Families, support groups laud ‘responsible’ police

Courtesy of The Province

Tent at farm, rapid-response phone praised

Suzanne Fournier

The Province
Wednesday, February 13, 2002

As the gruelling police search grinds on at the Port Coquitlam pig farm, women on the Downtown Eastside are making fresh disclosures to police, while the families of the missing women prepare for a very long wait.

Vancouver city police have been "very responsible and encouraging" to terrified women who want to tell what they know about the pig farm owned by Robert (Willie) and David Pickton but may have been afraid to do so, say the counsellors at PACE (Prostitution Alternatives: Counselling and Education), a bustling storefront office for sex-trade workers across from Oppenheimer Park.

"The women who have come forward to disclose are going through a lot -- they're experiencing fear, shame, and a lot of survivor guilt," said PACE counsellor Marika Sandrelli.

"The task force members have been very good and supportive to the women in a non-punitive way, and we are encouraging any women who come forward to disclose directly to the police, because the task force needs to hear it from them."

Sandrelli said PACE has been given the cellphone number of a police officer who responds quickly, speaking to tipsters "away from the police station, at a location where the women are comfortable." Police aren't checking for any warrants on informants.

PACE "continues to support" Wendy Lyn Eistetter, a sex trade worker who was allegedly stabbed in 1997 at the farm. David Pickton was charged with attempted murder in connection with that incident, but those charges were later stayed.

"She's doing well, but she's hiding out a lot, because it's traumatizing and overwhelming all over again," said Sandrelli.

Meanwhile, out at the pig farm, police have created a "haven" by setting up a tent for the families of the 50 missing women.

Staff Sgt. Paul Darbyshire of the RCMP major crime section said the families asked for a place where they could meet.

"They have a need to be here and some are coming here, obviously, to grieve," Darbyshire said.

Freda Ens, executive director of the Vancouver Police and Native Liaison Society, said family members were generally happy with the way police were dealing with them.

"The tent will be a special place," said Ens.

"It's understandable [family members] need to be here near the shrine that's being built," said RCMP Const. Catherine Galliford, who told yesterday's daily press briefing that police had "nothing significant" to report.

Many relatives of the 50 women have been drawn to the site, filled with both horror and hope.

Lorraine Crey, the sister of Dawn Crey, a Sto:lo woman who went missing in 2000, said she has visited the farm several times at midnight, "to escape the crowds and just to be alone in my grief. It's an eerie, creepy place, and it gave me a feeling of dread."

Maggie deVries, whose sister Sarah deVries has been missing since 1998, has also been to the farm.

"Most people are hoping their loved ones are buried there," she said." We know our family members are dead and that they suffered horribly. But we also know we are going to know nothing for a very long time, and that we have to accept the wait.

"The police have nothing to say, to us or the media, and we don't want them to jeopardize their investigation."

More than 80 police investigators, including 40 forensic specialists, have been combing through farm buildings, junked cars, mounds of dirt and other material on the four-hectare property.

Not a shred of evidence has been publicly disclosed -- though unconfirmed news reports said police found identification and a woman's asthma inhaler at the site.

Neither David nor Robert Pickton has been named as a suspect, nor is either in custody. Robert is facing weapons charges Feb. 28.

Meanwhile, the manager of a Vancouver rendering plant said yesterday police have not asked for records of deliveries from the farm.

Humphrey Koch of West Coast Reduction said the Pickton farm regularly delivered pig entrails to his facility for the last 20 years.

He said police asked if the plant had received entrails from the farm, but not from any individual.

© Copyright 2002 The Province

Courtesy of MSNBC

B.C. police were told years ago of pig farm


Feb. 9 - PORT COQUITLAM, B.C. -- Lynn Frey has made the half-day trip countless times from her home in Campbell River on Vancouver Island to the avenues of British Columbia's biggest city.

For the past four years, she and her sister have braved the sleazy streets of Vancouver's Eastside tenderloin district, questioning the unfortunate women who haunt the streets, in a lonely search for Frey's troubled daughter.

     About two years ago they began hearing from drug users and prostitutes who might have known Frey's daughter, Marnie, who was 24 when she disappeared in 1997. The bits and pieces of information seemed to point to an inconspicuous, muddy pig farm 22 miles out of town.

     One of the men who lived at the farm was well-known to girls who work the streets, and in 1997 had been arrested for trying to kill a prostitute, she heard. It was a dirty place on a potholed road amid a blossoming bedroom community, the girls told her. It was a place many only heard about and refused to go to even though its hosts threw great parties, lest they be left with no way back to Vancouver, Frey recalls.

     The stories resonated with Frey. The swampy farm was too close to home, blocks from the home of her own sister. The pig farm seemed eerie to both of them, she said.

     "It was like a magnet," alternately attracting and repelling, she said.

     Yet when Frey suggested that Vancouver police investigating the disappearances of dozens of missing women in recent years look at the place, her words seemed to fall on deaf ears. Her fading hopes were buoyed, though, when a joint police task force of Vancouver police and Royal Canadian Mounted Police was formed last year to look into the disappearances of 50 women in what is believed to be Canada's most prolific string of serial slayings.

     Two days ago, Frey steeled her heart again.

     "The task force called me (Wednesday) night to let me know there was going to be something on the media the next day," Frey said. "I thought nothing of it. I've been in touch with the police and called umpteen times in the last four years."

     On Thursday, images of the pig farm flashed across television screens and newspaper pages as the task force searched the farm amid speculation of a major break in the case. Frey felt her heart soar, then crash.

     "My heart went to my stomach," she said. "I hope this doesn't sound callous, I don't know how else to say it, but I am hoping -- I'm willing to believe -- that they will find bodies.

     "Over the years you get your hopes up high to find her, only to have them drop like a falling elevator. I need closure now to carry on with my life. How many times can a mother do this?"

     Mothers, fathers, family and friends of many of the missing women have driven to the farm now under police seal. Like Frey, they believe police waited too long to take their fears seriously. Some say they also alerted investigators to their suspicions and tips about one of the farmers, even as the list of missing women grew.

     Two brothers, Robert William and David Francis Pickton, and their sister, Linda, own the farm where they grew up. They became wealthy, by some reports, by selling off parcels for development. Rows of townhouses border the north of the farm, a golf course flanks the east, where the nearby Pitt River flows toward the Fraser River. The brothers live on the last 10 acres.

     Early yesterday, investigators could be seen shoveling dirt or manure mounds in a plank barn on the property near the confluence of the Fraser and Pitt rivers.

     Robert Pickton, 52, was arrested Tuesday on three weapons violations after police served a search warrant on the pale yellow house. According to the Vancouver Sun, officers found identification cards and other personal items belonging to two missing women, prompting another search.

     Pickton was released from custody Wednesday, but is due in court on Feb. 28. Police yesterday declined to say if they know where he is or whether he is under surveillance. Police also declined to call Pickton a suspect in the disappearances, saying only that he is among "hundreds" of people still under scrutiny.

     Asked at a news conference about the criticism that Vancouver police bungled by not looking sooner at the Pickton farm, Detective Scott Driemel, spokesman for the department, said any information gathered years ago was "shared, and whatever could be acted upon was."

     "We're not about to go back and defend ourselves for something that happened years ago," he said, adding that resource constraints and time needed to track thousands of leads complicated early investigation efforts. But authorities are now "aggressively pursuing the investigation," he said.

     Other officials said they have been diligent, but it takes time to examine hundreds of tips to determine what was hearsay and what was legally actionable, and that it is difficult to track down prostitutes and drug users who live a transient lifestyle, often using different names.

     While the list of 50 missing women dates back to 1983, most dropped out of sight in the 1990s, including 31 since 1997.

     Last fall, the new task force said the missing persons cases were being treated as multiple homicides. While task force members have consulted King County investigators looking into the Green River slayings of 49 women -- many of them prostitutes -- between 1982 and 1984, police in both countries see no link.

     Neighbors say Pickton and his younger brother, David, sometimes threw late night parties and pig roasts in a makeshift, unlicensed nightclub known as "Piggy's Palace."

     Over the years, the brothers raised fewer pigs, instead selling fill-dirt and gravel from the farm and dabbling in building demolition, friends said.

     One woman who declined to giver her name said she has known the brothers for more than 10 years and often joined them for outings to a biker bar in Burnaby. The brothers rode Harley-Davidson motorcycles and mingled with biker gangs, she said.

     She described David Pickton as generous and friendly, but said "Willy" was creepy.

     "He kind of kept to himself, hanging out back there in the piggery all the time," she said.

     Willy, a tall, thin man with a halo of long and curly dirty blond hair, once showed the woman how he boiled pigs in a large vat, she said.

     "It kind of freaked me out," she said.

     Friends and relatives of the missing women say they became aware of Robert Pickton after his name surfaced in 1997, when a prostitute and drug addict accused him of trying to stab her to death during an encounter at the farm in 1997. Pickton was charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault and unlawful confinement, but charges were later dropped. The woman, who had run screaming from the farm in handcuffs, reportedly refused to testify. Her whereabouts is unknown.

     Those who know Pickton, who was also seriously wounded during the incident, have a different version of the attack. They say a prostitute pulled a knife and tried to rob Pickton, slashing him across the chin.

     Yet those who tried to point police toward the farm over the years believe authorities missed their chance to stop the disappearances.

     "They dropped the ball on this," said Wayne Leng, a B.C. native who now lives in California. His friend, Sarah deVries, is one of the missing women. He said he first told Vancouver police about a pig farmer known as "Willy" in mid-1998, after a man told him about an assault of a prostitute, and of finding women's clothing and identification at the farm.

     "I think that more women would be alive today if they would have acted sooner," Leng said yesterday.

     That authorities knew of tips and Pickton's past run-ins with the law years ago, but did not key in on the pig farmer until now "really pisses me off," said Carrie Kerr, a 28-year-old Maple Ridge woman whose sister went missing in 1997.

     When Kerr's older sister, Helen Hallmark, a drug user and known prostitute, didn't show up for Christmas that year, "we knew something was wrong," Kerr said. "They knew about this guy for years, and they didn't do anything about it," she said. "How many women are dead now because of it?"

     Frey, meanwhile, wonders what might have happened to her daughter. The tale of Marnie's slide into prostitution, and the battles to save her, is a familiar one to the victims' families she has met.

     "Marnie was a very loving person. If a stranger walking down a street needed 50 cents and that was all she had, she'd give the last 50 cents in her pocket," her mother said.

     "Marnie got mixed up with the wrong people, started doing cocaine, then heroin. She was 19 or 20 when it started. When she got on heroin, she went to the streets of Vancouver to support her heroin habit, and started living that life. We couldn't stop her."

     Frey said her daughter, however, worried about her family and called several times a week to let them know she was OK. That stopped almost five years ago.

     Frey and her husband, Dean, a commercial fisherman, kept their doors open to their daughter and waged a battle over the years for her life.

     She came back home several times, thin, sick, vomiting, determined to clean the toxins from her body.

     Once she made it into drug treatment in Victoria.

     Always she bolted in less than a week, surrendering to heroin. Marnie's body would ache from withdrawal, her mother said, the shakes, vomiting, her bones aching. Her family's heart ached, too.

     "The doors were never closed and they still are not," her mother said. 

Food inspectors join probe of pig-farm connection

Kim Bolan and Lindsay Kines

Vancouver Sun
Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Federal food inspectors contacted a Vancouver rendering plant Tuesday to follow up a Vancouver Sun story that said the plant had received pig entrails from the Port Coquitlam farm now under police scrutiny in the disappearance of 50 women from the Downtown Eastside.

Sheila Fagnan, regional director of operations for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, said she called West Coast Reduction Ltd. to get assurances that the material received at the rendering plant from the farm over years of deliveries had been examined closely.

"I have confirmed again with the reduction facility today [Tuesday] that pig materials only have been delivered as animal products to the rendering plant," Fagnan said. "I just followed up. I was checking with our inspection team here. I read your article."

But she confirmed that the only inspection that is done at the plant is a visual one, without any testing to determine the origin of the material received.

"Any testing that would have been done would be around surveillance for chemical residues. I can't imagine any testing that would distinguish, um, you know -- animal matter one from another," she said.

Police contacted West Coast Reduction last week to inquire about records of deliveries from the Port Coquitlam farm owned by Robert William Pickton and his two siblings.

The rendering plant processes animal remains so they can be used in many products, including animal feed and cosmetics.

It is located at 105 North Commercial Drive, a block away from a busy prostitute stroll and several blocks away from the Downtown Eastside, where the missing women worked in the sex trade and struggled with drug addiction.

West Coast executive Humphry Koch told The Sun the Picktons had delivered to the rendering plant for more than 20 years and that the company was searching all the necessary records to fully cooperate with police. He said police are interested in an accounting of dates the deliveries were made.

Gina Houston, a friend of Pickton's, earlier told The Sun that the man met prostitutes on his trips to the rendering plant and that he helped them out financially because he felt sorry for them.

Fagnan said West Coast is due for its annual inspection in March and the rendering plant has always met industry standards.

But she said determining the content or origin of entrails delivered to the plant would not be part of the normal inspection process for the federal agency.

"That wouldn't come under a food safety concern," Fagnan said. "It is not an area over which we have jurisdiction. We would be concerned if their source material had chemical residues that are not going to be treated. We have assorted concerns around animal disease prevention. That sort of thing."

The food inspection agency only checks food safety at meat processing plants and not on farms where products originate, she said.

"If we had any concerns about food safety at the processing plant, we might conduct a trace-back to the farm site. And to my knowledge, this farm has never been a supplier to any of the investigations we've been involved in."

Part of the pig farm has been the subject of an intense search since Feb. 5 by the joint Vancouver Police-RCMP Missing Women Task Force.

Police sources earlier told The Sun that Pickton, known as Willy, is a person of interest in the investigation, though no one has been charged.

On Tuesday morning, several relatives of missing women were invited to the search site by police, who have set up a tent for the families. The tent is outfitted with supplies donated by community members.

"It is very understandable that family members have a need to be near the search site; to be near the shrine that has been built to honour the missing women; to watch police working; to have privacy; and to have a place where they can meet and talk and share their feelings," RCMP Constable Catherine Galliford said.

Police revealed little else about the massive search and accompanying investigation that now involves an 85-person police team.

"From the very beginning we have stressed that this search is complex, will take time, and by necessity requires investigators to painstakingly examine the scene inch by inch," Galliford said.

The pigs and other animals on the farm have already been moved by the SPCA.

Clarence Jensen, general manager of the B.C. Hog Marketing Commission, said the Picktons' farm is not a member producer, meaning it doesn't sell its pigs commercially.

He also said that conditions he has seen of the farm in news reports would mean it would not qualify as a licensed commission member.

"When I look at this farm, well, it just won't happen ... All our producers are registered licensed producers who ship either to federal or provincially inspected packers," Jensen said.

"I did check back and we don't have any record of [the Pickton farm]."

He said there are always small-farm operators who sell pigs at market or from the farm who are not under the commission's auspices.

"When you are driving through the country, you can probably buy some milk off a farmer. You can probably buy some chickens off a farmer. You can certainly buy eggs. I don't know if they process pork or what they do." 

© Copyright 2002 Vancouver Sun

Friends rallying round Robert, Dave Pickton

Keith Fraser
The Province

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Their friends say they're getting a bad rap.

Robert and David Pickton have been in the proverbial eye of the hurricane since police descended on their Port Coquitlam pig farm last week and began searching for any evidence of Vancouver's missing women.

The brothers have had a colourful history in the community, butting heads with the local municipality and other government agencies over a variety of issues.

"Dave and Willy have been pretty good guys, they're a little rough around the edges," said neighbour Randy Thibert. "I've known them for quite a few years and I've watched them do a lot of nice things for people. It's too difficult to fathom that they're involved. It just doesn't seem like them."

Since last week's events, they've disappeared from public view.

"They're keeping fairly low key," said Thibert. "I've heard through the rumour mill that they've offered to even dig up the yard themselves, side by side with police, to end this so that they can get back on with their lives."

On a property separate from the pig farm, for several years they hosted parties at Piggy's Palace, a converted dance hall that the city at one point tried to close.

Some have claimed that bikers attended the parties and that there were liquor violations.

But others say there's no truth to the allegations.

"Even our (former) mayor, Len Traboulay, went," said one woman who claimed to have attended all of the parties. "He wrote them a letter of thanks for inviting him. He said the food was better than a first-class restaurant."

The woman, who didn't want to be named, said it cost $10 to get in to the parties and drinks were two for $5.

"If you were there and you got drunk, you never drove home. They'd either give you a cab or they'd drive you. Them boys never had a smoke in their life and they never had a drink in their life and they don't do drugs."

Mayor Scott Young attended one party at the palace and Coun. Darrell Penner contracted out his band to play on the premises.

Vancouver police Det.-Const. Scott Driemel admitted a car impounded by police could have ended up on the Pickton property. He said cars from the police impound lot are eventually sold to an auction house which sells them to wreckers. 

© Copyright 2002 The Province


Police seal off PoCo farm, tell family they have suspect-Feb 7, 2002 



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

Updated: August 21, 2016