Skip to main content

Artist's sketch shows accused serial killer Robert Pickton taking notes as Judge James Williams instructs the jury at Pickton's murder trial in New Westminster, B.C., Nov. 30, 2007.LYLE STAFFORD

The story of the lone survivor of Robert Pickton's grisly killing spree can now be told.

The woman, whose name remains protected by a publication ban, says Mr. Pickton tried to kill her at his pig farm in Port Coquitlam, B.C. With a handcuff clamped around her wrist, she slashed him with a knife, then ran away, naked and profusely bleeding.

Both she and Mr. Pickton ended up at the same hospital for treatment. He was charged with attempted murder but the case didn't come to trial, and police never thought to do forensics tests on his clothing. If they had, they would have directly linked him with two other prostitutes who had gone missing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Over the next five years, at least another 20 women would die before Mr. Pickton was finally arrested as a serial killer in February, 2002.

Last week, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld Mr. Pickton's conviction for second-degree murder in the deaths of six women from the Downtown Eastside who worked as prostitutes and struggled with drug addictions. On Wednesday, charges were stayed in the deaths of 20 other women linked to Mr. Pickton. Mr. Justice James Williams removed most of the publication ban; he allowed the surviving woman's story to be published, but without identifying her.

The woman told her story at a preliminary hearing, a process to determine if the evidence is sufficient for a trial. Her testimony was submitted at a voir dire, a court process during the trial to decide whether evidence should be heard by the jury.

The woman, 30, had been addicted to narcotics for many years before she met Mr. Pickton late in the evening of March 22, 1997. She supported her drug habit by working as a prostitute in the Downtown Eastside, as well as selling drugs, shoplifting, engaging in credit card fraud and working on a fishing boat, the court was told.

She offered to perform fellatio for $40. Mr. Pickton agreed to pay $100 if she came to his farm. She got in his red pickup truck, and they drove to Port Coquitlam and headed to a trailer. He gave her five $20 bills, the court heard. After having sex with him, she went into the bathroom to inject a mixture of heroin and cocaine. She told police she missed the vein and did not get high.

She asked for a phonebook. As she was looking up a number, she felt Mr. Pickton hovering over her. He took her left hand, began caressing it and then put a handcuff on her left wrist, the court heard.

Two versions of events emerged in court. After his arrest, Mr. Pickton told a cellmate, who turned out to be an undercover cop, that he had $3,400 on him and the woman wanted it. She slashed his chest, cut his throat and took the top of his tongue off, Mr. Pickton said.

"Did you try to cut his jugular?" Mr. Pickton's lawyer, Peter Ritchie, asked during cross-examination.

"I didn't try," the woman replied dryly. "I did."

The woman told police a few days after the incident that they began fighting after he put the handcuff on her wrist. She picked up a kitchen knife and managed to cut his throat. He hit her with a stick. She blacked out. When she regained consciousness, the two of them were outside of the trailer.

She said Mr. Pickton was overtop of her. She had the knife in her right hand and was begging him to let her go. His weight was on her. She thought he was losing consciousness. She slid out from under him and staggered down the driveway; a passerby eventually called for help.

She was taken by ambulance to Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster. She told police in the ambulance that Mr. Pickton had tried to kill her, the court was told. She had two stab wounds to her abdomen, a stab wound to her right side, which punctured her lung, and a knife wound to her left hand. By the time she began receiving medical treatment, she had lost nearly three litres of blood.

The handcuff remained on her left wrist.

Mr. Pickton showed up at Port Moody's Eagle Ridge Hospital around the same time. He had a large cut on his neck and on his left arm. Mr. Pickton told police he had been with a hitchhiker who went crazy when they got to his home. He tried to get her under control by putting a handcuff on her, he told police.

When Mr. Pickton was taken to Royal Columbian, an orderly gave police two bags with Mr. Pickton's rubber boots and clothing. The woman had been taken for surgery. When a doctor wanted to remove the handcuff, police looked through Mr. Pickton's clothing and found a key to the handcuff. The key was taken to the operating room.

Mr. Pickton received emergency medical treatment for multiple stab wounds. By the following day, he refused to speak with police without his lawyer. The woman spoke to police on March 27, which led to police arresting Mr. Pickton on April 8 for attempted murder, assault with a weapon and forcible confinement. He was released on $2,000 bail.

The charges were stayed on Jan. 27, 1998 and wiped off the books a year later. Mr. Ritchie, the defence lawyer, told the court that Crown counsel Randi Connor had indicated to police the case did not proceed because the woman was using drugs at the time of the trial and was not in good enough shape to testify.

Mr. Pickton told his cellmate after he was arrested that the charges were dropped after he told his side of the story during the pretrial process. "You see, my testimony was true, hers wasn't," Mr. Pickton said.

His clothing, however, remained with the police. Police working on the Pickton case sent it for DNA testing in June, 2004. DNA of missing woman Andrea Borhaven was found on the rubber boots; DNA of Cara Ellis, another missing woman, was on the nylon jacket.

Mr. Pickton's defence team tried to have the clothing excluded from the trial, arguing that police violated his constitutional rights on three occasions. In a 36-page decision released July 14, 2006, Judge Williams agreed. He ruled that police violated Mr. Pickton's rights when they seized the clothing, when they kept the clothing after Mr. Pickton left the hospital, and when they handed it over to the Missing Women Task Force investigating the murders.

But the evidence was too important to the case to keep it away from the jury, Judge Williams decided. "The impugned evidence provides a powerful circumstantial connection between Mr. Pickton and two of the women with whose murder he is charged," the judge stated in his ruling.

However, the judge later decided to split the 26 charges against Mr. Pickton into two trials of six and 20, and Ms. Borhaven and Ms. Ellis were not among the first six victims.

Interact with The Globe