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Mounties failed to exhaust options in early efforts to nab Pickton, court hears

Robert William Pickton. Screen grab.

Globe files/Globe files

The RCMP could have tried several tactics to advance a case aimed at pinning murders of Vancouver sex workers on Robert Pickton years before he was arrested, the Mountie who was the first to probe the pig farmer's gruesome crimes has acknowledged.

A lawyer representing the Vancouver Police named off a list of those potential actions as he questioned now-retired Staff Sergeant Mike Connor, who concluded four days of testimony Thursday at the missing women inquiry.

"I want to suggest to you some steps that could have been taken in the investigation in August, 1999, but were not taken," said lawyer Tim Dickson, after describing the body of evidence Staff Sgt. Connor had amassed up until that point.

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Mr. Dickson said Mounties at the Coquitlam detachment could have conducted an undercover operation on Lynn Ellingsen, a sex worker who had apparently seen Mr. Pickton butchering a woman in his Port Coquitlam, B.C., farm.

Staff Sgt. Connor agreed, noting just such a plan had been in the works but was not carried out before he was promoted and transferred off the case.

Another undercover operation could have been implemented with the help of Bill Hiscox, who had told police that Mr. Pickton was storing bags of women's bloody clothing, purses and identification as "trophies."

The informant, who sourced his tips to a friend of Mr. Pickton, said the farmer even bragged about disposing bodies. Mr. Dickson said officers could have asked Mr. Hiscox to help open up Lisa Yelds, who hated police, to get it on record first-hand.

The lawyer said the investigative team could have also conducted polygraph tests on each of three other informants who offered up grisly details about the happenings on the farm.

"And there could have been more surveillance on Pickton," Mr. Dickson said.

"Agree with that one, that's correct," Staff Sgt. Connor said.

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Staff Sgt. Connor also said that had he known there was talk of bodies being disposed in barrels by Mr. Pickton, he would have dispatched a search at the Vancouver recycling plant where they were sent.

Work on the case was limited after Staff Sgt. Connor handed off the file.

Ms. Ellingsen was re-interviewed by police, new aerial photographs of the farm were obtained and Mr. Pickton was ruled out as a suspect in a separate investigation of serial murders in B.C.'s Fraser Valley, Mr. Dickson said.

Nothing became of a two-hour long interview that two RCMP constables conducted with Mr. Pickton two years before his eventual apprehension.

"You accept ... that is far too little progress in two and a half years on a file of this seriousness?" Mr. Dickson asked.

"Yes," Staff Sgt. Connor replied.

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"And you agree that the information pointing to Pickton was so compelling, and the allegations so serious, that a major sustained investigation needed to be pursued to either confirm or eliminate that information?" said Mr. Dickson.

"A sustained investigation would be required," said Staff Sgt. Connor.

"And that just wasn't done?"

"No," said Staff Sgt. Connor.

Mr. Pickton was arrested in February, 2002, when an unrelated tip about illegal guns on his property prompted a massive search that turned up personal belongings and the DNA of 33 women.

Staff Sgt. Connor had believed the man was responsible for multiple murders as far back as five years earlier.

He and a partner were the first officers on the scene of a brutal knife attack by Mr. Pickton against a sex trade worker in March, 1997, where charges of attempted murder and forcible confinement were laid but then dropped.

Even after his transfer, the officer conducted his own surveillance upwards of 30 times on the farm after midnight. He also phoned the joint RCMP-Vancouver Police task force into missing women trying to convince investigators to push Mr. Pickton up the list of suspects.

Staff Sgt. Connor has testified he felt his own evidence was too weak to trigger a search warrant or wiretap on the farm because he just couldn't "catch the break" that was required. Had he needed more resources from the force, he said he's certain he would have received them.

The inquiry is attempting to determine why the serial killer was not captured sooner.

Mr. Pickton was convicted of murdering six women, although charged with killing 26. He told a police informant placed in his jail cell that he had murdered 49.

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