Pickton was no 'serial killer'
Paul J. Henderson
The Times

Women had been disappearing for years from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside before the Vancouver Police Department really started to look for a killer.

It didn't take a detective to figure it out, but the police and the elite of the city had another threat to combat.

Sure, woman after woman was listed as missing by family and friends, but because of their addresses, their occupations and their addictions, the wealthy didn't care.

Missing women? What missing women?

Yet when a string of garages were robbed the police sprung into action; a $100,000 reward was offered for information leading to the arrest of the criminal who had been stealing mountain bikes and lawn mowers from the wealthiest residents in Shaughnessy.

It was the late 1990s, long before the jury in the Robert Willie Pickton would deliberate on his guilt or innocence in the murder of six of those missing women who, in the words of then-mayor Phillip Owen, would probably turn up in Calgary or Seattle or Portland.

I was in journalism school over the winter of 1998-1999, learning the ins and outs of covering the news, talking to politicians and dealing with media spokespeople. We had a field trip one day down to Vancouver Police headquarters to the media room where our class met with the then-ubiquitous Const. Anne Drennan.

Drennan was a familiar face in Vancouver in those days as she was on the news almost daily telling TV viewers about the crime du jour. I remember distinctly on the walls of the media room photograph after photograph of women families and friends had reported missing. Most of them looked rough after years of drug use, prostitution and hard living on the streets of the Downtown Eastside. Yet they were people, and they were missing.

There also was a poster advertising a $100,000 reward for the Shaughnessy garage robbers. One of those in my class, and I can't remember who, asked Const. Drennan why there would be a reward for the garage thieves and not for whoever was responsible for the missing women.

She gave a less than satisfactory response and more hardened reporters would have pounced I am sure, but still, those of us rookies in that room were confused by the juxtaposition. I personally was angered at the opulence of a reward provided by taxpayers to stop someone robbing rich people, while dozens of women were gone with little police effort being invested to find them.

It is almost a cliché to say it now, but it is so true that if even two or three daughters of Shaughnessy had gone missing an integrated task force would have been created and the search for the killer would have been relenteless.

But not for the "junkie scum" as at least one of those missing women knew they were viewed as by the likes of Owen and Drennan.

It didn't take a genius to see this might be the work of a serial killer, and while applying hindsight is arguably unfair to the police in this case, it did seem obvious. By the end of 1999 there were 60 women missing, almost all since the mid-1990s. No similar situations were happening in Calgary, Toronto or Montreal, yet Mayor Phillip Owen insisted on assuming these women just moved or were on vacation.

Keep focused on the missing lawn mowers.

But what I will never forget about that visit to Vancouver Police headquarters was when one of our group pursued the question, not with the force and authority of a Kim Bolan or a Terry Milewski, but as a humble J-school student, just wondering, why in the world do the police not see what is happening and put out a reward at least equal to the garage robbers?

Well, the steely-faced Const. Anne Drennan angrily barked back at us, "This is not a serial killer!"

I wonder if they ever did catch that garage robber. I hope Shaughnessy is safe again.

© Chilliwack Times 2008


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



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Updated: August 21, 2016