Pig farmer now accused of 15 murders

Case becomes Canada's largest serial killer probe

Daniel Girard


Thursday, October 3, 2002

PORT COQUITLAM, B.C. In what police are now calling the largest serial murder investigation in Canadian history, a suburban pig farmer is accused of killing 15 women who went missing from the grim streets of Vancouver's poorest neighbourhood.

ROBERT PICKTON: Now charged in 15 murders in B.C.

Robert William Pickton, 52, stared straight ahead, his face in a slight frown, as he appeared by video link when the four latest first-degree murder charges relating to disappearances as far back as October, 1996 were made public in provincial court.

It was just the first in a series of dramatic developments yesterday in a case that has grown in enormity and despair since police first began scouring Pickton's farm in Port Coquitlam in February in connection with the disappearance of dozens of women, most of them drug-addicted prostitutes, from Vancouver's downtown eastside.

In related events:

Pickton's lawyer, Peter Ritchie, said his client, reportedly worth several million dollars thanks to property he owned, can no longer afford to fund his defence and is offering to turn over his assets to the government in exchange for legal aid.

Citing concerns over American and other foreign news media defying a publication ban on the upcoming preliminary hearing, Ritchie said he might seek to have reporters barred from proceedings if they refuse to obey the court order.

Judge David Stone, addressing concerns over violation of his publication ban, offered to "bring the issue to a head" by beginning the preliminary hearing tomorrow one month ahead of schedule with the testimony of one witness and then seeing if the American media make it public. Ritchie rejected the move.

Attorney-General Geoff Plant said the crown may still proceed by direct indictment against Pickton, a move that would forgo a preliminary hearing.

The four latest charges against Pickton mean he is now accused of killing four more people than Clifford Olson, who confessed to murdering 11 children in the 1980s.

"This case is now the largest serial killer investigation in Canadian history," RCMP Sergeant Cate Galliford of the missing women's task force told a news conference.

"(It) is also employing some of the most advanced state-of-the-art scientific techniques available."

Police have said DNA has been used extensively by investigators, and that crime laboratories across the country are still processing vast amounts of pig farm evidence.

The list of missing women now stands at 63 and dates as far back as 1978, although 38 of the women have vanished over the past six years. Police have said at least another five cases that fit the profile are being reviewed and may be added to the list of disappearances.

The four new charges relate to women who vanished from October, 1996 to April, 2001.

Tanya Holyk, who was 20 when last seen in October, 1996, now ranks as the longest of the missing women's cases among the 15 alleged victims of Pickton.

The other three women he was accused yesterday of killing are: Sherry Irving, who was 24 when she was last seen in April, 1997; Inga Hall, who was 46 when last seen in February, 1998; and Heather Chinnock, who was 30 when she was last seen in April, 2001. Like the others, they were drug addicts and prostitutes on skid row.

"Words can't really describe the horror," said Wayne Leng, a close friend of Sarah deVries, who went missing in April, 1998, but is not among Pickton's alleged victims, although her family has been told that her DNA was found at the Pickton farm.

"There's just so much devastation," said Leng, who for months helped search for deVries and now lives in Los Angeles and runs a Web site dedicated to the missing women. "It's grown beyond anything that any of us had, even in our worst nightmares."

Police, who also searched another Pickton property in this suburb 35 kilometres east of Vancouver, now say they will likely be scouring the pig farm and its collection of tumbledown buildings for more than a year from the time of their arrival last February.

In court, Ritchie said because the case has become "extremely complex and complicated," including tens of thousands of pages of evidence and wiretaps, he and his assistant need more help mounting a defence, which Pickton can no longer afford. He said negotiations continue with the B.C. government to get it to take his client's assets in exchange for "reasonable funding" of his legal team.

Ritchie said if he's unable to strike a deal with the province, he will go to the B.C. Supreme Court to ask for the charges to be stayed, because a proper defence is impossible.

Ritchie told reporters that he wants four more lawyers, bringing the defence team to six.

"We actually needed more but we're trying to pare this thing down to the bone and deal with it in a sensible manner," he said.

Ritchie also told court he's worried potential jurors will be prejudiced by the reporting of evidence from the preliminary hearing, due to begin Nov. 4, by media outlets in the United States, some of whom have insisted a publication ban does not relate to them.

"In this media-deluged world, a ban on publication in Canada may not prevent the deleterious impact downstream with respect to the integrity of the process," he said.

Judge Stone suggested that the preliminary hearing, which is slated to last three months, begin with one crown witness tomorrow. If non-Canadian media report on the evidence, then there would still be a month to determine what the court should do about it, he said.

"That would bring the issue to a head in a practical way, so to speak," Stone said.

Ritchie called the offer "tempting" but rejected it. He said he might ask the judge to order those reporters representing non-Canadian media outlets to submit a written promise that they would abide by a publication ban, or prevent them from entering court.

"The potential juror pool should not be affected by sensational media coverage and that's what we're all trying to avoid," Ritchie told reporters.

But in Victoria, Attorney General Geoff Plant suggested all this might be moot because there was still a chance the case would proceed directly to trial via direct indictment.

Courtesy of The Toronto Star



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

Updated: August 21, 2016