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Week 7: Pickton tells childhood stories to woman in audio letter

Court listened as the then 42-year-old described his life in school, on the farm and described his plans for the future

Globe and Mail Update

NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. — Robert Pickton was wearing a big smile as he heard a tape recording he sent in 1991 to a woman called Victoria.

The 55-minute audio letter, labelled "Bob's memoirs," was found during the massive search of his family farm in 2002. Mr. Pickton made the recording 11 years before he was charged with the murder of six prostitutes from Vancouver's skid row.

The recording was played for the jury at Mr. Pickton's first-degree murder trial during its seventh week. Most jurors bent over a transcript of the recording as they listened to his words. One juror watched Mr. Pickton closely as the audio was played.

Mr. Pickton, 57, is on trial for murder in connection with the deaths of six prostitutes from Vancouver's skid row: Mona Wilson, Andrea Joesbury, Georgina Papin, Brenda Wolfe, Marnie Frey and Sereena Abotsway.

But he was 42 when Mr. Pickton made the tape. He sounds as if he is speaking directly to Victoria, who is somewhere outside Canada. Her last name remains unknown, the court was told.

Mr. Pickton introduces himself on the tape as Bob Pickton. He tells Victoria about his family, experiences while growing up, and his work. He describes himself as hard-working and extremely competent as a butcher, auto mechanic, truck driver and house builder. He says he was offered a job as a model when he was 24 years old.

In the tape recording from 1991, Mr. Pickton's accounts of several experiences in his life are similar to stories he told police 11 years later and which the court has heard in previous weeks.

On the tape Mr. Pickton sounds relaxed, articulate, good-natured and full of promise. He mingles simple homespun wisdom — "You do not own land; the land owns you," he says — with tales from his life, such as the time he tore off some new clothes because they were stiffly starched.

At times, he becomes philosophical, verging on fatalistic. He reflects on the death of his mother. She went into the hospital with cancer and died two months later, Mr. Pickton says on the tape recording. "That's life. Life comes, life goes. Here today, gone tomorrow."

He talks about the deaths of friends. "There are so many life experiences where you see and go through, friends dying here and all of a sudden you have new friends over here," he says. "Life has no ending. It comes, it goes."

Mr. Pickton also recounts a pivotal moment while growing up. He had bought a calf that he thought he would have for his whole life. Three weeks later, he came home to find the calf had been butchered. "Was I mad," he says. "I could not talk to anyone for about three weeks."

He was given an extra $20 for the calf. "That was the name of the game, buy it today and sell it tomorrow," he says. He continued to be upset until he realized that was how the world operated. "That's life," he says. "We're only here for so long. When your time is over, your time is over, and let someone else take over."

Mr. Pickton tells Victoria about his family. Court had heard he has a brother, Dave, and a sister, Linda. In the tape, Mr. Pickton refers cryptically to a fourth member of the family. "Now, there is only three, but accidents do happen," he says, without elaborating.

He also says that Dave is splitting up with his girlfriend after eight years. Both Dave and his girlfriend had children from previous relationships.

Mr. Pickton recalls growing up in poverty with family members always looking for money. They worked hard, he says. "It was not too bad. It was a nice life, but it was a hard life," he says, adding there was always food on the table.

He tells Victoria that he went to school until 1964, when he began training as a meat cutter. He stayed with the training for 6 years and then returned to the farm to look after the pigs. He worked for B.C. Hydro for 4 years, beginning in 1975, while continuing to work on the farm. He sold off all his pigs in 1980 after a downturn in the market, and started working as a truck driver.

He prided himself on the mechanical expertise he developed. "I never took training, I did it myself," he said.

He was advised to get training at a body shop, but he wanted to learn on his own. "I'm not here to follow in somebody else's footsteps. I want to make my own mistakes," Mr. Pickton says. "It's more costly . . . but you learn by your mistakes."

He talks about being involved at the time of the tape recording in rebuilding vehicles and butchering pigs for barbecues.

Mr. Pickton also tells Victoria he is eager to leave the family farm after living there for 27 or 28 years. "I'm going to start a whole new life in a whole new place and start everything over. It's a big step but not a big step, really. I've been on my own for a long time."

The taped letter was one of thousands of items police found while searching the Pickton farm. During previous weeks of testimony defence lawyers pointed repeatedly to issues surrounding whether police and forensic officers had contaminated evidence.

The subject came up again in the trial's seventh week during the testimony of Constable Rodney Deighton, who had been a member of the Vancouver Police Department for more than 20 years, working in the forensic identification unit since 1999.

Constable Deighton was involved with the Pickton investigation on three occasions.

Defence lawyer Patrick McGowan told Constable Deighton that his DNA profile was discovered on three pieces of plastic found on a significant piece of evidence, a revolver on which a sex toy was fastened.

"It's the first I've heard of that," Constable Deighton told court.

Mr. McGowan said Constable Deighton had also contaminated another exhibit — a hair clipper, associated accessories and a plastic bag.

"I haven't been told of that," the officer said, adding that he had received a package of material the week before to review prior to testifying.

"This is all news to me."

Earlier, Staff Sergeant Ron Hundt confirmed that security was breached during the police investigation of a second Pickton property, located about one kilometre from the farm.

The police were on the property from April, 2002, to late October, 2002. While they were on the site, a condom was placed on the roof of a vehicle on the property, the court was told.

Staff Sgt. Hundt agreed with defence lawyer Adrian Brooks that the incident was an issue of significant concern to investigators.

The officer also agreed that those who were interfering with police efforts to collect evidence could be charged with a criminal offence.

Mr. Brooks said police did not know if any evidence at the property had been lost.

"Correct," Staff Sgt. Hundt replied.

Staff Sgt. Hundt also confirmed that in excess of 2,300 exhibits had been seized on the site by September, 2002.

However, he said he was not aware that only 151 exhibits were sent to the police lab for forensic testing.

Mr. Brooks said a number of exhibits were returned to their owners or destroyed. Staff Sgt. Hundt said he was not aware of that.

Court also heard many articles found during the search of Mr. Pickton's house trailer were thrown away. A lot of debris in the trailer was garbage, not worth seizing as exhibits, RCMP Corporal Lisa Stuart testified.

The search site included an unofficial nightclub called Piggy's Palace, a building referred to as Willie's house that was under construction, a smokehouse, some additional buildings, piles of construction debris, demolition materials and 52 vehicles.

Staff Sgt. Hundt confirmed that by June 10, 2002, searchers had found women's clothing, shoes, hairbrushes, hair and open condoms in vehicles on the property.

They had also discovered some personal identification documents of a woman named Dinah Taylor, who was considered at that time a significant person in the investigation, Mr. Brooks told the court, reading from a police report.

Items found on the site also included a leather strap with a loop, ladies undergarments, makeup and a homemade crack pipe, Mr. Brooks said.

Court also heard during the seventh week that Mr. Pickton met regularly with two members of the clergy and enrolled in an agriculture course while waiting for the start of his trial.

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