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From the PublisherPraise for Stevie Cameron:
"The finest investigative reporter in the land."
"We had no idea [in 2002] how massive the investigation would be. We had no notion that the police would sift every inch of dirt on the Pickton farm, a process that lasted from the spring of 2002 to late 2004. We did not foresee the broad publication ban that would prevent any word printed or broadcast of what was being said in court in case it influenced a potential juror. We couldn't know that there would be, by 2006, 27 charges of first-degree murder against Pickton and that the police would continue to investigate him on suspicion of many other deaths. And we didn't know that the police and other personnel involved in the case, under threat of ruined careers, were forbidden to talk to reporters. In blissful ignorance, all I could do was begin…"
--Excerpt from The Pickton File
From the Trade Paperback edition.
One: Getting Started
It was early April 2002 and Linda McKnight, my literary agent, was on the phone with the news that the publisher of Knopf Canada wanted to know if I’d be interested in writing a book on the sensational Pickton serial murder case in British Columbia.
“Yes,” I said.
“Not so fast,” Linda said. She pointed out that it would mean a move from my usual areas–politics and white-collar crime–and that it was a story unfolding in Vancouver, not in Toronto, where I lived, which would mean moving to the west or frequent commutes.
Neither agent nor publisher could have known that the story of Robert William Pickton, a fifty-two-year-old pig farmer from Port Coquitlam, had been on my mind since his arrest two months earlier, on February 22, 2002, for the murders of Mona Wilson and Sereena Abotsway, two drug-addicted prostitutes from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Not only were three subsequent charges laid on April 3, 2002, for the murders of Jacqueline McDonell, Diane Rock and Heather Bottomley, but Pickton was also the prime suspect in the disappearance of dozens of other women from the same area. Every day since the arrest, I had been following the story in the Vancouver Sun’s online edition, and I knew this was not just a deeply disturbing case, but a fascinating and complex one.
My interest in the missing women went back further, to 1998, when I had begun to see the occasional newspaper story about the families and friends of the women, who were agitating for an investigation–and being ignored by police and politicians. At that time I was the editor of Elm Street, a national magazine I’d started in 1996, and in 1999 I asked Daniel Wood, a feature writer from Vancouver, to investigate the situation. Several weeks later, he turned in a brilliant piece–the first comprehensive national story on the missing women of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, which concluded that the police appeared to be doing nothing about the disappearances of more than sixty women.
When Linda called, I knew right away that this was a book I had to do, more than anything because it was an astonishing and powerful story. I had worked with homeless and poor people for many years at my church’s Out of the Cold shelter program in Toronto, an experience that gave me the confidence to think I might be able to win the trust of the Downtown Eastside community. Then there was Vancouver itself. I had lived in the city for years, and had gone to the University of British Columbia. (In fact, I’d met my future husband, David Cameron, in a political science class at UBC in the early 1960s.) I knew the city well, and still had many relatives and friends there.
And though I knew people would ask why I was moving away from politics and white-collar crime, I was quite frankly sick of the same old frauds, the same corrupt politicians trying the same old scams, almost always successfully–and when they were caught and charged, they almost always emerged with very few penalties because of political interference and incompetent policing. What particularly concerned me was the bland assumption that there was a big difference between white-collar and blue-collar crime and that a slap on the wrist–a couple of months in jail or a big fine–would be enough for a crook in a suit, regardless of how much he had stolen or how many lives he’d ruined. For a long time, I have believed that the criminal mind is the same whether the perpetrator is a politician or another well-educated professional, or a drug smuggler, gang member or killer. In both groups, there are psychopaths with no regard for the law. In fact, both white-collar criminals and violent criminals delight in breaking the law. Getting away with it is half the thrill.
Partly because white-collar criminals have powerful friends and allies to make the police and prosecutors think twice about the dangers to their own careers, and partly because they lawyer up right away with influential counsel, police officers prefer hunting down violent criminals. And it’s not entirely about self-preservation. Most cops believe white-collar crime is boring; the action, for them, is on the homicide team–the elite in any police force. And none of them would disagree that the Pickton case was the most challenging murder case under way in North America. For me, the opportunity felt like a gift. So why did the Vancouver Police Department take so long to get around to a serious investigation of the fates of the missing women? One good reason was that there were no bodies, and therefore no physical evidence to work with. Another reason was cost: an investigation into a serial killer can be incredibly expensive. A third was expertise: few homicide detectives have the training to deal with full-blown serial offenders. And then there was the status of the missing women themselves: junkies, sex-trade workers. Good riddance, some said. They brought it on themselves.
By coincidence, when Linda called I was just starting work on a new story for the Globe and Mail on Canada’s elite team of violent crime investigators in the Behavioural Science Section–or BSS, as it is known–of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP). Led by Chief Superintendent Kate Lines, one of the best-known homicide investigators in the world, the seventy-person BSS team is tucked away in the OPP’s headquarters in Orillia, a small Ontario town 130 kilometres northwest of Toronto. She had agreed to let me talk to the seven groups of specialists who provide an array of cutting-edge police services: criminal profiling, geographic profiling, threat assessment, lie-detector testing, a sexual assault registry, forensic psychiatry and a sophisticated computer system called the Violent Crime Linking Analysis System, or ViCLAS, which tracks and compares criminal activity to find links that point to certain offenders. With a staff of forty-one, the OPP’s ViCLAS centre is by far the largest in Canada; by comparison, the RCMP has a total of seventy-two ViCLAS officers in all its offices across the country, including its Ottawa headquarters.
The BSS works not just within the OPP, but with police forces across the country, trying to solve old homicides for which the clues have run out, or cases requiring expertise that most small forces don’t have, with a focus on crimes by violent serial predators, including rapists, child molesters, arsonists, killers, and even serial bombers like Theodore Kaczynski, the American better known as the Unabomber, who was caught in 1996 after an eighteen-year crime spree. Aside from a similar section at FBI headquarters in Quantico, Virginia, there was nothing quite like the BSS anywhere else in North America. Kate Lines, a Quantico-trained Criminal Investigative Analyst (better known as a “psychological profiler”) and one of only two Canadian police officers who had taken the ten-month FBI course, had been assisting other Canadian police forces for many years on difficult cases. Former Quantico profilers I talked to–men such as Greg McCrary, who now works as an international profiler and homicide expert–told me the OPP’s section was as good as or better than the FBI’s.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Posted March 14, 2009
No text was provided for this review.