VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Police first suspected Pickton in ‘97
Vancouver police and RCMP argued over resources and territory: Source
Greg Middleton and Steve Berry
Police had accused serial killer Robert "Willy" Pickton in their sights years before he was arrested, The Province has learned.
Police sources have revealed for the first time that he was investigated in 1997 and 1999 in connection with the disappearance of more than 50 women from the Downtown Eastside since 1983.
"He kept cropping up," said one source who, like others, would talk only if guaranteed anonymity.
More than 30 of the women have disappeared since police first looked at Pickton as a suspect in 1997.
The Vancouver Police Department's secretive surveillance squad, Strike Force, watched Pickton for a week in 1997.
Police had information he was picking up prostitutes and taking them to his Port Coquitlam farm.
"The working theory was that he was killing them and running them through a wood chipper and feeding them to the pigs," said a source.
Twenty-six acrcheology students are sifting through soil on the Pickton farm in Port Coquitlam
But the surveillance uncovered no evidence and it was called off.
The source said Vancouver police could not get the support of the RCMP, who had more resources, to continue the investigation.
Vancouver police argued the farm, in Coquitlam, was in RCMP territory. The RCMP said there was no hard evidence a crime had been committed, and the women had disappeared in Vancouver.
"It became a pissing contest to see who wouldn't do it," the source said.
In March 1997 Pickton was charged with unlawful confinement and assault with a weapon in the stabbing of prostitute Wendy Lynn Eistetter. The charges were stayed in January 1999.
Later that year, Pickton came under intense scrutiny at a summit of police investigators from across the Lower Mainland.
He had been identified as a suspect in a case where a man had attempted to drag a woman into his truck in New Westminster. Police suspected the vehicle was Pickton's.
A "joint-forces operation" was proposed to run surveillance on Pickton. New Westminster police, Vancouver police and RCMP from Coquitlam, Richmond and Burnaby were at the meeting, said a source who was there.
But the woman in the case failed to identify Pickton as her assailant and the case died. The joint operation never went ahead.
Another police source said Pickton was identified as a suspect after he was seen picking up prostitutes in New Westminster.
The source said police had surveillance on Pickton in 1999, but the farm was difficult to watch because there were no easy, yet discreet, vantage points.
"All the Picktons did was work." the source said. "You could watch them for days and nothing would happen."
Vancouver police formed a team to review files on the missing women in September 1998. But that investigation stalled.
The RCMP formally joined the investigation in September 2001 when the Missing Women Task Force was established.
Pickton, 52, was arrested Feb. 22 and is now charged with seven counts of first-degree murder. His brother Dave, a co-owner of the farm, is not a suspect.
An intense search of the Port Coquitlam farm is continuing. Twenty-six archeology students are sifting through excavated soil and a team of police and forensic experts are on the site. A nearby piece of property is also being searched.
Vancouver police spokesman Det. Scott Driemel would not comment on the investigation "as it may well be part of the evidence that is presented during the criminal process."
© Copyright 2002 The Province
Updated: August 21, 2016