Published On Tue Jan 31 2012
The heartbreak just never ends for family and friends of Robert Pickton’s murder victims. This week Vancouver Police Det. Const. Lori Shenher provided some of the most graphic testimony yet that police had Pickton squarely in their sights as a potential serial killer for years before he was finally charged.
The force got Crime Stoppers tips back in 1998 about a pig farmer named Willie Pickton who might be responsible for the missing women, 3 ½ years before he was arrested in 2002, Shenher told the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry headed by former British Columbia Attorney General Wally Oppal. The tipster said Pickton claimed he could dispose of bodies by putting them through a grinder on his farm in Port Coquitlam.
“When I heard grinders, I thought Bingo! This is the kind of guy we’re looking for,” Shenher testified. Women from the city’s shabby Downtown Eastside were going missing, but no bodies were turning up. This was a chance to put a serial killer out of business.
It didn’t happen. Even though police had Pickton in plain sight, he kept on luring sex trade workers to his farm and killing and butchering them until his arrest. Ultimately Pickton was convicted in 2007 of six murders and sentenced to life. The remains or DNA of 33 women were on his farm. He also told an undercover cop he killed 49 in all.
Const. Shenher’s testimony came just days after Royal Canadian Mounted Police Assistant Commissioner Craig Callens formally apologized for letting the families and victims down. “With the benefit of hindsight … the RCMP could have done more,” he acknowledged. Vancouver police, too, apologized back in 2010.
Given all this, what’s the point of raking over old wounds? Because it’s important that the inquiry determine exactly why the two police forces failed to stop Pickton sooner. There’s a tangled tale to unweave of police not taking the disappearances seriously enough, of discounting leads, of under-resourced and poorly coordinated investigations, of police crudely dissing victims and dismissing witnesses as not credible, of bungling and of investigators being reassigned.
Victims’ families deserve the truth, however painful. And the public needs to know that police have learned the appropriate lessons.
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