Pig-farm search compared to Ground Zero excavation

Kim Bolan
Times Colonist (Victoria)

Friday, June 07, 2002

VANCOUVER -- The expanded excavation and search for human remains at a Port Coquitlam pig farm resembles the massive undertaking at Ground Zero after the World Trade Center disaster, RCMP Const. Catherine Galliford said Thursday.

"I think the process is fairly similar," said Galliford, when asked about the parallels between the searches.

Some of the equipment being used by investigators at the farm co-owned by accused serial killer Robert (Willy) Pickton is similar to what was used in New York after the twin towers, hit by a pair of hijacked jetliners, collapsed last Sept. 11.

David Clark, Southam Newspapers.

A student watches soil at the Pickton farm as it comes off a conveyor belt.

While police executed a search warrant at the property Feb. 5, in recent weeks, investigators have prepared to expand the search with the hiring of additional people and set the stage for a major excavation.

On Thursday, dozens of bone experts and technicians using heavy equipment, conveyor belts and soil sifters began trying to find more human remains at the farm.

The search is linked to the disappearance of 54 women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Pickton, who will appear in court again Tuesday, has been charged with murdering seven of the women -- Jacquilene McDonell, Brenda Ann Wolfe, Andrea Joesbury, Heather Bottomley, Diane Rock, Sereena Abotsway and Mona Wilson.

The joint RCMP-Vancouver police missing women's task force explained the scope of the massive search at a news conference Thursday.

"The soil from the search site is first screened for larger material. What these osteology experts are trained to do is differentiate between small rocks and other soil material, and foreign matter that might be of interest to investigators," Galliford said.

Because of the charges already laid, Galliford refused to say whether the experts are looking for bone, something already confirmed to Southam Newspapers by Dean Hildebrand, the head of BCIT's forensic science department, which was approached by police to provide students.

"The osteology experts are mostly very serious students and are part of a pool of about 50 upper-level students and graduates of the specialized field who have been selected to work at the site. The experts have been selected from universities from across Canada," Galliford said.

Vancouver police Det. Scott Driemel said that in addition to two conveyor belts, a loader, an excavator, and two dump trucks are being used in the search. The equipment was moved in earlier this week and could be seen operating at the farm, at 953 Dominion Ave., on Thursday.

Galliford said investigators have used information obtained to date to prioritize where to dig first.

Police could not say how much money the expanded search is costing, or how much time investigators will spend on the site, though the search is expected to last at least a year.

Galliford explained that in a normal police investigation, "it takes a group of two forensic specialists and one investigator approximately one week to go through a vehicle."

"So that will give you some idea as to why we are anticipating to be on the Pickton farm property for at least a year and we are still working on the logistics for the Burns Road property, she said.

(Police sealed off a second Port Coquitlam Pickton property, in the 2500-block of Burns Road, in April, but no decision has been made yet on whether to excavate at that site.)

Police wouldn't comment on disturbing news reports earlier in the week about where and what kind of human remains had been found on the property several months ago. They had earlier confirmed that remains had been found of some of the women allegedly killed by Pickton.

"One thing we are not going to comment on allegations raised by the news media about potential exhibits seized during the course of this investigation," Galliford said. "There's increasing public commentary about the impact of sensational reporting on the ability of any accused to have a fair trial and there's even growing public debate about the basic motivation for such reporting. We will leave that debate outside this room."

Driemel said police would not say anything that might jeopardize Pickton's right to a fair trial.

"The fact is what some people want to know about this case is the kind of information that if made public could jeopardize a fair trial, could jeopardize a prosecution," he said. "We as police don't think that should happen. We don't believe that needs to happen. And we have a legal responsibility -- as part of the criminal justice system -- to not let it happen."

Asked about whether there could be a problem in court with non-police personnel collecting potential evidence, Driemel said that because of the scope of the search, investigators had no choice but to bring in some outside help, all of whom have gone through criminal record checks and signed confidentiality agreements. "We are faced with a situation where we have an unprecedented -- as far as we understand -- examination of a site of this size," he said.

 Copyright  2002 Times Colonist (Victoria)

Courtesy of Times Colonist (Victoria)



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