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Ex-Vancouver cop details how police, RCMP bungled Pickton case

This is a story of death.

If there are degrees of death, then this is a story of death at its ugliest.

It is, unfortunately, a true story. In it, women are strangled. Then their bodies are ground up so that this porridge of what were people becomes near anonymous in an unjust marriage in the dirt with bacteria, fungus and creepy things.

While it can never be known for sure, other bodies are probably fed to pigs on the killer's farm. Still others possibly mixed with pork in his slaughterhouse and sold to the public.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/9/2015 (811 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

This is a story of death.

If there are degrees of death, then this is a story of death at its ugliest.

 An investigator carries a paper bag to a refrigerated trailer for further  investigation.

ROBERT J. GALBRAITH / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

An investigator carries a paper bag to a refrigerated trailer for further investigation.

Robert Pickton informed an officer posing as an inmate he had killed 49 women.

CANADIAN PRESS

Robert Pickton informed an officer posing as an inmate he had killed 49 women.

In this aerial photo, RCMP investigate Robert Pickton's Port Coquitlam, B.C., farm in 2002 - four years after author/ex-cop Lori Shenher passed along a tip about the compound.

THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

In this aerial photo, RCMP investigate Robert Pickton's Port Coquitlam, B.C., farm in 2002 - four years after author/ex-cop Lori Shenher passed along a tip about the compound.

It is, unfortunately, a true story. In it, women are strangled. Then their bodies are ground up so that this porridge of what were people becomes near anonymous in an unjust marriage in the dirt with bacteria, fungus and creepy things.

While it can never be known for sure, other bodies are probably fed to pigs on the killer's farm. Still others possibly mixed with pork in his slaughterhouse and sold to the public.

This story is also about another kind of death: the death of a cop's belief in the criminal justice system when it ignored what this Vancouver police detective had found out. As a result, Canada's worst serial killer — he claimed 49 slayings — was able to strangle for another four prolific years after he could have been stopped.

To help face the inner demons that are the residue of this cop's experience, ex-detective Lori Shenher has written a courageous book that may or may not be her treasure map to lasting mental health.

That Lonely Section of Hell also is a gold mine of insider information about how B.C.'s Robert Pickton — thanks to bureaucratic and bungling police — continued to murder drug-addicted prostitutes (many of them indigenous) long after he should have been arrested.

Shenher today is still damaged goods, due to her horrific experiences as a investigator in pursuit of Pickton and her outrage with the sexism, racism, classism, archaic beliefs and squabbling in Vancouver police and RCMP ranks that she experienced while trying without success to get them to act on her information.

Shenher was tipped off in 1998 with a very credible lead that the missing sex-workers she was looking for were murdered by Pickton. However, he wasn't arrested until 2002.

Her fury and frustration with a criminal-justice system that ignored her pleas about Pickton and left him free to continue killing meant a tortured Shenher was enveloped for years in a nightmare Alice-in-Wonderland world where facts were fable, the unreal was real, and complacency and incompetence were ignored or accepted. Police would later apologize publicly, but Shenher still suffers from the post-traumatic stress of it all. She eventually gave up policing.

The Pickton she pursued, today caged inside a maximum security prison, is the ugly underbelly of human behaviour — a homicidal predator who confessed he strangled the women between 1983 and 2002. He also informed a cop posing as his cellmate that he was disappointed he hadn't killed an even 50. (Serial killers murder because they enjoy it.) Equally repulsive is Pickton himself. In photos, he is in profile more gargoyle than human.

Shenher's ordeal as a cop starts when she becomes the first detective assigned to Vancouver's missing persons unit in 1998 to find the host of sex workers missing from Vancouver's tenderloin Downtown Eastside. In her first week she got a tip that would have led right to Pickton but he was living nearly 30 kilometres outside Vancouver, in RCMP territory. And so began her repeated, futile attempts to convince the Mounties and her own people to investigate Pickton. One of the big roadblocks standing in her way was her department's sacrosanct belief that you never interfere in somebody else's jurisdiction, no matter what. Such conduct, police testified later, would spark disorder — in other words, public safety took a back seat to police relations.

Although Shenher doesn't mention it, in 1999 the RCMP was told Pickton had a freezer filled with human flesh. He was interviewed and gave officers permission to search his farm. Inexplicably, they didn't.

They also were told the same year by an informant that someone on Pickton's farm had seen him skinning a dead woman hanging from a meathook. But in the end, the RCMP seemed less than enthusiastic about that information and did nothing. Shenher was never able to understand why.

It wasn't until 2002 that the Mounties returned to Pickton's farm. They were questioning him about unrelated firearms offences when by chance they stumbled across an asthma inhaler that was identified as belonging to one of the missing women. This touched off a full-scale DNA search of Pickton's property that cost $70 million, the most expensive crime-scene search in history.

They discovered body parts (including skulls and feet) or DNA of 33 women, and concluded with damning certainty that many of them were murdered during those very years detective Shenher couldn't get anyone to lift a finger.

Barry Craig is a retired reporter.

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History

Updated on Saturday, September 5, 2015 at 8:02 AM CDT: Formatting.

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