Serial killer Robert Pickton dies 22 years after gruesome discovery


The informant told the Canadian police that illegal weapons were found during the search of the pig farm.

But when officials searched Robert Pickton's property in British Columbia, they found something even worse.

There was women's clothing and jewelry. An asthma inhaler prescribed for a missing woman. The blood of another. And that was just the beginning.

The pig farm soon became the largest crime scene in Canadian history. This first search led to the arrest of the serial killer, who was accused of murdering 26 women and boasted in prison that he had actually killed 49.

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

“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,” Correctional Service Canada said in a news release. “Our thoughts are with them.”

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

The search began in early 2002, at the start of a nearly two-year operation in which 102 anthropologists searched through 32,000 cubic yards of mud and pig manure to find the missing women, the Washington Post reported at the time.

For more than two decades, Pickton worked at the slaughterhouse on what one local called “the diggers 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 on February 22, 2002, while investigators searched junk cars, a barn, a mobile home and a slaughterhouse. They set up tents and trailers, excavators and conveyor belts in what looked like a construction site.

Photos obtained by the Vancouver Sun show lines of people walking through soggy fields, bending down to pull evidence from rock-strewn grass and digging in the dirt with what look like ski or hiking poles.

Following a tip on February 5, 2002, that Pickton was in possession of unregistered weapons, police searched the farm about 20 miles east of Vancouver. They saw enough to obtain another search warrant, specifically to search for the missing women.

A judge imposed a media blackout on evidence presented during 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 had found teeth, handbags, ID cards and a mattress that were soaked in blood. They had found bags of ground-up human remains, Jeremy Hainsworth reported. They had found halved skulls in freezers, hands and feet in buckets.

The province's health officer warned at the time that Pickton may have mixed and mingled human remains with pork at the farm. Officials said Pickton gave some of the meat away.

“Some of it was served at barbecues and some of it 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 terrible question: Did the remains belong to a human or a pig?

Some estimate that as many as 200,000 DNA samples were taken in the nearly $70 million operation, Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported. Investigators were eventually able to link those results to the DNA of 33 missing women, although prosecutors accused Pickton of murdering 26 of them.

In 2007, he was convicted of the murder of 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 on his cellmate, an undercover police officer, in 2002. (Video: Vancouver Police Department)

For Papin's sister, Pickton's death brings a certain closure.

“This will bring healing, I don't want to say for all families, I just want to say for most families,” Cynthia Cardinal told the Associated Press. “Finally. I can actually move on and heal and put this behind me.”

Others want British Columbia authorities to investigate further, CBC reported last week, to find out whether their family members were among Pickton's victims.

Pickton, 74, began serving his life sentence in 2007. This year he was eligible for partial parole.

DeNeen L. Brown contributed to this report.