In this chilling, yet sensational piece of true crime, Stevie Cameron takes the reader into the world of Robert ‘Willie’ Pickton and the numerous women who went missing on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside primarily in the 1990s. Cameron presents the reader with detailed analysis of events and the police investigation into the case surrounding one of Canada’s—and North America’s—most notorious serial killers. Willie Pickton grew up in a household where hard work was not a foreign concept. The Picktons bought farm land around Port Coquitlam, British Columbia and opened a piggery, which also included many animals they slaughtered themselves and sold to local butchers. An introvert most of his early life, Robert ‘Willie’ Pickton was quiet, which differed greatly from his brother, Dave. As the two grew older, their hard work paid off, as the farm’s notoriety and size grew, eventually falling into Dave’s hands, as he held Willie’s portion in trust, as per a complicated will left by their parents upon their deaths. While Dave was always the one getting into mischief and interacting with some sketchy characters, Willie had a streak of his own, but always came across as unassuming. He enjoyed travelling down to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, where he would dole out money, drugs, and advice to some of the women who strolled the streets. He was known among the prostitutes of the area, sometimes going so far as to invite them back to his farm for some fun. Cameron explores this from both angles, speaking of the street lifestyle of these women who made their living on the Downtown Eastside and some of the interactions that Pickton had with a number of them, sometimes seeking to feed their addictions and on other occasions to ‘taste their wares’, for lack of a better word. While the Pickton brothers continued to make a name for themselves in and around Port Coquitlam, there were issues on the streets, as more and more women simply disappeared from the Downtown Eastside without a trace. Missing persons reports escalated, but the Vancouver Police did little, all but completely ignoring the statistics as they cited that prostitutes tended to be nomadic and were likely just trying to flee their families. Cameron delves into the lives of these women, giving them faces and backstories throughout the early part of the book, while also pointing out the ineptitude of the Vancouver Police when it came to what was going on. When local reporters began shining a light on things, the police had no choice but to take a second look at some of the trends, all of which ended up showing that there was something going on here, as over forty women had disappeared off the streets between the 1990s and into the early 2000s.
Working on a tip related to a gun violation, police agreed to make their way to the Pickton Pig Farm, where they wanted to meet Willie, who had become a person of interest in this still-evolving case. Pickton’s name had come up as one of the ‘bad dates’ among many of the prostitutes, one who was always willing to ply women with drugs and money to come ‘party’ with Dave and others back on the farm. When police served a warrant, they discovered more than the guns that were not registered, locating evidence that would tie Pickton to two of the missing women and opening the investigation into what would become one of Canada’s most horrendous crime scenes ever. With enough to take Pickton into custody, Vancouver Police and RCMP officers began sifting through the massive farm land, looking for anything that might implicate the pig farmer in something sinister. While Pickton feigned shock and disbelief, he sat in long interviews with police and listened, never quite substantiating the evidence or theories presented to him. As Cameron explores, he would go for hours being obstinate and agreeing only to fringe thoughts and ideas, leaving the door open for interpretation. At the farm, evidence was piling up, as personal effects, blood, bones, and eventually body parts, turned up all over the place, turning the Pickton Farm into Canada’s largest crime scene with over 200 000 pieces of DNA evidence by the time things went to trial.
Speaking of the judicial side of events, while Pickton was first charged with two counts of first-degree murder, further evidence upped the counts to twenty-seven by the time things reached a trial. Pickton tried to find loopholes throughout, but a tricky piece of investigative work by the police saw the man admit to the possibility of up to forty-nine victims, all from the Downtown Eastside. In a speedy last handful of chapters, Cameron explores the legal and judicial side of events, travelling through the court system and how the players did their best to give these missing (and murdered) women faces and validation for lives cut short, though the judge whittled things down to six victims, worried that the plethora of evidence would overwhelm a jury. In a clipped narrative, Cameron presents the trial and its outcome that saw the jury agree on charges. Things made their way up to the Supreme Court of Canada before finally ending all appeals, thereby releasing the publication order and paving the way for Stevie Cameron to present this book to readers, where they could match fact with fictional accounts in what is likely one of North America’s most horrific and large-scale serial killings in history. A sensational book that does not miss any detail in its depiction, Stevie Cameron is to be praised for all her hard work and dedication. Recommended to those who enjoy depictions of true crime, as well as the reader who enjoys learning about some of Canada’s more horrific events in history.
I chose this as a buddy read with a true crime friend of mine and must say that I was throughly impressed. While I remember hearing of Pickton and his pig farm, I knew little about it until I read this book. Stevie Cameron offers the reader a detailed exploration of all sides of this case, from a slowly evolving biography of Willie Pickton through to backstories on many of the women from the Downtown Eastside. Yes, they were all prostitutes and many delved into the world of drugs, but Cameron gives them faces and argues throughout that these women had families and were sometimes driven to the life because of their pasts. This is more than a modern Jack the Ripper ‘kill the whore’ story, as Cameron pulls the reader in and makes them care for the victim, while also paving the way to clues about how and why Willie Pickton would be responsible. This omnipotent narrative also shows how Vancouver Police dropped the ball and ignored much of what was going on, stifling the few who had ideas or found themselves on a mission to document these missing and exploited women. Cameron uses her power of the pen to slowly and methodically explore the narrative that tied in the Pickton visits to the Downtown Eastside to many of the goings-on and the mounting number of missing women. A piece of forewarning to readers, while the narrative does not delve into the specific explanations of any slaying, save one from an account by a victim who got away, the details and exploration of the Pickton Farm is such that gruesome does not describe it. Tying that to the physical description of the dirty and slovenly Willie Pickton and the reader will likely have chills or at least a pain in the stomach throughout most of the latter chapters of this book. Cameron lays out the facts in a clear manner and keeps the reader wanting to know more as they forge ahead. With well-paced chapters, the story builds throughout, never letting the reader down, even if some might bemoan an excess of backstory and not enough killing narrative. In my humble opinion, I felt that Cameron could have used a great deal more time on the judicial aspect of the case, though I concede that this would have meant paring down some of the backstory (which I felt was essential) or creating a massive tome (with the only other alternative being a two-volume work). I am torn here, as I did learn so much, but wanted some of the courtroom banter and witness testimony summarised effectively for my own reading and understanding. On a much smaller point, Cameron needed to better organise how she divided the book into parts, as she chose three with this publication but used titles that did not clearly delineate the different aspects of the backstory, investigation, and coming to justice. This is minor and does not take away from the reader’s enjoyment whatsoever. Likely one of those books that will resonance for me long into the future, much praise to Stevie Cameron for the way she presented such a horrific subject. It does put much into perspective and only adds to the drama that is coming to the surface in Canada around the Highway of Tears, as well as missing and murdered women.
Kudos, Madam Cameron, for a sensational depiction of events and surely one of the better pieces of true crime writing out there. I was hooked and cannot wait to read more of your work, though I am pleased that it is not true crime (as I need a shower and a break for a while)!
This book fulfils Topic #4: Loser in the Equinox #11 Reading Challenge.
A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons