VPD detectives who worked on missing women case felt serial killer was responsible, inquiry told


VANCOUVER -- Two detectives who worked on the Vancouver police missing women case in 1999 felt a serial killer was responsible, the Missing Women inquiry was told Wednesday.

"I didn't think they were missing, I thought they were murdered," Mark Wolthers testified.

He said he felt the VPD should have assigned more resources to investigate suspects, rather than treat the women as missing.

"It wasn't rocket science," Wolthers told the inquiry, which is probing why police didn't catch serial killer Robert Pickton sooner -- he wasn't arrested until 2002.

"You have to prioritize...because people are being murdered," Wolthers said.

He suggested officers could have been moved from the mounted squad and traffic squad to help "because we've got a serial killer on the loose."

Doug Fell also felt police made a mistake in putting out the message in the media that there was no evidence of a serial killer after dozens of women had been reported missing.

"With the benefit of hindsight, it was a horrible mistake," he said.

"In my opinion, we should have been doing as much as we could to warn the women out there."

Wolthers is now retired but Fell is still with the VPD.

They worked on the missing women investigation from the summer of 1999 until they were removed from the case in early 2000.

At the time, they said, their superiors believed women were no longer going missing, so the team was scaled back, but three more women were reported missing by the end of the year.

They denied they had "tunnel vision" but focused on one suspect -- Barry Niedermeyer, a former man in Alberta with a history of abusing sex workers.

Fells and Wolthers pursued Niedermeyer, who was later arrested and charged with serious sex assaults of Vancouver women.

Both took issue with the criticism of their work by VPD Deputy Chief Doug LePard in his 2010 report, which said Fell and Wolthers were difficult to work with, used derogatory language when talking about sex workers, withheld information from their colleagues and followed their own suspect while ignoring Pickton.

They said two other detectives were assigned to a Pickton tip.

Wolthers recalled Niedermeyer had made odd statements during interviews with police and psychologists, which suggested he could be responsible for the missing women.

"He said, 'I'm not saying I killed all of them'," he recalled Niedermeyer saying.

Fell said Niedermeyer was a "very, very nasty predator" and at the time they believed more than one serial killer was preying on the women in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

After catching Niedermeyer, Fell and Wolthers were assigned in early 2000 to show photographs of possible suspects to sex workers in Vancouver.

Fell recalled asking their colleagues for photos of the 20 best suspects, but they were only given seven. Pickton was not among them, he said.

About a week later, in early April, they returned to show sex workers the photos of 10 additional suspects, including Pickton, who was identified by several sex workers.

The inquiry has heard criticism of Fell and Wolthers for withholding the fact that Pickton was identified. But neither could recall whether they told anyone. If they didn't, it wasn't intentional, they said.

The inquiry, which will continue hearing testimony Friday, will hold its final policy forum Thursday at the Wosk Centre for Dialogue in Vancouver.




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

Updated: August 21, 2016