NEW WESTMINISTER, B.C. Robert Pickton has a big nose, thin lips and a bald dome fringed with straggly, greasy hair. His puffy skin is prison-pallor pink. He walks hesitantly with his head bowed, like an insecure child. He does not look much like a ladies' man.
Also, his reputation precedes him. You cannot watch him walk into the courtroom without thinking, here is the 58-year-old bachelor known internationally as the pig farmer on trial for the murder of drug-addicted prostitutes. He has been portrayed in court as a diabolical serial killer who stooped to a level of human depravity previously unknown in Canada.
Yet several women stepped into the witness box and told the jury without qualifications that they liked being with the Port Coquitlam farmer.
How could that be? The jury did not hear testimony from experts about relationships. None of the evidence dealt with Mr. Pickton's connection to the six women he is accused of killing. But the jury heard about Mr. Pickton and his relationship with his mother, his sister and women he met throughout his life.
Drug addicts who work as prostitutes testified that Mr. Pickton brought them to his bedroom and let them fall asleep without having sex with him. A woman named Dinah Taylor moved into his trailer to heal from an automobile accident. The jury was told his home was considered to be a safer place than Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
Gina Houston, a close friend of Mr. Pickton, brought her children to ride horses on the farm. She said Mr. Pickton once wanted to marry her. Ingrid Felhauer would hang out at the barn for five or six hours at a time, just chatting to Mr. Pickton while he worked.
“I liked Willie's company,” Ms. Felhauer said, referring to the farmer by his nickname.
The jury was told Mr. Pickton lived in his parents' farmhouse until they died and stayed there afterward with his brother Dave for another 15 years. He never married and he picked up women who sold sex on the street on Vancouver's skid row.
Mr. Pickton talked about his relationship with his mother when police interrogated him after his arrest on Feb. 22, 2002.
Despite aggressive questioning, he remained mostly polite and deferential. He was 52 years old at the time and his mother had died more than 20 years earlier.
Mr. Pickton said his mother was the person he most respected in the world and he missed her. They were like “two peas in a pod,” he said. Asked what he liked about her, he said she had a strong mind and strong willpower.
He did not have much to say about his father. “He was always working,” Mr. Pickton said, adding that he felt closer to his mother. He said his father died “of old age,” but his mother died of cancer that had spread throughout her body.
He appeared indifferent to his younger sister Linda. She was sent away for school and then went on to university. He was never close with her, Mr. Pickton said. “She does want she wants. I do not have a problem with that. She never worked on the farm,” he said.
In a video of the police interrogation played in the courtroom, the jury heard Mr. Pickton say he was engaged to a woman named Connie Anderson when he was 24 years old. But she could not leave her job in Kansas City and he would not leave the farm in B.C. She is married now and has kids, he said, as if he maintained contact with her over the years.
Tanya Carr told the jury she shared a bedroom in a motor home with Mr. Pickton from the spring of 1994 to September, 1995. She slept on the bed on the right; he slept on the bed on the left. She had known Mr. Pickton all her life and had an uncle-niece relationship, she said, and had moved in after a relationship with a boyfriend ended. She “felt close” to Mr. Pickton, Ms. Carr said. He treated her well.
She never asked him about his sexual habits. But if she saw Mr. Pickton had a problem, she would approach him about it, Ms. Carr told the jury. If she had seen him with prostitutes, she would have confronted him about it, she said.
The jury heard about Mr. Pickton's contact with prostitutes beginning in 1997. He picked up Wendy Eistetter, a narcotics addict, on a street corner in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside on March 22, 1997. He offered her $100 for sex and they had consensual intercourse in his trailer on the farm.
Lynn Ellingsen, a key prosecution witness, slept on a couch in Mr. Pickton's trailer for some months in 1999. She testified she saw a woman's body hanging from a hook in the slaughterhouse and Mr. Pickton standing next to the body, covered in blood. Her credibility as a witness is an issue for the jury to decide.
Ms. Ellingsen told the jury she moved into Mr. Pickton's trailer to escape a violent boyfriend. She lived there in exchange for light housekeeping duties. A cocaine addict, she said Mr. Pickton gave her money for drugs and arranged for her to get them from a dealer.
Mr. Pickton picked up prostitute Maria Isidoro in 1999 and brought her back to the farm, where she charged him $100 for fellatio. Afterward, he gave her an extra $50 and drove her back to East Vancouver. The jury heard from two more women the farmer brought to the property in 2001. They slept over in his trailer but did not have sex with him.
During the police interrogation after his arrest, Inspector Don Adam set out the apparent contradiction in Mr. Pickton's behaviour. “You have done good and done horrible things, and we just want to understand. We do not want to make you into a monster that you are not,” the officer said.
“People do not understand how Pickton could be good with kids … nice to his niece, well thought of. And then there is this dark side of him,” Insp. Adam said. “You could help people understand that.”