Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Robert Pickton: The Vancouver Missing Women

Forensic Analysis

by Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D.

Robert Pickton
Robert Pickton

There was plenty of coverage as Pickton showed interest — and even appeared to smile — during the analysis of a handheld reciprocating saw allegedly used to bisect three skulls and cut through other human bones. There were cut marks on Wolfe's jawbone, as well as several ribs, two heel bones and several vertebrae that had been collected. Ten of the saw's 45 blades came into evidence, only because they could not be eliminated as the blades that had caused the cuts in the bones. The expert was certain a saw had produced them but could not definitely identify what kind.

A forensic entomologist, Dr. Gail Anderson, also testified that the remains of Abotsway and Joesbury had been exposed to the elements for several weeks to several months before being stashed in the freezer where they were found. Insects apparently went into the buckets when the remains were picked up for storage, and their type and stage of development helped to scientifically establish a timeframe.

From April into early May, the jury members were shown graphic pictures of the decomposing heads, hands, and other remains as forensic pathologists testified about the autopsies. The first witness agreed that the skulls were cut from both front and behind with a reciprocating saw and that they'd been forced apart where the cuts nearly joined. He also described the gunshot wounds to three of the victims, although ballistics experts could not link the recovered bullets to any of the guns found on the property. When Justice James Williams noticed the effect this evidence, which included images of maggots and skin sloughing, was having on some of the female jurors, he called for a recess. The next day, they heard that a .22-caliber revolver with a dildo attached over the barrel had yielded DNA from a victim and possibly from Pickton.

Finally, forensic chemist Tony Fung testified that a substance found in a syringe that came from Pickton's office was methanol, commonly used in windshield wiper fluid. CanWest News Service indicated that an acquaintance of Pickton's had mentioned his statement about using this type of fluid to kill drug addicts. However, no methanol had shown up in tests on the remains of the victims in question. Traces of cocaine were found in all the tissue samples, along with methadone and diazepam (valium), but toxicologist Heather Dinn declined to state that the concentration of drugs had been fatal.

Anthropologists took the stand to describe the examination of tens of thousands of bone fragments from a pile, most of which proved to be from animals, but a few of which were human. Specifically, they found several human toe, heel and rib bones.

During the second week of May, the forensic stage briefly gave way to the "human face," with no challenge from the defense.


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