‘There was a monster out there’
VANCOUVER — Sex workers were vanishing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in the late 1990s as if they were snatched by a “dark force,” the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry heard on Tuesday.
“It’s like there was a monster out there, an evil force sweeping up women, but we don’t know what it was,” said Elaine Allan, who worked with sex workers at the WISH drop-in centre in the troubled neighbourhood from 1998 to 2001.
Allan was testifying before the Vancouver inquiry investigating why it took Vancouver police and RCMP until 2002 to catch serial killer Robert Pickton when they were receiving detailed tips as far back as 1998.
She told the inquiry that Vancouver police officer Const. David Dickson was “indifferent” when she tried to report one woman missing in 1999.
Allan said a woman named Ashwan came to the drop-in centre “just hysterical,” saying her friend Tiffany Drew was missing.
But when they reported the disappearance to Dickson, he said that Drew was in a rehabilitation centre trying to recover from a drug addiction “and didn’t want contact from her old friends, fearing she would relapse.”
Years later, Drew’s DNA was found on Pickton’s pig farm.
“Why the cop told Ashwan and me Tiffany Drew was in a recovery facility when in fact she was not, will always be a mystery to me,” said Allan.
Pickton, 62, is now serving a life sentence for the murders of six women. He initially was charged with killing 20 more — including Drew — but those charges were stayed in 2010.
The serial killer has been linked by DNA to the deaths of 33 women and boasted to an undercover police officer that he killed at least 16 more.
Dickson, who was the Vancouver police liaison to the Downtown Eastside at the time, will testify about his experience as a beat cop later in the inquiry.
Allan told the inquiry that her friend, street nurse Bonnie Fournier, “told me immediately, when she saw Pickton’s arrest photo, ‘That’s the a—hole who’s been parking outside the Waldorf [Hotel] for 25 years.’ “
Evidence at Pickton’s trial, which led to his 2007 conviction, revealed he often frequented the Waldorf parking lot, trolling for women to take back to his farm. He then returned to the neighbourhood to dump body parts along with pig offal at a rendering plant.
Sharon Baptiste was highly agitated when her cousin Georgina Papin — “a very beautiful, very popular woman” — went missing, recalled Allan.
When Pickton was finally arrested in 2002, Allan said there was shock and anger.
“Sharon Baptiste immediately said, ‘That’s the guy who picked up my cousin,’ ” Allan said.
Pickton was convicted of second-degree murder in her death.
The inquiry, led by commissioner Wally Oppal, will analyze how Vancouver police and the RCMP handled the Pickton investigation from 1997 to 2002 and whether the 20 additional murder charges should have been stayed.
The inquiry is slated to run until June.