Robert Pickton

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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Landis Carmichael is the Goldstream Gazette 2021 Local Hero as the Emergency Services Award winner. (Photo courtesy Landis Carmichael)
29-year-old firefighter has spent almost half his life with Langford department

Landis Carmichael is the 2021 recipient of the Emergency Services Award

Shannon Davis, manager at Sidney’s Star Cinema, holds up the largest available bag of popcorn available for sale at the theatre. It also also sells four smaller sizes in generating revenue following its closure last fall because of COVID-19. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Sidney theatre fills bottom line with popcorn sales

Theatre applying to return to doing our household-only private rentals

Several BC Ferries sailings are cancelled Friday morning due to adverse weather. (Black Press Media File)
Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay ferry sailing cancelled due to high winds, sea state

Adverse weather causes cancellations across several BC Ferries routes

The construction zone remains for now at Clover Point, but plans for a new pedestrian zone and partially closed traffic loop were approved by Victoria councillors on Thursday. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)
Victoria council compromises with partial closure of Clover Point

Option preserves parking 14 spots facing ocean, creates more pedestrian space

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
B.C. reports 10 additional deaths, 395 new COVID-19 cases

The majority of new coronavirus infections were in the Fraser Health region

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Feb. 23

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(Black Press Media File Photo)
POLL: Are you struggling with Greater Victoria’s cost of housing?

While Victoria remains one of the most expensive cities in the country… Continue reading

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools is preparing a rapid response team proposal for submission to the B.C. Ministry of Education. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district chosen as COVID-19 rapid response team

Team to consist of SD68 and Island Health staff, according to B.C. Ministry of Education

A new survey has found that virtual visits are British Columbian’s preferred way to see the doctor amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Unsplash)
Majority of British Columbians now prefer routine virtual doctor’s visits: study

More than 82% feel virtual health options reduce wait times, 64% think they lead to better health

Ella Donovan with mom Tina outside Fuller Lake Arena before heading onto the ice for practice. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Young Ladysmith skater watches and waits in battle against cancer

Ella Donovan’s tumour began a tumultuous time, but community support eased the burden

Captain and Maria, a pair of big and affectionate akbash dogs, must be adopted together because they are so closely bonded. (SPCA image)
Shuswap SPCA seeks forever home for inseparable Akbash dogs

A fundraiser to help medical expenses for Captain and Maria earned over 10 times its goal

The missing camper heard a GSAR helicopter, and ran from his tree well waving his arms. File photo
Man trapped on Manning mountain did nearly everything right to survive: SAR

The winter experienced camper was overwhelmed by snow conditions

Castlegar doctor Megan Taylor contracted COVID-19 in November. This photo was taken before the pandemic. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay doctor shares experience contracting COVID-19

Castlegar doctor shares her COVID experience

Most Read