VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Vancouver missing women’s task force to search second site in Fraser Valley
By GREG JOYCE
VANCOUVER (CP) - Investigators began searching a small wetlands area in the Fraser Valley on Sunday in the continuing investigation into the disappearance of women from Vancouver's seedy Downtown Eastside.
The new site, about the length of two football fields and 50 metres in width, was identified from evidence uncovered in the search of a Port Coquitlam, B.C., pig farm owned by Robert Pickton, RCMP Cpl. Catherine Galliford said at a news conference Sunday.
"Because we have a case before the courts we are unable to go into any detail with regard to what that evidence is or how it pertains to our investigation," Galliford said.
The announcement of the new investigation site came one day before a preliminary hearing in provincial court in Port Coquitlam into the case was to begin hearing final submissions from the Crown and lawyers for Pickton.
Pickton, 53, is facing 15 charges of first-degree murder in connection with a long list of women, most of whom disappeared from a seedy stroll area favoured by the hookers in the rough-and-tumble Downtown Eastside over the past two decades.
After the final arguments, provincial court Judge David Stone will decide whether there is enough evidence to commit Pickton for trial, which would be held in B.C. Supreme Court and likely would not begin until sometime next year.
The new search site near Mission, about 65 kilometres east of Vancouver, is located in a high-traffic area adjacent to Highway 7, also known as the Lougheed Highway.
Neither Galliford nor Vancouver city police spokeswoman Det.-Const. Sheila Sullivan would disclose details of what investigators will be looking for at the site, or how long they expected to be there.
Galliford said the search warrant was served on a member of the Kwantlen First Nations band that owns the land.
"We started in this area based on evidence we uncovered during the course of our investigation," said Galliford, adding that police became aware of the area "just recently."
The search site is about 350 metres long and 50 metres wide and consists mainly of wetlands, a slough and ground cover.
Charges in the missing women case were laid after police raided a farm owned by Pickton and his brother and sister on Feb. 6, 2002. Pickton was charged with the first two of the 15 murders Feb. 22, 2002.
Pickton is charged with the murders of Sereena Abotsway, Mona Wilson, Diane Rock, Jacqueline McDonell, Heather Bottomley, Andrea Joesbury, Brenda Wolfe, Jennifer Furminger, Helen Hallmark, Patricia Johnson, Georgina Papin, Heather Chinnock, Tanya Holyk, Sherry Irving and Inga Hall.
The 15 were among a total that eventually rose to 63 women - mostly drug-addicted prostitutes - who disappeared from the poverty-stricken Downtown Eastside.
Galliford said some investigators from the Port Coquitlam farm will be searching the Mission site, along with an eight-member team of RCMP divers.
The investigation at the Port Coquitlam property was expected to continue until at least the fall, said Galliford.
She said two of the four soil sifters being used in Port Coquitlam have been shut down so the soil underneath can be excavated and searched.
The 52 anthropologists who were manning those two sifters will be searching the new site in Mission, Galliford said.
Sullivan said the area has been fenced off and there will be 24-hour security on site.
Police contacted family members from all 63 missing women to inform them of the new investigation.
Maggie deVries, sister of Sarah deVries who disappeared in 1998, was among those called.
She said police had some time ago informed her that her sister's DNA was found at the farm, but it wasn't sufficient to lay charges.
"It's encouraging and horrifying simultaneously," deVries said at the news conference. "It gives me the sense that more will be discovered."
Updated: August 21, 2016