Co-winner, Canadian Journalism Foundation excellence award (with Vancouver Observer team)
Published in the Vancouver Observer | February 20, 2012 | Circulation 115,000 unique monthly visitors
Co-winning submission, Canadian Journalism Foundation 2012 Excellence in Journalism Award (small media)
Prompted to remember serial killer Robert Pickton’s pig farm, Bill Hiscox pauses only for a second, adjusting his blue baseball cap, before he calmly describes his time as Pickton’s employee and his stilted efforts to become a police informant in 1998. Four years later, Pickton would be arrested by a rookie cop unconnected to the investigation.
Read more of my missing women reporting:
• CJF CO-WINNER: Holidays in Brothels & Strolls (Vancouver Observer)
• Missing Women Inquiry: Cover-ups and controversy (THIS Magazine)
• OAS to Investigate Missing Aboriginal Women (ICTMN)
• Can police improve relations with survival sex workers? (Megaphone)
• Violence Against Women Act moves ahead (Windspeaker)
Hiscox and several lawyers connected to the case allege a cover-up or even conspiracy related to the police’s botched investigation, particularly given extensive Hell’s Angels links to the Pickton farm.
The 52-year-old warehouse worker – now living in Alberta in an attempt to put his former boss’ gruesome murders behind him, “to get far away from all of this” – sat down with the Vancouver Observer for a lengthy interview. He remembered Pickton’s farm vividly – and why he and his sister-in-law had a correct hunch that women were being killed there.
“There was something not right there,” Hiscox recalled over lunch at a White Spot restaurant, during a break from the Inquiry. “You can’t put your finger on it, but it’s there. It’s kind of a really weird feeling – kind of a turning, wrenching feeling – where you know something’s wrong.
“Did you ever see the movie Sixth Sense, where they see dead people? It’s almost like people were trying to reach out, ‘Oh, we’re here.’ That’s the kind of feeling you got. That’s exactly how it felt, it was really weird walking there.”
But to this day, Hiscox’s story has not been heard in court – and despite being invited to be interviewed last week for a potential affidavit submission in the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, he has been so far rejected from the witness list despite first-hand experience of the botched police investigation and a two-month standing request from Inquiry lawyers.
Hiscox began working with Pickton in the spring of 1998, helping salvage materials from the demolished King George Motel in Surrey. Like others who knew Pickton, he described the serial killer – convicted of six second-degree murders, although he confessed to a police interrogator he had killed 49 women – as “unsociable” and quiet. But as someone introverted himself, Hiscox didn’t hold it against him.
In fact, what disturbed him most were stories he began to hear from his sister-in-law, Lisa Yelds – Pickton’s best friend at the time – about Aboriginal status cards and bloody women’s clothing she said she saw inside Pickton’s trailer.
“I saw clothing piled up outside the trailer – women’s blouses and that sort of thing,” Hiscox said. “Not clean, not bloody – just dirty. It was around the corner of the trailer.
“I put the information together when me and Lisa were talking about what she was finding and what I was seeing. We sat and talked about it, in 1998. She said, ‘I’ve got a feeling that’s where all the women are going, Bill.’ And I said, ‘I’m getting the same feeling, as well.’ She said that someone has to go to the police with this.”
A few months after starting salvage work for Pickton, Hiscox was walking in Surrey when he saw a disturbing poster on a telephone pole. It was for Sarah de Vries, one of Vancouver’s many missing women, most of them Indigenous sex trade workers from the Downtown Eastside.
The poster was one of many plastered around the Lower Mainland by de Vries’ friend, Wayne Leng. Like Hiscox, Leng journeyed from Alberta to Vancouver last week to attend the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry as well as the annual memorial march for missing and murdered women, which this year drew roughly 5,000 people.
Hiscox phoned the number on the poster and spoke to Leng.
Since de Vries’ disappearance, Leng has campaigned unceasingly for police to investigate missing women cases with greater urgency. Leng recorded his conversation with Hiscox and passed on the tip to theVancouver Police Department‘s Det. Cst. Lori Shenher, who testified last week at the inquiry.
“Wayne Leng received a call from male (later identified as Hiscox) who provided information that Willie Pickton had bragged about being able to dispose of bodies and grind them up for feed for his pigs on his property in Port Coquitlam,” according to a summary of Det. Shenher’s source logmarked July 27, 1998, submitted as an inquiry exhibit. “The caller told of a female named Lisa Yelds who had been in Pickton’s trailer and seen women’s identification and clothing.”
But after several initial calls and meetings between Shenher and Hiscox in September 1998, as recorded in Det. Shenher’s log, contact ceased in mid-October. Shenher wrote that he told her “Pickton wants to ‘finish off’ Ms. Anderson,” the pseudonym for a woman Pickton handcuffed and stabbed in his trailer in 1997, but who escaped – only to see attempted murder charges against the farmer dropped.
“(Hiscox) heard from Yelds that Pickton has ordered a bunch of syringes and wants half of them new and half of them used,” Det. Shenher wrote. “Yelds did not know why he wanted them as Pickton is not an IV user but told Hiscox that Pickton wants to find Ms. Anderson and that the syringes were in some way related to her.”
In fact, after Pickton’s arrest, syringes full of windshield fluid – some bearing human DNA – were discovered in his trailer, presumably used to murder people. Why Hiscox was not accepted as an undercover informant is still unclear – some officers on the stand suggested he was hard to get a hold of, and Det. Shenher’s log shows a handfull of missed calls and meetings. But Det. Shenher saw it differently.
“He had shown himself to be someone who would contact me if he had something new,” Det. Shenher said on the Inquiry stand. “Secondly, I didn’t want to push him on [an undercover operation] because he was in recovery himself and he had indicated to me at varying times that he was trying to stay away from that world.”
However, Hiscox had a different story.
“I can knock holes in Shehner’s statements easily,” he said. “I want to be put on the stand, because I’ve got something to say.
“Shehner said I disappeared for four years – but they’ve got documented proof that she talked to me right up until 1999. I was a drug addict and an alcoholic, I was in and out of rehab and on probation – don’t tell me you couldn’t find me.”
To this day, Hiscox does not know why contact with him was abandoned in 1999, nor why police turned his alleged offer to be an agent.
“I was willing to go inside – I was more than willing, and more than happy, to do whatever it took to stop this guy,” he said. “I went as far as to suggest they put a wire on me.
“’If you guys are too chicken to do this shit, I’ll go do it for you’ – I told them that. They were willing to do that. They had the break right in front of them. What were they waiting for?”
Hiscox’s only explanation is that police believed he had become inappropriately interested in Det. Shenher – something he denies.
“It was mentioned that I was infatuated with Shenher, that it was more than just a friend relationship,” he said. “That’s bullshit if that’s why she didn’t want to come look for me.
“Shenher was just nice to me – and when someone’s nice to me, I tend to be nice back. That’s the way it was, and that was the extent of the relationship. I phoned her up a couple times after Willie was arrested and tried to share some more information with her. Subsequently, I was phoned back by the RCMP saying, ‘Any more contact with Shenher and you’re going to be charged with harassment.’ There was no harassment.”
Det. Shenher made no mention of harassment on the witness stand during her testimony. But families of several women whose DNA was found on Pickton’s farm want Hiscox to testify himself so police can answer for the alleged inconsistencies.
“If Bill (Hiscox) gets on the stand, it will be the first time that someone says the truth in quite a few weeks,” said Lori-Ann Ellis, whose 26-year old sister-in-law Cara’s DNA was found on Pickton’s farm. “In the last few weeks, we’ve only heard from the cops.
“Now we’re going to hear the truth from someone who dealt with it. We need that. We don’t just need cops, we need who they talked to as well.”
Ultimately, both Hiscox and Ellis believe that Pickton neither acted alone in all the murders, nor that police simply erred in their investigation of him. Last Monday, Commissioner Wally Oppal rebuffed lawyer Cameron Ward – who represents Ellis and several dozen other murdered women’s families in the Inquiry – after he said, “I fear this commission is enabling a cover-up to be perpetrated on the public by the police interests.”
The lawyer for the VPD, Tim Dixon, condemned Ward’s accusations as “spurious … The allegations of a police cover up are completely unfounded.”
On the stand today, the VPD’s police chief at the time, Chief Cst. Terry Blythe, responded in turn to the cover-up allegations: “I do find it offensive (given) all the good work we did and the commitment we made to this troubled neighbourhood.”
Earlier this month, Oppal also overruled lawyer Jason Gratl – who represents Downtown Eastside interests in the Inquiry – for questioning police on the extensive connections between the Picktons and the Hell’s Angelsorganized crime gang. Robert’s brother Dave was an alleged member of the gang; police knew of a Hell’s Angels building across the road from the pig farm; and gang members frequented the Picktons’ illicit nightclub, Piggy’s Palace, revealed RCMP homicide investigator Mike Connor in his Inquiry testimony.
Investigators searching the Pickton farm found 80 unidentified DNA profiles there – approximately half of them male – and Connor stated that he never investigated a tip that a murdered male Hell’s Angel member was on the farm.
“They’re covering up a lot of stuff, and I just can’t fathom some of the things being said here in this Inquiry,” Hiscox told the Vancouver Observer. “The truth will set you free – we’ll see what happens.”
Was Robert “Willie” Pickton acting alone?
“I don’t believe it one bit, no,” Hiscox said. “Dave, his brother, lived on the farm. How the hell can you live on a farm with this guy Willie, your brother, and not know what he was doing all these years? Don’t tell me you don’t know.
“Why has this one person got immunity? Why haven’t we heard from Dave in the trial or here in the Inquiry? We’ve never heard a peep from him. I think there’s a lot more than meets the eye.”
In December, the Vancouver Observer was the first to report alleged sightings of Dave Pickton by sex workers in the Downtown Eastside, which were more recently reported by national newspapers. However, Dave was neither called to testify at his brother’s murder trial, nor in the current Inquiry.
Both the Vancouver Police Department, and more recently the RCMP, have apologized to murdered women’s families and friends for delays in arresting Pickton, acknowledging women could have been saved had he been caught earlier.