One of the first Vancouver police officers to pinpoint Robert Pickton as a prime suspect in the missing women case says she felt she was “out in the wilderness” when doing her police work.
In highly emotional testimony interrupted to wipe away tears, Detective Constable Lori Shenher told the Pickton inquiry Tuesday that she felt her own organization had little comprehension of what those who worked on the Pickton file went through.
“Every time someone’s DNA was found on that farm [during a search of the Pickton property after his arrest in 2002] I was right back there and I was counting the women who went missing from August, September, 1999, from that time when I felt we were really closing in on him,” she said. “I felt very, very, very much grief-stricken.”
Det. Constable Shenher was the sole investigator looking into the disappearance of missing street prostitutes when police in July, 1998, received their first tip about Mr. Pickton. Bill Hiscox told police that a woman had told him about bags of bloody clothing and women's identification on the Pickton farm. A second tip with details about Mr. Pickton killing a woman on his farm was received in the summer of 1999.
“Information surrounding [Mr.]Pickton was by far the most compelling we had of any person of interest,” Det. Constable Shenher told the inquiry. She believed at that time the investigation into the missing women was gaining momentum.
However the RCMP in Coquitlam, which had jurisdiction for investigations related to the Pickton farm in Port Coquitlam, dismissed the 1999 tip as not credible, and the investigation stalled.
“I was shocked,” Det. Constable Shenher said, adding that she tried to understand what led the RCMP to their conclusion. “At the time, I was at a complete loss to understand what was happening.”
She was not aware of any steps taken in the fall of 1999 to investigate Mr. Pickton.
He was arrested in 2002 and convicted of second-degree murder of six women, including three who were killed in 2001. He was charged with the murder of 20 more women, including 11 who were killed after the summer of 1999. However, Crown counsel stayed those 20 additional charges.
Det. Constable Shenher said she was burned out when she transferred out of the missing persons unit in November, 2000. “I was so completely disillusioned with police work.”
She had applied and was accepted on the homicide squad but she decided not to go. She now works in Vancouver police department’s financial crime section.
She said she was shocked when Mr. Pickton was arrested in 2002. “I thought anyone but him,” she said. “If it was someone really tricky or skilled, I could handle it. But the fact that it was this person that was in my sights the whole time, just both [homicide investigator]Mark [Chernoff]and I were stunned.”