11th-hour subpoena stuns victims' families

In Courtroom 102, stories of these 6 women will finally come to light, Rosie DiManno reports.

January 20, 2007

Daniel Girard
Staff Reporter

For nearly a decade, Rick Frey has been searching for answers into the disappearance and death of his daughter, Marnie.

Now, on the eve of the trial of the alleged serial killer charged with her murder, Frey has learned that instead of discovering first-hand what happened, the wait will likely continue after he was subpoenaed as a witness in the case.

The surprise move happened late this week to Frey, his wife, Lynn, and the families of the other five alleged victims of Robert William Pickton. The British Columbia Crown's office told Frey yesterday the families should expect to be barred from the courtroom until after they have been called to testify.

With the trial set to begin Monday and last about a year, and no clear answer as to when they will be called to the witness stand, they worry many more months could pass before they can take a seat in the courtroom to confront Pickton and finally learn the truth.

"We've prepared ourselves for years for this and now just a couple of days before, we find this out," Frey said last night from his home in Sayward, B.C., a village on northern Vancouver Island where the couple lives with Brittney, 14, Marnie's daughter who they've adopted.

"It's a big let-down. It's totally wrong. We're devastated."

Pickton, 57, in custody since his arrest in February 2002, is alleged to be Canada's worst serial killer. He's accused of first-degree murder in connection with women mainly drug addicts and prostitutes on a list of more than 60 missing from Vancouver's poorest neighbourhood, dating back to the late 1970s.

For months, Rick Frey had been bracing for grisly details of Marnie's death by focusing on happier times father-daughter fishing trips, the love she had for small animals, her bright smile and carefree attitude.

These are his private memories of someone who the public has come to know as a drug addict, prostitute and missing woman.

Marnie Frey, then 24, disappeared from the streets of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in August 1997 after calling her parents on her 24th birthday. Pickton, the pig farmer known as Willie, is accused of killing her and 25 other women from the same ravaged neighbourhood.

For family and friends of the alleged victims, knowing the accusations against Pickton are to be laid out before a jury for the first time, there's a mix of emotions.

"I don't think you ever can be prepared," Frey, 59, said earlier this week before news of his subpoena broke. "The reality is going to whack you as soon as the names come up.

"But I need to hear what happened to her."

Pickton's trial, just shy of five years since his tumbledown farm in Port Coquitlam, 35 kilometres east of Vancouver, was thrust into the international spotlight, is the first of two he's scheduled to face.

Mr. Justice James Williams last summer ruled trying Pickton on all 26 charges would pose an "unreasonable burden" on the jury.

The judge divided the case into two parts: six counts featuring evidence that is "materially different" from the cases relating to the other 20 women he's accused of killing.

This trial deals with the deaths of Marnie Frey, Sereena Abotsway, Mona Wilson, Andrea Joesbury, Brenda Wolfe and Georgina Papin.

Marnie Frey's disappearance in August 1997, is the earliest among the first six counts. The other 20 relate to those missing as early as December 1995.

When police first began scouring the six-hectare property on a wet winter night in February 2002, few expected the enormity of the case that would unfold. Over the next 21 months, investigators painstakingly searched Pickton's trailer, his brother's house at the front of the lot and a collection of dilapidated buildings, old vehicles and farm machinery scattered about.

They also expanded their search to include a nearby parcel of Pickton family-owned land containing a building-cum-boozecan that hosted illegal, all-night parties.

Locals called it Piggy's Palace.

As the search unfolded, the number of first-degree murder charges against Pickton grew. In May 2005, the indictment swelled to 27 counts before Williams ruled last summer that the charge involving an unidentified Jane Doe wouldn't proceed, leaving the total at 26.

Sweeping publication bans cover details from a preliminary hearing on 15 charges in 2003, and a series of pre-trial motions and arguments over the admissibility of evidence for all 26 counts in the past two years.

"None of us can anticipate how absolutely horrible this is going to be," said Wayne Leng, 57, a former Vancouver resident who has for eight years run a website dedicated to the missing women.

A friend of Sarah deVries, who disappeared in the spring of 1998 and is among the 20 other women Pickton is accused of murdering, Leng said he regularly talks with families of the dead and missing. Though pleased the trial is starting, many are fearful of their emotions as the case plays out in court.

"None of us have been here before and we don't know how we're going to react," Leng said in an interview from his home in San Bernardino, Calif.

"But it won't bring closure. It won't bring them back."

Marilyn Kraft knows that's true. But she still wants to see Pickton tried for the death of Cindy Feliks, the stepdaughter she raised from age 5.

Kraft, 61, said the charge against Pickton in the death of Feliks, who disappeared in 1997, was "an acknowledgment my daughter's life mattered."

But breaking the cases into two parts is "disheartening," said Kraft, who expects this to be the only trial Pickton faces, especially given estimates that investigating and prosecuting the case has cost taxpayers more than $100 million.

"I just don't see them justifying another trial," Kraft said in an interview from Calgary. "After waiting so long for this trial to come about, to have not just Cindy, but the other 19 women, left out, really takes the wind out of your sails."

The trial comes more than a decade after families and friends of missing Downtown Eastside prostitutes first sounded the alarm to Vancouver police.

And some, including the Freys, say it was 1998 when they first told investigators about strange goings-on at the pig farm after hearing it from women on the street.

Rick Frey is among those pushing for a public inquiry into why it took police years to connect the deaths and charge a suspect.

But in the meantime, the Freys will simply try to get through the trial, as they have so far with every other chapter of this sad tale of Marnie addiction, prostitution, disappearance, death.

"The hardest part is knowing we'll never again get to say hello, or goodbye," Frey said.

"You feel like you failed. It's a horrible feeling."



Missing Women Tip Line: 1-877-687-3377

Updated: August 21, 2016