Missing women: Dave Pickton among 20 outstanding witness requests ignored since 2011
The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry -- in its final weeks of investigating why police did not catch serial killer Robert Pickton sooner -- has never responded to a request for 20 witnesses by families of Pickton's victims, the Vancouver Observer has learned.
- Missing Women Inquiry: Ex-Pickton worker echoes lawyer allegations of police cover-up
- Missing women inquiry lawyer resigns, saying police given priority over Aboriginal voices
Internal documents obtained by the Vancouver Observer – submitted, with no response yet, on Dec. 23, 2011 – reveal that the families' requests included a sex worker who says she fought off Pickton before getting in his car, Pickton's brother Dave, and a Coquitlam RCMP worker who claims she saw the serial killer with murder victim Dawn Crey before her death.
In light of Commissioner Wally Oppal announcing his last call for witness submissions tomorrow -- leaving only nine hearing days left for them all -- Pickton victims' families believe their requests have simply fallen on deaf ears all along.
The only witness on the list who was shown any interest by the commission is Bill Hiscox, a former Pickton employee who suspected his boss was behind the missing women cases and practically begged police to let him go undercover. But his attempt to testify on the stand were rebuffed, and he was only allowed to make an affidavit statement.
Former Downtown Eastside street nurse Bonnie Fournier – who will be featured in an upcoming Vancouver Observer interview – has similarly failed in her attempts to testify. Fournier claimed to have seen a vehicle she believes was Pickton's dragging a sex worker by her hair after she refused to get in the car.
“The witnesses we hereby propose should be added to the list are primarily non-police witnesses, whose evidence may complement or contradict the anticipated evidence from police witnesses,” stated the Dec. 23, 2011 document, submitted to the commission by Cameron Ward, lawyer for more than 20 families of missing women. “We submit that if this Commission is to properly achieve its mandate it must hear all sides of the 'story,' not merely the police version.
"As any criminal lawyer or judge would be aware, there is often a substantial difference between police and civilian accounts of an event. It would be extremely presumptuous, and probably inaccurate, to make findings of fact concerning any transaction between police and civilians without hearing the civilians’ version of the event.”
With testimony from evidence specialists at Pickton's earlier trial that roughly half the 80 DNA profiles found on Pickton's property were male, not female -- and police failing to investigate earlier reports that a Hells Angels associate was killed and buried on the farm -- the refusal to allow key witnesses raises questions for many families.
The witnesses in the document include:
The former Pickton employee – who told his story to the Vancouver Observer in an earlier exclusive in-depth interview – was likely the first person to go to police with detailed information about Pickton as a missing women suspect. On July 27, 1998, a full four years before Pickton's arrest in an unrelated gun warrant search, Hiscox offered police tips on his employer Robert Pickton's address, hair colour, height, age and build.
The convicted serial killer's brother lived with Robert at 953 Dominion Avenue in Port Coquitlam, a property they co-owned, during the period of dozens of women being killed. In 1993, Dave himself was convicted of sexual assault, and was accused of violent sexual assault in 1999 -- in which the alleged survivor said he restrained her with a bungie cord and forced pills in her mouth. Though that charge never went to trial, police found the bungie cord and pills described in his room.
Police have alleged that Dave was associated with the Hells Angels, and was known to police for illegal activities including cockfighting, prostitution, petty theft and drugs, according to the document. On at least two occasions, Dave persuaded police not to investigate the Pickton farms – including one incident in Oct. 22, 2001 when police responded to an emergency 9-1-1 call from inside Robert Pickton's trailer.
During her Jan. 19 inquiry testimony, Jennifer Evans -- the Peel, Ont. deputy police chief who authored a report on the Pickton investigation -- said she saw documents indicating Dave Pickton was a Hells Angels associate. Her report itself stated that "(RCMP) Corporal Connor . . . advised that the Pickton's had connections to the Hells Angels Outlaw Motorcycle Club and owned a 'booze can.'" Furthermore, during Robert Pickton's murder trial, his defence lawyer Peter Ritchie said, "I'm going to suggest to you that there was considerable association between Dave Pickton and the Hells Angels."
But a spokesperson for the city's Hells Angels chapter told the Vancouver Observer that neither Pickton brother was ever a member or associate of the group.
"Dave Pickton is not now nor has he ever been a member of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club," Rick Ciarniello, head of the East Vancouver chapter of the group. "To call him an associate of the Hells Angels is, in fact, stretching the truth.
"A person that has, at one time, met or knows a member of the Hells Angels is not an associate of our club."
Another intriguing aspect of the brother is why he was not required to testify at his brother's trial, just as at this inquiry. Some family members expressed outrage that the co-owner of a dumping ground for murder victims has effectively been offered legal immunity. Last December, the Vancouver Observer revealed for the first time that Dave appeared on “bad date sheets” handed out to sex workers, who had spotted him cruising the Downtown Eastside sex work strolls.
Dave Pickton recently started a charity, the Pickton Foundation, for Ghanaian poverty relief.
After Hiscox, Caldwell was likely the second person to provide information to police about Pickton. In July 1999, he told the Vancouver Police Department that his friend Lynn Ellingsen had seen Pickton skinning a dead sex worker from a pig hook in his barn. She told Caldwell that he threatened to kill her if she told anyone. Caldwell also claimed Pickton boasted he could dispose a body “without a trace” if needed.
This star witness in Pickton's eventual murder trial lived with Pickton in 1999, and only left after she claimed she saw her friend skinning a sex worker who the two had picked up in Downtown Eastside Vancouver. Pickton allegedly told her that if she told anyone, she would be up there beside the other victim.
Much has been said about witness “Anderson” -- a sex worker who escaped Pickton's trailer after a bloody knife attack in 1997, who miraculously survived despite her heart stopping twice en-route to hospital. But another sex worker said she was picked up by Pickton in late 2000, realizing too late he was the smelly pig farmer other girls were warning each other about.
Pickton wanted to take her to a biker party on his farm, but when “Jane Smith” accused him of being behind the missing women, “he confessed that he was,” the lawyers' submission states, and threatened to kill her. She jumped out of his moving vehicle and called the police – but says cops were rudely dismissive of her story, telling her they were “too busy,” and that their “hands were tied.”
Robert Pickton's lawyer, the document argues, could shed light on the inquiry, particularly since revelations last week that police destroyed the files in 2000 relating to a 1997 attempted murder charge against Pickton. In Jan. 1998, the Crown dropped all its five charges, despite Pickton being accused of handcuffing a sex worker in his trailer and attempting to strangle her before stabbing her repeatedly. With the Crown's files mysteriously destroyed, only Ritchie may hold the remaining copy – which could explain how Pickton was allowed to continue killing women in the same way he tried to kill the witness known as “Anderson.”
A civilian employee at the Coquitlam RCMP Detachment, which investigated the Pickton farm on several occasions, Hyacinthe claims she saw Robert Pickton with Dawn Crey -- a missing woman whose remains were found on the pig farmer's land -- at the brothers' nightclub, Piggy's Palace, on New Years Eve 1999. When she told police that Pickton had become aware of their months-long surveillance on him during their investigation, police officer Mike Connon allegedly failed to include the information in his report of the investigation. Furthermore, just before Pickton's arrest – on coincidental gun warrant charges – Hyacinthe met with police on Feb. 1, 2002 and told them her own son had discovered bloody clothing in Pickton's truck.
Police found the DNA of this butcher and Robert Pickton employee mingled with that of murdered women found in his boss's slaughterhouse, as well as on the doors going in. Despite protestations of his innocence, police also found a saw – similar to the type used to saw apart women's skulls and hands – in his house that contained human DNA, though they were never able to identify victims from it. After years of families' demanding his presence at the current public inquiry, Casanova died last year, months before the Commission began – likely on May 29, 2011, according to obituaries.
A then-22-year-old civilian staffer with the missing women investigation – Project Evenhanded – Oger was extremely troubled by what he saw, according to the document. He wrote an internal report, “The Serial Killer Theory: A Report on the Downtown East-side Missing Prostitutes,” which made him the subject of “reprimand and criticism” from other police.
This Crown Counsel lawyer was assigned to the Pickton investigation in 1999, three years before his arrest. He soon requested a warrant to conduct electronic and video surveillance of Pickton's property – but his request was either ignored or refused for unknown reasons.
The province's Attorney General from Aug. 1995 to Feb. 2000 – when many women were disappearing from the Downtown Eastside – Dosanjh allegedly kept close watch on the police investigations, and was in charge when Pickton's attempted murder of the sex worker known as “Anderson” was mysteriously dropped by police and the files destroyed.
Fournier, a street nurse, served the Downtown Eastside for more than 30 years, including operating a sex worker outreach van during the key Pickton killing spree in 1999-2003. Fournier claims she saw a vehicle she believes was Pickton's dragging a screaming sex worker by the hair out the passenger side – implying that two people were involved – but that woman refused to report the attack, out of fear of being killed by organized crime.
Det. Cst. Darcy Sarra
Sarra is one of the key Vancouver Police Department officers in charge of collecting and researching relevant documents on the missing women and Pickton investigations.
Sgt. Brian Honeybourne
Deployed to the Provincial Unsolved Homicide Unit during the worst period of missing and murdered women, this sergeant “appears to have been the only member of that Unit to have attended the February 10, 1999 meeting with the Missing Women Review Team, at which it was determined that no assistance of that Unit would be provided,” the document states. “The Unsolved Homicide Unit refused to get involved in the missing women investigation at that time as there were 'no bodies.'
Cst. Dave Strachan
This RCMP officer – a member of the Serious Crimes Section – searched Pickton's bloody trailer following his attack on "Anderson", the sex worker who escaped Pickton in 1997. He was one of two officers who interviewed her after the attack, which, if it had led to a conviction, would have taken Pickton off the street five years before his killing spree ended.
Insp. Gord Spencer
This VPD officer, who become the force's Major Crimes Section head in April 2000, repeatedly requested more officers be assigned to the missing women investigation. His concerns appear to have been sidelined.
Det. Phil Little
This detective's job was to examine how the VPD prioritized its murder suspects, in relation to the department's joint operation with the RCMP in Feb. 2001.
Little ranked suspects and, according to the lawyers' request, “is uniquely positioned to explain how suspects were prioritized, what factors were considered and how these factors were weighed.” His notes, the document alleges, suggest that “Pickton was not always considered to be the top-priority suspect and that Pickton was lower on draft lists than in the final lists.” But given allegations that the VPD “witheld all information about other suspects under consideration during the time period,” Little's testimony could shed light on failures to zero in on the serial killer years before he stopped murdering.
Cpl. Ted Van Overbeek
This Burnaby RCMP officer received a key tip from informant Leah Best – who strongly believed Pickton was the murderer they sought – on Aug. 6, 1999. But that tip was never investigated, according to the submission, and families want answers as to why Project Evenhanded “made no progress” as a result in catching the killer.
Cst. Nathan Wells
This rookie officer, on the advice of a would-be drug informant, obtained a search warrant of Pickton's property on Feb. 5, 2002 searching for illegal firearms. Though unrelated to the sprawling, inter-agency investigation underway – which had fingered Pickton as a possible suspect and had him under surveillance at times – Wells entered Pickton's trailer and found possessions belonging to missing women. His lucky break turned into the largest police investigation in Canadian history, all over a coincidental gun warrant.
RCMP Sgt. (now Commissioner) Robert Paulson
Paulson – today's top cop in the national force – was a member of the agency's Southwest Major Crime group during the missing women investigation. He was part of the 2000 push to create a joint operation, which took a year to implement.
The lack of response from the Commission to the lawyers' requests seems to be part of a pattern – earlier this month, lawyer for Aboriginal interests Robyn Gervais resigned in protest after claiming her witness requests were not taken seriously and Aboriginal interests sidelined in an inquiry set up to find why Pickton was allowed to continue killing for years after he came to attention of police as a suspect.
But with Commissioner Wally Oppal releasing a new directive calling for final witness list submissions today, the fate of these 19 living witnesses will not be known until Monday.