Crown adds three more murder charges against pig farmer in missing women case


Canadian Press

Tuesday, April 02, 2002

From left: Dianne Rock, Heather Bottomely, Jacqueline McDonell 

PORT COQUITLAM, B.C. (CP) - A man accused of three more murders in connection with the case of 50 missing women from the seedy downtown eastside appeared stunned Tuesday as the Crown laid the additional charges in provincial court.

Robert William Pickton, 52, had been charged in late February with first-degree murder in the deaths of two other women.

Three additional murder counts were announced in court in this suburban community about 45 minutes east of Vancouver.

Pickton was not in court when the new charges were laid but appeared by video from a Greater Vancouver-area correctional facility.

He appeared stunned by the news, blinking his eyes as the Crown announced the additional charges.

The only time he spoke was to agree that he could hear the court procedures via the video link.

The five women are among 50 women who disappeared over two decades from Vancouver's downtown eastside.

Court documents accuse Pickton of killing Jacqueline McDonell between Jan. 21, 1999 and Feb. 5, when police began a massive search of his farm.

Pickton is accused of killing Diane Rock between Oct. 19, 2001 and Feb. 5 and Heather Bottomley between March 21, 2001 and Feb. 5.

The women were murdered at or near Port Coquitlam, according to the indictment.

Pickton was charged in February with the first-degree murder of Mona Wilson and Sereena Abotsway. Wilson, Abotsway and Rock were the last three women to go missing from Vancouver's downtown eastside.

Pickton is accused of killing Wilson, 26, between Dec. 1, 2001, and Feb. 5.

Abotsway, who was 29 when she disappeared, is alleged to have been killed between July 18, 2001, and Feb. 5.

Outside court, Pickton's lawyer, Peter Ritchie, suggested his client was surprised by the trio of first-degree murder charges.

"We didn't have very much notice," Ritchie said, declining to comment further.

Ritchie also said his client appeared by video for logistical reasons.

"It saves the sheriffs a lot of difficulties in the logistics" of transporting him from part of Greater Vancouver to the courthouse, said Ritchie.

Police continue to search the pig farm owned by Pickton in Port Coquitlam.

Vancouver police Det. Scott Driemel said Tuesday that investigators are still poring over tips and that there are hundreds of suspects in the missing women cases.

"As we uncover new evidence that supports additional charges, there will be additional charges if that is, in fact, the case," Driemel said.

He said police cannot presume that this search will conclude all the missing women cases.

"We have to ensure we do not get tunnel vision," he said.

There are about 80 investigators working for the joint RCMP-Vancouver city police task force investigating the disappearances.

Driemel would say not what kind of evidence police have found at the farm.

He confirmed that investigators have collected DNA samples from most, if not all, of the women's family members.

Forensic DNA evidence is part of most major investigations, Driemel said.

"I think it's safe to say that DNA is certainly being looked at and being utilized in a significant way here," Driemel said.

Investigators originally anticipated the search would take a few months but that estimate has since increased. Officers for the RCMP and the Vancouver city police will be at the farm for at least a year collecting evidence.

Wilson's sister, Ada Wilson, attended the brief court hearing Tuesday.

She began to cry as Pickton appeared on the video link.

"When I seen him it just kind of, I've been waiting for this for a long time and I've been holding it in," Wilson said.

"But now it's time," she said, breaking into tears again.

She was angry that the man accused of murdering her sister was not in court in person to face her.

"I wanted him to see, you know, how the family is reacting to all of this," Wilson said.

Kathleen Hallmark, whose daughter Helen has been missing since June 1997, was upset that Pickton appeared so emotionless as the new charges were announced.

"I didn't know he was even alive there until he blinked," Hallmark said. "The man doesn't show any, anything, no expressions."

All the women, many of them prostitutes, have disappeared from Vancouver's poverty-stricken downtown eastside since 1983 - 39 of them in the last six years.

Family and friends have been highly critical of the way Vancouver city police handled the disappearances prior to the RCMP joining the investigation a year ago.

Pickton will be back in court April 9.

At the Women's Information and Safe House drop-in centre in the downtown eastside, executive director Karen Duddy said she recognized pictures of Rock and Bottomley.

"Diane came in regularly to WISH and Heather, I'm not as sure," said Duddy. "I know that she does come in. Jacqueline, I'm not as familiar with."

Duddy said she was relieved that at least charges are being laid in the case.

"Finally more charges are coming. It's about time charges are coming. But this is not the end of it at all."

 Copyright  2002 The Canadian Press

Second search warrant in missing women case-Mar 25, 2002



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