More Gruesome than Fiction

Monday, January 29, 2007

  • Sketch artist's rendition of Robert Pickton in court

    Sketch artist's rendition of Robert Pickton in court

Written by Gonzalo Moreno

This past week marked the first days of the trial of Robert Pickton. Pickton is a 57-year-old pig farmer from British Columbia who is formally accused of having killed six Vancouver area prostitutes, but is suspected to have killed at least 20 more and possibly as many as 49 in total. The trial has been unfolding with a series of increasingly gruesome revelations that would test the creativity of even the most imaginative writer of TV crime procedurals, even eliciting a human reaction from the normally robotic Prime Minister. Read ahead at your own discretion.

Pickton allegedly used a converted farm building, aptly renamed "The Piggy Palace", to hold “social events” that featured a rotating number of Eastside Vancouver prostitutes. Although the first of Pickton’s possible victims disappeared as far back as 1978, it wasn’t until a spatter of further disappearances in the mid-late 1990s that Pickton became a suspect. Interrogated for attempted murder in 1997, Pickton was let go for lack of evidence.

The RCMP nevertheless held onto its suspicions and secured a warrant to search the Pickton family farm on the (relatively) minor charge of illegal possession of firearms in 2002. Evidence encountered during the execution of that warrant led to Pickton’s arrest on two charges of murder. The judge imposed a media ban on the findings of the police, and little was known about the case for over four years, except that the total number of murder charges gradually went up to 27, making Pickton the worst serial killer in Canadian history.

The ban was lifted last Monday as Pickton began to stand trial for six of those counts; the judge felt that presenting evidence for almost 30 murders would be too onerous for the jurors, who presumably will want to get on with their lives at some point. So the RCMP decided to prosecute only six of the murders, while remaining able to prosecute the rest at a later point.

The now revealed process of investigating Pickton is like something out of an episode of CSI. The RCMP moved two gigantic earth sifters with conveyor belts to try to find physical evidence of the disappeared women. In the line of Numb3rs, another crime procedural, a “geographical profiler” had been warning about the possibility of a serial killer on the loose in the Vancouver area, given the spatial distribution of the disappearances, but was seemingly ignored by the Vancouver police.

The details of Pickton’s alleged crimes are gruesome beyond anything outside of Hannibal Lecter movies. Partial remains (specifically, hands and skulls) of three of the victims have been found scattered for safekeeping in several areas of Pickton’s property. It has been further speculated that Pickton disposed of the bodies by chopping them up and feeding them to his animals. According to a health alert issued by BC authorities in 2004, during their investigation, it is possible that Pickton mixed human meat with minced pork. Although that meat was never sold at a commercial scale, friends and visitors to the farm may have consumed such a mixture.

And then there is Pickton himself, an apparent psychopath worthy of being checked out by the BAU team of Criminal Minds. He allegedly confessed to an undercover police officer, posing as Pickton’s cellmate, that he had killed 49 women and “got sloppy” when going for “an even 50.” The first four days of the trial were a succession of interrogation videos which the prosecution says contain admission of guilt. But these videos mostly feature Pickton, whose diminished intellectual capacity is being used by his defence team, shrewdly avoids and suggests a confession with lines like “you’re making me more of a mass killer than I am” or “I won’t admit to anything, yet.”

RCMP Staff Sgt. Don Adam even expressed grudging admiration for the way Pickton played them during the interrogation. Pickton even laughed when former friends and employees incriminated him on tape.

With the trial still in its opening stages, it is safe to say the jurors will have to further endure a great number of grisly details. The trial has even elicited a response from Stephen Harper, who expressed “horror,” “outrage” and “extreme revulsion” at Pickton’s alleged crimes.

Sources:/Wikipedia/, Globe & Mail, CBC.ca, CTV.ca, National Post.

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