Almost two years to the day before police searched Robert Pickton’s now-notorious pig farm, police knew the man was “hunting” for women while in disguise, the missing women’s inquiry was told Thursday.
A now-retired RCMP profiler told the inquiry he met with several other officers to discuss Pickton as a key suspect in the case at the Coquitlam, B.C., RCMP detachment, not far from Mr. Pickton’s muddy farm.
During the Feb. 4, 2000, meeting, then-sergeant Keith Davidson said investigators discussed getting a search warrant for the farm and asking for a wiretap of Mr. Pickton’s phone lines.
But police didn’t get the warrant.
It would be another two years before police searched the farm, and in between that time, 14 women disappeared, Cameron Ward, the lawyer for more than two dozen family members of the murdered and missing women, told the inquiry.
“Can you explain to me and my clients … why the RCMP failed to either prove he was a suspect or rule him out in that two-year period?” Mr. Ward asked Mr. Davidson.
“I can’t,” he replied.
A rookie officer from the Coquitlam detachment eventually obtained a search warrant to look for weapons on the farm in February, 2002. Instead police found evidence of horrible crimes and eventually the remains or DNA of 33 women.
Mr. Davidson said he learned at the February meeting that police knew Mr. Pickton was a night person, that he picked up pigs every Saturday at auction, that he was ritualistic and sloppy.
He used wigs when he picked up girls, Mr. Davidson’s notes recalled.
“He went out hunting for girls in disguise, right?” Mr. Ward asked as he read over Mr. Davidson’s notes of the meeting.
“Hunting would probably have been my word. Obviously if he wears wigs,” he paused, “I was being told he went out to pick out girls wearing wigs.”
Mr. Davidson, who testified at the inquiry via the Internet from London, England, contradicted testimony given by his former boss on Wednesday.
Gary Bass, the former deputy commissioner of RCMP in B.C., said he didn’t launch a task force into the missing women investigation because he wasn’t asked to get involved by Vancouver’s police department.
But Mr. Davidson said Mr. Bass told him they didn’t have the resources after Mr. Davidson presented a joint task force proposal to look into the missing-women case.
Mr. Davidson told the inquiry he believed a province-wide task force was necessary because the RCMP was the provincial police force and had the investigative resources.
He testified he didn’t contradict his boss on the decision not to get involved.
Thursday was the last day for oral testimony at the commission.
Final arguments from various lawyers representing police officers, their departments, governments, family members and aboriginal interests, among others, have been put off until June 4.
The week-long delay of final legal arguments angered Lori-Ann Ellis, the sister-in-law of Cara Ellis, whose DNA was found on Mr. Pickton’s farm.
“Family members have made travel plans,” she said. “They’re going to the memorial.”
A memorial event at a park on the edge of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside where many of the women lived is set for June 1.
It was planned as a way for the women’s families to mark the end of the public inquiry.
Outside the inquiry, Mr. Ward said a great deal about what went wrong around the police investigations into the women’s disappearances has come out since the inquiry started last October.
Commissioner Wally Oppal must complete his report by June 30.
“It’s my hope ... that we learn enough from this process to ensure that a tragedy of this nature does not happen again,” Mr. Ward said.
He said the process has been especially horrific for the murdered or missing women’s families who have waited more than a decade to learn why Mr. Pickton wasn’t caught sooner.
One stark factor that’s emerged from the inquiry has been the attitude of indifference by some people involved in the investigation towards the women who disappeared, Mr. Ward said.
He said he would like to see recommendations on improving police communications, more resources for such investigations and how police in the province could better co-operate to solve such cases sooner.
The inquiry started off on a sour note when the provincial government denied legal funding to several groups who had already been granted participant status at the inquiry. Many of those groups or individuals pulled out of the process.
Mr. Pickton was charged with killing 26 women, but convicted of six murders. Many of his victims were sex workers from Vancouver’s impoverished Downtown Eastside.