The Missing Women Inquiry heard a chilling portrait Wednesday of the rogues’ gallery of violent men police rated “priority one” serial killer suspects prior to their eventual arrest of Robert Pickton.
Retired RCMP Staff Sgt. Don Adam, who took charge of the investigation in early 2001, testified the Port Coquitlam pig farmer was not the only “monster” flagged by either Vancouver Police or Coquitlam RCMP as prime suspects in the killings of Vancouver prostitutes.
“This file was full of hideous human beings and they needed to be looked at,” Adam said, choking with emotion at the inquiry.
He described several men other than Pickton – identified by code numbers – who were among 63 priority one suspects Adam wanted methodically examined when his Project Evenhanded team took over.
One was a known bad date who Edmonton police stopped in a van equipped for abductions.
Interior handles had been removed so a victim couldn’t escape, Adam said, and in the back was a mattress, whips, masks, restraints and a hacksaw.
Another man had been spotted picking up a prostitute in Vancouver and then driving his Jeep erratically on the North Shore. Adam said the woman apparently died jumping from the vehicle and the suspect “went right back to the Downtown Eastside to try to pick up another sex trade worker.”
Another suspect was caught trying to flee a home police had been called to after reports of a woman screaming.
Officers forced him to open his trunk.
“Inside was a dead sex trade worker,” Adam said. “She had been bound and wrapped up in duct tape. They found out she had been strangled and beaten.”
When officers searched the man’s home, he said, they found 31 books on serial killers.
“These people will educate themselves,” Adam said, so they can become skilled at disposing of bodies, defeating DNA tests and avoiding scrutiny.
“They will be educating themselves by watching this, right now,” Adam said, referring to the live web-streamed video feed of the inquiry.
As scary as the known violent suspects were, Adam said, he was aware some serial killers are personable and considered good dates – such as the Green River killer – making them much harder to catch.
He said it’s easy to see Pickton as the killer in hindsight, but police could not afford to succumb to tunnel vision and ignore potential suspects.
He rejected a characterization at the inquiry that he and other Mounties were uncaring about the vanishing women and were just “stumbling around” reviewing old files.
“We knew we had an active serial killer,” he said. “We were frantic.”
While some women simply vanished, Adam’s team was also looking at clusters of bodies that could have been related.
Some murdered Vancouver prostitutes had previously been dumped near Mission.
Adam said he did not rule out Pickton as a missing women suspect even after his DNA failed to match that of the killer in the so-called Valley murders, because officers had to assume there were multiple serial killers at work.
Later, he said, the killings of some sex trade workers on Vancouver Island led him to think the serial killer may have moved there.
Pickton was only caught in February 2002 after a rookie Coquitlam RCMP officer who wasn’t on Adam’s team got a warrant to search Pickton’s trailer for illegal guns and found personal effects of missing women.
The discovery triggered an initial search of the property for murder evidence.
Even then, Adam told the inquiry, Pickton nearly got away.
He said the presiding judge was close to shutting down the search as taking too long when police matched blood drops found in the trailer to DNA of two missing women.
That allowed authorities to lay the first two murder charges and continue the search, which became an archaelogical dig.
When Adam interrogated Pickton that month, his officers had not yet found much more damning evidence – severed body parts in freezers on the farm.
Adam told the inquiry Pickton began killing in 1991 and was a “fully functioning” serial killer who had perfected his method by 1995.
He also called for the establishment of a national DNA databank for missing persons, adding the lack of one hampered the Pickton investigation and others to this day.