All the clues pointing to a Port Coquitlam pig farmer as a killer were adding up for the first Mountie probing Robert Pickton when women were vanishing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, but the officer has told an inquiry he just couldn’t gather the firm evidence required to launch a full-scale investigation.
In the days after the serial killer’s arrest in February, 2002, RCMP scrambled to explain why they weren’t more aggressive in zeroing in on Mr. Pickton, notes presented Wednesday by a lawyer at the missing women’s inquiry show.
The RCMP “terminated” the operation scrutinizing Mr. Pickton in the late 1990s because the province’s major crimes unit thought it had “no validity” and a ranking officer determined it was getting too expensive, stated one account written three days after Mr. Pickton’s arrest.
Mike Connor, now retired, agreed with remarks in the note that work on the file had petered out to his “great reluctance,” but he also agreed with the suggestion of a lawyer for the victims’ families that lack of resources was not an issue.
“Willie Pickton in your mind was the man responsible for the deaths of the sex trade workers who were going missing from Downtown Vancouver,” said lawyer Cameron Ward.
“You sir, as the investigator here, you did put two and two together, and it made four for you.”
Mr. Connor agreed, concurring that hypothesis only got stronger in his mind between August, 1998 and July, 1999.
By that time, he had received apparently credible – though second-hand – information from several informants. Mr. Connor had already attempted once to take Mr. Pickton down on the 1997 attempted murder of a sex trade worker. The charge was dropped.
He testified he was so sure Mr. Pickton merited aggressive investigation that he got all his ducks in a row.
Mr. Connor went out on his own to conduct surveillance on Mr. Pickton’s farm after midnight for upward of 30 occasions hoping to catch the man committing a crime, the inquiry heard.
He also prepared a draft affidavit in summer, 1999 to immediately trigger a search warrant, but the opportunity still failed to present itself.
Mr. Ward asked Mr. Connor why, with all the pieces stacking up, the RCMP “failed to stop” Mr. Pickton’s killing spree from August, 1998 until his eventual apprehension.
“It’s certainly a difficult question to answer. I don’t know that failed would be the correct word to use,” Mr. Connor replied, adding many people tried “very hard” to gather the necessary evidence.
“We couldn’t get that break, to have that definitive evidence that we could launch an investigation the size of what Evenhanded had done a couple of years later. As I mentioned, we just couldn’t get that break.”
Project Evenhanded was a joint RCMP-Vancouver Police endeavour that later investigated the missing women.
Mr. Connor, who continues to do contract work for the RCMP, left the case in another officer’s hands when he was promoted in August, 1999.
Considering the huge manpower that was plowed into searching Mr. Pickton’s farm when police finally gained grounds related to an illegal firearms allegation, a lack of resources could not have been the reason the case went on the back burner, Mr. Ward suggested to Mr. Connor.
“Absolutely,” Mr. Connor said. “If I needed more resources to do things when I was doing investigation, I would have got them.”
The same would have been true for the officer who took over, he said.
“If they had a break to move that investigation forward, if she needed more resources, she could have got them.”
The DNA of 33 women was found on Pickton’s farm.
He was convicted of murdering six women, though he was charged with killing 26.
More than a dozen women disappeared between 1999 and the time Mr. Pickton was arrested in February, 2002.