Pickton is one of Canada’s worst serial killers and was North America’s worst, only recently being surpassed by Samuel Little.
Robert William Pickton, born 24 October 1949, and his brother, David, owned a farm in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, 27 km east of Vancouver. Some noted that the farm was creepy and Pickton exhibited strange behaviour but there was seemingly no reason, such as evidence of substance misuse.
The Pickton brothers began to neglect the site’s farming operations and shortly thereafter decided to register a non-profit charity, called the Piggy Palace Good Times Society, with the Canadian government in 1996, claiming to “organize, co-ordinate, manage and operate special events, functions, dances, shows and exhibitions on behalf of service organizations, sports organizations and other worthy groups”. Its events included raves and wild parties featuring Vancouver sex workers and gatherings which took place in a converted slaughterhouse on the farm property. These events sometimes attracted as many as 2,000 people.
In March 1997, Pickton was charged with the attempted murder of sex worker, Wendy Lynn Eistetter, whom he had stabbed several times during an altercation at the farm. Eistetter had informed police that Pickton had handcuffed her, but that she had escaped after suffering several lacerations. She told them she had disarmed him and stabbed him with his own weapon. In 2003, Eistetter testified at an inquiry that after Pickton had driven her to the Port Coquitlam farm and had sex with her, he slapped a handcuff on her left hand and stabbed her. In return, she stabbed Pickton in self-defence. Later, both she and Pickton were treated at the same hospital, where staff used a key they found in Pickton’s pocket to remove the handcuffs from the woman’s wrist. Pickton’s attempted-murder charge was dismissed in 1998, because Eisetter had drug addiction issues and prosecutors believed her too unstable for her testimony to help secure a conviction.
The clothes and rubber boots Pickton had been wearing that evening were seized by police and left in an RCMP storage locker for more than seven years. Not until 2004 did lab testing show that the DNA of two missing women was on the items seized from Pickton in 1997.
However, not longer after, the Picktons were sued by Port Coquitlam officials for violating zoning ordinances as they were neglecting the agricultural zoned area and having “altered a large farm building on the land for the purpose of holding dances, concerts and other recreations”. The Picktons ignored this and held a raucous 1998 New Year’s party, after which they were served with an injunction banning future parties and the police were “authorized to arrest and remove any person” attending future events at the farm. The society’s non-profit status was removed the following year, as they couldn’t procure financial statements, and it it was subsequently disbanded.
Over the course of three years, a tips were made to the police stating that women who visited the farm eventually went missing. In February 2002, police executed a search warrant for illegal firearms at the property and the Pickton brothers were arrested. The police obtained a second warrant based on what they had seen at the property to search it as part of the BC Missing Women Investigation. Personal items belonging to missing women were found. The following day, Pickton was charged with weapons offences. Both of the brothers were later released; however Robert Pickton was kept under police surveillance.
A few weeks later, Pickton was arrested and charged with two counts of first degree murder in the deaths of Sereena Abotsway and Mona Wilson. Shortly after, more charges levelled on Pickton for the murders of Jacqueline McDonell, Diane Rock, and Heather Bottomley. A sixth charge for the murder of Andrea Joesbury was laid on six days later, followed shortly by a seventh for Brenda Wolfe. On September 20, more charges were added for the murders of Georgina Papin, Patricia Johnson, Helen Hallmark, and Jennifer Furminger. Astoundingly, four more charges for the murders of Heather Chinnock, Tanya Holyk, Sherry Irving, and Inga Hall were laid on October 3, bringing the total to 15.
This was the largest investigation of any serial killer in Canadian history. The farm was excavated throughout November 2003 as evidence kept surfacing
As if a floodgate had been opened, in May, 2005, 12 more charges were laid against Pickton for the killings of Cara Ellis, Andrea Borhaven, Debra Lynne Jones, Marnie Frey, Tiffany Drew, Kerry Koski, Sarah de Vries, Cynthia Feliks, Angela Jardine, Wendy Crawford, Diana Melnick, and a Jane Doe, bringing the total number of first-degree murder charges to 27.
Forensic analysis of evidence at the farm and on the bodies proved difficult because of the conditions – as bodies may have been left to decompose, or be eaten by insects and pigs on the farm. To emphasise the scale of the search, forensic anthropologists brought in heavy equipment, including two 50-foot flat conveyor belts and soil sifters to find traces of human remains in the early days of the investigations.
Now for another horrifying part, in March 2004, the government revealed that Pickton may have ground up human flesh and mixed it with pork that he sold to the public. The province’s health authority later issued a warning. Another claim was made that he fed the bodies directly to his pigs, given the case the name of “The Pig Farmer” case.
Pickton’s trial began on January 30, 2006. Pickton pleaded not guilty to 27 charges of first-degree murder in the Supreme Court of British Columbia. In March, one of the 27 counts was rejected by Justice James Williams for lack of evidence.
It was decide in August 2006 that the charges should be divided into two groups; one group of six counts, and one group of twenty. The trial proceeded on the group of six counts. The remaining twenty counts could have been heard in a separate trial at that stage, but ultimately were stayed on August 4, 2010. The Judge has explained that trying all the charges at once would put an unreasonable burden on the jury, as the trial could last up to two years and could increase the change for a mistrial. The Judge added that the six counts he chose had “materially different” evidence from the other 20. The six counts had a good chance of conviction and the other twenty counts could be tried at a later date.
Pickton faced first-degree murder charges in the deaths of Frey, Abotsway, Papin, Joesbury, Wolfe and Wilson. The media ban was lifted, and for the first time Canadians heard the details of the true farm of horrors evidence obtained during the investigation. This included, skulls cut in half with hands and feet stuffed inside, remains found inside garbage bags with her blood-stained clothing found in Pickton’s trailer, part of another victim’s jawbone and teeth found beside Pickton’s slaughterhouse. The rest are too gruesome, even for us, to publish.
During the trial’s first day of jury evidence, the Crown stated that Pickton had confessed to 49 murders to an undercover agent who was posing as a cellmate. The Crown reported that Pickton told the officer that he wanted to kill another woman to make it an even 50, and that he was caught because he was “sloppy”.
On December 9, 2007, the jury returned a verdict that Pickton is not guilty on six counts of first-degree murder, but is guilty on six counts of second-degree murder.
On December 11, 2007, after reading 18 victim impact statements, British Columbia Supreme Court Judge Justice James Williams sentenced Pickton to life with no possibility of parole for 25 years – the maximum punishment for second-degree murder – and equal to the sentence which would have been imposed for a first-degree murder conviction. The Judge noted that:
“Mr. Pickton’s conduct was murderous and repeatedly so. I cannot know the details but I know this: What happened to them was senseless and despicable,”.
As expected, Pickton submitted various appeals, even to the Supreme Court of Canada. There was some question about the trial judges comments to the jury at various points in the case. Some of the higher-up judges agreed that the judge shouldn’t have said certain things, or should have done things different – but still agreed on the convictions. Pickton would not get a new trial.
After Pickton’s conviction, B.C. Crown spokesman Neil MacKenzie announced that it was likely that Pickton would be prosecuted for the remaining 20 murder cases and justified it by noting that if additional conditions were levied against Pickton, they would not increase his sentence.
Families of the victims had varied reactions to this announcement. Some were disappointed that Pickton would never be convicted of the 20 other murders, while others were relieved that the gruesome details of the murders would not be aired in court
At a press conference, Deputy Chief Constable Doug LePard of the Vancouver Police Department apologized to the victims’ families, saying “I wish from the bottom of my heart that we would have caught him sooner. I wish that, the several agencies involved, that we could have done better in so many ways. I wish that all the mistakes that were made, we could undo. And I wish that more lives would have been saved. So on my behalf and behalf of the Vancouver Police Department and all the men and women that worked on this investigation, I would say to the families how sorry we all are for your losses and because we did not catch this monster sooner.”
Murderpedia – https://murderpedia.org/male.P/p/pickton-robert.htm
Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Pickton
(Crime Junkie Podcast does an excellent 2-part episode and Last Podcast on the Left also covers this pig farmer turned murderer)