VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Serial killer Robert Pickton began killing in 1991, inquiry told
BY NEAL HALL, VANCOUVER SUN FEBRUARY 15, 2012
VANCOUVER - Serial killer Robert Pickton began his murder spree in 1991, a police team commander told the Missing Women inquiry today.
"The first time he killed was 1991," Don Adam testified. "He was a fully functioning serial killer since 1995."
Adam, who joined the RCMP in 1971 and served 40 years before retiring last year, became team commander of Project Evenhanded in November 2000.
The VPD-RCMP joint forces operation didn't really get going until February 2001, he said.
Adam recalled the team's focus was broad - to look at and solve all the murders of prostitutes in Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, on Vancouver Island and up north.
The investigation was also to probe the 27 women reported missing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
"Did you believe the missing women were murdered?" asked lawyer Janet Winteringham, Adam's lawyer.
"Yes I did," Adam told inquiry Commissioner Wally Oppal.
He also said he found it "astounding" to learn there were 52 unsolved prostitute murders and the solve rate was only 50 per cent - well below the solve rate of most homicides.
"It didn't seem possible to me to be the work of one person," Adam said of the unsolved murders.
He felt there were clusters of murders, including three bodies of Vancouver prostitutes found in the Fraser Valley in 1995 and a series of murders on Vancouver Island, that indicated more than one serial killer was operating in B.C.
"My mandate was to catch them all," Adam recalled.
He said he assigned investigators to look at the Valley Murders and try to find a link to Pickton, who was eventually eliminated as a suspect when his DNA didn't match those crimes.
Early on, Adam recalled, police believed the women had stopped going missing but there were murders of sex trade workers on Vancouver Island, so it was believed the killer may have moved there.
The problem with the missing women, he said, was the absence of a body and a crime scene.
"There wasn't an event - somebody being dragged screaming into a car," he explained. "You lack the certainty of a crime."
At the beginning, he said the investigation team spent time making sure there was a crime and how to solve it.
"We were doing this investigation to find the killer and bring him to court," he said, admitting the investigation did suffer from "tunnel vision" at times.
"We could not assume there was one killer," Adam said.
He said at one time, police had 63 "priority one" suspects that were considered capable of being serial killers.
"This file was full of hideous human beings and they needed to be looked at," Adam told the inquiry.
He spent much of the day explaining how several roadblocks hindered the investigation, including the absence of a national DNA missing persons data bank, which he suggested the inquiry could remedy by recommending that such a data bank be established.
Adam said the investigation was also hampered by lack of DNA samples and a computer data base that could integrate the previous years of the Vancouver police investigation and RCMP files.
A rookie RCMP officer, Const. Nathan Wells, who was not involved in Project Evenhanded, executed a search warrant on Pickton's home on Feb. 5, 2002, looking for illegal firearms.
The guns were found but also found was identification and personal items of missing women.
Pickton was initially arrested and released 10 hours later.
Adam recalled police found drops of blood and an inhaler belonging to one of the missing women, Sereena Abotsway, which were tested for DNA.
Twelve days later, Adam recalled, police were able to match two DNA samples to missing women and the Crown agreed to charge Pickton with the first two counts of first-degree murders.
He said the DNA lab testing evolved greatly during the investigation, eventually being tested by robotic machines, and investigators went across Canada gathering familial DNA samples to match the DNA of 33 missing women found at Pickton's farm in Port Coquitlam.
Adam pointed out that there has been some criticism of the RCMP for not finding the DNA of two missing women that was on Pickton's clothing seized by Coquitlam RCMP in 1997 after Pickton's knife attack on a prostitute.
But police in 1997 had no DNA samples to match to any of the missing women, he said.
He pointed out that samples couldn't be tested unless there was a homicide and a suspect, so Vancouver police had been "crippled" in gathering samples that couldn't be tested in Canada because the force had classified the women as missing instead of homicide victims. He said the VPD had sent samples to the U.S. for testing.
Adam also defended his decision to take a two-month summer vacation in 2001, saying the people working on the case were highly capable.
"I had phenomenal people," he said, adding many were very experienced homicide detectives. "The work they did that summer was quite amazing."
It was earlier suggested at the inquiry that Adam's two-month vacation indicated there was no sense of urgency, despite the fact that police learned in 2001 that women were still going missing.
A dozen women were killed by Pickton from 1998 until his arrest in 2002.
Adam said it was not true "that we showed no urgency, we showed no care or concern for the safety of the women, that we were just sort of blindly stumbling around, reviewing old files."
Adam's testimony will continue Thursday at the inquiry, then will continue later next week.
Former Vancouver police chief Terry Blythe will testify next Monday, when he will be questioned by his lawyer, Eddie Greenspan of Toronto, one of Canada's most well-known and expensive lawyers, whose clients include former newspaper mogul Conrad Black.
Pickton, now 62, was convicted in 2007 of six murders but once confided that he killed 49.
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun
Updated: August 21, 2016