BC serial killer Robert Pickton dead after prison raid in Quebec


VANCOUVER — Robert Pickton, one of Canada's most notorious serial killers, died Friday, 12 days after he was attacked in prison.

Pickton, an inmate at the Port-Cartier prison in Quebec, was 74 years old.

For some, the death brings closure. But it also leaves unanswered questions about the botched police investigation into Pickton, who was convicted of six counts of second-degree murder in 2007 but was suspected of killing dozens of other women on his pig farm in Port Coquitlam, B.C.

Correctional Service Canada said in a statement that Pickton's next of kin had been notified of his death, as had all victims who had registered for notification.

Among them was Cynthia Cardinal, whose sister Georgina Papin was among the six women whose deaths led to Pickton's life sentence.

Pickton chose his victims from marginalized groups, women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, many of them Indigenous. He once boasted to an undercover officer that he had killed 49 women.

“This will bring healing, I don't want to say for all families, I just want to say for most families,” Cardinal said.

“It really makes me sad that they were not allowed to appear in court. But I'm also really happy right now,” Cardinal said.

“I think to myself, wow, finally. I can actually move on and heal and put this behind me.”

Correctional Services Canada said an investigation was underway into the May 19 prison attack on Pickton, which involved another inmate.

“We recognize 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. Our thoughts are with them,” the correctional service said.

Quebec provincial police spokesman Frédéric Deshaies said Friday afternoon that Pickton died “in the last hours.”

He said police were continuing to investigate the attack and a 51-year-old suspect was in custody.

Quebec police said last week that doctors were trying to awaken Pickton from an induced coma to see if he could survive on his own after what prison authorities described as a “serious attack.”

Pickton had been serving his life sentence at the Port-Cartier Institution, about 300 miles northeast of Quebec City, since being transferred from the Kent Institution in British Columbia about six years ago.

When the verdict was announced in December 2007, British Columbia Supreme Court Justice James Williams said it was a “rare case that justifies the maximum parole period (25 years) available to the court.”

In addition to Papin, Pickton was found guilty of killing Sereena Abotsway, Mona Wilson, Andrea Joesbury, Brenda Ann Wolfe and Marnie Frey.

But the remains or DNA of 33 women were found on his farm.

One of them was Stephanie Lane, who was 20 years old when she disappeared.

Her mother, Michelle Pineault, said she was overjoyed by Pickton's death.

“I have lived 28 years without my daughter, knowing that this animal murdered her and that there was no justice for her. I am overjoyed. I am happy,” said Pineault, breaking into tears.

She attended a ceremony at CRAB Park near Downtown Eastside to honor Pickton's victims.

Pineault said that since Lane died, “my life no longer revolves around my daughter – my life revolves around Pickton.”

She said his death felt like justice.

Lorelei Williams, whose cousin Tanya Holyk was also found on the farm, said at CRAB Park that she was “overwhelmed with happiness” over Pickton's death.

Pickton was first arrested in 2002 when Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers executed a search warrant on his farm for illegal firearms and discovered the remains and belongings of missing sex workers.

The police then began searching the property. The investigation would last several years.

Vancouver police were criticized for not taking the case seriously, as many of the missing people were sex workers or drug users. The investigative deficiencies led to a $50,000 settlement in 2014 for the victims' children, who had sued all three levels of government and the RCMP.

Pickton – known as “Willie” – became eligible for parole in February, sparking outrage among lawyers, politicians and victims' families, who criticized the Canadian justice system and said he should never be released.

British Columbia Premier David Eby said Friday it was a difficult day for everyone affected by Pickton's “cruel crimes.”

“I am sure it will bring closure. For others, it will reopen old wounds,” Eby said at an independent press conference on Friday.

“I want to take this moment to reflect on the fact that Pickton targeted the weakest in our society, people who were considered inferior, worthless, and that he was able to murder so many people just because of the profile of the people he chose as victims.”

He concluded his remarks with the words, “Have a nice trip.”

Sue Brown, director of advocacy for the nonprofit Justice for Girls, said that while Pickton's death was a moment of closure for some, it also closed “another potential door for answers.”

“There may be some relief, but I know that for some, there are still many unanswered questions,” said Brown, whose group is among those fighting in court to secure evidence in the Pickton case.

The RCMP has requested that approximately 14,000 pieces of evidence collected during the investigation be destroyed because they take up a lot of space and continue to incur costs.

“(Pickton's death) makes the physical evidence much more important because now a person has passed away who personally knew what happened on the Pickton farm and what might have become of many of these women,” Brown said.

“All of his knowledge was lost with him. That is why I think it is all the more urgent to secure the evidence.”

Attorney Jason Gratl, who represents several families of Pickton's victims in nine lawsuits against Pickton and his brother David Pickton, declined to comment on behalf of his clients.

Darryl Plecas, a former Kent Institution correctional judge and later speaker of the British Columbia legislature, told The Canadian Press last week that Pickton's notoriety and small stature made him a likely target for other inmates.

Plecas said he knew Pickton from his time at Kent and called him “small, frail … five feet tall.”

“Have you ever seen Willie Pickton? … About 100 pounds, soaking wet. He's not a big guy.”

— With files from John Bongiorno in Montreal

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2024.

Nono Shen and Chuck Chiang, The Canadian Press