How serial killer Robert Pickton slipped away

New revelations show why he was able to prey with such impunity



Long before Robert Pickton became an infamous household name, but years after he began prowling Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, a local advocacy group conducted a survey of the city’s prostitutes. It helps explain how a simple-minded pig farmer—the very definition of the banality of evil—got away with what police now believe is the largest serial killing spree in Canadian history.

The organization, the Prostitution Alternatives Counselling and Education (PACE) Society, interviewed 183 sex trade workers between 1999 and 2001. It found, not surprisingly, that 58 per cent worked to support a drug habit, and that violent “bad dates” were a frequent occurrence. More than half said they had been robbed while working the streets; 39 per cent said they had been kidnapped or confined; one-third said they had survived attempts to murder them. Remarkably, 40 per cent of those who claimed to have been targets for murder said they didn’t report the incident to police. The survey found a “gulf between acts of violence suffered and acts of violence reported”—indicative of a profound distrust of authorities.

It was the perfect combination of vulnerabilities for an urban predator. Pickton cruised  into the city, offered money and drugs to women working the Eastside “low track,” then drove them to the grotty, cluttered farm in suburban Port Coquitlam he shared with his brother Dave. If he was dead certain their disappearance would go unnoticed by authorities, it was with good reason. Trial information released last week shows Pickton skated on an attempted murder charge in 1997—freeing him to kill a further 21 of the more than 30 women investigators now believe were murdered and butchered at the farm.

With the Supreme Court of Canada upholding his six murder convictions and the Crown deciding not to proceed with 20 other murder charges, the courts were able to release testimony that wasn’t admitted at trial. Taken together, it helps show how Pickton was able to hunt humans with such impunity that he bragged to an undercover-police cell plant after his arrest in 2002 that he’d killed 49 women and was aiming for an even 50.

The most damning evidence jurors never heard was of a woman’s narrow escape from Pickton’s farm in 1997. She testified at the preliminary hearing he paid her $100 to accompany him to the farm for sex. She said she fought for her life after Pickton stabbed her and tried to handcuff her. Both suffered serious wounds and massive blood loss in the resulting knife fight. She escaped naked, with a handcuff dangling from a wrist.

The two were treated in adjoining operating rooms at Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster.

Doctors found the key to remove the handcuffs in a pocket of Pickton’s clothing. A subsequent charge of attempted murder against him was stayed in early 1998—apparently because heavy drug use by the woman, whose name remains protected, made her an unreliable witness.

Tragically, that decision not to proceed came at enormous cost. Police now believe Pickton had killed at least five women at the farm by the time of the stabbing. All six women he was subsequently convicted of killing died after the 1997 stabbing, as well as 15 others he was charged with killing. Yet, Pickton remained above suspicion largely because of a refusal by the senior ranks of the Vancouver Police and the RCMP to believe that women were systematically being murdered. (Women like Sarah deVries, who worked the streets to feed her addiction, often railed at the indifference that met the disappearance of those around her. In one poetic diary entry she wrote: “Just another Hastings Street whore / sentenced to death / No judge, no jury, no trial, no mercy / The judge’s gavel already fallen / Sentence already passed.”)

Sadly, Pickton’s bloody clothing from the 1997 stabbing held the key, literally and figuratively, to solving both past and future murders. Police had seized the items but they weren’t tested for DNA until 2004, seven years after the stabbing and two years after Pickton’s arrest. (The results revealed the DNA of two women who vanished in early 1997, evidence kept from the jury because they were among the 20 women named in what was to be a separate trial. Nor did the jury hear that the DNA of 10 women was found in freezers in Pickton’s workshop.)

Despite the rising count of missing women, police refused to say that a serial killer was at work, or even to speculate that the women were dead. Their sluggish response has fuelled calls for an inquiry into the investigation now that the trial is over. An internal police review of the matter was forwarded to the provincial government last week.

There is much to answer for. As early as 2005 a police missing-women’s poster held the faces of 65 women (though some were found alive and others weren’t linked to Pickton). Had police seriously entertained the possibility of a serial killer, Pickton would certainly have been a prime suspect. Not only would a test of his clothing have yielded DNA of two of the women, but former Vancouver police officer Kim Rossmo later revealed police were tipped in 1998 that Pickton had a stash of women’s purses and ID.
They lacked either the will or the manpower to check it out. The missing women’s investigation started that year with just one Vancouver detective, though it grew into a joint city-RCMP task force. That summer, Rossmo, then head of the department’s geographic profiling unit, raised the possibility of a serial killer—an idea rejected by his superiors. Police were denying the possibility of a serial killer as late as June 2001, in part, Rossmo later charged, because the women’s low social status made them a lesser priority. It wasn’t that simple, former Vancouver mayor Larry Campbell, the chief provincial coroner at the time, would later write. “We never had any bodies. We never had a crime scene.”

Pickton was finally arrested in February 2002 after a rookie RCMP officer, acting on a weapons complaint, discovered articles at the farm belonging to a missing woman. The task force was called in and began a massive search of the property. It was an overdue bit of luck that came too late for Sarah deVries. She vanished in 1998, age 28, her DNA subsequently discovered on the farm. She’s one of 20 women that a convicted serial killer will never have to answer for. No judge. No jury. No trial.


How serial killer Robert Pickton slipped away

    • No, the Vancouver Police Force sucked.

  1. As long as I know about the sex trade {about 60 year I have come to the conclusion that it is MUCH safer in
    Amsterdam(Netherlands) than in Vancouver for either side of the party

  2. I read just about the same article years and years ago in Ontario, the only difference in yours is you printed his name, although it didnt seem like it would have been very hard to obtain. So even with a reluctance of some of the prostitutes to file formal charges it was clear in the article this was well known in the general community and it was reported across the country, some who cared tried…and still

  3. Not only that or this but cmon, look a little deeper. This farm was long known as a place for parties to be held with wilder than wild abandon. In short this man certainly was not some quiet loner who kept to him self night and day, barely spoke to anyone and had few friends if any. Ultimately the issue of organized crime coming into play will yield its head as the VPD lists its head from the sand and realises the implications on morale,public trust and their own internal corruption issues will have to be addressed come either hell or a polite tap on the shoulder that the watermark on the levy is rising..

  4. More than half said they had been robbed while working the streets; 39 per cent said they had been kidnapped or confined; one-third said they had survived attempts to murder them. Remarkably, 40 per cent of those who claimed to have been targets for murder said they didn't report the incident to police. The survey found a “gulf between acts of violence suffered and acts of violence reported”—indicative of a profound distrust of authorities.

    Enough fault there to be shared both by the distrusted authorities AND the distrusting self-alleged victims.

    • no. this is no fault of the "distrusting self alleged victims"

      • NO fault? Really? You don't suppose the "40% of those who claimed they have been targets for murder" mightn't have been able to help authorities put a stop to some future violence by reporting the incidents they faced, thereby allowing some investigations of real complaints?

        • well, obviously it shows they had zero faith in being heard or treated fairly by the authorities.
          And they were proven right many times over. Pickton was caught, red-handed, literally, trying to kill a prostitute; the freaking key to her handcuffs was in his pocket, and they didn't listen to her. Instead they named her 'uncredible" and let a murderer go free to kill at least another 21 women. Have some brains and some sensitivity.

          • Yes, the cops and the Crown blew that one. But for anyone incapable of sharing blame with those who chose not to even bother with a complaint when they were the victims of violence, my invitation mirrors Penny's: get some brains and some sensitivity, for the inactions of some victims helped lead to more victims.

  5. What happened here was a travesty, but this:

    " She's one of 20 women that a convicted serial killer will never have to answer for. No judge. No jury. No trial."

    …is incorrect.

  6. "Pickton remained above suspicion largely because of a refusal by the senior ranks of the Vancouver Police and the RCMP to believe that women were systematically being murdered." My tax dollars used for negligence. Got to love taxation.

  7. ; 39 per cent said they had been kidnapped or confined; one-third said they had survived attempts to murder them. Remarkably, 40 per cent of those who claimed to have been targets for murder said they didn't report the incident to police. Yet when Stockwell Day said many crimes go unreported the media said BS.

  8. The story fails to point out that even if the police had done DNA tests on Picton's clothes seized after the 1997 stsabbing case, the police didn't have the missing womens' DNA profiles collected until some time in 2002 so the tests wouldd not have been helpful at that time(i.e, 1997).

  9. "one-third said they had survived attempts to murder them. "

    That number seems awfully, awfully high. If a third of them said they walked on water would we believe them? They're crack whores, the most vile creatures in our society, and believe it or not they're not above telling a fib or two to bamboozle an advocacy group into believing crack whores are victims instead of the vicious asocial predators that they are.

    Come on, people, you don't have to believe every lie that sociopath crack whores tell you, smarten up. If you care so deeply about them why don't you go down to East Hastings and hang out with them? You'll see very quickly they are scum, scum who would slit your throat for ten bucks worth of crack.

    • the number is probably too low! I know from personal experience that there are many, many men out there that will attack women in the sex trades because they can. I was a stripper in a past life and was abducted and raped and strangled and left for dead by two losers who just hated me because I danced and took my clothes off. They told me that as they were having their fun. I wasn't a 'sociopath crack whore'; just a single mother trying to support myself and my family.
      You are a cold and heartless fool. Don't judge what you know nothing about.

    • You are one of the evil people in the world that make it possible for people like Robert Pickton to exist. They May be "Whores And Crack Heads" but they are still Human Women. We dont kill Idiots inthis country or you would be one of the first to go. Attitudes like yours against women in that lifestyle are why it took so long to catch Pickton. they are Daughters, Sisters and Mothers and deserve the same right to life as you. You obviously have a problem with Women and should seek counceling. I've been to East Hastings and it is no different than any other city. Would you say the same thing if it was Blacks or Jews? Your Hate makes you small. I pray you are one day confronted with your ignorance and open your heart to All Humanity more than you do now.

    • SHWM- you are an ignorant and clearly uneducated fool. That is all. 

  10. If we allow the issues of murdered and missing women to slip under the radar we are implictly saying that these women and thus all those who are vulnerable on the streets are disposable. Turning a blind eye to the "crack whores" in society essentially gives killers like Pickton a licence to kill. We need an inquiry.

  11. I had somebody stalk me and hack into my hotmail account sending offensive e-mails to everybody on my contact list and when I tried to get help, the police laughed at me and sent me home because I had an unrelated anxiety disorder that they believe clouded my judgement.

    These police are no different than the Nazi's during hitler's time because like those nazis they are products of their environment… who respond to public opinion and not to conscience. If they were born in the 1800 they would be slave owners and slave beaters as well…

    • Let's think about this for a second, yes?
      You went to the police because someone sent a bunch of emails to friends. You automatically thought that you were being stalked (unrelated, of course, to your anxiety… right). I've had my facebook hacked and my email hacked. I don't have a stalker, it was just someone having fun. In today's age, hackers who randomly attack email accounts are a common occurrence and a simple email stating that I was hacked was sent to all of my contacts, all of which understood. The police would have seen it like this, "Hi, my email got hacked and because of that, I have automatically must have a stalker. Fix it"

      As for your Nazi statement, you should do a tad more research if you're going to pull out that card. The public opinion was to kill millions of Jews in death camps? The public didn't have that opinion, Hitler did. And then you go on to say that the police in a previous time would be slave owner and beaters? First, most high ranking and middle class families had slaves. I'm not saying that having a slave was right, but you included a large percentage of North America. Second, how the heck would you they would be slave beaters? Oh wait, you obviously have a psychological profile every single one of the hundreds of thousands of law enforcement officers? Uh huh.
      Anyways, let's recap this, shall we?
      You got you're email hacked and someone sent a bunch of emails saying bad things to your friends. Therefore the person must be stalking you (unrelated, of course, to your anxiety disorder). Then you went to the police and said that you're being stalked because someone hacked your email, and then because the police can't do anything about it, you call them Nazis and slave beaters.
      In conclusion, you're saying that police should drop everything and help people who are having their emails hacked and have had mean emails sent to their contacts instead of finding serial killers?

      • owned.

  12. to SHWM:
    It's people like you who turn into the morons who run our judicial system. That comment you make is the most revolting thing I have ever heard in my life. There are many reasons why these women (and men in the sex trade too) turn to prostitution. Often, they didn't have a choice. This is a form of survival, and drugs just happen to be a source which helps with the pain of their daily reality.

    …and, for the record, I do help them. Some of them get out of the trade, raise kids, and help others too. Forgetting about them on the basis that they're "crack whores" doesn't help anything.

  13. They might want to check RCMP and VDP for compromised criminal elements involved with the pig farm. Why else would they refuse to investigate?

  14. Canada does not have a justice system it has a legal system. My own experiences have made that fact quite obvious to me. Canadian police detectives are well-trained, but in the case of Robert Pickton, they were far too complacent. If the missing women were daughters of wealthy citizens living in an upscale neighbourhood who were disappearing, Pickton would have been caught far sooner. Sex trade workers are on the lowest rung of the ladder and thus are often not a “priority” to police detectives in Canada’s so-called “classless” society. Had they been bothered to use basic surveillance techniques or even an ‘agent provocateur,’ They would have had their man in jail much, much earlier.      

    The so-called “interrogation” of Russell Williams, another woman killer, was a joke. It was more like a chummy conversation with a pal (note the first name usage in the interview). Williams knew the game was up and had no other choice but to cooperate with the police.   As a licensed private investigator with training from retired FBI agents from the Academy Group Inc., I could have done a better job than the Keystone Cops who pass themselves off as “detectives” in some of these cases. Good old Canadian complacency, coupled with an absence of any sense of urgency only led to more victims ending up dead. And it won’t be the last time either.    

Sign in to comment.