Alias(es): Willie Born: October 26, 1949 (1949-10-26) (age 59) Port Coquitlam, British Columbia Penalty: Life imprisonment
Number of victims: 6 (charged with murdering 20 others) Span of killings: 1997–2001 Country: Canada Date apprehended: February 22, 2002
Robert William "Willie" Pickton (born October 24, 1949) of Port Coquitlam, British Columbia is a Canadian pig farmer and serial killer convicted of the second-degree murders of six women. He is also charged in the deaths of an additional twenty women, many of them prostitutes and drug users from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. In December 2007 he was sentenced to life in prison, with no possibility of parole for 25 years – the longest sentence available under Canadian law for murder.
During the trial's first day, January 22, 2007, the Crown stated he confessed to forty-nine murders to an undercover police officer posing as a cellmate. The Crown reported that Pickton told the officer that he wanted to kill another woman to make it an even 50, and that he was caught because he was "sloppy"
Pickton and his brother, David Francis Pickton, ran a registered charity called the Piggy Palace Good Times Society, a non-profit society whose official mandate was to "organize, co-ordinate, manage and operate special events, functions, dances, shows and exhibitions on behalf of service organizations, sports organizations and other worthy groups." According to investigators, the "special events" (which convened at "Piggy's Palace", a converted building on another property adjacent to the pig farm) on Burns Road were raucous gatherings that featured "entertainment" by an ever-changing cast of Downtown Eastside prostitutes.
On February 5, 2002, police executed a search warrant for illegal firearms at the property owned by Pickton and his two siblings. He was taken into custody and police then obtained a second court order to search the farm as part of the BC Missing Women Investigation, when personal items (including a prescription asthma inhaler) belonging to one of the missing women were found. The farm was sealed off by members of the joint RCMP–Vancouver Police Department task force. The following day Pickton was charged with storing a firearm contrary to regulations, possession of a firearm while not being holder of a license and possession of a loaded restricted firearm without a license. He was later released and was kept under police surveillance.
On Friday, February 22, 2002, Pickton was arrested and charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Sereena Abotsway and Mona Wilson. On April 2, 2002 three more charges were added for the murders of Jacqueline McDonell, Diane Rock and Heather Bottomley. A sixth charge for the murder of Andrea Joesbury was laid on April 9, 2002 followed shortly by a seventh for Brenda Wolfe. On September 20, 2002 four more charges were added for the slayings of Georgina Papin, Patricia Johnson, Helen Hallmark and Jennifer Furminger. Four more charges for the murders of Heather Chinnock, Tanya Holyk, Sherry Irving and Inga Hall were laid on October 3, 2002, bringing the total to fifteen, and making this the largest serial killer investigation in Canadian history. On May 26, 2005, twelve more charges were laid against him for the killings of Cara Ellis, Andrea Borhaven, Debra Lynne Jones, Marnie Frey, Tiffany Drew, Kerry Koski, Sarah Devries, Cynthia Feliks, Angela Jardine, Wendy Crawford, Diana Melnick, and Jane Doe (unidentified woman) bringing the total number of first-degree murder charges to 27.
Excavations continued through November 2003; the cost of the investigation is estimated to have been $70 million by the end of 2003, according to the provincial government. Currently the property is fenced off, liened by the Province of British Columbia. In the meantime, all the buildings have been demolished. Forensic analysis is very difficult because the bodies of the victims may have been left to decompose or allowed to be eaten by insects and pigs on the farm. During the early days of the excavations, forensic anthropologists brought in heavy equipment, including two 50-foot (15 m) flat conveyor belts and soil sifters to find traces of remains. On March 10, 2004, it was revealed that human flesh may have been ground up and mixed with pork from the farm. This pork was never distributed commercially, but was handed out to friends and visitors of the farm. Another claim made is that he fed the bodies directly to his pigs
Pickton's trial began on January 30, 2006. He pleaded not guilty to 27 charges of first-degree murder in the British Columbia Supreme Court, located in New Westminster. The voir dire phase of the trial took most of the year to determine what evidence might be admitted before the jury. Reporters were not allowed to disclose any of the material presented in the arguments.
On March 2, 2006, one of the 27 counts was rejected by Justice James Williams for lack of evidence.
On August 9, 2006, Justice Williams severed the charges and trimmed the indictment from 26 to just six counts. The remaining 20 counts have not been dismissed, however, and the Crown can seek another trial (or trials) for them at a later date. Because of the publication ban, full details of the decision are not publicly available; but the judge has explained that trying all 26 charges at once would put an unreasonable burden on the jury, as the trial could last up to two years, and have an increased chance for a mistrial. The judge also added that the six counts he chose had "materially different" evidence from the other 20.
Jury selection was completed on December 12, 2006, taking just two days. Twelve jurors and two alternates were chosen.
The date for the jury trial of the first six counts was initially set to start January 8, 2007, but later delayed to January 22, 2007.
January 22, 2007 was the first day of the jury trial at which Pickton faced first-degree murder charges in the deaths of Marnie Frey, Sereena Abotsway, Georgina Papin, Andrea Joesbury, Brenda Wolfe and Mona Wilson. The media ban was finally lifted and for the first time Canadians heard the details of what was found during the long investigation. In his opening statement, Crown Counsel Derrill Prevett told the jury of evidence that was found on Pickton's property, including skulls cut in half with hands and feet stuffed inside. The remains of another victim were stuffed in a garbage bag in the bottom of a trash can and her blood-stained clothing was found in the trailer in which Pickton lived. Part of one victim's jawbone and teeth were found in the ground beside the slaughterhouse, and a .22 calibre revolver with an attached dildo containing both his and a victim's DNA was in his laundry room. In a videotaped recording played for the jury, Pickton claimed to have attached the dildo to his weapon as a makeshift silencer.
As of February 20, 2007, the following information has been presented to the court:
* The items police found inside Pickton's trailer - A loaded .22 revolver with a dildo over the barrel and one round fired, boxes of .357 Magnum handgun ammunition, night-vision goggles, two pairs of faux fur-lined handcuffs, a syringe with three millilitres of blue liquid inside, and "Spanish Fly" aphrodisiac. * A videotape of Pickton's friend Scott Chubb saying Pickton had told him a good way to kill a female heroin addict was to inject her with windshield-washer fluid. A second tape was played for Pickton, in which an associate named Andrew Bellwood said Pickton mentioned killing prostitutes by handcuffing and strangling them, then bleeding and gutting them before feeding them to pigs. However, defence lawyer Peter Ritchie said the jury should be skeptical of Chubb's and Bellwood's credibility. * Photos of the contents of a garbage can found in Pickton's slaughterhouse, which held some remains of Mona Wilson.
Justice James Williams suspended jury deliberations on December 6, 2007 after he discovered an error in his charge to the jury. Earlier in the day, the jury had submitted a written question to Justice James requesting clarification of his charge, asking "Are we able to say 'yes' [i.e., find Pickton guilty] if we infer the accused acted indirectly?"
On December 9, 2007, the jury returned a verdict that Pickton is not guilty on 6 counts of first-degree murder, but is guilty on 6 counts of second-degree murder. A second-degree murder conviction carries a punishment of a life sentence, with no possibility of parole for a period between 10 to 25 years, to be set by the trial judge. On December 11, 2007, after reading 18 victim impact statements, British Columbia Supreme Court Judge Justice James Williams sentenced Pickton to life with no possibility of parole for 25 years - the maximum punishment for second-degree murder, and equal to the sentence which would have been imposed for a first-degree murder conviction. "Mr. Pickton's conduct was murderous and repeatedly so. I cannot know the details but I know this: What happened to them was senseless and despicable," said Justice Williams in passing the sentence.
Pickton still faces a further 20 murder charges involving other female victims from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. On February 26, 2008, a family member of one of the 20 women named as alleged victims told the media that the Crown had told her a trial on the further 20 counts might not proceed
On January 7, 2008, the Attorney General filed an appeal in the British Columbia Court of Appeal, against Pickton's acquittals on the first-degree murder charges. The grounds of appeal relate to a number of evidentiary rulings made by the trial judge, certain aspects of the trial judge's jury instructions, and the ruling to sever the six charges Pickton was tried on from the remaining twenty.
Some relatives of the victims in the case were taken aback by the announcement of a Crown appeal, especially because Attorney-General Wally Oppal had said a few days earlier that the prosecution would likely not appeal. Although Pickton had been acquitted on the first-degree murder charges, he was convicted of second-degree murder and received the same sentence as he would have on first-degree murder convictions. The relatives of the victims expressed concern that the convictions would be jeopardized if the Crown argued that the trial judge had made errors. Opposition critic Leonard Krog criticized the Attorney-General for not having briefed the victims' families in advance.
Oppal apologized to the victims' families for not informing them of the appeal before it was announced to the general public. Oppal also said that the appeal was filed largely for “strategic” reasons, in anticipation of an appeal by the defence. The prosecution's rationale was that if Pickton appeals his convictions, and if that appeal is allowed, resulting in a new trial, the prosecution will want to hold that new trial on the original 26 charges of first-degree murder. But the Crown would be precluded from doing so unless it had successfully appealed the original acquittals on the first-degree murder charges, and the severance of the 26 counts into one group of six and one group of twenty.
Under the applicable rules of court, the time period for the Crown to appeal expired 30 days after December 9, when the verdicts were rendered, while the time period for the defence to appeal expired 30 days after December 11, when Pickton was sentenced. That is why the Crown announced its appeal first, even though the Crown appeal is intended to be conditional on an appeal by the defence. If the defence had not filed an appeal, then the Crown could have withdrawn its appeal.
On January 9, 2008, lawyers for Pickton filed a notice of appeal in the British Columbia Court of Appeal, seeking a new trial on six counts of second-degree murder. The lawyer representing Pickton on the appeal is Gil McKinnon, who had been a Crown prosecutor in the 1970s.
The notice of appeal enumerates various areas in which the defence alleges that the trial judge erred: the main charge to the jury, the response to the jurors' question, amending the jury charge, similar fact evidence, and Pickton's statements to the police.
Decisions of the Court of Appeal
The British Columbia Court of Appeal issued its decisions on June 25, 2009, but some parts of the decisions were not publicly released because of publication bans still in place.
The Court of Appeal dismissed the defence appeal by a 2:1 majority. Because there was a dissent on a point of law, Pickton was entitled to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, without first seeking leave to appeal.His notice of appeal was filed in the Supreme Court of Canada on August 24, 2009.
The Court of Appeal allowed the crown appeal, finding that the trial judge erred in excluding some evidence and in severing the 26 counts into one group of 20 counts and one group of 6. The order resulting from this finding was stayed, so that the conviction on the six counts of second degree murder would not be set aside.
Supreme Court of Canada
On June 26, 2009, Pickton's lawyers confirmed that they will exercise his right to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. The appeal will be based on the dissent in the British Columbia Court of Appeal
August 2006 'Pickton Letters'
In August 2006, Thomas Loudamy, a 27-year-old Fremont, California resident, claimed that he had received three letters from Robert Pickton in response to letters Loudamy sent under an assumed identity.
In the letters, Pickton allegedly speaks with concern about the expense of the investigation, asserts his innocence, quotes and refers to the Bible , praises the trial judge, and responds in detail to (fictional) information in Loudamy's letters, which were written in the guise of Mya Barnett, a 'down on her luck' woman.
The news of the letters' existence was broken by The Vancouver Sun, in an exclusive published on Saturday, September 2, 2006, and as of that date, neither law enforcement nor any representative of Pickton has verified the authenticity of the letters. The Sun, however, has undertaken several actions to confirm the documents' authenticity, including:
* Confirming that the outgoing stamps are consistent with those of the North Fraser Pretrial Centre (NFPC), where Pickton is being held; * Confirming through a representative of Canada Post that the outgoing stamps are not forgeries; and * Confirming that the machine (identifiable with a serial number included in the stamp) used to stamp the envelopes is the machine used by the NFPC.
Loudamy claims not to have kept copies of his outgoing letters to Pickton, and as of September 4, 2006, no information on their existence has been forthcoming from Pickton or his representatives.
Loudamy has a history of writing to accused and convicted criminals, in some instances under his own identity (as with his correspondence with Clifford Olson), and in others in the guise of a character he believes will be more readily accepted by the targets of the letters. Loudamy, an aspiring journalist, claims that his motivation in releasing the letters is to help the public gain insights into Pickton
Pickton in popular culture
The Seattle punk band The Accüsed wrote a song about Pickton called "Hooker Fortified Pork Products" on their 2005 Oh Martha! album. The song's "protagonist" is named "Willie P" (Pickton is generally referred to as Willie by those who know him) and "B.C. backyard butcher" who is said to have "been cruising the east end" (a reference to Vancouver's downtown east side.) The song describes how the hookers are thrown into a wood chipper. It includes a portion that is spoken in a caricature of a hillbilly accent which begins with the words "well howdy eh'!" ("Eh" is common in comic impressions of Canadians). It describes the pork products as being "chock full of heroin and AIDS."
The German psychobilly band Mad Sin also wrote a song entitled "Pigfarm" on their 2007 release "20 Years in Sin Sin".
DaVinci's Inquest used the disappearance of prostitutes as a story arc. When the farm was found, (between seasons) the story arc ended with a line of dialogue.
The Pickton Murders were also mentioned on an episode of CSI. Although the name was not identified, the character Nick Stokes mentioned a case from Canada where the victims remains were fed to pigs as a method of disposal which similarly happened on this episode. (Season 7 Episode 22)
In 2009, the television series Criminal Minds featured an episode set in Sarnia, Ontario which followed a case where a large number of victims were killed and their bodies were fed to pigs. Most of the other elements of the crime, however, were significantly different from the real case. In Canada, the episode aired with an additional content warning stating that this specific episode might upset some viewers, due to the storyline being closely tied to actual events.
A low-budget American horror movie, Killer Pickton (2005), was released in Australia in 2007, and then promptly withdrawn from release after legal complaints by the Canadian government.
Canadian Grind Punk Band Cockblaster wrote "Everything I learned about love I learned from Robert Pickton" for there first Ep in 2008
Canadian hardcore band Fucked Up allegedly wrote their EP Year of the Pig about Robert Pickton.
Texan Slam Death Metal band Devourment has a song in their third studio album Unleash the Carnivore named Fed to the Pigs.
The book Swastika by Michael Slade used Pickton as the basis for one of its characters, a Vancouver serial killer who fed the remains of his victims to pigs.
Quebec rock band EXtério wrote a song entitled "Le seigneur des agneaux" which can be translated as "The lord of the lambs" and filmed a music video about Robert Pickton in 2009.