VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Police told about farm many times
Brothers offer to help police search land
Mark Hume and Ian Bailey
National Post, with files from The Canadian Press
February 12, 2002
VANCOUVER - As police continue to pick through mounds of dirt and human refuse, searching for clues in a massive murder investigation, questions are being raised about why it took them so long to arrive at the ramshackle pig farm just outside the city.
The families of some of the 50 women who vanished from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside over the past decade, and whose bodies have never been found, say for years street prostitutes have talked about the farm in Port Coquitlam.
A search warrant executed on Tuesday led to three firearms charges against one of the owners of the farm, Robert William Pickton, 52. But something else found during the search led investigators to get another warrant.
News reports quoted police sources as saying identification and other items from at least two of the missing women prompted the second warrant. BC-CTV News reported last night that an inhaler, such as the kind used to treat asthma, belonging to one of the missing women has been found. At a briefing yesterday, police refused to confirm the information.
A lawyer for Robert and David Pickton, the operators of the pig farm, said yesterday they are so willing to help police who are now searching their property they will offer their own construction equipment for the job.
"The family wants to co-operate with police as much as they can," Peter Ritchie said yesterday in an interview with the National Post.
"They're shocked about this investigation. They want to be left alone, especially by the media," Mr. Ritchie said.
He said members of the family have spoken to police and will continue to do so. "They want to assist the police as much as possible in the search up to the point [of] even offering equipment free of charge and any assistance the police want."
Mr. Ritchie cited that point when asked directly if Robert Pickton or his brother David had had anything to do with the disappearance of the sex-trade workers, some missing since the mid-1980s. "I prefer to let their conduct to assist the police speak for itself," said Mr. Ritchie, who is representing the brothers as well as their sister.
Vancouver prostitutes "were scared for their lives about what was happening out there," says Rick Frey, a commercial fisherman whose daughter, Marnie, vanished from the Downtown Eastside in 1997.
"Time and time again this name, this farm, came up. It was too much of a coincidence," said Mr. Frey, whose family spent days walking the streets of Vancouver, talking to prostitutes as they looked for their missing daughter.
That view was supported by the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter, which held a press conference yesterday to say police were slow to act on the tips prostitutes provided about the farm.
"Our rape crisis centre has spoken to people who have ... identified the farm to police," said Suzanne Jay. "This farm has been brought to our attention in the past, yes, through our rape crisis centre.
"People were saying they had reported this to police, reported the location of the farm, and their suspicion of the farm and the men who were on the farm and in charge of the farm."
Ms. Jay and others criticized the police, suggesting the investigation had not been vigorous enough because the women were sex-trade workers.
One B.C. criminologist, citing reports of confusion in the ranks of the Vancouver Police Department, said there should be a public inquiry into the force's conduct.
"The information out there gives the impression [the police] did not make this a priority the way it should have been," said John Lowman of Simon Fraser University.
Newspaper reports have suggested the number of women missing was higher than Vancouver police initially estimated, that officers said to be working on the case were distracted because they were working on other matters and that some officers withheld information because they distrusted each other.
"There are indications that the police were not taking this seriously," said Prof. Lowman.
"To be fair to the police, these are not easy cases," he added.
Women working on the rough streets of the Downtown Eastside started vanishing back in the 1980s, but the majority have vanished since 1995. As the numbers grew, so too did speculation a serial killer was preying on hookers as easy victims. The Vancouver Police Department made no headway on the case and, under increasing public pressure, a joint VPD/RCMP missing women's task force was formed one year ago.
At a press conference held near the farm yesterday, Detective Scott Driemel of the Vancouver police defended his department's handling of the case. "The investigation is still proceeding in a very careful and deliberate manner. We will not be able to discuss details pertaining to the actual operation of the investigation.... We can say that all information received on this case, including [that] received in past years, has been well-shared and has been acted upon," he said.
Mr. Frey said he and his wife were shocked when they saw television footage of police searching the pig farm in Port Coquitlam.
"We know that farm," he said. "My wife was there two years ago." Mr. Frey said he had mixed emotions as he watched news footage of the search, knowing police were looking for human remains.
"My daughter was possibly there. That's nightmarish stuff," he said. "I'm glad that they might be getting somewhere, that we might get closure. But I'm bitter. I'm angry too.
"Why did it take so long?"
Lynn Frey, Marnie's mother, said she started to hear about the farm as soon as she arrived in the Downtown Eastside and began talking to prostitutes after her daughter vanished in August, 1997.
"My sister and I were walking the beat, showing pictures of my daughter to the prostitutes. Some of the women said there's this pig farm ... you can go there and get high.
"It was four or five women we were talking to. They were on the corner in a little group and they all knew about it.
"It was a real dirty place.... They said you could go there anytime and party. Lots of noise, lots of alcohol.... They said you just had to call and a woman would come to pick you up."
Mrs. Frey said, using information from women on the street, she and her sister drove out to Dominion Road in Port Coquitlam and found the farm late one night.
"We just drove down this dark road and stared at the house. It was pitch black. The dogs started barking and we thought, what are we doing here? This is crazy."
She said she went by the farm on another occasion. Later, she talked to police. "We said, 'You better check it out. It's not right.' "
Mrs. Frey said she believes two prostitutes also told police about the farm, but she understands why investigators might not have had enough information to go on.
"I'm not knocking the street girls. But when you're high, all the days blur together.
"I think the police did investigate. But they can't listen to everything. And these women weren't reliable."
Sharon Eistetter knew about the farm, too. Her daughter, Wendy Lynn Eistetter, said that was where she was the night she was attacked and slashed by a man with a knife in 1997. "I know my daughter gave them information ... they could have got on this three years ago."
Robert Pickton was charged by the RCMP in 1997 for allegedly confining and stabbing Wendy Lynn on March 23 of that year. According to a police information report found in court files, 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 an aggravated assault.
A trial date was set, but the charges were stayed before the matter went to court. The prosecutor who handled that case refused to be interviewed.
"The Crown reviewed the state of the evidence and there was no likelihood of conviction," said Geoffry Gaul, a spokesman for the Attorney-General's office.
Coquitlam Now, a Port Coquitlam newspaper, reported at the time that the stabbing victim was a female hitchhiker who had been picked up and taken to the alleged attacker's home. The woman escaped and ran out on to the road, where she was picked up by a couple driving past.
"The occupants of the car flagged down a police officer ... and the woman, covered in blood in the back of the car, was taken to Royal Columbian Hospital," the newspaper reported.
The story said police later found a man at the house who had been stabbed. Mrs. Eistetter said her daughter said she was handcuffed and attacked.
"She was able to get over to a cupboard and get a knife. She stabbed him and she ran."
She said her daughter is a drug addict and had credibility problems with the prosecutor's office.
Wendy Lynn Eistetter was arrested in the Downtown Eastside -- the same area where many of the missing women worked on the streets -- after stealing a police cruiser and dragging a constable.
Another woman, Sarah deVries, disappeared in 1998, leaving behind a son and daughter who now live with her mother, Pat deVries, in Guelph, Ont.
"They know -- well, Ben is only five, but Jeanie's been told," Mrs. deVries told the Guelph Record.
Jeanie, 10, still has hope her mother is still alive but Mrs. deVries said, "As far as I'm concerned, she's dead."
Ernie Crey, whose sister Dawn hasn't been heard from for more than a year, said he was reluctant to come but needed to see the farm search site. "I want to find out what became of my sister," an emotional Mr. Crey said yesterday outside the four-hectare property.
Here is the list of 50 women who have disappeared from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside since the early 1980s and the dates they were last seen:
Rebecca Guno -- June 1983; Sherry Rail -- January 1984; Leigh Miner -- December 1993; Laura Mah -- sometime in 1985; Elaine Allenbach -- March 1986; Teressa Williams -- July 1988; Ingrid Soet -- August 1989; Nancy Clark aka Nancy Greek -- sometime in 1991; Kathleen Wattley -- June 1992; Elsie Sebastien -- sometime in 1992; Angela Arseneault -- sometime in 1994; Catherine Gonzalez -- March 1995; Catherine Knight -- April 1995; Dorothy Spence -- August 1995; Diana Melnick -- December 1995; Tanya Holyk --October 1996; Olivia Williams -- December 1996; Frances Young -- sometime in 1996; Stephanie Lane -- January 1997; Helen Hallmark -- June 1997; Janet Henry -- June 1997; Marnie Frey --August 1997; Jacqueline Murdock -- August 1997; Cindy Beck -- September 1997; Andrea Borhaven -- sometime in 1997; Sherry Irving -- sometime in 1997; Cindy Feliks -- sometime in 1997; Kerry Koski -- January 1998; Inga Hall -- February 1998; Sarah deVries -- April 1998; Elaine Dumba -- Apri 1998; Sheila Egan -- July 1998; Julie Young -- October 1998; Angela Jardine -- November 1998; Marcella Creison -- December 1998; Michelle Gurney -- December 1998; Jacqueline McDonell -- January 1999; Georgina Papin -- sometime in 1999; Brenda Wolfe -- sometime in 1999; Wendy Crawford -- sometime in 1999; Jennifer Furminger -- sometime in 1999; Dawn Crey -- sometime in 2000; Debra Jones -- sometime in 2000; Patricia Johnson -- March 2001; Heather Bottomley -- April 2001; Heather Chinnock -- April 2001; Angela Josebury -- June 2001; Serena Abbotsway -- August 2001; Diane Rock -- October 2001; Mona Wilson -- November 2001.
Source: The Canadian Press
Updated: August 21, 2016