Vaughn C. Hardacker here: In her blog of February 21st, Kate Flora discussed the question every writer is asked at one time or another: “Where do you get your ideas?” Well, we get them from a lot of places. The idea for my second novel, The Fisherman, came from a pig farmer.
Obviously, this requires some explanation. In 2000, I was working as an instructor teaching sales people throughout the world about Wide Area Network equipment. When I told my wife that I was scheduled for a trip to Vancouver, British Columbia, she wanted to go with me–her father was Canadian and she had always wanted to visit there. The trip was great. So you may ask, “That’s nice, but where did you get the idea for your book?”
One evening, shortly after our return, I was in my office banging away on the manuscript for Sniper when she came in and showed me an article she had found. She said, “You could write a book about this. Here is what she showed me:
Robert Pickton: The Pig Farmer Serial Killer from Canada Who Confessed to 49 Murders
Dozens of women met a gruesome end on Pickton’s isolated property.
In 2007, Robert William “Willy” Pickton was convicted of murdering six women and sentenced to life in prison, without the possibility of parole for 25 years—the longest sentence that he could possibly receive at the time. He was charged with the deaths of many more—and, while in prison, admitted to an undercover officer that he had killed 49 women, and that he wanted to bring that number up to “an even 50.”
The details of Robert Pickton’s crimes—which included the discovery of human remains in trash cans, feeding bodies to his pigs, and possibly even selling human flesh mixed with pork for public consumption—shocked the country and the world, and were uncovered by one of the largest serial killer investigations in Canadian history.
Who Is Robert Pickton?
Before he became known as one of Canada’s most prolific serial killers, Robert Pickton was described as a “pretty quiet guy” who, along with his brother, owned a pig farm in British
Columbia. A worker on the farm later called it a “creepy-looking place,” and in 1998, the brothers were sued by the local government over zoning ordinance violations for neglecting the property and turning one of their slaughterhouses into an event venue.
In 1996, the two brothers had registered a nonprofit organization called the “Piggy Palace Good Times Society”—a disturbing name, in hindsight. Its stated aims were to “organize, coordinate, manage, and operate special events, functions, dances, shows, and exhibitions on behalf of service organizations, sports organizations, and other worthy groups.”
In practice, the farm played host to a variety of raves and wild parties which were held in a converted slaughterhouse. Among those known to frequent the parties held at the Picktons’ farm were sex workers from Vancouver and members of the Hells Angels motorcycle club. In 1998, the Picktons were served with an injunction banning any future events on the premises, and their nonprofit status was revoked the following year.
Robert Pickton’s First Encounter with Law Enforcement
Five years before he was arrested and charged with murder, Robert Pickton was faced with another charge—the 1997 attempted murder of sex worker Wendy Lynn Eistetter, who informed police that Pickton had solicited her services and brought her to the farm. There, he handcuffed her left hand and stabbed her in the abdomen.
Eistetter managed to escape, disarming Pickton and stabbing him with his own weapon. At the hospital where both were treated, hospital staff used a key found in Pickton’s pocket to unlock the handcuff on Eistetter’s wrist. The attempted murder charge was eventually dropped, reportedly because prosecutors believed that Eistetter’s ongoing drug use made her an unreliable witness.
Pickton’s clothes and rubber boots were seized by police during the initial arrest and kept in a storage locker for more than seven years. They weren’t tested for evidence until 2004, when they were swabbed for DNA and found to be a match for two missing women.
The Arrest of Robert Pickton
From 1983 to 2002, more than 60 women disappeared from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, an impoverished community. It was an ongoing crisis that seemed to have no end in sight, although Pickton had been on the police’s radar for quite a while. In February of 2002, police finally searched the Pickton farm in an unrelated search for illegal weapons.
Both Robert Pickton and his brother were arrested, and the police obtained enough evidence for a second warrant in relation to the ongoing investigation into Vancouver’s missing women. While the two brothers were ultimately released, Robert Pickton was kept under surveillance and arrested again not long after, charged with two counts of first degree murder.
During their initial search, police had found personal items belonging to some of the missing women. Once Pickton was behind bars, the charges began to stack up. First three more charges were added. Then four. Then more and more, until Pickton had accrued a total of 27 first degree murder charges.
Robert Pickton’s Grisly Crimes
The details of Robert Pickton’s heinous crimes were under a publication ban for nearly a decade, and so it wasn’t until after the ban was lifted in 2010 that the extent of Pickton’s depredations became public knowledge. When they did, a grim and terrifying picture came into focus.
Pickton was linked to murders stretching back as far as 1991—long before his arrest for the attempted murder of Wendy Lynn Eistetter, and continuing for many years after the altercation. Police had found a variety of human remains on the farm, many of which were difficult to identify because they had been left to rot or fed to the hogs.
Among the grisly effects described in Pickton’s eventual trial were human skulls that had been cut in half with hands and feet stuffed inside, night vision goggles, human remains stored inside garbage bags, “Spanish fly” aphrodisiac, and a loaded revolver with a dildo attached to the barrel, which Pickton later claimed was used as a makeshift silencer. Investigators also found more than 80 unidentified DNA profiles on the property.
Robert Pickton’s Trial and Aftermath
Robert Pickton was ultimately tried and found guilty of six counts of second degree murder. The other 21 charges were stayed for a later date, but never tried, as Pickton had already received the maximum possible sentence.
The trial brought to public attention a number of missed opportunities for the police to investigate Pickton sooner and put an end to his killing spree. Besides his arrest for the attack on Wendy Lynn Eistetter, there had been several other attempts to bring Pickton’s activities to the attention of the authorities. According to Vancouver police detective constable Lorimer Shenher, the police had received a call to an anonymous tip line in 1998, indicating that Pickton should be investigated in relation to missing women in the area. In 1999, authorities received another tip, stating that Pickton had a freezer filled with human remains on his property.
Pickton was interviewed following the 1999 tip, and police obtained his consent to search the farm, but the search was never conducted. In 2004, before Pickton’s trial had even begun, the government issued a warning that Pickton may have ground up human flesh and mixed it with pork that he sold to the public.
During a press conference in 2010, Deputy Chief Constable Doug LePard issued an apology to the families of the victims. “I wish that all the mistakes that were made, we could undo,” he said. “And I wish that more lives would have been saved. So, on my behalf and behalf of the Vancouver Police Department and all the men and women who worked on this investigation, I would say to the families how sorry we all are for your losses and because we did not catch this monster sooner.”
The case intrigued me. I always wondered why cadaver-sniffing dogs found nothing when they were utilized. At a Sisters In Crime meeting on Cape Cod, the guest speaker was a former K-9 officer from NYC, currently the police chief of Wellfleet, Massachusetts. I asked him about it, withholding the fact that it was a pig farm. His first question was just that: “What type of farm was it?” I filled in the blank. I was shocked when he told us: “Cadaver-sniffing dogs are trained to detect a body that has not been embalmed. They cannot be used in two places: Jewish cemeteries and pig farms. The Jewish do not embalm their dead–the dog believes everyone buried in the cemetery is a murder victim.” He went on to say “There is something in pig excrement that smells like a body to the dog.”
I wanted my antagonist to be living on the coast of Maine and didn’t think that a pig farm in Kennebunkport would work. Pickton disposed of his victims by feeding their remains to his pigs; my guy, Willard Fischer, ground his up for use as chum. Once I had the premise everything else was academic. It sure makes one believe the old adage: “The truth is stranger than fiction.”
Note: In 2016, a book called Pickton: In His Own Words went up for sale on Amazon. While the 144-page book’s author was listed as Michael Chilldres, it was actually a hand-written manuscript that Pickton had smuggled out of prison. Chilldres had simply typed it up and added his byline. Pickton maintained his innocence in the book, which was eventually pulled down by both the publisher and Amazon after a public outcry. “It’s his kind of shenanigans,” the father of one of the victims told CTV News in the wake of the furor over the book’s publication. “The guy never goes away.”