VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
'We need an inquiry': Vancouver Councillor: Why did 50 women go missing before alarm sounded?
VANCOUVER - Growing demands are being made for an inquiry into the police handling of a case involving 50 missing women, even as a joint task force pushes ahead with a massive serial murder investigation.
The Vancouver Police Department and RCMP have 85 officers on the case, which is focused on a pig farm in Port Coquitlam. DNA laboratories across the country are processing undisclosed material collected at the site; Robert "Willie" Pickton, one of the farm's owners, is in custody on two charges of murder, and sex trade workers from the Downtown Eastside are being called in to see if they can pick suspects out of lineups.
Despite those developments, which are earning the police widespread praise for a task force formed about a year ago, people are asking: Why did it take so long?
Women have been going missing from the "Low Track," a prostitute's stroll in Vancouver, since the 1980s. Since at least 1997, when the numbers of missing skyrocketed, it was speculated one or more serial killers were at work. "If you don't know by now that we do need an inquiry ... then you don't know enough to be able to cross the street in the morning ... something went terribly, terribly wrong," Tim Louis, a Vancouver city councilor said yesterday. "You have 50 missing women, but really ... why does it take 50 missing women before the investigation begins to rev up?
He failed Wednesday in an attempt to get council to pass a motion calling for an inquiry once the current task force investigation is complete. Among those voting against the motion was Philip Owen, the Mayor of Vancouver and chairman of the Vancouver Police Board.
"I think the police did act initially very responsibly. They took it very seriously. It was high on the agenda list," said Mr. Owen, who has stated repeatedly that calls for an inquiry are premature and must wait until the police have wrapped up the current investigation.
But relatives of the missing women continue to express their concerns that not enough was done, soon enough, by police, specifically in relation to the pig farm, which was well known to prostitutes.
Ada Wilson, a sister of Mona Wilson, one of the women Pickton is accused of killing at the farm, said she is angry police didn't follow up on tips about the farm earlier.
The police aren't responding to the calls for an inquiry, saying the department wants to keep the focus on the current investigation.
Bruce Chambers, former chief of the Vancouver Police Department from 1997-1999, said that police did take the missing women case seriously but were stymied for years by a complete lack of evidence.
No bodies were showing up and there was little for investigators to go on. "Well, nobody was sure of what we were dealing with. That was the difficulty of the issue," Mr. Chambers said yesterday.
"We had reports of missing people, we'd been looking into those missing people. We had tracked down a number of them as either being deceased somewhere else, and not taken off our records, or they had been located in other places where they had re-established themselves.
"Although there was a great deal of concern and suspicion, nothing had come to light that had supported that there was foul play. It couldn't be ruled out and it was a concern of everyone, but there was nothing at that point to say with any certainty," he said.
Kim Rossmo, a former inspector with the Vancouver Police who is now director of research for the Police Foundation in Washington, D.C., said he was frustrated in 1998 when he failed to get the department to issue a public warning about the possibility of a serial killer in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside area.
Mr. Rossmo said he did a preliminary analysis and was convinced the number of women vanishing was "way beyond what we would ever expect would happen" in a similar area in any other city.
"I said any explanation has to account for why this is happening to women, not men, why it's happening in our Skid Road, not other Skid Roads, why it's not happened prior to the mid-90s, why we're not finding bodies."
And his conclusion? "The best explanation was a serial murderer or pair of murderers -- a team. And then I also said early on we should be warning the community."
Mr. Rossmo, who has a worldwide reputation for geographic profiling, said he wasn't asked to work on the case in any significant way.
"Quit simply for the five years I was there, homicide never asked for my help on a single case ... I was just really underutilized," he said.
Mr. Rossmo lost a wrongful dismissal case against the Vancouver Police Department last year.
Updated: August 21, 2016