Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Robert Pickton: The Vancouver Missing Women

Trial Has Distinct Stages

by Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D.

The Pickton proceedings in Canada, have gone through several distinct stages, from interview transcripts to physical evidence analysis from several disciplines to victim profiles. When we last looked, during the fourth week of Robert "Willie" Pickton's trial in mid-February, RCMP officer Jack Mellis had described the blood evidence from a mattress in a mobile home on Pickton's pig farm. DNA testing matched it to Mona Wilson, whose head and hands were recovered from the farm grounds in 2002, six months after she'd gone missing. The skull of one victim now linked to Pickton was found on the side of a road in British Columbia in 1995.

The fifty-seven-year-old man who bragged to an undercover officer that he'd used a rendering plant for body disposal was annoyed that he'd been stopped. He'd pled not guilty to the twenty-six counts of murder, and it took five years to finally get to the first of two trials for six of the victims.

Robert Pickton in court hearings, sketch
Robert Pickton in court hearings, sketch

Teams have covered the 17-acre farm, states the Vancouver Sun, to look for the most minute pieces of physical evidence — a bone, spots of blood, teeth, hair shafts — to find enough material for DNA analysis. They must continue to excavate the ground to dig deep for evidence potentially buried from years ago. No end date has been set.

Investigators at Pickton pig farm
Investigators at Pickton pig farm

At the end of February, two RCMPs described how in April 2002 they had come across grisly human remains, including severed heads, in a freezer inside a building on the farm grounds. The frozen remains were thawed and eventually identified as parts of Sereena Abotsway and Andrea Joesbury. Investigators also turned up the jawbone of Brenda Wolfe stuck in mud in a pigpen and another jawbone at a different location was identified as that of Marnie Fay.

Throughout March, more searchers, officers and DNA experts testified. In April, after sixty witnesses had taken the stand for the prosecution, attorneys for both sides met try to shorten the proceedings. Since some 235,000 exhibits had been processed by the RCMP forensic lab, it could take many months to prove chain of custody. The defense stipulated that the remains had been properly handled, so the prosecutor could skip the steps of having each person in possession of evidence testify.

Day in and day out, Pickton's expression rarely wavered as he stared into space or glanced at a witness. He entered the courtroom each day, according to AZcentral, wearing one of four revolving shirts and carrying a binder for his notes and doodles. His boredom seemed to mirror that of the media as the recounting of scientific evidence reportedly became tedious. A law professor suggested that the drop in attendance was due to the lack of a "gripping narrative." Despite the grisly testimony, there are no larger-than-life personalities involved. The victims were mostly drug abusers and prostitutes, and the accused is an aging, uneducated pig farmer who likes to talk about himself. Still, he's allegedly the most prolific serial killer that a Canadian court has ever prosecuted, and the proceedings finally picked up.


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