Pickton sister: Life in the glare of a notorious murder probe

Kim Bolan
Vancouver Sun

Saturday, June 08, 2002

The family of accused serial killer Robert (Willy) Pickton is struggling with the unwanted whirlwind of notoriety now attached to the Pickton name.

"Our name has been tarnished," his sister, Linda Pickton, told The Vancouver Sun in an exclusive interview Friday. "It has a humbling affect on us. Any good you've ever done in your life has been destroyed."

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Today, the RCMP-Vancouver police missing women task force expanded its search of this Port Coquitlam site - the only part of the former pig farm (see map right, number 6) still owned by the Picktons - earlier this week. In February, the property had an assessed value of $3 million. Co-owner Robert (Willie) Pickton has been charged with seven counts of first degree murder.

Linda Pickton said she has enormous sympathy for the victims and what their families are now going through.

But she pleaded for privacy and asked reporters to leave her alone.

"I am such a private person. I value my privacy."

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Robert (Willie) Pickton is shown in an undated image from TV

An intense police search at their Port Coquitlam pig farm and the seven first-degree murder charges laid against Robert Pickton has been devastating and shocking, Linda Pickton said.

She said the emotional trauma of the last few months has been absolutely overwhelming for the family, which can barely stand to open a newspaper or watch a television newscast.

"The unfolding of this horrific tragedy has been devastating to our family. We are still in a state of shock and disbelief and going through tremendous turmoil at this time," said Pickton, who has neither spoken to nor visited her accused brother since the search of the farm began Feb. 5.

Linda Pickton, who The Sun agreed to identify by her maiden name to protect her children, said life as she knew it ended the day police executed a search warrant at the farm once owned by her late parents.

The joint RCMP-Vancouver police missing women's task force responsible for investigating the disappearances of 54 women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside has been at the property ever since. Investigators have found enough evidence there -- including human remains of some of the women -- to lay seven murder charges against Linda Pickton's unmarried younger brother.

"We dread the news reports and are sickened each time we hear of a new charge," she said. "This has been a nightmare for us, but at least a nightmare you can wake up from. We do not wish to minimize the pain and suffering of the victims' families. However, we also feel like victims."

Linda Pickton, 54, said she didn't share any holidays or social events with her brother Robert, 52, who she mostly saw at a lawyer's office in recent years regarding legal arrangements over the 16-hectare property they and their brother David inherited. Their mother Helen Louise died of cancer in 1979. Their father Leonard passed away a year earlier.

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THE PICKTON SUBDIVISIONS: Since 1994, much of the Pickton property has been rezoned and sold off to developers. Eternal Holdings: On Sept. 15, 1994, the Pickton siblings sell off the first part of their father's farm for $1.76 million to Eternal Holdings, a newly-formed development company which constructed townhouses on the eastern most lot facing Burke Mountain and Pinecone-Burke Provincial Park.

She never lived on the Dominion Avenue farm which was purchased in 1963 by her parents for just over $18,000. By the time the family moved there from their old Coquitlam farm where the Lougheed Highway now runs, she had gone away to school.

"I left home when I was 12 or 13," she said.

Asked how her brother David, the youngest of the three at 50, is coping with the stress of their sibling's arrest, Linda Pickton said he, too, is devastated.

"He and his family are also in a state of total, total disbelief. It is extremely hard because he has children. He has daughters the same age as the victims and is finding this totally, totally devastating," Linda Pickton said.

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THE PICKTON SUBDIVISIONS: City of Port Coquitlam: On July 12, 1995, the Pickton siblings continue their sell-off of Leonard and Helen's farm, parcelling off a chunk which was sold to the City of Port Coquitlam for $1,171,165. The City's land was turned into Blakeburn Park.

She reluctantly agreed to break her silence after The Sun requested information about how much the family profited from selling sections of the Dominion Avenue farm in the last decade.

According to public land title records, it appears the three Pickton siblings made millions from the development and sale of about 10 hectares of the farm.

In September, 1994, they sold the first part, at the north end of the farm, for $1,760,000, to Eternal Holdings, a development company which constructed townhouses on the site.

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THE PICKTON SUBDIVISIONS: Coquitlam school district: Also on July 12, 1995, the Picktons sell another piece of the farm for $2.3 million to the Coquitlam school district. The district develops Blakeburn Elementary on its newly-acquired land.

Less than a year later, in July, 1995, the sell-off continued with a parcel purchased by the City of Port Coquitlam for $1,171,165 and another piece for $2.3 million by the Coquitlam School District. The city's land was turned into Blakeburn Park, while the school board developed Blakeburn Elementary on its newly acquired land.

Then in March, 2001, Onni Development (Dominion) Corporation, of Vancouver, bought another piece of the farm for $769,469. Townhouses and single-family homes, many of which have a front-row view of the police search now underway, have been constructed on the site.

Last September, Onni Development bought six more lots from the Pickton siblings, for $104,980 each. The lots face Riverside Drive on the north side of the property. Lot Six, which is now the site of a single family home, abuts the metal fencing put up by police in February to secure the remaining Pickton property as the search began.

The total of all the sales is more than $6.6 million. The remaining Dominion Avenue land now being excavated by a team of police investigators and forensic experts is assessed at $3.05 million.

But Linda Pickton said it is deceiving to total up the sale prices without looking at the cost of development for the land, which was also in the millions of dollars.

"If they checked out the cost of development, without us doing much of the pre-fill, they would find the cost of development would have been more than the properties' worth," Linda Pickton said.

"It sounds like a lot of money was made but because of the fill, the hydro, the telephone lines and the roads -- we had to put all of that in."

One road on the northeast corner of the original property cost the Picktons more than $1 million, she said.

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THE PICKTON SUBDIVISIONS: Onni Development (Dominion) Corporation: On March 14, 2001, 38 years to the day after their parents bought the farm, the Pickton siblings sold off another section to Onni Development (Dominion) Corporation. of Vancouver, for $769,469. Townhouses and single family homes, many of which have a view of the police search, have been constructed on the site. 

And the entire site had to be topped with about three metres of structural fill brought in from across the Lower Mainland to meet the city's development requirements, she said.

Most of that work was done by her brother David, who has a landfill and trucking company.

Without his years of work on the land, it wouldn't have been worth developing, Linda Pickton said.

She said the small profit made on the land sales was put back into developing the site now being searched by police. That site was also slated for development one day.

"Now [the profits] are lost and our lives are totally destroyed," she said. "Dave has worked so hard his whole life."

The former Pickton farmland that was developed is part of the larger Riverwood community, which was designed by Art Phillips, a planner who has worked on the development for more than 20 years.

Phillips confirmed to The Sun the high costs borne by area residents who developed their land.

He said the Picktons' farm was the lowest property in the development, meaning the costs of filling it were extremely high -- between $190,000 and $200,000 an acre, or about $5 million for the area sold.

Phillips worked with the Picktons and 30 other property owners to get their property removed from the Agricultural Land Reserve, which was finally approved in 1986.

Port Coquitlam city council at the time decided that each parcel of land had to be infilled for proper drainage during storms.

But before the structural fill was brought in, Phillips explained, the existing topsoil was removed and hauled away.

"So you have got the cost first of getting the soil out and disposing of it. And then you have another cost of bringing the fill in. And once you bring it in, you have to compact it," he said.

"You are dealing with a very high cost all as a result of principally having to raise the ground. Dave has done a lot of the work."

In addition to the cost of raising the land, the Picktons had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring services to the property such as hydro, sewer, water and telephone lines, Phillips confirmed. As well, they had to pay the city's costs for new roads.

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THE PICKTON SUBDIVISIONS: Onni Development (Dominion) Corporation: On Sept. 27, 2001, Onni bought six more lots from the Pickton siblings, for $104,980 each. The lots face Riverside Drive on the north side of the property. Lot Six, which is now the site of a single family home, butts up against the metal fencing put up by police in February to secure the property as the search begins.

"The real money per se is when you come down into the latter stages where they've done all the work and they don't have all the high costs of the servicing to bear any more. It is this latter stage, this last 14 or 15 acres, that is where they would have made some money."

But that land is the site of the biggest criminal excavation in B.C. history, which will go on for at least a year, according to police.

"We were in the process actually of getting ready to file applications for rezoning for subdivision on the land that is now being examined," Phillips said.

Riverwood was built as a model community with a mixture of single homes and townhouses, with parks, a school and a network of bike trails, the first in Port Coquitlam. It is upsetting to Phillips to see it become known for a more notorious reason.

"I am sad to see that. We have taken a lot of pride in the Riverwood community," Phillips said. "To watch it develop over the last 20 years was very gratifying ... it became a very sought-after location."

Phillips said he never met Robert Pickton in his years of involvement, but dealt with Linda and David.

"Their parents left them the property. So when it came time to figure out what to do, they contacted me along with the other owners to say 'Can you help us with this?' "

Linda Pickton said the family is now financially strapped and she is wondering where her brother Robert will get the money for his lawyers.

"There is no money to pay Robert's legal fees," she said.

Robert Pickton's lawyer, Peter Ritchie, has already placed a $375,000 lien on the property to cover his bill. And the City of Port Coquitlam has a $1.3-million letter of credit against it.

"There is no value in the land today because the outstanding debts are greater than the value," said Linda Pickton. "We are in a financial bind."

She knows that a lot of people -- particularly the families of the missing and dead women -- are suffering as a result of the unprecedented investigation.

And for her family, the financial woes are nowhere near as great as the emotional toll, which has no end in sight.

"We don't know where to go or what to do to get away from the nightmare we find ourselves in."

 Copyright  2002 Vancouver Sun

Courtesy of Vancouver Sun



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Updated: August 21, 2016