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Week 5: Grisly discoveries outlined in court

Police testify they found decomposing, bisected skulls of several women on the Pickton farm

From Tuesday's Globe and Mail

NEW WESTMINSTER , B.C. — Crown attorney Mike Petrie warned Mr. Justice James Williams of B.C. Supreme Court that the evidence would be graphic.

Court heard police found the decomposing, bisected skull of Mona Wilson stuffed in a garbage pail, along with her hands and feet in a slaughterhouse on Robert Pickton's farm.

Two police officers scouring Mr. Pickton's Port Coquitlam property in 2002 spotted the pail near a pigpen, Constable Daryl Hetherington said. When they peered inside, they saw a human skull cut in half, the officer said, as jurors gazed at the police photograph of the exhibit.

Constable Hetherington was testifying for the second day in the fifth week of Mr. Pickton's first degree murder trial. Court heard that all told, the veteran officer had seized more than 3,000 exhibits from Mr. Pickton's trailer and the farm's many outbuildings over a 22-month period.

All these items were meticulously tagged, photographed and sent to a lab for testing. Constable Hetherington described page after page of the seized items. The exhibits ranged in nature from sinister (weapons and drug paraphernalia) to mundane (dozens of socks, gloves and shirts).

An autopsy performed later confirmed that the body parts were Ms. Wilson's, one of six women Mr. Pickton is accused of killing. Ms. Wilson was 26 when she vanished from Vancouver's grim Downtown Eastside neighbourhood in November of 2001. She had worked as a prostitute and was addicted to drugs.

"We can see from this, and without . . . belabouring it too much, these appear again to be decomposing human remains?" Mr. Petrie asked.

"Yes, that's correct," Constable Hetherington replied.

"And that is the location that you found them, inside of this green garbage pail. Is that correct?"

"Yes."

"What we can see there are clearly two halves of a human skull," Mr. Petrie continued.

Constable Hetherington agreed.

There were other human remains in the pail, too: hands and feet, the husky-voiced officer testified.

During the first day Constable Hetherington was in the witness box at the trial she broke down in tears when she described a livestock trailer filled with malnourished pigs she found during her search at the decrepit property east of Vancouver.

But Constable Hetherington, a 26-year-police veteran, maintained her composure as she described the following day how police searchers discovered the human body parts.

The pail's contents were initially obscured because one pail was stuffed inside the other. It was only when searchers lifted the first pail that they discovered Ms. Wilson's remains, the court heard.

Under cross-examination by defence counsel Adrian Brooks, Constable Hetherington said many police searchers who descended on the Pickton property in early February of 2002 were sickened by the third day and asked for face masks.

"A number of us were feeling ill," she said.

By the time police found the pail, the remains had begun to liquefy, Constable Hetherington said. Police used a strainer to separate the liquid remains from the skull and limbs. The entire contents were sent to a forensic lab for an autopsy.

The officer did not specify when police found Ms. Wilson's remains, but Mr. Pickton's lawyers have agreed that they were discovered on June 4, 2002, in a garbage pail on Mr. Pickton's property.

Mr. Pickton is standing trial in the slayings of Ms. Wilson, Sereena Abotsway, Andrea Joesbury, Georgina Papin, Brenda Wolfe and Marnie Frey. He faces another 20 murder counts, for which he will be tried at a later date.

Court also heard that the bisected skulls of two Vancouver prostitutes were found by an RCMP officer worried about the impact of a power outage and a very strong odour coming from a freezer on Mr. Pickton's farm.

RCMP Sergeant Tim Sleigh spoke calmly and with a matter-of-fact tone as he told the court about lifting the lid of a large freezer, with another officer shining a flashlight into the dark cavity.

"I saw a human head, hair, an ear, skin that was purpling and what I believe [was] a jaw," Sgt. Sleigh said. He believed he was looking at a human head in profile, in a plain white five-gallon bucket, he testified.

As Sgt. Sleigh spoke, the seats in the courtroom set aside for family members were empty. Several jury members leaned forward and looked troubled. Mr. Pickton looked down at a note pad on his lap as Sgt. Sleigh continued.

The head had been cut vertically in two and was with two hands and two feet in a white bucket, Sgt. Sleigh said. The flesh was in an advanced stage of decomposition, and the only clues to identity were through X-rays.

The officer said he later discovered the human remains were those of Ms. Joesbury, a 22-year-old woman reported missing 10 months earlier.

Sgt. Sleigh later took a closer look at the contents of a second bucket in the freezer.

It also contained a human head cut vertically in half, two hands and two feet, but not as decomposed.

Jury members each had their own black binders of photographs and followed along as Sgt. Sleigh described his gruesome discoveries. Mr. Pickton, who did not have copies of the photographs, leaned back in the prisoner's box and appeared to be looking off into the distance.

Sgt. Sleigh told the court he became aware after an autopsy the next day that the human remains were those of Ms. Abotsway, who was reported missing 10 weeks after Ms. Joesbury.

Court also heard that four asthma inhalers — all belonging to Ms. Abotsway — were found in a trash can by police who stormed Mr. Pickton's farm.

The inhalers all bore Ms. Abotsway's name and were dated July, 2001, a month before she disappeared from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside streets, an RCMP officer testified yesterday.

A team of police searchers who swarmed Mr. Pickton's seven-hectare suburban Vancouver property found the breathing aids, said Corporal Stephen Vrolyk, who spent two months searching the farm in early February, 2002.

The officer found the inhalers on Feb. 15, 2002, while poring through the contents of a trash can outside Mr. Pickton's trailer. They were wrapped in papers from a Vancouver social agency, the officer said.

"The name on the label for all four inhalers was Sereena Abotsway," Cpl. Vrolyk said.

Ten days earlier, police had found another of Ms. Abotsway's inhalers inside Mr. Pickton's trailer while they were conducting a routine firearms search of the farm.

Constable Hetherington also testified that police found the personal papers of two women who were once arrested in connection with the deaths of the missing women.

Police who searched Mr. Pickton's trailer seized receipts for hotel payments made out to Dinah Taylor, as well as her welfare stubs, she told jurors. Some of the papers were addressed to Ms. Taylor at "the trailer" at 953 Dominion Ave., in Port Coquitlam, the Pickton farm's address.

Under cross-examination by defence lawyer Mr. Brooks, the officer rhymed off a list of some of the evidence she seized during her 22 months on the farm.

Mr. Brooks zeroed in on items that belonged to Ms. Taylor and Lynn Ellingsen, another former suspect in the case.

The defence lawyer also queried Constable Hetherington about items taken from the home of David Pickton, the suspect's younger brother.

Constable Hetherington said two receipts from Vancouver's Roosevelt Hotel in the Downtown Eastside were also among the papers recovered from Mr. Pickton's trailer.

The skid-row hotel was the last known address for Ms. Joesbury.

Income tax forms from 1998 addressed to Ms. Ellingsen were found in a garage loft on the farm, the constable noted.

Inside David Pickton's house, Constable Hetherington said, police seized a dildo along with a tube of whipped cream. A massager, taken from under a mattress, was also seized.

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