VANCOUVER EASTSIDE MISSING WOMEN
Pig-farm search leaves bleak void behind
Missing-women case turned Pickton property into muddy lot piled with machine parts
Saturday, November 08, 2003
A 21-month search of Robert (Willy) Pickton's family property in Port Coquitlam has turned the once-ramshackle pig farm into a bleak field devoid of any buildings and dotted with massive piles of discarded machinery parts and quicksand-like soil.
CREDIT: Ward Perrin, Vancouver Sun
The Pickton farm property in Port Coquitlam was still being searched Friday.
Heavy equipment operators and anthropology students continued Friday to look for evidence on the Dominion Avenue property, scene of Canada's largest serial murder investigation. But police said this week the search will soon end, and the farm will be returned -- likely next week -- to its owners -- Pickton, his brother David and his sister Linda.
The search of the farm resulted in Robert Pickton facing at least 15 murder charges in connection with the disappearance of 61 women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
Although the farm had been run down, it still resembled someone's home two years ago. There was a house, a trailer, a slaughterhouse, several outbuildings, and numerous abandoned vehicles.
On the evening of Feb. 6, 2002, shortly after police executed a search warrant, large dogs barked and roamed the messy property, and visitors were greeted by "No Trespassing" signs that hung from a huge wired gate, including one threatening an attack by a pit bull with AIDS.
CREDIT: Ward Perrin, Vancouver Sun
Jason and Lisa Gore with their three-month-old son Ethan, are looking at a home near the Pickton land.
But every building was torn down as police searched for evidence, which resulted in 15 murder charges. The judge presiding over Pickton's preliminary hearing said earlier this year that if the hearing had started later, he would have ordered the accused to stand trial on seven additional counts of murder.
After excavators dug up 370,000 cubic yards of top soil, the property today is covered with several large mounds of dirt that have been there so long that grass and weeds now cover them. Police warned this week that the piles of loose dirt are unstable.
"Running the soil through the screening system expands it by approximately 25 per cent. When you take into account the rainfall we have had, the soil becomes much like quicksand," said RCMP Corporal Catherine Galliford. "When our investigators move about the property, they move on a secured path. Those who have tried shortcuts have sunk into the mud as deep as their chests."
The farm is also surrounded by drainage ditches, designed to prevent flooding to neighbouring properties, which can also be dangerous in rainy weather, police said.
Also visible on the property are at least two very large piles of discarded debris, including wooden and steel beams, machinery parts, wheels, farm equipment, barrels, pipes, a rusty motorhome, and old tractors, trucks and trailers.
Police warned the "junk piles" are not safe areas for children to play on. There is a school just a few blocks from the farm.
Port Coquitlam Mayor Scott Young said there are concerns about curious "looky-loos" wandering onto the fenced-in site once police are finished with their investigation. He said the city plans to meet with Linda and David Pickton soon to ensure the family cleans up the property, and removes all dangerous elements.
"The early indications from the family are that they are prepared to take the necessary action to make it a safe site," said Young.
The lot is currently zoned agricultural, and the Picktons would have to apply to the city to have it re-zoned for residential development. Public hearings would then be held.
Young did not know the family's plans for the property, but said prior to the police investigation the Picktons had applied to rezone part of the farm area into residential lots. Over the last 10 years, the Picktons have sold off chunks of the family farm for residential development.
Some relatives of the missing women have requested part of the property be designated as a memorial site, but Young said that decision will be up to the Picktons.
Neither Linda Pickton nor the development company used by her family returned messages left by The Sun.
The property is surrounded by large, attractive, newly built houses and townhouses in the growing area of Port Coquitlam called Riverwood. Prior to the police investigation, it was valued at $3.5 million because of the potential to develop it into residential lots. Its value today is unknown.
Jason and Lisa Gore, and their three-month-old baby Ethan, were walking the streets surrounding the Pickton property Friday looking at new houses. A life-long resident of Port Coquitlam, Lisa Gore said the farm looks less messy now, and noted she is not opposed to buying real estate in the area.
"It was kind of weird that this happened in the area where I grew up," she said. "But the farm looks cleaner now, the police got rid of all the junk while they were doing the investigation."
Her husband said the investigation has not changed his perception of Port Coquitlam or his desire to live there, even though family members from as far away as Britain had heard of the infamous case.
The mayor complimented the residents of Port Coquitlam for enduring the investigation, which put the small city under much scrutiny.
"The local neighbourhood of Riverwood is to be commended for putting up with the investigation and the clatter of machinery," Young said. "I'm pleased to see this chapter is now closing, and there can be some degree of normalcy return to the neighbourhood."
Although the physical search of the property has ended, police say six forensic specialists and five exhibit handlers will work over the next year to continue processing thousands of exhibits seized from the site.
Pickton returns to court Dec. 15 to set a trial date. It is not clear if prosecutors will lay any additional charges against him.
A sweeping publication ban prohibits publishing any evidence discussed at Pickton's six-month preliminary hearing.
The Missing Women Task Force says it continues to search for the 40 women on the list of 61 who are still unaccounted for. Most of the women who disappeared from the Downtown Eastside were drug-addicted prostitutes.
Across the street from the farm is a tent set up for victims' relatives, with a makeshift shrine to some of the missing women. Dianne Rock's children wrote a note to their mother -- who Pickton is accused of murdering -- on a heart-shaped piece of paper: "Throughout the days, I remember the wonderful times we shared. All the ways you showed your love. Missing the warmth of your presence, the way you made home. Your cooking, your baking."
Police say the investigative and forensic steps taken in the case are unprecedented in Canadian history. As many as 102 anthropologists sifted through soil looking for any evidence.
© Copyright 2003 Vancouver Sun
Updated: January 01, 2007