VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
'This is what a serial killer looks like,' VPD officer tells missing women inquiry
BY NEAL HALL, VANCOUVER SUN JANUARY 30, 2012
VANCOUVER -- The first Vancouver police officer assigned to investigate the missing women case testified today that when she received informant tips suggesting Robert Pickton may be a serial killer, she felt the information was very credible.
"I was thinking 'This is what a serial killer looks like," Const. Lori Shenher told the Missing Women inquiry, which is probing why the serial killer wasn't caught sooner.
She said she was told by informants that Pickton lived on a farm, had the means to dispose of bodies and had bags of women's bloody clothing, identification and purses at his home, located on a farm in Port Coquitlam.
One of the informants said Pickton had said he had a meat grinder to dispose of bodies, she said.
"When I heard about the meat grinder, I thought, 'Bingo. This is the kind of guy we're looking for'," Shenher testified.
Another informant said she was told by a friend that she stumbled on Pickton one night butchering a woman's body in a barn.
The informant said one woman had escaped in 1997 and Pickton was wanting someone to lure her to the farm so he could kill her.
Shenher said she talked to Coquitlam RCMP Cpl. Mike Connor about Pickton's 1997 knife attack on the Vancouver prostitute who survived.
She tracked down and interviewed the woman on Aug. 21, 1998. At the time, the woman was in jail after stealing a police car and crashing it in Gastown; Shenher heard about the incident over the radio and heard the woman's name.
She found the woman's story about the Pickton attack very credible, she told the inquiry.
The woman, whose named is banned, recalled that Pickton stabbed her after he tried to put handcuffs on her and she resisted and fought for her life.
The woman stabbed Pickton, then ran to the street and flagged down a passing car.
Pickton was charged with attempted murder and unlawful confinement but the charges were dropped by the Crown in 1998.
Shenher recalled the woman said she never got a chance to testify because the Crown felt she wasn't credible because she was a drug addict.
"I found it incredibly frustrating that her evidence was never heard," Shenher testified.
She recalled telling the woman: "I think you're the only one who got away."
The woman agreed, suggesting Pickton "must have done this before," Shenher said.
She also told the woman, based on the informant information, that Pickton tried to get others to lure the woman to the farm so he could "finish her off."
Shenher recalled that the woman who survived the knife attack by Pickton actually died on the operating table at hospital but was revived.
"Had she died, we probably would have had a slam dunk murder conviction," she told the inquiry.
Shenher said she passed along the information to Connor, a seasoned investigator who had handled a number of homicides.
She testified when she was first assigned to the Missing Person unit in July 1998, a detective told her: This could very well turn into a serial killer investigation."
Shenher recalled she had previously tried to develop relationships with prostitutes when she was the liaison officer working with the street sex trade, which also involved posing undercover as a prostitute in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside as part of a "John" sting
that targeted prostitution customers.
One night while working undercover, posing as a sex trade worker, she recalled getting a scare as she was grabbed by a man in a car.
The man wouldn't look at her while he talked to her, Shenher said, and when they had negotiated sex for $50 through an open window of the man's car, she recalled looking away to signal other officers nearby working as her "cover team" when the man grabbed her arm.
It shocked her, even though she had a gun under her coat, she said.
When the man was arrested, police found the man had a gun on the front seat of the car and was wanted on a Canada-wide warrant for robbery, Shenher said.
She also talked to many of the women working the street sex trade.
"It's a very lonely life, a very difficult life," Shenher recalled about street prostitution. "Standing in the shadows in industrial areas."
Most women working the survival sex trade become drug dependent "because of the day to day horror of this work," she told the inquiry.
Shenher said she developed relationships with some of the women working the streets, including Angela Jardine and Sereena Abotsway - two of the women who disappeared.
"When the two of them went missing, I knew very definitely that we had a problem," she testified
By August 1998, she wrote a memo to then detective-inspector Kim Rossmo, a geographic profiler and expert in serial crime.
In her memo, Shenher suggested the women who had gone missing may have met foul play and the person responsible "has the means to dispose of bodies."
She testified that she tried to relay her concerns about a possible serial to her superiors, who felt the missing women would eventually show up.
The male police managers had an outdated view of the sex trade in Vancouver, believing the women worked a circuit in Western Canada, Shenher said.
But she told the male managers that the missing women hadn't cashed their welfare cheques, hadn't contacted their children and "they weren't at the Calgary Stampede."
She was asked what would have happened if she had banged on the table and told her bosses "There's something serious going on here."
"I've thought about that for 13 and half years," Shenher said.
She said she didn't want to be dismissed as a zealot and felt she had to work hard to try to find the evidence.
She also saw how Kim Rossmo was treated when he wanted to issue a public warning that a serial killer may be responsible for the dozens of women who had gone missing from the Downtown Eastside.
Rossmo, a former Vancouver police serial crime expert now teaching at Texas State University, testified last week that the inspector in charge of major crime, Fred Biddlecombe, who also oversaw the major crime squad, which included the missing person unit, had a temper tantrum when Rossmo wanted to issue his press release.
Instead, Biddlecombe directed Shenher to locate the missing women.
Shenher said she felt she would be treated the same way as Rossmo because she was not very experienced, so continually consulted with more seasoned homicide detectives.
"I probably drove the homicide detectives crazy, running things by them," she told the inquiry.
Shenher worked on the case tirelessly until she was granted a transfer in 2000 out of the missing person unit.
Women continued to go missing until Pickton was arrested on Feb. 5, 2002. He was eventually charged with 27 counts of first-degree murder.
Pickton, who now is serving a life sentence, once admitted to killing 49 women.
Vancouver police Deputy Chief Doug LePard, who did an analysis of the police failures in the case, blamed senior managers for not taking the case more seriously and devoting more human resources.
The VPD had repeatedly apologized for not catching Pickton sooner.
Last Friday, the commanding officer of the RCMP in B.C. apologized for the Mounties not doing more.
Two key RCMP investigators - Connor and Don Adam - are expected to testify this week.
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun
Updated: August 21, 2016