Former police officer took stress leave during Pickton probe


VANCOUVER A former Vancouver police inspector testified Tuesday that he suffered from stress in 1998 while he was overseeing an investigation that involved serial killer Robert (Willie) Pickton.

Fred Biddlecombe recalled he took some time off sick, suffering from job-related stress, in 1998.

He said he was suffering headaches and night terrors, causing him to wake up screaming, as well as weight loss and lack of focus.

Biddlecombe said he went on extended sick leave in October 1999 and never returned to work before retiring in September 2000 after 30 years with the VPD.

He said he still is under psychiatric care and has been diagnosed as suffering from major depression and anxiety, which has affected his memory.

Biddlecombe explained this to the Missing Women inquiry when asked if he recalled certain events in 1998 when Vancouver police first received tips that Pickton was possibly a serial killer responsible for the disappearance of dozens of women who went missing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Biddlecombe said his depression is due to "ongoing press-related stress issues."

Lawyer Jason Gratl, representing Downtown Eastside interests, told inquiry Commissioner Wally Oppal that Biddlecombe seems to suffer from "selective recall."

Biddlecombe was testifying at a panel along with former VPD sergeant Geramy Field, now known as Geramy Powell, and former inspector Dan Dureau.

Powell was the sergeant in the homicide section and Dureau replaced Biddlecombe when he was on sick leave or off doing other projects.

In 1998, Biddlecombe was in charge of major crime, which included the homicide section, robbery, sex offences and the missing persons unit.

The inquiry has heard how Biddlecombe had a "hissy fit" when a senior VPD officer, Kim Rossmo, then in charge of the geographic profiling unit, presented in September 1998 a draft news release containing a public warning that a serial killer could be preying on women in the Downtown Eastside.

The inquiry was told earlier that Biddlecombe said at the time there was no evidence of a serial killer and he didn't believe the women were really missing.

Instead, he directed Const. Lori Shenher, who worked in the Missing Persons Unit, to try to find the women that had been reported missing.

Biddlecombe was shown a Sept. 14, 1998, memo he wrote to then-Insp. Gary Greer, which said Rossmo's draft news release was "inaccurate and unacceptable."

"I don't recall this document, the meetings or the discussion," Biddlecombe testified.

Shenher testified earlier that she couldn't find the missing women and by early 1999, believed the women had met foul play.

Shenher also began receiving tips in the summer of 1998, first from Bill Hiscox, who believed Pickton was responsible for the deaths of possibly all the missing women.

Biddlecombe testified he was never aware of Hiscox and wasn't told about the informant.

Powell, who retired in 2003, recalled she was Shenher's immediate supervisor but was transferred in September 1998 to the Co-ordinated Law Enforcement unit for six months.

When she returned in early 1999, she recalled, the missing women investigation was growing and detectives were being added.

The panel will continue testifying Wednesday.

Earlier in the day, the inquiry heard a civilian in the VPD missing persons section complained in the early 1990s that the unit was understaffed and needed more officers to properly investigate cases.

Sandy Cameron said she discussed the matter with the sergeant overseeing the VPD's missing persons unit and he wrote a memo in 1995 to a superintendent, asking for a full-time sergeant for the unit and a motivated constable.

Cameron recalled there were problems in the early 1990s with sex workers going missing but they were not being properly investigated because the missing persons unit was short staffed.

"So the warning flag went up in 1995?" asked lawyer Jason Gratl.

"Yes," replied Cameron, who worked as a civilian clerk in missing persons for 22 years before retiring in 2005.

She said she noticed a spike in the number of sex workers being reported missing in the 1990s, which resulted in Shenher being added to the missing persons unit.

The inquiry heard earlier that Shenher did her best to investigate the missing women files but eventually became burned out.

VPD Deputy Chief Doug LePard said in his report that senior police managers failed to take ownership of the problem of missing women and assign more resources.

Cameron testified that she agreed with the 1998 findings of Rossmo, who believed there was a possible serial killer preying on sex workers in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Rossmo wanted to issue a public warning about a possible serial killer preying on women but the idea was shot down by Biddlecombe, who was in charge of the homicide section.

Cameron said Rossmo was not respected by his colleagues in the senior ranks of the VPD, who didn't want to give credence to Rossmo's findings.

Despite tips to Vancouver police in 1998 and 1999 about Pickton being a possible serial killer, his killing spree continued until his arrest in 2002.

One of the tips said a woman had seen Pickton with the dead body of a Vancouver prostitute in a barn on the Pickton farm in Port Coquitlam, B.C.

The inquiry has heard that Pickton lured women to his farm with promises of money and drugs.

Once police began an exhaustive 18-month search of Pickton's farm, the remains and DNA of 33 missing women were found.

The inquiry is probing why Pickton wasn't caught sooner.

Pickton was convicted in 2007 of six counts of murder. He once confessed he killed 49 women.

The inquiry, which began hearings last Oct. 11, is expected to conclude testimony by the end of the month.

Vancouver Sun



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

Updated: August 21, 2016