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Robert Pickton: The Villain of Vancouver

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Robert “Willie” Pickton was born on October 24, 1949, on his family’s pig farm in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia. His life was difficult from the very beginning; it is said that he came into this world with his umbilical cord tightly wound around his throat, deprived of precious oxygen while the midwife struggled to cut him free.

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His parents sometimes speculated that this trauma had caused learning disabilities and possibly irreversible brain damage as well. His defense team likewise latched onto this angle many years later, producing an IQ test which supposedly indicated rather low intelligence. But even if Pickton wasn’t a genius—even if he actually did suffer from brain damage—no one could say he wasn’t a resilient young man.

He grew up in some rather difficult straits. The rustic farm his parents called home often didn’t have running water, and Pickton’s earliest memory was of being a toddler lifting up the floorboard under his bed to gain access to the fresh spring water that flowed underneath. In this demanding environment, Robert Pickton apparently became a self-starter who learned and did things at a much younger age than most—including driving the family truck at the age of three.

As Pickton tells the story, he was left by himself in his dad’s vintage Maple Leaf truck, a Canadian/General Motors classic from the 1940s. He excitedly jumped into the driver’s seat and accidently knocked the vehicle into neutral. The truck lurched forward and pigs went flying as it careened down the sloping terrain before the panicked young Pickton steered the truck right into a telephone pole. After he was pulled from the wrecked truck, his father “beat the hell” out of him. His dad apparently wasn’t mad that he’d been playing around, or even driving the truck—he was just mad that he’d crashed it!

It seems that Pickton’s mother and father took an unusual approach to parenting in general. Just a year after this incident, his mother caught him smoking a cigarette—and her way of curing him of this bad habit was to hand him a cigar! Yes, that’s right, she had her four-year-old son cram a stogie down his throat and forced him to smoke himself sick. Admittedly, it worked; Pickton never wanted to smoke again.

The days of Robert Pickton’s youth unfolded long before Child Protective Services began swooping down on the slightest aberration in childcare. With no outside authority keeping watch, Pickton was completely at the mercy of the oddball parenting practiced by his mother and father, Leonard and Louise.

It was the extreme oddity of Louise Pickton in particular that locals would remember most clearly, many years after the fact. She was decidedly unhygienic in her habits, with a mouth full of rotten teeth, a head that was almost completely bald (except for a few mousy strands covered by a bandanna), and a face with a fuzzy beard sprouting from its surface. Apparently not caring a whit how she looked, Louise would boldly trot out of the house in a dress and boots, screaming at the top of her lungs to Robert and his siblings, “Git over here—now!!”

Robert was his mother’s main target, and she was constantly berating him and ordering him around. His father, a Briton who had moved to Canada as a young man, was more distant in his parenting style, usually choosing to remain aloof.

Life was hard on the Picktons’ pig farm. The kids were constantly busy cleaning up after the animals, which included a handful of cows as well as over 200 pigs. Pig farms, of course, are known for their horrible odor, and as smelly pig farms go, the Pickton farm apparently smelled pretty darn bad. The family never could quite scrub the smell off themselves, and the kids were routinely ridiculed for the aroma that followed them around. Among the local brats, the Pickton children were universally known as the “Piggies”. His siblings took this admittedly unimaginative moniker in stride and soon sloughed it off, but for Robert, the childhood taunt would continue to carry a sting for many years to come.

In 1955, at the age of six, Robert Pickton was enrolled in Millside, the local elementary school. Without any real training in manners or social interaction at home, the young Pickton was understandably awkward and shy around his classmates. His test scores suffered as a result, and he made bad grades in just about every subject. His second year in school wasn’t much better than the first, and it was determined that he would have to be held back a grade so that he could catch up with his peers. When he finally did reach the third grade, he was placed in the closest thing 1950s Canada had to a class for special needs students. He would remain in special education classes for the rest of his time in the school system.

In 1963, when he was 13, Pickton matriculated at Mary Hill Secondary School, but he eventually dropped out due to the intense ridicule that he continued to face for his offensive odor and his inadequate intellect. The playground bullies were constantly picking on Pickton, and the pressure drove him away from school for good. And just as society had rejected Pickton, it wouldn’t be long before Pickton would thoroughly reject society.

The Piggy Palace

After he dropped out of school, Robert Pickton’s life consisted mainly of taking care of the farm and looking after his aging parents. Unlike his youthful peers, Willie wasn’t known for drinking, carousing, or even dating. The only real pastime he had was writing to his pen pals. In the age of Facebook and Snapchat, the practice of writing a note on a piece of paper and physically mailing it to someone has come to seem downright archaic, but this is what Pickton enjoyed doing on a regular basis. The pen pals he wrote to were women that he would never have had the nerve to speak with in person. Much like a modern teenager who can chat up a storm in an instant messenger but fail to carry a conversation face-to-face, Pickton poured his heart out to his faceless pen pals.

He was particularly fond of a young woman named Connie Anderson who lived in Pontiac, Michigan. At the age of 24, in the year 1974, he actually made a trip out to see her. It was quite an adventure for the young Pickton. Traveling by bus, he passed through several cities along the way, and at some point he was even accosted by a modeling agency. As he remarked years later in recollection to a friend, “I’m a plain old farm boy. They want me for a model? A model? Me? Forget it.”

According to Pickton, by the time he left Connie Anderson’s residence he and Connie were engaged. However, while Pickton considered his erstwhile pen pal the “love of his life”, she couldn’t leave her job and he couldn’t leave the farm. Their romance fell through the cracks, and not long afterward Leonard and Louise died from prolonged illness.

When both of his parents passed away in the late 1970s, Pickton inherited a considerable amount of property. But although his brother Dave and his sister Linda received full rights immediately, Robert’s portion would be sealed away in a trust until he reached the age of forty. Pickton bitterly debated his siblings on this measure for several years afterward, but in the end all he could do was bide his time.

During the 1980s he lived a quiet life on the farm, focusing mostly on his passion for acquiring new vehicles. His pride and joy was the 1977 Ford truck he had purchased with $20,000 of cash inherited from his mother. He also liked to visit the local automobile auctions, where he would buy and sell car parts.

Pickton also managed to maintain his parents’ former client base in the meat market. They would hire him to represent them at livestock auctions. He would be there just about every Saturday, buying rabbits, geese, goats, and even lamas. Every weekend, whatever it was his customers asked him to get, he would get it. When he brought the animals back to the farm he would butcher them, usually after slitting their throats with a knife. Larger animals he would shoot in the head with a nail gun.

One can only imagine how strange and lonesome his life was, dwelling in solitude on a big, desolate, and disgusting farm, his only regular company the animals he slaughtered. But things would soon change. His older brother Dave, who had started a successful construction business, and his sister Linda, who had found a niche for herself in real estate, concocted a plan to make some money off of the large tracts of unused land on the property.

By the early 1990s several portions of the land had been sold off and repurposed, and in 1994 developers called Eternal Holdings purchased several acres on the east side of the farm to build a series of townhouses. The company gave the Picktons a whopping 1.76-million-dollar payout. With this one deal, the siblings, who had grown up threadbare and poor, became multi-millionaires.

In 1996, Robert Pickton’s ever-inventive brother and sister registered part of the farm as a nonprofit charity which they gave the decidedly odd moniker of “The Piggy Palace Good Times Society”. They claimed that their new “charity” would “organize, coordinate, manage and operate special events, functions, dances, shows and exhibitions on behalf of service organizations, sports organizations and other worthy groups.” This unusual-sounding “charitable organization”, however, soon developed a reputation not for good works but for hosting drunken revelries with thousands of people in attendance.

The unsavory attendees at these gatherings included Hell’s Angel bikers and a steady stream of prostitutes from nearby Vancouver; the parties became famous for outrageous antics and over-the-top indulgence in alcohol and drugs; and had any of the guests been sober enough to think about it, they would have realized that such chaos would end up on police radar sooner rather than later.

It was actually Dave whose activities on the farm first fell afoul of the authorities. After several stolen cars were located on the property, he was accused of running a chop shop for the Hell’s Angels. When local residents heard of this unfolding investigation, most were not too surprised. Willie’s bad-tempered brother had been having brushes with the law his whole life, and with the continual raucous partying on the farm, another such confrontation had seemed almost inevitable.

For Dave, such things were expected. Yet no one ever dreamed that his mild and seemingly simple-minded brother Willie could be guilty of any crimes. The odd but docile man seemed incapable of aggression, letting alone committing serial murder. But his placid facade was an easy cover for the more nefarious inner workings of his mind, and on March 23, 1997, his evildoing finally came to light.

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