NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. Vancouver's first Valentine's Day protest march through the Downtown Eastside was barely noticed. It was 1991. Community activists said prostitutes were vanishing without a trace. Some were found dead. No one seemed to care.
By the late 1990s, more than 20 women were missing. By early 2002, it was 50 women. As the numbers mounted, Vancouver police came under intense pressure to explain what they had been doing on the missing-women case.
After Robert Pickton's arrest, many looked to his first-degree murder trial for answers. A key informant and members of the joint RCMP-Vancouver Police Department Missing Women Task Force were to testify at the trial.
The evidence touched on events leading to the raid of the Pickton property. But the jury heard little about task-force activities before the raid. To add to the confusion, police testimony did not seem consistent with testimony of their key informant, leaving a huge question mark on what the police were doing in the years while women went missing.
It was clear that investigators on the Missing Women Task Force did not solve the crime. The jury heard that a rookie police officer with less than two years experience from the RCMP Coquitlam drug section was responsible for the raid of the Pickton farm. Constable Nathan Wells told the jury he obtained a court order authorizing a search of the Pickton property based largely on information provided by one of his sources, a man named Scott Chubb.
According to Constable Wells, Mr. Chubb told him on Feb. 1, 2002, that he had seen three unlicensed firearms, as well as ammunition, on the Pickton property within the previous 36 hours. The Pickton name at that time meant nothing to him, the officer said.
A computer check indicated he should contact two Vancouver police officers. He later found out the officers were working with the Missing Women Task Force. The jury was not told why Mr. Pickton had been earmarked for special attention in the police computer system.
The Vancouver officers provided no information to Constable Wells about the missing-women investigation, Constable Wells told the jury. Nevertheless, Constable Wells agreed to let task-force members tag along with officers from the Coquitlam unit, ostensibly going on a search for firearms.
But then Coquitlam officer Constable Howard Lew found a respirator with the name of Sereena Abotsway, one of the missing women. Constable John Cater, an officer from the task force who accompanied the Coquitlam officers to the Pickton property, was notified of the discovery. At the request of the Missing Women Task Force, the Coquitlam officers halted their firearms search and the task force took control of the investigation.
Mr. Chubb's account was different. He told the court he did not recall telling police in February, 2002, that he had seen guns on the farm within the previous 36 hours. He remembered saying he had seen guns on the farm a year or two earlier. He was under the impression he was providing information that would help the Missing Women Task Force go after Mr. Pickton, Mr. Chubb told the court.
THE VICTIMS: SIX WHO WERE KILLED
Sereena Abotsway: A bubbly, kind-hearted woman, Ms. Abotsway was an intravenous drug user who worked as a prostitute. She had been the victim of several violent assaults, and her two front teeth were missing.
Andrea Joesbury: Ms. Joesbury was described as a polite, quiet woman. She was in a methadone maintenance program when she disappeared, but a toxicologist says she had used cocaine possibly within 24 hours of her death. Brenda Wolfe: Ms. Wolfe was a strong woman who used cocaine, heroin and prescription drugs. Two years before she disappeared, she told a friend she was making money to support her babies by working as a prostitute. Mona Wilson: Ms. Wilson had been on a methadone maintenance program off and on before she disappeared in late 2001. She would hang around the Downtown Eastside, dressed for work as a prostitute and buying drugs. Georgina Papin: A tough, street-wise woman who could get mean when she got angry, Ms. Papin dressed nicely and smoked crack cocaine before going to work as a prostitute. Marnie Frey: Ms. Frey worked as a prostitute without a pimp. She was in contact with police 10 times in the year she disappeared. She overdosed two months after completing a rehab program.