Serial killer Robert Pickton dies 22 years after a gruesome discovery

The search of the pig farm was supposed to find illegal guns. That’s what the informant had told Canadian police.

But when officers raided Robert Pickton’s property in British Columbia, what they found was worse.

There was women’s clothing and jewelry. An asthma inhaler prescribed to a missing woman. The blood of another. That was just the start.

The pig farm soon became the largest crime scene in Canadian history. That initial search led to the arrest of the serial killer who was charged with murdering 26 women and bragged in jail that he had really killed 49.

On Friday, Pickton died after another inmate assaulted him on May 19, Canadian authorities said.

“We are mindful that this offender’s case has had a devastating impact on communities in British Columbia and across the country, including Indigenous peoples, victims and their families,” Correctional Service Canada said in a news release. “Our thoughts are with them.”

Pickton, who pleaded not guilty to the murders, was serving a life sentence.

The search began in early 2002, the start of a nearly two-year operation that included 102 anthropologists sifting through 370,000 cubic yards of mud and pig manure, trying to find missing women, The Washington Post reported at the time.

For more than two decades, Pickton worked the slaughterhouse on the property, which a local called “the dredges of the earth.” Many of the women who disappeared were sex workers who had attended parties he hosted there. Many of the victims were also Indigenous women, whose relatives accused police of not taking their cases seriously.

Pickton was arrested Feb. 22, 2002, as investigators combed through junked cars, a barn, a motor home and a slaughterhouse. They set up tents and trailers, backhoes and conveyor belts in a scene that looked like a construction site.

Photos from the Vancouver Sun show rows of people walking through soggy fields, bending over to pluck evidence from rock-filled grass, digging in dirt with the help of what appear to be skiing or hiking poles.

After the Feb. 5, 2002, tip that Pickton had unregistered guns, police raided the farm about 20 miles east of Vancouver. They saw enough to obtain another warrant, specifically to search for the missing women.

A judge imposed a media blackout on evidence presented during parts of the trial, which The Post observed, meaning few details were revealed in real time. But reporters took notes.

One wrote 20 years later that investigators found teeth, purses, identification cards and a mattress soaked in blood. They found bags of ground human remains, Jeremy Hainsworth recounted. They found bisected skulls in freezers, with hands and feet tucked into buckets.

The provincial health officer at the time warned that Pickton may have mixed human remains with pig meat at the farm and blended them. Officials said Pickton gave some of that meat away.

“Some was served at barbecues and some was given to close associates of Robert Pickton,” Provincial Health Officer Perry Kendall told The Post at the time.

Forensic investigators were flown in to answer a horrifying question: Were the remains from a human or from a pig?

Some estimate that as many as 200,000 DNA samples were taken in an operation that cost nearly $70 million, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported. Investigators could eventually link those findings to the DNA of 33 missing women, though prosecutors charged Pickton in the killing of 26 of them.

In 2007, he was convicted of murdering Sereena Abotsway, Marnie Frey, Andrea Joesbury, Georgina Papin, Mona Wilson and Brenda Ann Wolfe.

Pig farmer and convicted serial killer Robert Pickton detailed the murders he committed to his cellmate, who was an undercover officer, in 2002. (Video: Vancouver Police Department)

For Papin’s sister, Pickton’s death brings some closure.

“This is gonna bring healing for, I won’t say all families, I’ll just say most of the families,” Cynthia Cardinal told the Associated Press. “Finally. I can actually move on and heal and I can put this behind me.”

Others want British Columbia authorities to investigate further, the CBC reported last week, so they’ll know whether their family members were among Pickton’s victims.

Pickton, 74, had begun serving his life sentence in 2007. He became eligible to apply for a partial parole this year.

DeNeen L. Brown contributed to this report.

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