VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Top cop still wonders how he could have handled Pickton investigation better, inquiry hears
BY SUZANNE FOURNIER, THE PROVINCE FEBRUARY 23, 2012
The "guy in charge" of the RCMP's Coquitlam detachment from 1998 to 2004 said he wonders "almost daily" how Robert Pickton's killing spree, unchecked from 1991 to 2002, was allowed to go on for so long.
But former RCMP Coquitlam Supt. Ric Hall also told the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry this morning that although he often ponders the disturbing case, he admits "I don't think I would have done anything differently" as a top manager.
"Everybody touched by this probably thinks about it every day...with this inquiry going on, it resonates with all of us,"said Hall, sounding slightly emotional after his matter-of-fact testimony.
"I was the guy in charge, ultimately responsible for the Coquitlam detachment... but when I think about what I could have done differently, I don't think I would have done anything differently," said Hall, who retired in 2002 after 40 years as a Mountie.
Hall said he was taught to run a detachment by leaving his investigators alone. "I ran the detachment in a way people had showed me to run it, not to stick my nose into investigations.
"Don't micro-manage, be there to help if they run into obstacles."
That approach left Hall standing on the Pickton farm, just down the road from his Coquitlam RCMP detachment, on the morning of Feb. 6, 2002, having just found out that an unrelated firearms search of the Pickton farm had swiftly discovered evidence of the Vancouver missing women.
"How did this happen?" Hall's said was his gut response at the time.
Pickton, who is convicted of killing six women but confessed to killing 49 women, came to Coquitlam RCMP attention in 1998 when solid informants, and even an eyewitness, came forward. Yet no one arrested Pickton until after the firearms search warrrant obtained on Feb. 5, 2002 revealed ample evidence of missing women.
The inquiry is also looking into why 1997 attempted-murder charges against Pickton, in connection with the near-fatal stabbing of a Downtown Eastside sex trade worker on his Port Coquitlam farm, were stayed by the Crown in 1998.
Hall testified that he didn't even know about the 1997 stabbing. He also didn't know that Coquitlam RCMP Sgt. Mike Connor, of his own detachment, worked very hard to get Pickton to trial in 1997. Nor did he know that Connor strongly believed that Pickton could be the serial killer responsible for dozens of women disappearing forever from Vancouver eastside streets. Connor was promoted and taken off the case.
"I stood on the Pickton farm on Feb. 6, 2002 wondering how this could have happened," confessed Hall. "I think about that almost daily, how can we have done this better?"
Hall admitted that his investigators did tell him that an eyewitness Lynn Ellingsen had told police in the summer of 1999 that she had witnessed Pickton gutting a woman in his barn.
"This was someone who saw a woman slaughtered and hanging on a hook, that's dramatic material to be investigating?" Hall was asked by Commission counsel Art Vertlieb.
"Yes," said Hall, but he agreed with Vertlieb there was "no system of followup" and that when his subordinates told him that Ellingsen had denied her story and refused to take a polygraph, Hall himself pursued it no further.
Hall said he had the impression that Coquitlam RCMP Insp. Earl Moulton did not believe Ellingsen and that apart from some surveillance, the Pickton matter had been dropped.
Hall said that he first heard the Pickton name on Jan. 4, 1998, after Coquitlam RCMP and the local fire department had shut down a huge New Year's Eve party at Piggy's Palace, a nearby property that Robert Pickton's brother Dave, nicknamed Piggy, had turned into an after-hours booze can. Hall said he thought the Picktons were "just a couple of rascals who liked to party and bring people out to party."
Hall said he had no idea that the Picktons regularly hosted bikers and sex-trade workers at those parties. Many off-duty police officers in the Lower Mainland also atttended those parties, but Hall said he never personally went to the Pickton farm or Piggy's Palace.
Hall agreed with Neil Chantler, the lawyer for 25 families of women whom Pickton is convicted of or suspected of killing on his arm, that he drove by the Pickton farm virtually daily on his way to work.
Although Hall agreed with Chantler that he was well-aware of the growing Vancouver crisis over dozens of women still going missing from the Downtown Eastside, and that he read the blizzard of media articles, Hall said he didn't in his own mind link that to Pickton.
'"Every time I drove by I didn't go to myself 'we have a serial killer living here,'" said Hall.
Asked by Chantler if the Pickton investigation "wasn't even on your radar," Hall responded: '"Fair statement."
Hall said he ''thought the (Pickton) investigation into a single incident (Ellingsen's witnessing of a slaughter in progress) had come to an end.
"Do you wish you had taken further steps" to take a proactive role in finding out whether Pickton was an active serial killer, Hall responded: "Knowing what I now know, yes."
But Hall stuck to his guns, denying to Chantler that he had a "fairly passive management style."
"I don't think that's a fair statement" said Hall, insisting that he ran a good detachment the way he'd been trained to do so. By the time he finally stood on the Pickton farm on Feb. 6, 2002, said Hall, all of his people "were very busy. They had families, media, they were trying to put up fences and secure the property." Then the investiation was run by the Joint Missing Women Task Force of Vancouver police and RCMP, headed by former RCMP Inspector Don Adam.
Adam's evidence at the inquiry has been interrupted but he is expected to return.
Next week, Commissioner Oppal has announed that the inquiry will move into a "less adversarial approach," by mounting panel discussions with community and family members, First Nations leaders, researchers and members of the policing community. Speakers still be under oath and the inquiry also will call more single witnesses before it wraps up formal hearings at the end of April.
Next Monday the first panel will be made up of Maggie de Vries, the sister of Pickton murder victim Sarah de Vries; Wayne Leng, the man who put up posters after Sarah went missing in1999 and still runs a missing women website; as well as activist Jamie Lee Hamilton.
Lawyer Jason Gratl, acting for Downtown Eastside groups, stood up at the inquiry just before noon to "urgently" demand VPD files from 2000 when police shut down Hamilton's Grandma's House, a resource for sex-trade workers that police considered a brothel.
Oppal's final report is due at the end of June, 2012.
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Updated: August 21, 2016