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True crime. Casually done.

Robert Pickton: The Pig Farmer Killer

Canadians enjoy a funny reputation around the world: we know they’re a bit like Americans, only… milder. It’s the same basic recipe, just with about 75% less guns, a dollop of socialized healthcare, and a sprinkle of French zest for a sophisticated flavor. 

Canadians
Canadians by DoD News is licensed under CC-BY

But much as our Canadian friends enjoy this more sensible reputation, there’s plenty going on north of the border which I’m sure they’d like to sweep under the rug. That much will be clear by the end of today’s episode, because today we’re exploring probably the most infamous case in Canadian history: the story of the Pig Farm Killer.

While the world has only just finished collectively trying to wrap its head around the strange story of North Carolina’s Tiger King — the zoo owner arrested on suspicion of hiring a hitman — Canada is still processing the horrific legacy of its own own hillbilly prince of crime. Just like the tragic ballad of Joe Exotic, his story is filled to the brim with drugs, sex, money, and murder. 

Surprisingly though, the Canadian case is the far more extreme of the two. And fair warning: if you happen to be eating pork mince right now, you might want to put it aside…

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The Brothers

At the center of the story are two brothers: David and Robert Pickton, from Port Coquitlam, not far from Vancouver. Here the brothers and their sister Linda owned a pig farm, which they had inherited from their parents in the seventies. Not fancying spending the rest of their lives tending to swine, the siblings decided to sell off the land to real estate developers piece by piece, pocketing a pretty penny in the process. 

They started doing this in the early 1980s, when the pig industry took a massive hit, so it became more profitable to just dismantle most of the operation. It was a smart decision; one single land sale netted the siblings a cool $5 million CND.

By the mid 1990s, they had amassed millions of dollars in property as a result. The farm was still operational, but only just; David and Robert had much bigger concerns than attending to the dwindling family business. Despite being in their mid 40s, the two bachelors were massive party animals. They had a reputation in the area for their wild lifestyles, which caused plenty of friction with the law over the years.

The Pickton's farm
The Pickton’s farm

Foul-mouthed David was the younger of the two. He looked a little bit like Robin Williams, if Robin Williams had gone into meth dealing rather than comedy. Still, you’d have to call him the handsome brother, because big bro Robert looked a bit like Moby, if Moby was into barbecuing roadkill, rather than veganism. For that we can thank his unholy monster of a mullet — proof that you can be a paper millionaire and still look like you steal shopping trolleys for the scrap metal.

Robert’s misfortunes didn’t end with his hairstyle; he was also known for carrying round the unbearable stench of sweat and manure. This was partly because he was the one left in charge of what was left of the livestock business, which he saw to in the evenings after working low-level jobs in David’s new businesses during the day.

Yep, despite dressing like the head of a biker gang, David was actually a fully legitimate businessman. He had a few ventures on the go throughout the eighties and nineties, mainly a topsoil and salvage/demolition operation. He was also famously paranoid, always traveling around with his trusty German shepherd by his side.

The quirks of the brothers can probably be traced back to their troubled upbringing. Louise Pickton, the matriarch of the family, was famously harsh with them. She forced the kids to work grueling shifts on the farm from a young age. If they refused or otherwise misbehaved, they’d be hosed down as punishment. That bit of trauma might explain Robert’s deep-seated aversion to showers.

He likely got the brunt of all this mistreatment, as he was a slow kid. In school, he was required to attend special education classes after being held back grades. He often told his friends in later life how his parents had gifted him a calf to love and care for, only to have it slaughtered. When he was feeling a bit overwhelmed from this awfulness, young Robert would climb inside a hollowed-out pig carcass to hide. Again, that couldn’t have helped with the stench.

So life wasn’t exactly easy growing up on the Pickton pig farm. The domineering control of their mother persisted until the siblings were well into their 20s. It was then that they inherited full ownership of the business. Their father died in 1977, and their mother just two years later.

With a bag of cash each and a sack of social dysfunction clung over their shoulders, the Pickton kids went on to live some pretty colorful adult lives.

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The Piggy Palace Good Times Society

In 1996, David and Robert decided they wanted to share some of their wealth with the community. They filed an application for their very own non-profit organization, dubbed The Piggy Palace Good Times Society. In the application, they wrote that their plan was 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”. 

Oh sounds lovely. So what kind of charitable fundraisers were they running? Sports days? Charity auctions? Community picnics? Actually no, the philanthropic activities of the Picktons were a little more R-rated than that. We’re talking drugged up raves filled with prostitutes and Hells Angels — all for the good of the community, of course. 

If you were stupid enough to accept an invitation to one of these parties, you’d have arrived to find that this palace wasn’t quite as swanky as Buckingham. The yards around the farm buildings littered with dilapidated vehicles and piles of rubble from David’s demolition and topsoil business. As you passed through the front gate, you’d have spotted the charming sign hanging on it, claiming that the property was guarded by a HIV-infected pitbull (the dog breed, not the rapper, I’m assuming).

This was just a sick little joke on the part of the owners, of course, but it set a nicely menacing tone to match the parties inside. You’d then walk through the mud to a converted slaughterhouse where hundreds of revelers would regularly gather for so-called “community events”. It was reported that these events would often descend into violence — crystal meth and biker gangs tend to have that effect on the vibes. One unidentified partygoer once told the Canadian Television Network: 

“I’ve actually had to take friends to emergency rooms because they’ve gone to the booze can after we left the bar. My one friend had looked at a girl wrong and ended up getting beat up so bad. The bouncers picked him up and were beating on him more as they were throwing him out the door, throwing him on the pavement outside.”

I’m told that ‘booze can’ is Canuck slang for a shady or illegal bar, and they don’t come much shadier than this. When the city intervened to try to have the parties shut down on the grounds of illegal liquor sales, the brothers reaffirmed that they were raising money for the community. You can’t stop us having our drug and sex parties: think of the children!

Strangely, some in the community seemed to agree. Although most people complained about the rowdy parties of up to 1700 guests, several long-term residents told the papers that the Pickton brothers were hard-working and generous, and donated a lot of money to charitable causes around town. 

Even if this made up for all the noise and substance abuse, there was some stuff going on behind the scenes which I’m sure even their most tolerant neighbors wouldn’t have approved of…

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ER Scene

So it’s clearly not all good times at the Piggy Palace. David and Robert’s idea of altruism turned out to be illegally selling whiskey to bikers and sex workers, and they’ve drawn the irritated eye of the law as a result. But you’d be amazed at how much the local police were willing to let slide.

Case in point: Robert’s arrest in 1997. It was no secret that the older of the two brothers was a big fan of curb crawling. Twice a week, he would transport a truck full of waste barrels to a processing plant in the Lower Eastside area of Vancouver, where the employees referred to him as ‘the Pig Man’. The area is one of the most deprived in all of Canada, which for a time had the worst HIV rates in North America. 

Drugs and prostitution were rife, making it a perfect playground for a guy like Rob. As a regular in the area, he would pick up prostitutes there then bring them back to the farm, where they would often stay for days at a time. Other occasions, he would have his biker gang friends bring them along to the parties. 

It takes a desperate soul to accept the invitation of a creepy, stinking, mulleted dude to come back to his slaughterhouse, which is why Robert tended to target women with crippling drug addictions. The Piggy Palace became known as a place to score an easy fix, even if it meant a pretty considerable risk to your safety. One woman who lived to regret visiting told a reporter: 

“That farm was the dregs of the earth. It was a hellhole. You can say to someone, ‘Don’t go,’ but if they are an addict, the addiction overcomes the senses […] Police had known about the farm for some time, but nothing changed.”

One weekend in ’97, a woman Wendy Lynn Eistetter fell into that exact trap. She had been working as a prostitute in Vancouver’s Lower Eastside at the time, and was struggling with substance abuse. Robert pulled up alongside her on the way back from the plant, and gave her the usual offer: drugs, party, place to sleep. She took him up on the offer, and hopped in the car. 

Back at the farm, the two slept together, before the Mulleted Wonder started acting strange. He brought out a pair of handcuffs, and forced them onto Wendy’s left arm. She wisely decided to opt out of this little game, and shoved Robert away. In response, he drew a knife, and stabbed Wendy in the stomach. She was no meek little victim though — she managed to grab the knife off her attacker, and stab him right back, before making a run for it. 

She was found later that night by a driver on the nearby motorway. He picked her up and took her to the hospital. When she arrived, the police were already there, investigating another stabbing — what a coincidence. As it turned out, Robert had beaten her there, and was currently getting treated for his own wound in the emergency room. Fancy seeing you here.

He had told the authorities that a hitchhiker woman had tried to rob him. The police took a conflicting statement from Wendy, but she was still under the effects of the drugs, so she wasn’t at her most coherent. This meant they had obvious reason to question her story, but it was soon backed up with some concrete evidence. 

Any doubt over who initiated the tit-for-tat stabbings was dispelled when they found that the handcuff keys in Robert’s pocket fit the shackle still hanging off Wendy’s wrist. With that, Robert Pickton was arrested and charged with attempted murder. The officers collected his clothes and boots as evidence, and once he had recovered, carted him off to jail.

Surely it would be a pretty clear-cut case, right? When your handcuffed victim rocks up at the same hospital and you have the key in your pocket, you’re — to use the legal terminology — totally screwed. But unfortunately not; since Wendy was a know addict, and was high at the time of the attack, the prosecution decided that her testimony wouldn’t be reliable enough to secure a conviction.

On January 27th, 1998, the charges were stayed indefinitely. Robert Pickton was allowed to walk free, and the Piggy Palace parties continued on, bringing joy and prosperity to the community for years to come…

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The Piggy Palace Good Times Weapons Raid

But that wasn’t the end of the Palace’s trouble with the law. For some reason the cops were reluctant to let these hillbilly humanitarians go about their fundraising in peace, all because of a few little “stabbings” and “brutal beatings”. In 2000, they were successful in crashing the party for good, and the Piggy Palace closed down.

Even though they couldn’t legally hold events there, the brothers continued to make it their base of operations. Likewise, rumors continued to circulate of strange happenings at the farm, and it never lost its dangerous reputation among the working women of Vancouver. Several visitors to the farm had started to notice some strange things which suggested that there might be something in the rumors.

In 1999, a close female friend of the Picktons thought she spotted some bloody female clothing in bags behind a trailer, along with discarded aboriginal ID cards. She reported what she saw to Bill Hiscox, a salvage worker in the employ of the Picktons, and he in turn went to the police. They told him that his report legally only amounted to hearsay, as it was second-hand information; to get a warrant they needed something more tangible.

Okay, well if it’s tangible you want, how about this: later that year, the police received an anonymous tip telling them that a woman named Lynn Ellingsen had gone to the farm, and spotted the body of a woman hanging from a hook in the slaughterhouse. However, when the police went to question her, she vehemently denied seeing anything. 

I should add that Lyn was a struggling single mother, who relied on Robert Pickton to supply her with drugs. The police brought their concerns to Robert nonetheless, who agreed to let them search the farm, but the officers decided to pass. Once again, nothing was done. Even though Robert was already strongly suspected of attempting to murder a prostitute, the police decided to just leave him to his business.

This is especially infuriating when you consider the context: around 65 women had gone missing from the red light districts of Vancouver since the late 1970s, when authorities started properly tracking the statistics. It was especially dangerous around the Lower Eastside, where Wendy Lynn Eistetter had been working at the time of her ordeal. Things had only gotten worse in the 90s despite public demand for action, with dozens of women disappearing between 1995 and 2001. 

Despite the police’s baffling inaction, at least the farm was on their radar. In the end, they finally took their opportunity to search it when an ex-employee named Scott Chubb reported seeing illegal guns on the property. The detective who interviewed him probably tried his best to dismiss it as hearsay so he could clock off early and go grab a beer — standard Vancouver PD procedure — but Scott was adamant.

And so, warrant in hand, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police — better known as the ‘mounties’ — descended on the farm on the 5th of February 2002, in their ridiculous red outfits, wielding hockey sticks, attack grizzlies on standby. Yes, I refuse to deal in anything but national stereotypes.

Pictures from the day show a long line of police cars and news vans parked out front of the property. They did manage to find some illegal guns at the farm, and although both brothers were arrested, only Robert ended up with a charge against his name. It was hardly a surprise that the hillbilly party ranch had some illegal weapons, but that wasn’t all the cops found.

During a search of Robert’s trailer, they found something which would be very interesting to the detectives working on the disappearances: a prescription inhaler, with the name of one of the missing women on the side. This was enough to involve the British Columbia Missing Women Investigation — a joint venture between the Mounties and the Vancouver PD founded in 2001, to look into all those disappearances. 

The task force had a lot of cases on their plate by this point — most of them women who barely existed to normal society, and whose disappearances had gone largely unheralded save for the grief of a few family members. As a clearer picture of what had been going on at that farm for all those years emerged, any hope they still held for a happy reunion with their loved ones was about to be shattered…

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The Full Search

For the moment, the brothers were free to go, after posting bail for Robert’s weapons charges. He was kept under close police surveillance, probably on account of the stabbing and guns and missing women’s stuff. The farm was now cordoned off as a crime scene, meaning all the Pig Man could do was go about his days, knowing full well what the police were about to discover.

The search began on the 6th of February, just one day after the firearms raid. The federal agents handed over control to their colleagues on the Project Evenhanded task force, who picked apart every inch of the farm for clues. The picture which they were painting would soon turn into something straight out of a horror film.

vancouver – February 13, 2007 – culbert-city

Their discoveries started with a pair of ID cards, belonging to two of the missing women. These were found in Robert’s trailer, alongside used syringes containing a mystery blue substance. There were also pieces of clothing, jewelry, and make-up strewn around. DNA testing would take some time, but it was safe to assume that these were not the property of the suspect, unless he had a fledgling drag career that had slipped the attention of the law.

The hillbilly drag queen theory was thoroughly debunked with their next discovery. In a freezer located in Robert’s workshop, officers found the severed heads, hands, and feet of two women. These were Sereena Abotsway and Mona Wilson. Their killer had barely even tried to hide his crimes.

Arrest and Confession

On the 22nd of February, Robert Pickton was once again arrested, and charge with two counts of murder in the first degree. He was carted off to jail, and held without bail while the police went about establishing the extent of his crimes. There were plenty of questions left unanswered by that preliminary search, after all.

Pickton's arrest
Pickton’s arrest

One which stands out is the mystery of the dildo gun. Yes, you heard me correctly. Why, we must wonder, did the authorities find a 22 caliber revolver with a dildo fastened over the barrel, and one round shot right through it? Pickton would later claim that — like a deranged, X-rated Matlock — he had improvised the device as a makeshift silencer (cracking idea for the next Bond movie, if any screenwriters happen to be listening).

More importantly though, in trying to ascertain just how many victims they should be looking for at the farm, the police cooked up a clever scheme. They would send an undercover detective into jail to share a cell with Pickton, and see if he would give up any details. Given what we know about the killer’s personal hygiene, I hope the officer got a knighthood for his bravery.

As we’ve mentioned before, Robert wasn’t the brightest. His brother described him as overly trusting and gullible, so the police’s gambit worked like a charm. He gladly shared details of his crimes with his new roommate, even getting a kick out of being the center of attention. 

Robert gleefully told the stories behind his murder souvenirs, which helped in identifying some of the victims. In his mind, he was set to become a big celebrity when the news broke — his only regret was that he got sloppy with his crimes, and never got to cap off his kill count at a nice round number.

As for the total number of murders he did manage to commit, Robert boasted: “I got a murder charge on me, and forty-eight more, forty-eight more to come. Whoopee.” 

It’s forty-nine. Forty-eight plus one is forty-nine.

Excavations

Now the challenge for investigators was to find the physical evidence to make sure every one of those murder charges could be slapped on the Slack-jawed Slaughterer (yes, I’ve given him another nickname). They dug up the yards, raked through all of the rooms, and even dismantled the buildings. Personal effects from dozens more victims turned up along the way.

Conveyor belts and other machinery were brought in to help sort through the dirt, and the piles of rubble left from the salvage business. All in all, a total 383,000 cubic feet were sifted through in search of evidence, and the farm became the largest crime scene in Canadian history. I’d also be surprised if it didn’t turn up the most individual fragments of evidence too.

All in all, there were 600,000 separate exhibits, and 200,000 DNA samples. This was mainly because Pickton hadn’t buried his victims whole; it’s thought that he dismembered the bodies, before forcing the pieces through a meat grinder, and throwing whatever was left to his pigs. 

Amazingly, that’s not the most appalling part. In 2004, investigators reported that some of the ground human remains may have even been sold to the public, mixed in with pork. Oh Jesus, sorry, I’m supposed to give the content warning before stuff like that. My bad.

Once the samples were recovered, the hard part began. Forensic anthropologists were faced with the task of sorting through all those thousands of small pieces of bone, hair, and teeth, to try to determine exactly who they belonged to. It was no easy task, as some of the samples were heavily decomposed, due to both the time they had been left and the method of disposal. Some were more intact though, and provided a deeper insight into Robert’s sick methods: he had cut apart some victims’ skulls, and placed their hands and feet inside.

The families of the women who had gone missing from Vancouver were asked to provide DNA samples to make the process easier, however some of the women sadly had no relations to contact. A forensic toxicologist was able to ascertain that many of the victims had been using drugs when they died, both prescription and illicit. This was backed up by the needles and other drug paraphernalia in Robert’s trailer.

This process ran all the way through until November. With each new positive identification, Robert was hit with another round of murder charges. On the 2nd of April, he was charged with the deaths of Jacqueline McDonell, Heather Bottomley, and Dianne Rock. On the 9th: Andrea Joesbury — and Brenda Wolfe the day after. In September: Georgina Papin, Patricia Johnson, Helen Hallmark, Jennifer Furminger. In October: Tanya Holyk, Sherry Irving, Inga Hall, and Heather Chinnock.

These were the fifteen victims which Robert was officially charged with by the end of 2002. Not quite the full 49 he claimed to have killed, but it was a start. It was around this time that Lynn Ellingsen came forward to reveal that actually, she had seen that body hanging in the slaughterhouse back in 1999, and now she wanted to tell the truth. Hope someone gave her a medal. Had she come forward sooner, or if the police had just gone ahead and searched the damn farm, 10 women’s lives would have been saved.

Another blast from the past came when officers re-examined the small matter of Robert’s botched murder from 1998. As I mentioned before, his clothing and boots from that day were seized, and when they were recovered from storage in 2004, forensic analysts were actually able to match samples found on them to two more missing women. 

These joined the fresh batch of charges laid against Pickton in 2005, for the murders of Andrea Borhaben, Marnie Frey, Tiffany Drew, Cara Ellis, Debra Lynne Jones, Kerry Koski, Sarah de Vries, Angela Jardine, Wendy Crawford, Cynthia Feliks, and Diana Melnick, and a final unidentified woman.

The total number of murder charges now sat at 27. Although police were fully convinced that he had been speaking truthfully about his 49 total victims, they were unable to find any conclusive evidence for the rest (they had already spent over $70 million just to get this far). It’s thought that his murderous career might have stretched back decades, however all of the confirmed cases occurred between 1995 and 2001.

They might not have managed to prove everything they had wanted to, but even one of these charges would have been enough to let prosecutors pursue the maximum possible sentence. With 27 to go on, they prepared to prosecute the Pig Farm Killer.

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The Trial

The court case began at the Supreme Court of British Columbia on the 30th of January, 2006. Robert Pickton entered a not guilty plea for every one of the 27 charges against him, meaning the whole thing would go to trial the following year. 

In case you’re not familiar with this whole crime and punishment thing, 27 murders is actually quite a lot. Had all of the charges been heard in the same trial, the jury would have had to set aside their own lives for about two years just to take part. And it’s not like in courtroom TV dramas; real jury duty is filled with so much tedium that 2 years of it would drive any reasonable person insane.

So, over the course of 2006, the judge went about whittling down the charges and evidence into a more manageable package. In the end, it was decided that the first trial would go ahead with only the 6 strongest charges. The case of the unidentified Jane Doe was even thrown out entirely. The six remaining charges were the murders of Wilson, Abotsway, Papin, Wolfe, Frey, and Joesbury.

When the main part of the trial began on January 22nd, 2007, the jury heard how Pickton had lured each of these women into his trailer, offering them heroin and other drugs, before ending their lives and brutally disposing of their bodies. 

We already know he used a knife to kill some of his victims, but during the trial some witnesses revealed more horrific details of his murder methods. Scott Chubb, the guy who called the police about the illegal guns, had once gotten an unsolicited murder tip from his boss. Robert told him that one of the easiest ways to kill a drug addicted prostitute is to inject windshield washer fluid into her veins. That explained the blue substance in the syringes.

Another witness revealed how Pickton had bragged about strangling his victims to death. He would bind them, kill them, then process them just like he was taught to do with livestock. This meant draining the blood from the bodies, removing the organs, and dumping the remains into the pig pens. 

The Mulleted Maniac’s tongue had clearly loosened up over the years as he grew more confident in his crimes. His behaviors had likewise changed over the years. Pickton had grown progressively more bold as his killing career matured, with only one confirmed murder in 1995, and seven in 2001. These were all just allegations at this point of course, but surely a conviction was inevitable, right?

Well, on the 9th of December 2007, the jury returned their verdict: not guilty… of first-degree murder, but 100% guilty of second-degree. I had you going for a second there. For those unclear on the law, the difference between these two types of murder is intent. 

If you plan to kill someone in advance, or do it as part of another crime like a kidnapping, that counts as first degree murder in Canada. If you intentionally kill someone on the spur of the moment, that’s second degree.

Surely given everything I’ve said so far, the jury must have made a mistake. I mean, if the guy boasted to his mates about his favorite murder methods, you have to assume a fair bit of premeditation went into the crimes. But remember, Pickton wasn’t short of pocket change — he had enough to get a decent legal team on his side.

His defense went about picking apart the prosecution’s evidence by portraying poor Robert as a slow-witted simpleton, manipulated into his confessions by the nasty police. It’s what I like to call the Forest Gump defense.

His lead counsel, Adrian Brooks, repeated during the closing arguments that Robert wasn’t the sharpest tool in the slaughterhouse. A series of witnesses had been called to prove as much, with the aim being to discredit the confession of Robert himself. One of his neighbors testified that he was “Kind of a hilly-billy type, half backward and not as intelligent as most of us”. His own ex-sister-in-law told the court that he would often struggle to keep up with jokes and complex conversations.

Brooks laid into his client’s intelligence again and again, before claiming that the video evidence of his jailhouse confessions couldn’t be trusted. To paraphrase Johnnie Cochrane, if the man’s a dimwit, you must acquit. 

Using a poster board, he showed links between what Pickton was told by investigators the day of his arrest, and what he said in the cell the day after. There were some stark similarities, which the defense claimed was evidence the this simple little hillbilly boy was just parroting back what he had been accused of by the detectives. Apparently he was so worried about his farm and his family, the Mulleted Maniac was willing to confess to anything just to make the investigation go away. Aw, poor dear. 

So if that were the case, what did they have to say about all the human remains? When you boil it down, they were basically saying that on a busy farm like that, a man like Robert Pickton couldn’t have done it all alone — he was taking the heat for one or more accomplices, who may have even pressured him into participating, or taking the blame.

It was enough to convince the jury to downgrade the murder conviction to second-degree, but the judge still seemed pretty convinced of Pickton’s maliciousness. He handed out a fittingly harsh sentence: life in prison with no possibility of parole for 25 years. That’s the absolute maximum penalty possible under Canadian law. Over the next few years, Pickton’s defense team would raise appeals all the way up to the Canadian supreme court, but none were successful. 

As for the other murder charges left hanging, they were eventually abandoned. It was ruled that pursuing them to trial was unnecessary, since any convictions wouldn’t result in an increase in Robert’s sentence. Many of the families were understandably outraged, and you have to wonder, if his victims had been from less deprived backgrounds, would their deaths have gone unanswered like that?

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How the Police Failed the Victims 

I’d say it’s a fair enough assumption, given how much the police had already failed the victims by this point. Vancouver Deputy Police Chief Doug LePard issued a public apology for the time it took to catch on to the goings on at the Piggy Palace. He said:

“I wish that, the several agencies involved, that we could have done better in so many ways. […] 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.

That’s all well and good Doug, but come on. It was staring you right in the face so many times. And I don’t mean to be rude, but I had the guy pinned as a serial killer the moment I saw a picture of him. How did the police fail to follow up on a stabbing, and reports of a woman hanging in his slaughterhouse?

Well, as I mentioned before, many of the women who had gone missing were indigenous Canadians, and most were working as prostitutes. They were already fairly invisible to society even before they went missing; One woman named Sherry Rail wasn’t even reported missing until three years after her disappearance in 1984.

Ever since 1991 the people of Vancouver had been demanding the police do more to combat their disappearances, starting with the First Annual Women’s Day Memorial March. The police had disbanded their first task force to combat the issue back in ’89, and now they basically just told the angry public that there was no evidence of foul play, and the women probably just moved on elsewhere. When many of the missing women were alone in the world, it was a hard theory to disprove.

When Pickton ramped up his criminal activities in the 90s, rumors floated around among the Lower Eastside’s sex workers of a serial killer on the loose. The women took it upon themselves to organize into pairs and pass along warnings about violent clients. Even when they were victimized, they rarely trusted the police enough to report the assaults and robberies they regularly endured. 

Their problems in receiving adequate care and respect from the authorities didn’t stop with death, either. The family of Georgia Papin — First Nations Canadians — told the papers that the victim’s services department discriminated against them, denying them meal and bus tickets during the trial. 

The worst part was that they weren’t informed they’d be hearing a traumatic play-by-play account of Georgina’s death until they were already entering the courtroom. Later, the family of Cara Ellis revealed how they had only been given part of her remains, and had to chase after the authorities for three years to get the rest.

If you think that all sounds completely awful, you’re not alone. Two separate inquiries were set up in response to the case. In 2016, the national government issued an investigation into the treatment of missing persons cases involving indigenous women and girls. 

Four years earlier, the British Columbian regional government found that their police force’s prejudice against sex workers had led to a “tragedy of epic proportions”. They set up a separate branch of the police force dedicated to missing persons cases as a result.

The appalling irony of the whole thing is that — on account of their marginalized lives — these women’s words couldn’t be trusted as evidence in court, but their bones could. If you were an at-risk woman working on the Lower Eastside, the only chance you really had of having your story heard, was if it had already come to an end…

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Did the Others Know?

But we cannot end on that! I don’t want you walking around weeping for the rest of the day. How about a bit of conspiracy theory to take the edge off? You like conspiracy theories, don’t you? Course you do. 

For this one, let’s circle back to something said by Robert’s defense lawyer. It does seem a little bit strange that the remains of 27 women could be scattered around a busy farm, without anyone else being involved. This was the hub of David’s businesses as well, after all, and both brothers lived there.

Despite being the older brother, Robert was largely subservient to David. Dave was the brighter of the two, and he mostly ordered his big brother around. As Audrey Stebanuk, the court witness who called Robert a hillbilly, said of the family business: “Willie was the worker, or slave kind-of-thing, and Dave was the boss.”

Some friends of the two even said the younger brother dictated when the Slack-jawed Slasher went to bed. Despite all that, David wasn’t even called to testify at the trial, which seems extremely strange. 

Several of the victims’ families asserted that there was no way he could’ve been ignorant to what his brother was up to. As a result, nine families launched lawsuits against Robert Pickton in 2013, and 7 of those lawsuits also mentioned David as co-defendant (with some throwing blame towards their sister Linda too, although she lived miles away).

Around the same time, David was reportedly spotted driving around the Lower Eastside, and the women there started spreading the word. At the local homeless shelters and drug clinics, warning flyers were posted on the walls, reporting that the brother of a serial killer was trying to pick up women. The man himself argues that there’s no way he could pick up a street walker, even if he wanted to, because his German shepherd hates strangers and wouldn’t stand for it.

But David was no stranger to violence against women. A little bit of digging into his background shows as much. In 1992, he was convicted of sexually assaulting a coworker on a building site. He cornered the woman in a trailer and groped her, before being interrupted when someone else entered. He allegedly threatened to rape and kill her if she told anyone about it.

David was only fined $1000 dollars, and served 30 days of probation for the assault — a slap on the wrist, basically. He was ordered to refrain from contacting the victim, and so she never saw him again until about ten years later, when his face popped up on the news. This triggered a panic attack; the woman threw up, and impulsively bleached her house, before going to the hospital. In 2015, she won her own lawsuit for psychological trauma, receiving $45,000 in damages. 

It doesn’t paint a particularly pretty picture of the Hell’s Angel wannabe. And there’s one final detail to the story that sounds eerily similar to much of what we’ve heard today: the woman revealed how, shortly after filing her original police report, one of Pickton’s work buddies threatened that she would be “cut into pieces” if she stayed in town. 

Now for the part when I spray my lawyer repellant into the air, because I’m coming close to accusing a man who’s not been found guilty in court. Allegedly, allegedly, allegedly, etc. etc. etc.

With that out the way, come on: his mentally challenged brother murders at least 27 women right under his nose, and David doesn’t notice a single thing? He never goes into his brother’s trailer and sees all the handbags and ID cards? Never wanders into the workshop to grab a beer out the dismembered head freezer? He never asks about the dildo gun!? It’s a stretch.

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I won’t bother speculating on exactly who might’ve all been involved and how — I’m sure you’re quite capable of filling in those blanks by yourself. Suffice for me to say, it seems very unlikely that Robert was the only one who knew about his crimes, and I’m far from the first person to suggest so.

Bill Hiscox, the former employee of David, is one of the biggest proponents of the theory, and even goes as far as to suggest a cover up including local police officers and officials. It stems from the fact that, according to Bill, the police turned down his offer to blow the lid off the case too easily. He told a reporter in 2012: 

“I was willing to go inside – I was more than willing, and more than happy, to do whatever it took to stop this guy. I went as far as to suggest they put a wire on me.”

But the police decided against it. When Officer Lori Shenher was quizzed on the decision, she claimed that Hiscox said he was unwilling to go undercover for them, because he himself was a recovering addict. He still asserts that’s completely false, and that the police just cut off contact with him for no reason, citing false claims of him harassing Officer Shenher. 

Why does he think the police would want to intentionally botch the investigation? Well, apparently the Hells Angels gang connection was more significant than many thought. Some even claim that David Pickton himself was a member, and that the body of a murdered gangster was hidden on his property. ALLEGEDLY!

In the version of events hinted at by Hiscox, the money and influence of the gang meant that the Piggy Palace and its owners might have held a bit more power around town than anyone thought — enough that the goings on there were intentionally allowed to let slide.

It’s an interesting theory, but we’ve slipped too far into speculation, and I promised I wouldn’t do that. It’s probably just enough to state that it seems unlikely Robert’s crimes went undetected by all of his associates. And if David really was just turning a blind eye, it might not be the first time he’s ever seen a family member end someone’s life…

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One Last Bonus Murder

There’s one more tragic page from the Pickton family scrapbook to take a peek at before we finish up for today. This one takes us all the way back to the 1960s — an origins story for one of today’s miserable miscreants, which gives us another window into the troubled upbringing of the Pickton kids.

Writing for the Toronto Star in 2007, journalist Stevie Cameron went digging into some of the rumors which had sprung up around this troubled family over the years. The story at the centerpiece of her article was sourced from one of Robert’s close friends, who confided it to him in the 90s. 

On the 16th of October 1967, David Pickton had just got his driver’s license, and decided to take his father’s truck out for an evening drive. While driving down a road not far from the farm, he accidentally ran over one of his neighbors — Tim Barrett, a fourteen year old boy. David rushed home to tell his mother, who went back to the scene with him.

Rather than call an ambulance, she apparently decided it would be better for her family to just dispose of the kid; she then shoved an agonized Tim into a ditch about ten feet from the side of the road, and just left him there. Dave was left to try to cover up what happened, taking the car to a mechanic to get the damage to the front end repaired. 

It wasn’t until the next day that Tim was found. A neighbor had seen him walking down the road earlier on, and offered to help his parents search along it. It was his father who found the body; his son had drowned in the water at the bottom of the ditch. His other injuries were severe, but not fatal — a fractured skull, broken pelvis, and cranial hemorrhage. If he had been taken to hospital, he would likely have made a full recovery.

David’s juvenile record is sealed, so we don’t know if he ever received punishment for his role in the death of Tim Barret. Louise Pickton faced none, as nobody could prove that she had moved the boy into the water. Still, it became common knowledge around the neighborhood that she had some part in the death.

If the story’s true, it seems like the criminal credentials of the Pickton clan predate Robert and David — if the latter really was roped into his first murderous cover-up so young, maybe turning a blind eye to his brother’s deeds wouldn’t have been too difficult at all.

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Wrap Up

That concludes today’s field trip to America’s friendly northern neighbor. It started with the horrific tale of how Robert Pickton killed and dismembered up to 49 victims, before feeding their remains to his pigs, and ended up a profile of one of the most morally questionable clans in Canadian criminal history. Now the worst of them is thankfully behind bars, and the farm where he played out his horror-movie murders had been paved over. A strip mall now stands in its place.

It’s depressing that Robert was able to continue his reign of terror for so long without being captured. You can believe that it was all the result of a cover-up if you want, but the likelihood is that the whole shambles was the result of the same old social problem that rears its ugly head time and time again: extremely vulnerable people not being afforded the protections they desperately need.

Pickton took advantage of the anonymity of his victims, counting on the fact that nobody — not their families, nor the police, nor any passersby — would give a damn what he did to them. Sadly, he was right. Time and time again the police failed to treat the violence against these women with the proper urgency and gravity, and more died because of it.

Other than that, the only other takeaway from today is this: the next time you get invited to some smelly hillbilly’s slaughterhouse nightclub for an afterparty with murderous bikers, do the sensible thing — go, grab a few drinks, do a bit of networking.

Or just stay as far away as possible. Your choice.

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Dismembered Appendices

1. Despite apparently having limited mental capacities, Robert Pickton is a published author. The book was released in 2016, entitled Pickton: In His Own Words. It’s said that he managed to send the manuscript to an associate in California who had it published. You’ll struggle to find a copy now though; an online petition gained almost 58,000 signatures, causing Amazon and the publisher to drop Pickton’s grammatically questionable debut.

2. The police botched more than just the initial investigation into Pickton. When transcripts of the undercover jail cell conversations were released in 2010, they forgot to censor the officer’s name several times. He thankfully never faced any retribution from the Picktons or their Hells Angels buds, but I’m sure he got sweaty palms whenever he heard a Harley Davidson coming up the street for a few years after.

3. The victims’ families weren’t the only ones launching lawsuits. In 2009, the two non-incarcerated Pickton kids filed a suit against the RCMP, claiming that they had “disturbed, disrupted, killed and destroyed various plants, trees, groundcovers and other vegetation and the fish in the pond.” I mean, yeah, it’s a shame for the plants, but your brother did bury 27 human heads under them so…

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https://murderpedia.org/

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