Why did it take so many women?

Global National

Monday, May 06, 2002

It looks a lot like many places in Canada where urban sprawl is crowding out farmland. A small house in the middle, what remains of farm equipment clustered in areas, with modern homes looming not even a stoneís throw away.

But it's what's in the earth that is so different here and disturbing.

Since February police have been digging and excavating and uncovering evidence, including human remains.

We can report exclusively tonight is that DNA crime labs across this country are right now testing large amounts of material and that other investigations are being put on hold to do it.

There is no bigger or more urgent murder investigation than the one centered around a farm in Port Coquitlam, B.C.

This is now the largest serial murder investigation in Canadian history.

Eighty-five officers are working full time on this, 40 of them still combing the farm for evidence.

As we've said DNA labs across the country are right now testing evidence, and police are testing theories, including one police source who confirms that people's bodies may have been destroyed by mechanical equipment. So far a woodchipper has been seized. Police aren't saying whether they have uncovered any evidence to support this possibility. This is a massive investigation, but it comes after what many claim is years of police neglect.

Tara Nelson reporting

In Vancouver's most desperate neighborhood, it's not inconceivable that some of its most desperate residents could simply slip through the cracks.

Rebecca Louisa Guno may have. She's the first name on Vancouver's list of missing women. The 23 year old simply vanished from the downtown east side in 1983, but in the next 8 years, 7 more women would disappear and only their families and friends would notice.

"They're not seen as priorities, they're obviously societal throwaways." Says Raven Bowen an advocate for prostitutes.

Police say they have nothing to investigate. They have no bodies, no witnesses, no crime scenes, no evidence. And many of the women aren't even reported missing until months or years later but they continue to vanish at an alarming rate through the early to mid 90ís another dozen disappear.

"What's the difference between killers who kill 2 and those who kill 50?", asks Elliot Leyton, a Newfoundland anthropologist, "The only real difference is that they're caught."

Leyton is an author and serial killer expert. He says by this time, the case is already showing some hallmark signs, "It's not unusual for a serial killer to be focused in one area; usually they do prey on a certain type of victim who they are most likely to find in a certain geographical area."

In 1997, a disturbing incident. A sex trade worker allegedly runs screaming from a Port Coquitlam farm. She is suffering from stab wounds, as is farm co-owner Willy Pickton. Pickton is charged with four counts including attempted murder, but the charges are eventually stayed.

Over the next two years, nearly 20 more women vanish. As their families start to pressure the police department--a small investigative team is formed. Kim Rossmo, the department's own geographic profiler concludes this is no coincidence.

"When we consider that no bodies were being found, that this really hadn't happened prior to 1995, that it wasn't showing up in other skid rows in other Canadian cities, and it was only women and not men, the best explanation was a serial predator was operating."

Rossmo drafts a press release, but the media never sees it. He is later fired and unsuccessfully sues for wrongful dismissal.

About the same time, former employee of Willy Pickton, Bill Hiscox voices concerns about the farm both to police and a friend in California;

"All these purses and ID's that are in his trailer out there and stuff. He has a 25-acre farm. He's got a lot of heavy-duty machinery out there and stuff.easy places to hide things out there."

By 1999, families are frustrated by what they feel is police neglect. Deborah Jardine's daughter is already missing 4 months when she calls police for an update.

"I called the detective in January, mid January and that's when I found out he basically had done nothing regarding Angela's investigation.", says Jardine.

Mid year, the Vancouver police releases a poster of 31 missing women and offers a 100 thousand dollar reward for information. But for 2 years the investigation basically stalls until the RCMP is brought on board and a joint task force is finally formed. Yet even as late as last September, police still aren't suggesting a serial killer is on the loose.

"There's not a reluctance, we just don't have any concrete fact to suggest that."

Six months later, police launch a massive search of the Pickton farm and say they discover human remains. Pickton is now facing half a dozen charges of first degree murder. The list of missing women now sits at 50.

"Really a lot of time was wasted.", says anthropologist Elliot Leyton, "Where the case is at today we could have been two years ago.

This case has provoked a real crisis of credibility for the Vancouver Police Department and it's time the cards were put on the table and the conduct of the case examined very carefully."

One of the key issues in this case may be communication: why did it take so long to tie this all together. One problem could be that the farm is in one jurisdiction. The women went missing from another and their families, who may have reported them missing, lived in still other jurisdictions.

One local police officer wrote his thesis about multi-agency investigations, noting, "We are not properly prepared to achieve the effective collaborative results that the justice system and the public expect."

In fact one family of the missing has filed civil suit against Vancouverís police department alleging they bungled the investigation by waiting so long to take it seriously. Police declined to respond to that criticism today but it's something they've heard from many other families and advocates of the disappeared.

Police have faced this kind of criticism before. In B.C., where Clifford Olson killed 10 in part because police didn't connect the cases, and in Ontario where a judicial inquiry said information sharing was a large reason Paul Bernardo was able to keep killing.

Global National's Sean Mallen reports on the lessons and whether they've been learned.

Paul Bernardo was a sadistic rapist and murderer who was able to continue raping and murdering because of a system that failed.

"We have to do better. There have to be changes," that was the conclusion of Mr Justice Archie Campbell, who investigated the investigators.

Two failures dominated his 1996 report: Bernardo's DNA sample sat unanalyzed for more than two years.

And police forces in Toronto and the Niagara Region scarcely spoke about their parallel investigations .

The outrage sparked quick changes.

While other department's budgets were being slashed, the province poured money into the Centre of Forensic Sciences. When the Bernardo DNA sample came in, there was only one overworked analyst. Now there are 72. Urgent samples can be processed within 48 hours.

"We don't want a Bernardo situation," says one investigator. We want someone caught at the beginning of a cycle of sexual violence, not at the end."

There was also money for Ontario police forces to buy computerized communication tools, to share notes via cyberspace with investigators across the province. There are also now formalized procedures for setting up major investigations involving more than one force, and the order from the top is: co-operate.

Police say that while their computerized communication systems are a huge help, there are still some struggles on the human resource side. These kinds of investigations generate literally volumes of information and someone has to type it into the computer.

And, investigators have to use it. The Violent Crime Linkage Analysis System, VICLAS for short, is a nationwide computer link. But only Ontario has made it mandatory for police to enter their information, which means there could be holes elsewhere in the country.

Bob Runciman, who is Ontarioís Public Safety Minister said, "There's no guarantee that an individual who's perpetrating these horrific serial crimes is going to confine himself or herself to one jurisdiction And that's the problem if you don't have those linkages."

Ontario is seen as the nation's leader in these kinds of investigations. But the improvements were bought through the horror of Paul Bernardo.

© Copyright 2002 Global National

Courtesy of Global National

Pickton tape given to police in 1998-Apr 25, 2002



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