Robert Pickton

One force may have stopped serial killer sooner

Inquiry report flags RCMP, VPD failures in investigation of Robert Pickton

Mounties based in Coquitlam had strong grounds to pursue Robert Pickton as the serial killer hunting Vancouver sex trade workers in the late 1990s but did not investigate him aggressively enough.

That’s one of the key findings in a report to the Missing Women Inquiry that cites a failure of leadership within the RCMP as well as the Vancouver Police in pursuing Pickton, whose activities straddled their jurisdictions.

The report by Deputy Chief Jennifer Evans of Ontario’s Peel Regional Police was commissioned by the inquiry to provide an independent review of the policing decisions in the Pickton case.

“Someone in authority, either in the RCMP or the VPD, needed to champion a co-ordinated effort to these investigations,” Evans concluded.

Instead, she found, Coquitlam RCMP – bogged down with active cases – neglected Pickton as the probable serial killer, while VPD investigators felt more pressure to act but were reluctant to tread on the Mounties’ turf.

“For Coquitlam RCMP it was easy to put Pickton aside due to the other incoming violent crimes which they felt had to be investigated as a priority,” she found. “They did not feel the pressure from the missing women investigations.”

Evans suggests the “competing priorities” that hindered the Pickton case might have been swept aside had a single force policed the region.

“I believe that a quicker and more coordinated police response would have resulted if one police agency held the same jurisdictional control over both Pickton’s residence and the DTES where the women went missing from.”

Evans asked VPD officers why they didn’t just go out to the pig farm in Port Coquitlam and investigate Pickton themselves.

“It just isn’t done,” one told her, another warned it would lead to “policing anarchy” and a third said Coquitlam Mounties assured them the case was being actively pursued.

As the case grew more complex, she added, communications between the two police forces broke down.

Evans found RCMP Chief Supt. Gary Bass had been briefed on the missing women investigation, had been told three serial killers could be active in B.C. and should have pushed sooner for a more coordinated approach with the VPD.

The fact no bodies were turning up “created an excuse for ignoring the problem which permeated both the VPD and the RCMP.”

By mid-1999, four informants had told police they suspected Pickton, with the ability to dispose of bodies, was the serial killer and three of them said Pickton associate Lynn Ellingsen had claimed to see him butchering a woman in his barn.

Evans found police were too quick to believe Ellingsen’s denials – particularly when she refused a lie detector test.

She also criticized the RCMP for agreeing to wait until the “rainy season” to interview Pickton, causing a four-month delay from September 1999 to January of 2000.

The two forces failed to communicate well after the critical interviews with informants in mid-1999, Evans found, which hurt the investigation and “resulted in Pickton remaining free to prey upon the women of the DTES.”

When Pickton was interviewed, the VPD wasn’t notified or told of the results.

By January 2001, when the RCMP-led Project Evenhanded investigation was launched, police believed there was a serial killer, but Evans noted they thought he was dormant.

Even a summer student doing data entry work who had access to some of the material urged more action.

“A serial killer – one cunning enough to kill and fully dispose of 40 or 50 women without getting caught – is on the loose,” he warned superiors in a 2001 essay.

Pickton wasn’t finally arrested until February of 2002, five years after his 1997 attack on a prostitute who escaped his farm sparked an attempted murder charge that was later dropped.

The RCMP seized Pickton’s clothes that night in 1997 but didn’t test them for seven years, belatedly discovering the DNA of two missing women.

Evans notes that while mistakes were made, good work was done, including that by a committed investigator in Coquitlam who was promoted and transferred away in mid-1999.

“In hindsight it appears easy to see a clear path to Pickton,” she wrote, describing the errors as the result of a lack of leadership and commitment – not malice.

Just Posted

Students spend night at White Rock shelter

Students hear powerful stories about homelessness on the Semiahmoo Peninsula

VIDEO: Collision in Surrey breaks axle off SUV

Two people were reportedly sent to hospital

PHOTOS: Snoozing seal pup captures attention at White Rock Pier

Dozens of seals spent the day at White Rock’s iconic structure

A look at White Rock’s next council agenda

Following a public hearing, council will hear annual reports from a number of its committees

‘Meet Your Muslim Neighbour’ event bridges gap on Semiahmoo Peninsula, association says

Event serves as an educational space for residents in South Surrey-White Rock

Teen with cancer whose viral video urged Canadians to vote has died, uncle tweets

Maddison Yetman had been looking forward to voting in her first federal election since junior high school

VIDEO: Giants toppled by visiting Hurricanes

Sunday afternoon play at Langley Events Centre saw a team from Lethbridge defeat Vancouver, 6-0

Security camera records hatchet attack on Langley store owner

Target escaped uninjured, but was ‘upset’ by incident

Rowing Canada, UVic investigate celebrated coach for harassment, abuse

Lily Copeland says she felt intimidated and trapped by Williams

Cleanup in the works after tanker truck fire leads to oil spill in B.C.’s Peace region

The province said the majority of the spilled oil likely burned away in the fire.

BC VIEWS: Action needed on healthcare workplace violence

While we’ve been talking about it, the number of B.C. victims has only grown

VIDEO: Vancouver Giants blank Cougars 4-0

Goaltender David Tendeck turned aside all 38 Prince George shots for his WHL-leading third shutout

Closing arguments begin in B.C. case launched in 2009 over private health care

Dr. Day said he illegally opened the Cambie Surgery Centre in 1996 in order to create more operating-room time

Most Read

l -->