Officer breaks down as she recalls how missing women investigations affected her life


VANCOUVER -- The first officer assigned to investigate the missing women case became choked with emotion and began crying when asked how the case affected her personal and professional life.

"I think it affected me a great deal, it was very hard," Vancouver police Const. Lori Shenher told the Missing Women inquiry, which is probing why serial killer Robert Pickton wasn't caught sooner.

"I was so completely disillusioned with police work," she said, adding she thought about quitting the VPD.

But, she added in a halting voice, what she experienced paled in comparison to what the families of the missing women.

Shenher has spent two days testifying about how she was initially the sole investigator of the dozens of women who were reported missing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

The investigation was plagued by a shortage of manpower because senior managers within the B.C. wouldn't take the matter seriously and assign the resources the case needed.

Shenher testified she believed Pickton fit the profile of a serial killer and gathered information from informants who suggested Pickton was responsible for the women going missing.

And she was shocked when she got the call in early 2002, telling her that Pickton had been arrested and police were searching his farm.

"I can't even tell you how shocked I was," Shenher told the inquiry.

"If it was someone really tricky or skilled, I could handle that, but the fact that it was a person so in my sights the whole time," she said.

"I was counting how many women went missing from September '99, when I felt we were closing in on him," Shenher recalled. "I felt very much grief stricken."

Shenher said she had to go on sick leave but has since recovered and still is working.

She advised Commissioner Wally Oppal that in police culture you either sink or swim, and she felt she did a "damned good job" on the investigation, "with what we had to work with."

Shenher is continuing her testimony today, which is being streamed live at the inquiry's website:

Shenher earlier told the inquiry that when she was first assigned in August 1998 to the VPD's Missing Person Unit, she worked alone and had no computer to keep track of details of the missing women and the tips that came in.

At one point, when Shenher and others felt the women's disappearances were the result of a serial killer preying on women, she asked for an additional six experienced detectives to be assigned to the case, but was told the force was short-staffed and was given three people.

She recalled she was shocked and frustrated in September 1999 when two detectives interviewed a key witness and made a decision that derailed Pickton as a serial killer suspect.

She said the Coquitlam RCMP Cpl. Mike Connor was also upset after two detectives from the Unsolved Homicide Unit, Cpl. Frank Henley and Bruce Ballantyne, interviewed Lynn Ellingsen on Aug. 10, 199 and believed her when she said she never saw Pickton with the dead body of a woman.

Shenher recalled that other detectives had previously interviewed a police informant, who said Ellingsen had told friends that she had been at Pickton's farm one night and walked into a barn and was horrified to find Pickton butchering a woman's body.

The informant also said that Ellingsen was extorting money from Pickton to stay quiet about what she saw.

Ellingsen told the detectives that she never saw a woman's body in the barn, so the detectives concluded that they didn't believe the veracity of the dead-body story.

After that, Shenher said, the investigation of Pickton as a suspect stalled and lost momentum.

"We felt it died and we couldn't understand why," she told the inquiry, which is probing why police didn't catch Pickton sooner.

Shenher said she transferred out of the missing persons unit in 2000.

Connor is scheduled to testify next at the inquiry, which began Oct. 11.

Shenher testified earlier that she received tips from informants in 1998 and 1999, who suggested Pickton may be a serial killer.

They said Pickton had bloody clothing in bags, women's identification and purses, and he had bragged about how he could dispose of bodies.

Vancouver police passed along the information to the RCMP because Pickton lived in Port Coquitlam, the jurisdiction of the RCMP.

Shenher said the decision regarding Ellingsen affected the morale of the investigators working on the missing women case.

Women continued to go missing until Pickton was arrested on Feb. 5 and was eventually charged with killing 27 women.

He was convicted at his first trial in 2007 of six murders and now is serving a life sentence.

After Pickton lost all his appeals, the Crown decided not to proceed on a second trial on the remaining murder charges.

Pickton once told an undercover officer that he killed 49 women.

Excerpts from the book “Criminal Investigative Failures” by D. Kim ROSSMO




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

Updated: August 21, 2016