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Week 21: Witness says she saw Pickton butchering woman

Globe and Mail Update

NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. — It was a horrific scene that shook her out of her cocaine high.

Lynn Ellingsen pushed open the barn door on Robert Pickton's farm. She said she saw a native woman hoisted up on a chain like a pig for butchering.

“Where my nails are here, that would be where her toes were,” Ms. Ellingsen told the murder trial of Mr. Pickton, her left hand held up before her eyes, her voice shaking. She said she could not see the woman's face.

“I was just staring straight in front of me. I was not looking all over. I just remember her toes, her feet right there at eye level.”

Stopping frequently to wipe away tears, Ms. Ellingsen told the court that she saw Mr. Pickton covered with blood, cutting something she could not identify.

The woman's long, black hair was on a table in the barn. Ms. Ellingsen said she saw knives with lots of blood on them. She was not sure what else she looked at. Ms. Ellingsen said she recalled an odour from something, but she did not know how to describe it.

“I was very scared, shocked. All I could think about was, how am I going to get out of here,” Ms. Ellingsen told court, during the 21st week of the trial.

Mr. Pickton is on trial for the murder of six women and has been charged with the murder of 20 more. The prosecution's theory is that Mr. Pickton murdered drug-dependent prostitutes from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and disposed of their bodies by butchering them as if they were pigs.

Ms. Ellingsen, the 95th witness since the trial began on Jan. 22, is the first person to offer an eyewitness account of Mr. Pickton allegedly butchering a woman.

During her graphic testimony, Mr. Pickton looked at Ms. Ellingsen briefly and then looked away, showing no reaction.

Ms. Ellingsen, who turned 37 one day earlier, told the court she has been a heavy user of cocaine since she was 21, although she had stopped for some periods over the years. She said she smoked cocaine as recently as two weeks earlier. She also confirmed she was involved in prostitution, welfare fraud, theft, drunk driving and an abusive long-term relationship with a boyfriend that led to her being hospitalized.

She said she met Mr. Pickton through a friend from a women's shelter. Mr. Pickton later offered her work on the farm, cleaning up his trailer and part of the property. He also offered her a place to stay - in a room in his trailer on the farm.

Ms. Ellingsen told the court that the evening she saw a woman hanging in the barn began with a visit to the Downtown Eastside. Mr. Pickton told her he wanted to “pick up a girl,” she said.

Ms. Ellingsen described the woman they picked up as having high “chipmunk cheeks” and long, black hair with straight-cut bangs. “She was a very pretty girl,” Ms. Ellingsen said, adding that the woman looked like an aboriginal person.

When they returned to the farm, Ms. Ellingsen went to her room to smoke crack cocaine, and Mr. Pickton took the prostitute to his bedroom.

Ms. Ellingsen said she heard a noise that brought her out of the room. She saw a light inside the barn, which was adjacent to Mr. Pickton's trailer. She opened the door. “I saw this body hanging,” she said. She remained silent for several seconds and then continued.

“Willie pulled me inside behind the door and walked me over to the table and he made me look,” she said, referring to Mr. Pickton by a diminutive for his middle name, William. Mr. Pickton told her if she was to say anything, she would be right beside the woman, Ms. Ellingsen said.

Ms. Ellingsen said the woman was the person she and Mr. Pickton had picked up earlier that evening. She told Mr. Pickton that she would not say a word, that she just wanted money for more drugs.

Ms. Ellingsen said Mr. Pickton went back to the trailer to phone someone for drugs. He then put her in a cab and told her to come straight back. She ran out of the cab shortly after it left the farm, she told the court.

When she first tried to tell someone what she saw, no one believed her, she said. Police questioned her, but she lied. Addicts and cops do not get along, she told the court.

Ms. Ellingsen also said she was under the influence of cocaine when she heard the noise that took her out of her room. But she was not hallucinating in the barn. “That was enough to straighten me right out,” she told court.

But during her second day on the stand (check this fact) Ms. Ellingsen fought hard to keep her composure as she was questioned repeatedly on exactly when she saw the woman hanging in the slaughterhouse.

Ms. Ellingsen recalled she had been living on the farm at the time of the alleged incident and had moved out immediately afterward.

But despite persistent questioning by prosecutor Mike Petrie and defence lawyer Richard Brooks, Ms. Ellingsen would not be pinned down to any dates. She agreed the incident occurred some time in 1999. She had no idea when.

Ms. Ellingsen, a long-time alcohol and crack-cocaine addict, said time did not mean anything and she could not keep track of dates.

The date could be crucial to determine if Mr. Pickton could be linked to one of the women he is accused of murdering.

The jury has heard that two of the six women disappeared in 1999. Brenda Wolfe's final contacts with her welfare worker, a doctor and a pharmacist were in February, 1999. Georgia Papin vanished after walking out of a hospital on March 21, 1999. The remains of the women were discovered on the Pickton farm in 2002.

Frequently testifying through tears, Ms. Ellingsen said she could not recall dates. The lawyers persisted.

In response to Mr. Petrie's questions, Ms. Ellingsen said she was not living on the Pickton farm in August, 1999, when she gave the first of 16 statements to police. She said she could not recall how long after she had left the farm that police came to speak to her. She had been living at the farm for a few months before the alleged incident. But she also could not recall when she moved in.

Mr. Petrie tried to refresh her memory by showing her a rental agreement that stated she was living at Mr. Pickton's farm as of April 1, 1999.

The document did not help. Ms. Ellingsen said the agreement was drawn up as part of a scheme to defraud welfare.

Ms. Ellingsen pointedly looked away from Mr. Brooks as he asked his questions. She paused for several seconds before responding.

Occasionally, she stopped to take deep breaths, closed her eyes and gasped for air. At one point, she asked the judge to adjourn court for a brief break to allow her to collect her thoughts.

Mr. Brooks asked whether she had any idea of when she moved onto the Pickton farm.

“I know it was not winter and it was not really hot. It was fairly warm,” she said, adding that she was certain the year was 1999.

Mr. Brooks tried to clarify why the rental agreement could not be used to verify she was living on the farm in April, 1999.

“That does not necessarily mean I lived there at that time,” Ms. Ellingsen said. She often had people sign documents saying she was residing somewhere so she could meet welfare requirements and receive a cheque, she said. “Yes, I did defraud welfare,” Ms. Ellingsen said.

Mr. Brooks showed her an ambulance crew report, dated March 29, 1999. The ambulance came to Mr. Pickton's farm for Ms. Ellingsen.

“Patient claimed she did a line of cocaine and feels nauseated,” the report stated. Ms. Ellingsen refused their service, the court was told.

Ms. Ellingsen testified she did not remember the incident. Mr. Brooks asked her if she was at the farm when the ambulance came. “I guess so, but that does not mean I was living there,” she said.

Mr. Brooks referred Ms. Ellingsen to a statement she gave to police on Feb. 24, 2002, two days after Mr. Pickton was arrested. She told police at that time that she was living on the farm for three or four months in the same year that the alleged incident occurred, and moved into another house in July.

Ms. Ellingsen said she did not always tell the truth in statements to police. “I'm saying that at that point in time, I was scared ... I was scared about what was happening.”

She agreed with Mr. Brooks that she knew police were investigating the missing women and the investigation was extremely important when they came to her in 1999. She was using drugs to escape what she had experienced, she said.

On her third day of testimony, Ms. Ellingson confirmed she concocted an account of a violent incident, after smoking crack cocaine, that led to charges of assault being laid against her boyfriend.

She recanted every aspect of her story after her boyfriend had been sitting for two months in jail, waiting to go on trial, the jurors heard.

Responding to a vigorous attack on her credibility, Ms. Ellingsen, also confirmed she was arrested for conspiracy to commit 11 first-degree murders in February, 2002, before Mr. Pickton was arrested. She had cocaine and marijuana on her. She was released without charges being laid for the murders or for possession of cocaine or marijuana, she said.

Ms. Ellingsen also told the court she committed welfare fraud, used stolen credit cards to make purchases and “ripped off” men after arranging online to meet them for sex. She was never charged as a result of those activities, the jury was told.

Ms. Ellingsen sat in the witness box with her head in her hands looking resigned, as if she knew what was coming next, when Mr. Brooks began to question her about a report she made to police earlier this year.

Several jurors had their eyes on Mr. Brooks, appearing sympathetic to Ms. Ellingsen, as he read out a graphic account of a domestic violence incident.

Ms. Ellingsen told police her boyfriend had thrown her around, choked her and punched her in the mouth, Mr. Brooks said. Bleeding and crying, Ms. Ellingsen demanded to be taken to the hospital. They got into the car but he drove in the opposite direction. He tried to open the door of the car, while they were moving, as if he was going to throw her out of the car, according to the police report of her account.

Her boyfriend grabbed her neck and pulled her hair. When he punched her, it hurt, the police report stated. He later took off. When he returned, he said the incident was a result of “the booze,” police quoted Ms. Ellingsen as saying.

Her boyfriend was arrested and charged with assault causing bodily harm and uttering threats.

But every aspect of her account to police was a fabrication. Moments before walking into the courtroom for her boyfriend's trial on June 12, Ms. Ellingsen told the Crown prosecutor that her account of violence came out of a cocaine-induced psychosis and never happened, Mr. Brooks said, reading from the Crown counsel report.

Ms. Ellingsen told the court she asked for the charges to be dropped if he agreed to continue his involvement in drug- and alcohol-treatment programs.

In response to persistent questioning from Mr. Brooks, she confirmed she was using crack cocaine at the time of filing the complaint with police. She agreed that she told the Crown prosecutor that she had kicked her boyfriend in the groin and he never hurt her. She told the Crown prosecutor that he never grabbed, choked or kicked her, she said.

The jurors also heard yesterday that Ms. Ellingsen, 37, had numerous contacts with police over the past 15 years, after incidents involving violence and threats of violence.

The list of more than 25 instances included reports of domestic disturbances, stealing a vehicle, driving while intoxicated, threatening others with violence and assault while intoxicated.

She did not recall most of the incidents.

Court also heard the RCMP bought two new outfits and paid for some dental work for Ms. Ellingson shortly before she stepped into the witness box.

“I had nothing appropriate to wear in court,” said Ms. Ellingsen who was dressed in white slacks and a black blouse.

Throughout a day of antagonistic exchanges with Mr. Brooks, Ms. Ellingsen told the court the RCMP paid numerous bills for her since the spring of 2002.

The money went for rent, utility and phone bills, a security deposit, moving expenses, hotel bills and bus tickets to and from the northern B.C. city of Vanderhoof, where she lived for about two years. She did not remember many of the details. But she agreed with Mr. Brooks that she had received $16,264.

During her fourth day in the witness box, Ms. Ellingsen was often teary. On several occasions, she said she did not understand the questions and asked for more time before responding.

She repeatedly had difficulty remembering dates and times. “A lot of things in my life I try to block out,” she said.

“Like the RCMP paying your rent and hydro bills,” Mr. Brooks shot back. When she stumbled over events in 2003, Mr. Brooks sarcastically questioned how she could recollect events in 1999.

“There are some things you just don't forget,” Ms. Ellingsen said. “I'll never forget this through my whole life.”

Ms. Ellingsen also told the court she called police earlier this year after finding out that another witness in the trial was receiving money for rent and a treatment program.

Mr. Brooks suggested she told police she would make herself unavailable to testify if she did not receive more money. “I'm not sure how I said it,” Ms. Ellingsen said. Mr. Brooks tried to clarify her response. “I'm not saying I didn't say it to them,” Ms. Ellingsen said.

She did not recall threatening to go to the media if she did not get more money from the police. But she confirmed she had two meetings this spring with journalists. She met with Stevie Cameron, author of The Pickton File, a book about events leading up to the trial that was released this month. She also met with a group that included people she identified as Bilbo, Jonathan Woodward, a cameraman and “a voice guy.” The meetings were arranged by Elaine Allan, a woman who testified earlier during the trial.

Ms. Ellingsen vehemently rejected the suggestion that she was trying to sell her story to the media. “No one ever suggested I could make money out of this,” she said. “I'm up here to do what is the right thing to do.”

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