It began as so many of these sensational cases do – with almost no one noticing.
The Robert Pickton trial is a lot like a snowball falling downhill. It doesn’t seem like much when it starts, but by the time it reaches the bottom, it’s become an avalanche.
While the families of the victims are expressing hope that their long ordeal has finally reached a courtroom, they remain infuriated that police ignored their concerns about missing loved ones for almost two decades.
At first, authorities admitted they were baffled. “In the case of these missing women, we don’t have a suspect, in fact, we don’t have a crime,” Const. Anne Drennan of Vancouver Police agreed in April 1999.
Police kept up the hunt, if reluctantly. “We don’t have any crime scenes,” Const. Sarah Bloor related two years later. “We don’t have any leads like crime scenes or anything like that to help us uncover more facts.”
They finally formed a task force as it became clear a serial killer may have been walking the seedy streets of East Vancouver. By then, 31 women had simply vanished.
But authorities obviously found what they were looking for. On February 6, 2002, dozens of police officers armed with search warrants for firearms offences raided a pig farm in the suburb of Port Coquitlam.
Two weeks later, on February 22nd, one of the property’s co-owners, Robert William Pickton, was officially charged with the murders of Sereena Abotsway and Mona Wilson. They would be the first named in what would balloon into the biggest murder case in Canadian history.
They would not be the last.
By October 2nd, Pickton would stand accused of 15 counts of first-degree murder.
The case is massive and so is the investigation. It takes five long years before it will reach a courtroom, and the case reduced to only six counts of murder out of 26, to make it easier on the jury.
Pickton has pleaded not guilty to the horrifying charges against him and there are predictions this proceeding could last a year or more.
Here’s an overview of the suspect and the case:
Who: Robert William Pickton, born Oct. 24, 1949.
Location: Pickton lived on seven-hectare property in Port Coquitlam, B.C. owned by him, his brother and sister. He was involved in several businesses on the property.
Indictment: Pickton charged with 26 counts of first-degree murder, all involving women.
When: Twenty-seven counts on indictment include earliest charge dating to 1995; most recent to December 2001. One charge was dropped in March 2006.
Preliminary hearing: January to July 2003 in provincial court; committed to stand trial.
Trial: Legal arguments to determine what evidence is admissible started in January 2006 under a publication ban. The trial started Monday, Jan. 21, 2007.
September 1978: Lillian Jean O’Dare, earliest known missing date on list, disappears from Downtown Eastside.
1991: Relatives of a growing list of missing women, along with advocates for sex-trade workers, establish annual Valentine’s Day remembrance, press for tougher police investigation.
June 1997: Helen Hallmark reported missing.
September 1998: Vancouver police set up team to review files of as many as 40 women missing as far back as 1971.
January 1999: Jacqueline McDonell reported missing.
Sometime in 1999: Georgina Papin, Brenda Wolfe and Jennifer Furminger last seen.
April 1999: Vancouver police board posts $100,000 reward for information in missing women case.
March 2001: Patricia Johnson last seen in Downtown Eastside.
April 2001: Heather Bottomley reported missing.
August 2001: Sereena Abotsway reported missing.
September 2001: Vancouver police and RCMP form joint task force — Project Evenhanded — to replace city police stalled investigation.
October 2001: Diane Rock reported missing.
November 2001: Mona Wilson reported missing.
December 2001: Task force investigators travel to Seattle to interview Gary Ridgway, charged in four of 49 Green River homicides in Washington state.
January 2002: Task force adds five names to list, bringing total number of women missing to 50.
Feb. 5, 2002: RCMP officers, accompanied by missing-women task force members, enter property in suburban Port Coquitlam on firearms warrant.
Feb. 6, 2002: Task force officers use their own warrant to begin searching property for clues in missing women case.
Feb. 7, 2002: Robert Pickton, one of two brothers who own property along with sister, charged with weapons offences as search of property continued.
Feb. 22, 2002: Robert Pickton charged with two counts of first-degree murder — Sereena Abotsway and Mona Wilson.
April 2, 2002: Crown announces three more first-degree charges against Pickton — Diane Rock, Jacqueline McDonell and Heather Bottomley.
April 9, 2002: Sixth murder charge laid against Pickton — Andrea Joesbury.
April 23, 2002: Karin Joesbury, mother of Andrea, files lawsuits against Pickton, police, the province and the federal government in relation to Andrea’s death.
May 22, 2002: Pickton charged with first-degree murder of Brenda Wolfe.
June 6, 2002: Police begin excavating Pickton properties with help of archeologists.
Sept. 19, 2002: Father of missing woman Marcie Creison files lawsuit against police, City of Vancouver, the province and the federal government over investigation.
Sept. 19, 2002: Pickton charged with four more murders — Georgina Papin, Helen Hallmark, Patricia Johnson and Jennifer Furminger. List of missing officially grows to 63.
Oct. 2, 2002: Pickton charged with murders of Heather Chinnock, Tanya Holyk, Sherry Irving and Inga Hall.
Jan. 13, 2003: Preliminary hearing begins in provincial court in Port Coquitlam.
July 21, 2003: Hearing concludes.
July 23, 2003: Judge David Stone commits Pickton for trial on 15 counts of first-degree murder.
Nov. 18, 2003: Investigators wrap up mass excavation and search of Pickton property.
Feb. 20, 2004: B.C. government reports investigation costs will likely run up to $70 million and that the money has been set aside in the provincial budget.
March 10, 2004: Health officials report they cannot rule out that human remains may have been in meat processed for human consumption at the Pickton property.
May 2005: Crown lays 12 more first-degree murder charges.
June 2005: Pre-trial hearings begin in B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster, under publication ban.
October 2005: Pre-trial hearings end.
Jan. 30, 2006: Legal arguments begin on admissibility of evidence.
Dec. 12, 2006: Jury finally chosen amidst warnings they could be sitting for a year or more.
Jan 22, 2007: Trial finally starts in New Westminster, B.C.
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