: Senior officer
BY NEAL HALL, POSTMEDIA NEWS NOVEMBER 22, 2011
VANCOUVER — Robert Pickton continued his killing spree even though he knew he was under surveillance two years before his arrest, a Vancouver inquiry heard Tuesday.
Vancouver police Deputy Chief Doug LePard told the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry Tuesday that Pickton was their prime suspect by 1999.
LePard testified the police had an "inadequate response" to the disappearance of dozens of women from Vancouver's troubled Downtown Eastside.
"I think the ineptness was after the summer of 1999," he said, adding police failed to provide sufficient resources and make the investigation a high priority.
The inquiry is investigating why it took Vancouver police and RCMP until 2002 to catch Pickton when they were receiving detailed tips as far back as 1998.
Pickton, 62, is serving a life sentence for the murders of six women. He was charged initially with killing 20 more but those charges were stayed in 2010.
The serial killer has been linked by DNA to the deaths of 33 women and has boasted to an undercover police officer that he killed at least 16 more.
Up until the summer of 1999, police did a good job investigating the disappearances, LePard said, citing the "heroic efforts" of Const. Lori Shenher of the Vancouver police missing person unit, who had by then identified Pickton as the prime suspect.
But the investigation stalled as police began looking at 500 other possible suspects, he told inquiry commissioner Wally Oppal.
Police missed many opportunities to solve the case after that time, LePard said.
Earlier, the inquiry heard how Vancouver police investigated three important tips in 1998 and 1999 that suggested Pickton had a farm in Port Coquitlam, B.C., where he killed at least one woman and had the ability to dispose of human remains in a grinder.
Two sources told police that a woman they knew, Lynn Ellingsen, had witnessed Pickton butchering a woman's body in his barn, where he often killed pigs.
LePard said Vancouver police investigated the information and passed it along to the Coquitlam RCMP because Pickton lived in their jurisdiction and the murders were reportedly committed there.
Pickton wasn't arrested until Feb. 5, 2002 by a rookie Coquitlam RCMP officer who executed a search warrant to look for illegal weapons.
The officer immediately found identification from some of the dozens of missing women who had disappeared from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
LePard said Tuesday that 13 women disappeared between 1999 and Pickton's February 2002 arrest and the DNA of 11 of the women was found on the farm.
In December 2000, the Vancouver Police Department and the RCMP formed a joint forces operation known as the Missing Women Task Force, which was headed by RCMP Staff-Sgt. Don Adam.
Cameron Ward, the lawyer for the families of the missing and murdered women, suggested to LePard that Adam had served some years with the Coquitlam, B.C., detachment and had some knowledge of the Pickton and his brother David.
The officer recalled that Adam had referred to the brothers as "ne're do wells" and petty thieves who seemed like a couple of banjo-playing hillbillies out of the movie Deliverance.
Ward suggested two detectives learned by July 1999 that Willie Pickton held illegal cockfights on his property, attended by up to 40 people who made bets, almost every weekend in the summer.
He added that police could have executed a search warrant on the property to let Pickton know police were watching him, which may have saved the lives of some women.
But LePard said Pickton, by that time, knew he was under surveillance at times and continued to kill women, making it a complex investigation.
He also said police couldn't enter the property with one search warrant to investigate suspected murders.
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Updated: January 01, 2007