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For years, they were the resident town characters, eccentric party animals with a flair for living by their own rules, from throwing wild, illegal parties at a house dubbed Piggy's Palace to doling out time and money for charitable causes.

Their reputations might have stayed that way had police not descended on their pig farm this week with a warrant to search the dilapidated property.

The RCMP unit that came knocking on their door was a task force probing the disappearance of 50 women who have vanished from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside since 1983.

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Police stress that Robert William Pickton and his older brother, David, aren't suspects. But the massive police presence on their property has prompted a frenzy of interest in the pair, a colourful duo with a penchant for biker clothing and who have amassed millions of dollars in real estate.

The Picktons own several properties in Port Coquitlam and Maple Ridge and operate a demolition business in Surrey.

Haroon Rashid, who runs a truck-parts shop near the Picktons' Surrey business, said David is a hard worker, whose bearded, unkempt appearance belies a savvy businessman. "He may look like a biker dude, but he's a smart man."

One of the Pickton properties, close to the pig farm, was a party headquarters, where crowds of up to 80 people gathered and food and liquor were sold. The brothers called themselves the Piggy's Palace Good Times Society and sold tickets and advertised their soirees in the papers.

Eventually, the city cracked down, arguing that the brothers were unlawfully selling liquor at an unlicenced establishment.

But the brothers had a darker side. Both have had scrapes with the law. In 1997, Robert Pickton was charged with attempted murder after he allegedly stabbed a Vancouver prostitute, but the charges were dropped.

A local newspaper, quoting unnamed police sources, said Vancouver Police took another look at Robert Pickton in 1998.

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It said a woman who had been in a trailer of Mr. Pickton's had told police she had seen bags of bloodied women's clothing, as well as identification.

A Vancouver newspaper reported yesterday that Coquitlam RCMP discovered identification of two of the 50 missing women in their search of the Pickton property Tuesday night.

The local CTV station said the item that prompted police to obtain a second warrant is a prescription asthma inhaler with the name of one of the missing women on it.

Police have refused to confirm those reports and yesterday remained tight-lipped about the search.

They insist they are interested solely in the property -- not in the Picktons.

However, they have charged Robert Pickton with three firearms offences, stemming from their search warrant this week. He is to appear in court this month.

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In addition, an unidentified man and woman have told CTV news that the Pickton parties were drug-infested affairs that often ended in bloody fights.

"I've actually had to take friends to emergency rooms because they've gone to the booze can after we left the bar," the woman said. "My one friend had looked at a girl wrong and ended up getting beat up so bad. The bouncers picked him up and were beating on him more as they were throwing him out the door, throwing him on the pavement outside."

The property is described by police as a pig farm, but the house and adjacent yard are littered with mounds of gravel, chunks of concrete and dilapidated vehicles. Neighbours say the property used to be much larger but the family gradually sold off pieces to housing developers.

The brothers inherited the farm from their parents. A sister, who lives in Vancouver's west side, is listed as a co-owner.

On the front gate hangs a sign that warns that a pit bull with AIDS is guarding the property.

Port Coquitlam resident Joyce Lachance, who lives near the Picktons' farm, said she hopes police release information soon on their farm investigation.

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"I just want the police to get on with it," Ms. LaChance said. "If he is the one, okay, and if not, then just let him be."

However, other long-time residents say the Picktons are a friendly, hardworking duo who gave generously to the community.

When the city tried to shut down their parties, the brothers argued that the events are fundraisers for various causes in the community.

Neither of the brothers is married. David has two grown children.

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