As I researched serial killers for "A Thin Line", Robert Pickton immediately caught my attention. The use of pigs to dispose of human remains is not only extremely disturbing, but also eminently efficient. Mr. Pickton's pig farm became the basis for Javier Mendez's demise in my story.
By all accounts, the owner of the Pickton pig farm, Robert Pickton, was an odd duck: quiet, hard to strike up a conversation with, and nervously fearful of others. Born with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck, his mother recognized at an early age that something was not right with Robert. As a result, he was marginalized by society, shunned by women, and dominated by his younger brother, David. A bartender at a venue Robert frequented said he was much less of a man than he pretended to be.
“He was a wannabe, you know, he wanted to be a biker, a Hells Angel, a mean leather guy. But everyone knew he was a weasel, a wannabe. I mean you can’t imagine hanging out with a guy like that without something bad happening.”
And indeed something bad did happen on Robert Pickton’s pig farm – at least 27 confirmed murders, likely closer to 50, possibly as many as 100 – all women, most of them destitute prostitutes from the city of Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada. He is Canada’s most prolific serial killer.
The Pickton pig farm
At 953 Dominion Avenue in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, about 17 miles east of Vancouver, there is a pig farm owned by Robert William Pickton (Willie) and his younger brother David Francis Pickton. The frontage of the property is still visible today from Dominion but the farm itself, which was located about a hundred yards from the road, has long been destroyed. When it stood, the stigma surrounding the pig farm emanated beyond its fences filled with filth and muck. One witness described the homestead as a “creepy looking place” patrolled by a 600-lb boar.
“I never saw a pig like that, who would chase you and bite at you. It was running out with the dogs around the property.”
Farm worker notices visitors have a peculiar habit of going missing
In 1998, one of Pickton’s hired hands, Bill Hiscox grew concerned after reading a newspaper account of Vancouver’s many missing prostitutes. He noticed that women who visited Pickton’s farm often went missing afterward. Hiscox knew Pickton often frequented the downtown area looking for girls and he knew about Robert’s 1997 arrest for attempted murder of a prostitute. He told police that he heard from an acquaintance, Lisa Yelds, that Pickton had women’s bloody clothing, identification and personal items that Pickton kept as “trophies”.
“All the girls that are going missing, and all the purses and Ids that are out there in his trailer and stuff.”
Hiscox went to the police with his concerns.
Freezer full of human flesh
It was 1999 when others began noticing unusual happenings at Piggy’s Palace. In February of that year, Canadian police received a tip that Pickton had a freezer filled with human flesh. The police interviewed Robert Pickton and received his consent to search the farm but never bothered to conduct the search.
A break in the case – Pickton farm worker assists police with illegal firearms case
It was not until three years later that police finally got a break in the case. Scott Chubb worked for the Pickton brothers since 1994, a useful relationship for the police who paid him to gather intel on the Pickton brothers. Acting on information Chubb provided, on February 6, 2002, police executed a search warrant at the farm looking for illegal firearms (specifically a Mac-10 automatic weapon). It is thought that at this time, police suspected Robert Pickton was responsible for the disappearances of nearly a hundred Vancouver women. Whether the illegal firearms warrant was used as a means to gain access to the property is unknown. What is known, is that the informant’s claims of illegal weapons on the property was fabricated.
Despite the false information submitted by the informant, Robert was arrested and charged with storing a firearm contrary to regulations (he was released a few days later). During the search, police noticed several women’s items scattered throughout the home. Suspecting the items could belong to the missing Vancouver women, police placed Pickton under surveillance while seeking a second, more extensive warrant.
Robert Pickton is charged with murder
Police recalled that in their possession were the rubber boots worn by Robert when he was arrested for attempting to murder a prostitute in 1997. The boots were sent to the lab and tested. DNA from two of the missing women were found.
On February 22, 2002, Pickton was arrested and charged with two counts of first-degree murder. In the months following, as a massive investigation of the pig farm unfolded, the charges against Pickton would grow to a terrifying number.
A .22-caliber revolver with a dildo attached around the barrel was found to contain both Pickton’s and a victim’s DNA. Police found skulls cut in half with hands and feet stuffed inside them and small body parts scattered about the pig pens. The remains of one victim, Mona Wilson, was found in a pink soup of decomposing human matter in the bottom of a garbage can. In the soup was Wilson’s skull, hands, and feet.
Other feet, heads, and hands of victims were found in Pickton’s freezer, the same freezer he used to store unsold pig meat. It was determined that their bodies had been exposed to the elements for several weeks before being stashed inside the freezer.