The investigation that finally led to the conviction of Robert Pickton was seriously hampered in its early days by internal animosity toward a Vancouver police officer who believed a serial killer was behind the disappearances of so many women, according to a 31-year veteran of the force.
Doug Mackay-Dunn, now retired, said he remains haunted by the case and how lives might have been saved if he had pushed harder for the conclusions of Kim Rossmo - a specialist in geographic profiling - to be taken seriously.
"I think about that all the time. I still feel guilty about it," Mr. MacKay-Dunn said Monday as he and Mr. Rossmo joined in the call for a public inquiry into police handling of the missing women's file. "But we were all walking on eggshells because of the animosity [felt by some senior officers] towards Kim Rossmo. They simply did not want to validate [his work]"
He recounted a meeting where Mr. Rossmo presented his findings to a chief homicide inspector at the time.
"The next thing I hear is yelling and screaming. He [the inspector]says that this is ridiculous. 'No bodies, no case … you look after your division, I'll look after mine.' Yada, yada, yada. It was a bit of a shock. Rossmo looked absolutely ashen when he came out of there."
Mr. Rossmo was resented for his abrupt promotion from constable to detective inspector for his pioneering work in the then-new police field of geographic profiling, Mr. MacKay-Dunn said.
A staff sergeant in the Downtown Eastside in the late 1990s, Mr. MacKay-Dunn had called on Mr. Rossmo to take a look at the two dozen or so prostitutes that had gone missing at that point from the grim, drug-ravaged area.
After a week of research and number crunching, Mr. Rossmo concluded that the disappearances were almost certainly the work of a serial killer. That ran counter to the official police line that there was no evidence of a mass murderer at work, and that the women had likely gone elsewhere.
"But why was it happening then, and not before. The number of missing women had begun to spike," said Mr. Rossmo in a phone interview from Texas State University, where he now heads the Centre for Geospatial Intelligence and Investigation.
"Why was it happening in Vancouver, and nowhere else? Why was it happening to women, and not to men? And why are we not finding bodies? The only explanation that I thought met those criteria was a serial killer."
Mr. Rossmo said he outlined his conclusions in several police reports, but they were not taken up by high-ranking officers overseeing the investigation.
"They thought I could have no expertise, because, in their minds, I was not a real inspector," he said.
Mr. MacKay-Dunn said an earlier conclusion that a serial killer was on the loose could have led police fairly quickly to Robert Pickton, since as recently as 1997 the suburban pig farmer had been arrested on a charge of attempted murder of a prostitute.
But the Crown stayed the charge, and blood-soaked clothing with Mr. Pickton's DNA on it lay in an RCMP evidence locker, unknown to investigators with the missing women's task force.
"Pickton would have been in jail, and all those women would have been saved," Mr. MacKay-Dunn said.
Mr. Pickton was arrested and charged in 2002. He was eventually convicted of murdering six prostitutes, charges were stayed in 20 other murder cases, and he had earlier boasted of killing 49 women to an undercover police plant in his jail cell.
Both Mr. MacKay-Dunn and Mr. Rossmo said there should be a public inquiry into the police investigation.
"I know a lot of people are tired of this, and it would cost a lot of money," Mr. Rossmo said. "But until we can say positively that this is not going to happen again, then there should be one."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, meanwhile, said he has been paying close attention to the Pickton case, including the call for a public inquiry.
"We'll want to look at what we need to do to prevent this kind of thing, or detect it much earlier in the future, because we obviously don't want to see a repetition of these horrific events," he told reporters while at an unrelated event in Vancouver.
At the same event, Premier Gordon Campbell said the province will decide whether an inquiry is warranted, once internal reports on the case by the RCMP and Vancouver Police Department have been reviewed.
"Our hearts go out to the families of all the missing women," Mr. Campbell said. "I think it's really critically important we learn as much as we can."
With a report from Ian Bailey