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|Born||Robert William Pickton|
October 24, 1949 
Port Coquitlam, British Columbia
|Other names||The Pig Farmer Killer|
Span of killings
|February 22, 2002|
|Born||Robert William Pickton|
October 24, 1949 
Port Coquitlam, British Columbia
|Other names||The Pig Farmer Killer|
Span of killings
|February 22, 2002|
Robert William "Willie" Pickton (born October 24, 1949) of Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada is a former multi-millionaire pig farmer and serial killer convicted in 2007 of the second-degree murders of six women. He was also charged in the deaths of an additional twenty women, many of them prostitutes and drug users from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, however these charges were stayed by the crown in 2010. In December 2007 he was sentenced to life in prison, with no possibility of parole for 25 years—the longest sentence then available under Canadian law for murder.
During the trial's first day of jury evidence, January 22, 2007, the Crown stated he confessed to forty-nine murders to an undercover police officer 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".
By 1992, Robert William Pickton and his brother David owned a Port Coquitlam farm. Worker Bill Hiscox called it a "creepy-looking place", noting that it was patrolled by a large 600-pound boar, one of the few actual pigs on the farm. "I never saw a pig like that, who would chase you and bite at you," he said. "It was running out with the dogs around the property." He later described Pickton as a "pretty quiet guy, hard to strike up a conversation with," whose occasionally bizarre behavior, despite no evidence of substance abuse, would draw attention. Pickton's only vehicle was a converted bus, with deeply tinted windows, to which he was emotionally attached.
The Pickton brothers gradually neglected the site's farming operations. They registered a non-profit charity, the Piggy Palace Good Times Society, with the Canadian government in 1996 as aiming 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 prostitutes and gatherings in a converted slaughterhouse. These events attracted as many as 2,000 people.
In March 23, 1997, Pickton was charged with the attempted murder of prostitute Wendy Lynn Eistetter, whom he stabbed several times during an altercation at the farm. The victim informed police that Pickton handcuffed her, but that she escaped after suffering several lacerations, disarming him, and stabbing him with his weapon. Pickton sought treatment at Eagle Ridge Hospital, while Eistetter healed at the nearest emergency room. He was released on $2,000 bond, but the charge was dismissed in January of 1998. Months later, the Picktons were sued by Port Coquitlam officials for violating zoning ordinances - neglecting the agriculture for which it had been zoned, and having "altered a large farm building on the land for the purpose of holding dances, concerts and other recreations." The Picktons ignored the pressure from the officials and held a 1998 New Years party, after which they were faced with an injunction banning future parties; the police were "authorized to arrest and remove any person" attending future Piggy Palace Good Times Society events at the farm. The society's non-profit status was removed the following year, for inability to procure financial statements, and it subsequently disbanded.
Over the course of the next three years, Hiscox noticed that girls who visited the farm eventually went missing. On February 6, 2002, police executed a search warrant for illegal firearms at the property owned by the brothers. After they were taken into custody, police obtained a second court order to search the farm as part of the BC Missing Women Investigation. Personal items (including a prescription asthma inhaler) belonging to one of the missing women were found at the farm, which was sealed off by members of the joint RCMP–Vancouver Police Department task force. The following day Pickton was charged with storing a firearm contrary to regulations, possession of a firearm while not being holder of a licence, and possession of a loaded restricted firearm without a licence. He was later released and was kept under police surveillance.
On February 22, Pickton was arrested and charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Sereena Abotsway and Mona Wilson. On April 2, three more charges were added for the murders of Jacqueline McDonell, Diane Rock and Heather Bottomley. A sixth charge for the murder of Andrea Joesbury was laid on April 9, followed shortly by a seventh for Brenda Wolfe. On September 20, four more charges were added for the slayings of Georgina Papin, Patricia Johnson, Helen Hallmark and Jennifer Furminger. 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 fifteen, making the investigation the largest of any serial killer in Canadian history. On May 26, 2005, twelve more charges were laid against him 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 Jane Doe (unidentified woman) bringing the total number of first-degree murder charges to 27.
Excavations continued through November 2003; the cost of the investigation is estimated to have been $70 million by the end of 2003, according to the provincial government. Currently the property is fenced off, under lien by the Crown in Right of British Columbia. In the meantime, all the buildings on the property had been demolished. Forensic analysis proved difficult because the bodies may have been left to decompose or be eaten by insects and pigs on the farm. During the early days of the excavations, forensic anthropologists brought in heavy equipment, including two 50-foot (15 m) flat conveyor belts and soil sifters to find traces of remains. On March 10, 2004, it was 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.
A preliminary inquiry was held in 2003, the testimony from which was covered by a publication ban until 2010. At the inquiry, it was revealed that Pickton had been charged with attempted murder in connection with the stabbing of a prostitute in 1997. The woman survived and testified at the inquiry that after he had driven her to the Port Coquitlam farm and had sex with her, Pickton slapped a handcuff on her left hand and stabbed her in the abdomen. She stabbed Pickton in self defense. 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. The attempted-murder charge against Pickton was stayed on January 27, 1998, because the woman 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 were on the items seized from Pickton in 1997.
In 1999, Canadian police were tipped that Pickton had a freezer filled with human flesh on his farm. Although they interviewed Pickton and obtained his consent to a search of his farm, the police never conducted one.
Pickton's trial began on January 30, 2006 in New Westminster. Pickton pleaded not guilty to 27 charges of first-degree murder in the Supreme Court of British Columbia. The voir dire phase of the trial took most of the year to determine what evidence might be admitted before the jury. Reporters were not allowed to disclose any of the material presented in the arguments. On March 2, one of the 27 counts was rejected by Justice James Williams for lack of evidence.
On August 9, Justice Williams severed the charges, splitting them into one group of six counts and another group of twenty counts. The trial proceeded on the group of six counts. The remaining 20 counts could have been heard in a separate trial, but ultimately were stayed on August 4, 2010. Because of the publication ban, full details of the decision are not publicly available; but the judge has explained that trying all 26 charges at once would put an unreasonable burden on the jury, as the trial could last up to two years, and have an increased chance for a mistrial. The judge also added that the six counts he chose had "materially different" evidence from the other 20.
The date for the jury trial of the first six counts was initially set to start January 8, 2007, but later delayed to January 22. On that 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 what was found during the long investigation: skulls cut in half with hands and feet stuffed inside; the remains of one victim found stuffed in a garbage bag, and her blood-stained clothing found in Pickton's trailer; part of another victim's jawbone and teeth found beside Pickton's slaughterhouse; and a .22 calibre revolver with an attached dildo containing both his and a victim's DNA. In a videotaped recording played for the jury, Pickton claimed to have attached the dildo to his weapon as a makeshift silencer.
As of February 20, 2007, the following information has been presented to the court:
In October 2007, a juror was accused of having made up her mind already that Pickton was innocent. The trial judge questioned the juror, saying "It's reported to me you said from what you had seen you were certain Mr. Pickton was innocent, there was no way he could have done this. That the court system had arrested the wrong guy." The juror denied this completely. Justice Williams ruled that she could remain on the jury since it had not been proven she made the statements.
Justice James Williams suspended jury deliberations on December 6, 2007 after he discovered an error in his charge to the jury. Earlier in the day, the jury had submitted a written question to Justice James requesting clarification of his charge, asking "Are we able to say 'yes' [i.e., find Pickton guilty] if we infer the accused acted indirectly?"
On December 9, 2007, the jury returned a verdict that Pickton is not guilty on 6 counts of first-degree murder, but is guilty on 6 counts of second-degree murder. A second-degree murder conviction carries a punishment of a life sentence, with no possibility of parole for a period between 10 to 25 years, to be set by the trial judge. 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. "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," said Justice Williams in passing the sentence.
The B.C. Court of Appeal rendered judgment in June 2009 on two appeals, one brought by the Crown (prosecution) and the other brought by the defence.
On January 7, 2008, the Attorney General filed an appeal in the British Columbia Court of Appeal, against Pickton's acquittals on the first-degree murder charges. The grounds of appeal relate to a number of evidentiary rulings made by the trial judge, certain aspects of the trial judge’s jury instructions, and the ruling to sever the six charges Pickton was tried on from the remaining twenty.
Some relatives of the victims in the case were taken aback by the announcement of a Crown appeal, especially because Attorney-General Wally Oppal had said a few days earlier that the prosecution would likely not appeal. Although Pickton had been acquitted on the first-degree murder charges, he was convicted of second-degree murder and received the same sentence as he would have on first-degree murder convictions. The relatives of the victims expressed concern that the convictions would be jeopardized if the Crown argued that the trial judge had made errors. Opposition critic Leonard Krog criticized the Attorney-General for not having briefed the victims’ families in advance.
Oppal apologized to the victims’ families for not informing them of the appeal before it was announced to the general public. Oppal also said that the appeal was filed largely for “strategic” reasons, in anticipation of an appeal by the defence. The prosecution’s rationale was that if Pickton appeals his convictions, and if that appeal is allowed, resulting in a new trial, the prosecution will want to hold that new trial on the original 26 charges of first-degree murder. But the Crown would be precluded from doing so unless it had successfully appealed the original acquittals on the first-degree murder charges, and the severance of the 26 counts into one group of six and one group of twenty.
Under the applicable rules of court, the time period for the Crown to appeal expired 30 days after December 9, when the verdicts were rendered, while the time period for the defence to appeal expired 30 days after December 11, when Pickton was sentenced. That is why the Crown announced its appeal first, even though the Crown appeal is intended to be conditional on an appeal by the defence. If the defence had not filed an appeal, then the Crown could have withdrawn its appeal.
On January 9, 2008, lawyers for Pickton filed a notice of appeal in the British Columbia Court of Appeal, seeking a new trial on six counts of second-degree murder. The lawyer representing Pickton on the appeal is Gil McKinnon, who had been a Crown prosecutor in the 1970s.
The notice of appeal enumerates various areas in which the defense alleges that the trial judge erred: the main charge to the jury, the response to the jurors’ question, amending the jury charge, similar fact evidence, and Pickton’s statements to the police.
The Court of Appeal dismissed the defence appeal by a 2:1 majority. Because there was a dissent on a point of law, Pickton was entitled to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, without first seeking leave to appeal. His notice of appeal was filed in the Supreme Court of Canada on August 24, 2009.
The Court of Appeal allowed the crown appeal, finding that the trial judge erred in excluding some evidence and in severing the 26 counts into one group of 20 counts and one group of 6. The order resulting from this finding was stayed, so that the conviction on the six counts of second degree murder would not be set aside.
On June 26, 2009, Pickton's lawyers confirmed that they would exercise his right to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. The appeal was based on the dissent in the British Columbia Court of Appeal.
While Pickton had an automatic right to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada based on the legal issues on which Justice Donald had dissented, Pickton's lawyers applied to the Supreme Court of Canada for leave to appeal on other issues as well. On November 26, 2009, the Supreme Court of Canada granted this application for leave to appeal. The effect of this was to broaden the scope of Pickton's appeal, allowing him to raise arguments that had been rejected unanimously in the B.C. Court of Appeal (not just arguments that had been rejected by the 2-1 majority).
On July 30, 2010, the Supreme Court of Canada rendered its decision dismissing Pickton's appeal and affirming his convictions. The argument that Pickton should be granted a new trial was unanimously rejected by the Justices of the Supreme Court of Canada.
Although unanimous in its result, the Supreme Court split six to three in its legal analysis of the case. The issue was whether the trial judge made a legal error in his instructions to the jury, and in particular in his "re-instruction" responding to the jury's question about Pickton's liability if he was not the only person involved. Writing for the majority, Madam Justice Charron found that "the trial judge's response to the question posed by the jury did not adversely impact on the fairness of the trial". She further found that the trial judge's overall instructions with respect to other suspects "compendiously captured the alternative routes to liability that were realistically in issue in this trial. The jury was also correctly instructed that it could convict Mr. Pickton if the Crown proved this level of participation coupled with the requisite intent."
Mr. Justice LeBel, writing for the minority, found that the jury was not properly informed "of the legal principles which would have allowed them as triers of fact to consider evidence of Mr. Pickton’s aid and encouragement to an unknown shooter, as an alternative means of imposing liability for the murders." However, LeBel J. would have applied the so-called curative proviso so as not to overturn Pickton's convictions.
B.C. Crown spokesman Neil MacKenzie announced that the prosecution of Pickton on the 20 other murder charges would likely be discontinued. "In reaching this position," he said, "the branch has taken into account the fact that any additional convictions could not result in any increase to the sentence that Mr. Pickton has already received."
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.
In 2010, the Vancouver Police Department issued a statement that an "exhaustive management review of the Missing Women Investigation" had been conducted, and the VPD would make the Review available to the public once the criminal matters are concluded and the publication bans are removed. In addition, the VPD disclosed that for several years it has "communicated privately to the Provincial Government that it believed a Public Inquiry would be necessary for an impartial examination of why it took so long for Robert Pickton to be arrested." In August of that year, the VPD released the Missing Women: Investigation Review.
At a press conference, Deputy Chief Constable Doug LePard of the VPD 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."
After Robert Pickton lost his final appeal at the Supreme Court of Canada, the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry was called to examine the role of the Vancouver police and the RCMP in the disappearances and murders of women in the Downtown Eastside. Families of the missing and murdered women have been calling for public hearings since before Pickton was arrested and eventually convicted of six murders. The Commission's final report submission to the Attorney General was dated November 19, 2012 and was released to the public on December 17.
During a court hearing on August 4, 2010, Judge Williams stated that Pickton should be committed to a federal penitentiary; up to that point he had been held at a provincial pretrial institution.
Pickton had faced a further 20 first degree murder charges involving other female victims from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. On February 26, 2008, a family member of one of the 20 women named as alleged victims told the media that the Crown had told her a trial on the further 20 counts might not proceed.
Most (but not all) of the publication bans in the case were lifted by the trial judge, James Williams of the British Columbia Supreme Court, after lawyers spent hours in court going through the various complicated bans.
On August 6, 2010, various media outlets released a transcript of conversations between an RCMP undercover operator and Pickton in his holding cell. While the RCMP censored the undercover officer's name throughout most of the document, his name was left uncensored in several portions of the document that the RCMP released to the public. This uncensored version was available to the public, through Global News, CTV News, and the Vancouver Sun, for about an hour before being pulled and re-edited. It is not known the extent of the damage this mistake caused the undercover officer.
On December 9, 2007, Pickton was convicted of second-degree murder in the deaths of six women:
Pickton also stood accused of first-degree murder in the deaths of twenty other women until these charges were stayed on August 4, 2010.
As of March 2, 2006, the murder charge involving the unidentified victim has been lifted. Pickton refused to enter a plea on the charge involving this victim, known in the proceedings as Jane Doe, so the court registered a not-guilty plea on his behalf. "The count as drawn fails to meet the minimal requirement set out in Section 581 of the Criminal Code. Accordingly, it must be quashed," wrote Justice James Williams. The detailed reasons for the judge's ruling cannot be reported in Canada because of the publication ban covering this stage of the trial.
Pickton is implicated in the murders of the following women, but charges have not yet been laid (incomplete list):
After Pickton was arrested many people started coming forward and talking to police about what was going on at the farm. One of these witnesses that came forward was Lynn Ellingsen. Ellingsen claimed to have seen Pickton skinning a woman hanging from a meat hook years earlier; she did not tell anyone about this out of fear for her life. Additionally, Ellingsen admitted that she blackmailed Pickton about the incident on more than one occasion.
In August 2006, Thomas Loudamy, a 27-year-old Fremont, California resident, claimed that he had received three letters from Robert Pickton in response to letters Loudamy sent under an assumed identity.
In the letters, Pickton allegedly speaks with concern about the expense of the investigation, asserts his innocence, quotes and refers to the Bible, praises the trial judge, and responds in detail to (fictional) information in Loudamy's letters, which were written in the guise of Mya Barnett, a 'down on her luck' woman.
The news of the letters' existence was broken by The Vancouver Sun, in an exclusive published on Saturday, September 2, 2006, and as of that date, neither law enforcement nor any representative of Pickton has verified the authenticity of the letters. The Sun, however, has undertaken several actions to confirm the documents' authenticity, including:
Loudamy claims not to have kept copies of his outgoing letters to Pickton, and as of September 4, 2006, no information on their existence has been forthcoming from Pickton or his representatives.
Loudamy has a history of writing to accused and convicted criminals, in some instances under his own identity (as with his correspondence with Clifford Olson), and in others in the guise of a character he believes will be more readily accepted by the targets of the letters. Loudamy, an aspiring journalist, claims that his motivation in releasing the letters is to help the public gain insights into Pickton.
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