Larry is a true crime fan and has several years of experience reporting on true crime cases and hosts a true-crime podcast.
Setting The Scene
This case begins in British Columbia, Canada, in the downtown east side of Vancouver. This is a rough part of town, there's lots of crime and it's called the Skid Row of Canada. Locals call it "Low Track."
There are a lot of drugs running through this area and can be dangerous with gangs and the region has the highest HIV infection rate in North America. A lot of people die in Low Track due to illness and overdose. In the early '90s, Low Track was no different than what it is today.
Surrounding districts had actually passed laws in hopes of gathering these people into low tracks, shoving people out of their boundaries and into low track. A 1995 survey around this time showed that most sex workers along low track began when they were pre-teen or children.
Most women who work the east side have birthed at least three children and fewer than half know where their kids are or have lost them to the state.
Although laws have been passed and attention has been raised to the lack of effort put into sex worker and homeless crime, it still happens and still one of the least effort put into solving it. This was the exact situation that began happening in the downtown east side of Vancouver Low Track during the '80s and '90s.
Victims Go Missing
It took years for officials to notice the trend of sex workers vanishing off the streets and never being seen again. And even more years to look into it and begin investigating these disappearances. I don't mean just like five years; I mean 15+ plus years to notice the trend and begin investigating it.
23-year-old Rebecca Guno was last seen alive on June 22, 1983, in Low Track, and was reported missing three days later. 43-year-old Sherry Rail was last seen in January 1984, but wouldn't be reported officially missing until three years later.
33-year-old Elaine Hourback told friends she was moving to Seattle in March of 1986, but never made it to her destination. She would be reported missing in April of 1986. A month later, Teresa Williams was last seen alive in July of 1988 and was finally reported missing in 1989. In August 1989, mental patient Ingrid Sowet was last seen but wouldn't be reported missing until 14 months later in 1990.
More Women Go Missing
Around this time, some investigators came forward to the police department, claiming they had noticed the vast number of disappearances from the Low Track area, and that they were all too similar: sex workers, roughly around the same age; it was a pattern, and they needed to look into it because that many don't just leave the state.
These detectives would eventually be demoted and eventually resign. The notion of the pattern would be publicly dismissed. The police would come forward and say nope, these are homeless women who just left the state.
There was this long period before people were reported missing and then these detectives figured out the pattern, but then they were let go. Kathleen Watley was 39 and the first black victim who vanished in June 1992 and was reported missing the same month three years later. So we have a three-year gap here.
47-year-old Katherine Gonzalez would go missing in March 1995 and will be reported missing a year later. The next victim was Katherine Knight, who vanished in 1995 and was reported missing in April. Dorothy Spence vanished four months after the last victim in August 1995.
23-year-old Diana Melnick was last seen in December 1995 and was reported missing four days after Christmas. A little less than a year later in October 1996, 24-year-old Tanya Halek was reported missing on November 3rd. Olivia Williams was last seen in December 1996. As a 22-year-old, she wasn't reported missing until July 4, 1997.
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Stephanie Lane, age 20, was hospitalized for drugs in March of 1997 and was last seen alive at a local hotel. Janet Henry had survived being drugged by a serial killer named Wilfred Olson in the 1980s. Not even a decade later, she found herself in Low Track, living there and working, and was reported missing on June 28, 1997.
Vancouver Police Step Up
Constable Dixon launched his own investigation, creating a new list of missing women from Vancouver who had disappeared with no explanation. He eliminated all the ones that had been found, and all the ones they knew had left the area. He ended up with a list that was still large.
The second list was so large, it inspired the police department to finally launch their official investigation into the missing women from Low Track. Vancouver police began with 40 unsolved disappearances, dating back to 1971. These women weren't all from Low Track, and also came from all walks of life.
But police narrowed the list down to 16, whom they believed to have been sex workers from Low Track and lived the same life and all went missing. That's a large number and that was a pattern from them. They had to ask themselves, Was there a serial killer among them who was targeting sex workers, specifically from the low track, going all the way back to 1995?
By the time the first arrest was made, the list would be up to 54 women missing from the Low Track from 1983 to 2001. While it was going on, they are noticing that women are still going missing.
85 investigators would end up working on this case at some point. Police were empty-handed when it came to forensic evidence. Most people on Low Track didn't want to cooperate with the cops. And without any official dates, the investigation was hard. Like when did these girls actually go missing compared to when they were last seen, or when they were reported.
In June 1999, police met with relatives of the 54 missing woman. The list that they had of sex workers, they had made seeking DNA evidence for comparison needs. So they go out and try to connect women's DNA from family members or people they can find in hopes that if they do find bodies, or they do locate someone they can test the DNA.
Police searched cemeteries, hospitals, mental facilities, anywhere these women might still be alive. Four more sex workers would vanish from the east side downtown, while police are actively searching.
Police found five of the victims on the 54-person list. Most had willingly left Low Track in search of a better life, and had found it unaware that they were on the missing woman list. Some had actually died of overdoses or illnesses without identification and had been identified later.
When the police collected the DNA and then compared it, the problem they were running into during the investigation was too many suspects—every single john who had attacked one of these workers, every drug dealer, every pimp is a suspect in this area. So they had to go through one by one and cross off these suspects.
Most of these suspects were still getting charged for something else during the investigation, whether it was underage sex trafficking, attacking sex workers, or dealing drugs, so they're just bringing in every guy and then putting them away for something else, but not for these missing women.
Police were hitting dead ends when it came to the missing women. Late in 1998, detectives finally got a lead from a 37-year-old man named Bill Hiscox. He had been widowed and had actually turned to drugs and alcohol, and he ended up being rescued from his downward spiral and was suggested a job by his foster sister.
So his foster sister came to him and said I know some people who can give you a job. The job was at a salvage company southeast of Vancouver. The owners and his boss were was Robert William Pickton. He could also go by Willie Pickton.
Bill's foster sister who found him the job was actually Robert Pickton's on-and-off-again girlfriend in 1997.So his foster sister was dating the owner of the salvage yard. So Bill would go pick up his paychecks from Robert or David Pickton at their house.
The Pig Farm
The two brothers lived on a pig farm in Port Coquitlam. He would describe the pig farm as a creepy place. He was uncomfortable every time he went there to get his paycheck. The farm was actually guarded by a 600-pound pig. The pig would actually walk around the property and even growl at people.
Robert Pickton was a shy guy, according to Bill. He was hard to talk to, but Bill said he could actually talk to women okay. So he really felt like Bill wasn't interested at all in men, like he had no need for them. He only liked talking to women. Robert drove a converted bus with tinted windows that he loved more than anything.
The brothers also ran a charity called the Piggy Palace Good Times Society. This was a non-profit that organized and coordinated events and parties for businesses in need and according to locals, these special events happened at the Piggy Palace, a building on the pig farm they converted to host these parties that were actually just drunken raves with sex workers as entertainment.
They weren't actually a non-profit doing good, they just listed themselves as a non-profit to get away with it. Police already knew who the Pickton brothers were when Bill Hiscox called in one day after seeing an article in the paper about the missing sex workers.
Bill told police that he had an awful feeling about these brothers and what they were into and thinks that police should look into them. David, Robert's brother, had actually been convicted of sexual assault in 1992, attacking a woman at his trailer at the pig farm, but she had escaped.
Soon after Piggy's Palace opened, the Pickton brothers were found in court being sued after converting the building into a party building even though they were only zoned for agricultural reasons.
In March of 1997 Robert Pickton was charged with attempted murder of a
sex worker named Wendy Lynn, who he had stabbed multiple times at the pig farm. She was able to get the knife away from him and stabbed him back, then ran off.
She was found on the side of the highway in the early morning hours, picked up by someone who dropped her off at the hospital because she had several stab wounds. Robert Pickton was found at the hospital with one stab wound, so her story completely matched up. The charges were later dropped.
Bill Reports Robert to Police
Bill told detectives that Robert circles the downtown area all the time for sex workers that he brings back to the pig farm and that there are multiple purses andIDs in his trailer on the farm that belong to women. So Bill essentially told the police "I think this guy is kidnapping these women and not returning them" and this is why I think police immediately searched the farm.
Serial Killer Activity Heats Up Across North America
Slowly media spread the word about the women that continue to go missing in the area. This was unusual and a strange pattern and 1997 seemed to be the worst year yet with the number rising faster than usual even though police are actively investigating it.
Police wait and hope that whoever it is makes a mistake soon as his needs accelerate. The idea of serial killers had not been lost on the people of Vancouver. Around this time the Green River Killer had been killing from 1982-1984. He had killed many women and DNA evidence linked the killings to 52-year-old Gary Leon Ridgeway.
Dayton Leroy Rogers also was stalking sex workers around this time. And he had killed eight of them. Keith Hunter Jefferson was a British Columbia native and a trucker who actually murdered women along his truck route. He was nicknamed the Happy Face Killer but no links would be found between these serial killers and the missing Low Track women.
And years would go by, police look into other serial killers and local suspects but nothing comes of any of it. Until February 2, 2002, when Constable Catherine Galliford told reporters that detectives were searching the Pickton Farm once again, in relation to the missing women from Low Track.
Robert Pickton was already in custody at the time of the search for gun charges but would be released on bail. On February 22, Robert Pickton was arrested once again, shocking the locals as he was charged with two counts of first-degree murder.
The victims were Serena Abbott Sway and Mona Wilson. Both had gone missing in 1997 from Low Track, and on March 8, 2000, investigators released the DNA collected from the pig farm had been positively matched to Serena Abbott Sway.
So they knew she had died there. A month later on April 3rd, Robert was charged with three more counts of murder naming victims Jacqueline McDonald Heather Bottomley and Diane Ross. So they're starting to find a bunch of DNA.
These victims' time of deaths and missing reports prove that all of these kidnappings and murders at this pig farm had happened since the time that Bill Hiscox had fingered the Pickton brothers to police back in 1997. So he pointed out these guys and then all of these charges that we're seeing now happened after that.
Robert Pickton Starting to Feel the Heat
On may 22nd 2002 a seventh charge was filed when the remains of Brenda Wolf were found on the pig farm. How could Robert Pickton have abducted and murdered several more victims after being pointed out and his farm searched? So this is the first time that they found actual remains.
Meanwhile, police were still searching the massive pig farm it would take a long time to collect the DNA and test it.
So the police came out around this time and said that they believe 144 sex workers were murdered or missing in the area since the beginning of when they started tracking missing women.
Four more charges would be announced on October 2nd 2002. heather Gabrielle Shinnok, Tanya Marlo Holyk, Sherry Irving, and Inga Monique Hall. Tanya and Inga were on the earliest version of the list back in the early 90s.
Robert was now being charged with 15 murders of Low Track missing women. The case had now become the largest serial killer case in Canadian history.
So David and Robert lived in separate buildings on the property because Robert mainly ran the pig farm. David wasn't as involved and only Robert is getting charged. As time went on more and more remains from missing Low Track women were found on the property, in the freezer and in the wood chipper. And then they realized that the bodies had been mushed and fed to the pigs.
Karma Gets the Best of David Pickton
Canada's Biggest Serial Killer Trial
The crown is Canada's prosecution. Similar to how Americans would call them the state, they call them the crown. They would be taking this to trial and despite the numerous murder charges and even more DNA evidence that they have of multiple women being there, they will only be taking six to trial.
Due to these being the more concrete evidence. It would be the RCMP, they described the blood evidence at the pig farm at the trial.
The victims were never found in one piece there was never one full body found. There had been severed heads found in the freezer and jaw bones in the pig pens. Zero care for human life whatsoever. Robert Pickton smiled in court when weapons he used to cut up the bodies were shown. Like he was very expressive. He didn't care. He wasn't sorry.
On December 9, 2007, the jury returned the verdict that Pickton was not guilty of first-degree murder, but he was guilty on six counts of second-degree murder. So at trial, it comes out that they bring up a lot of men who were friends with the Pickton brothers, who worked for them or regulated the pig farm, attended the piggy palace party and other stuff like that.
A lot of these men knew about the sex workers coming and not leaving the farm, so my guess is they thought that they were the ones who killed them, then brought them to the farm to get rid of the body.
At the trial, the defense threw up the notion that these guys were doing the killings, not Robert. They started questioning all of it. I think that's what led the jury to settle on second-degree instead of first-degree guilty.
So Robert Pickton was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole after 25 years, which is the highest sentence you can get in Canada. This is also the same sentence he would have received for first-degree murder.
So the justice basically said, despite the fact it was second-degree murder, I'm giving him the highest penalty he can receive. Appeals have been filed and rejected from the defense. Robert is currently incarcerated right now, but could get out very soon.
Robert Pickton Found Guilty
Police Mishandled the Investigation
Accusations that RCMP and police mishandled the investigation ran rampant, when the investigators who had originally pointed out the pattern back when it was first starting, came forward at trial and after trial to the media and said, hey we pointed this out before all of these girls went missing and were killed.
The victim's children filed a lawsuit against all of the law in Canada, against the police, and the RCMP. The children ended up receiving a settlement.
I think Robert Pickton realized after the first couple of times that he killed a sex worker that he could do this and no one really cared. No one came forward, there were no family members asking questions. And so I think he wasn't brilliant, he wasn't smart, he wasn't manipulative these were messy murders, careless not even trying that hard to get away with it.
But I think the lack of police effort into it just made it easy for him. Killing a sex worker became equivalent to him as doing anything else. It's how often and easily he was doing killing or butchering a pig.
Everyone in his life knew about it. I'm sure there were times that this guy ended up bringing a girl over and then he would just end up killing her. He didn't always kidnap them; a lot of men who had come to the pig farm knew about it and knew what was going on. I think this is why Bill had such a bad feeling because I think it was just openly talked about it, not coming right out and saying it.
They put an undercover cop in Robert's cell and Robert told him that he was not some brilliant serial killer; he got caught because he was sloppy.
Undercover Cop Confession
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.