A RCMP investigator who failed to follow up opportunities to search the Pickton farm years before the serial killer was arrested was not receiving the necessary support from her supervisors, a top Vancouver police officer says.
An independent review of the police investigation has been critical of how RCMP Constable Ruth Yurkiw handled the Pickton case in 1999 and how she conducted an interview with Robert Pickton in January, 2000, without planning or preparation.
Also, Constable Yurkiw did not arrange for a search of Mr. Pickton’s farm, although Mr. Pickton repeatedly invited police onto his property. When the police finally searched the farm two years later, they immediately found personal items of women who had gone missing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
During the sixth week of the Missing Women Inquiry hearings, Vancouver Deputy Chief Doug LePard said Constable Yurkiw was “trying her best.” But she did not receive support from her supervisors on setting priorities in her work and for additional resources to pursue the investigation.
Deputy Chief LePard had conducted an internal review of the police investigation for the Vancouver Police Department.
He told the inquiry Constable Yurkiw had some sense of what needed to be done and was frustrated with the lack of support.
“She knew where she had made mistakes, but she also knew there were more resources that were needed,” Deputy Chief LePard said.
The inquiry heard that the credibility of a friend of Mr. Pickton’s, Lynn Ellingsen, was a stumbling block at that time.
Three different informants independently told the RCMP in 1999 that Ms. Ellingsen had recounted that she saw Mr. Pickton gutting a woman hanging from a hook in his piggery on the family farm in Coquitlam. But when police questioned Ms. Ellingsen, she denied seeing anything and insisted she had not told anyone that Mr. Pickton had been gutting a woman.
Deputy Chief LePard told the inquiry that the information was “extraordinary” and should have been pursued more vigorously.
The police did not have any information suggesting the informants had colluded, and Ms. Ellingsen’s denials were not believable, he said. “Clearly she was lying,” he said.
Nevertheless, some officers did not believe the informants. Deputy Chief LePard said several steps could have been taken to bolster the informants’ credibility.
Ms. Ellingsen and the informants could have been given polygraph tests, he said.
Another option was to offer immunity from prosecution, Deputy Chief LePard said.
Ms. Ellingsen, who had helped Mr. Pickton bring the woman to the farm, was eventually offered immunity from prosecution and testified in 2007 at the Pickton trial. The offer could have come in 1999, he said.
Mr. Pickton was convicted of the second-degree murder of six women and was charged with the murder of an additional 20 women. He has said he killed 49 women.
Responding to questions about an internal RCMP review of the investigation in the Pickton case, Deputy Chief LePard said he disagreed “in the strongest terms” with a conclusion that nothing would have changed dramatically if the RCMP had to do it over again.
“I expect there are a number of investigators who wish they could have this one back to do all over again with different leadership and resources,” Deputy Chief LePard said.
Asked if he could make the same comment about the Vancouver Police Department, he replied: “Absolutely.”