In the annals of crime, few cases are as horrific as the tale of Robert Pickton, a man whose outward appearance of mundane life on the pig farm hid the dark truth. Living on the outskirts of British Columbia, Canada, Robert Pickton was not the average pig farmer one might picture. No, Robert harbored a grotesque secret. He has confessed to 49 murders and expressed regret that he didn’t kill an even 50.
At this point, I’m going to give a content warning for pretty much everything: graphic violence, sexual assault/rape, disrespecting corpses, and even possible cannibalism.
Robert Pickton’s Childhood
Born in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, on October 24, 1949, Robert Pickton spent his childhood amidst the grunts and slosh of pig farming.
His parents, Leonard and Louise Pickton, owned a pig farm 27 miles outside Vancouver that had been in their family since 1905 and brought Robert and his younger brother David into this farming lifestyle from a young age. Linda, their older sister, was spared the hard labor of farm life and sent to Vancouver to live with relatives.
Life on the pig farm, often called Piggy Palace, wasn’t easy for young Robert. It left long-lasting scars. The boys’ childhood was mostly devoid of their father Leonard’s involvement, with the reins of child-rearing firmly held by their relentless mother, Louise.
Louise was a hard worker who wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. She made Robert and David work long hours on the farm, even on school days. This meant that they often smelled bad. And because Louise made them take only baths, Robert developed a fear of showers.
She would regularly send her sons to school in dirty clothes that smelled like the pig farm. Their classmates came up with a very clever nickname for Robert and David-“stinky piggy.”
Some stories even say that as a kid, Robert would hide inside pig carcasses when he wanted to avoid someone although I’m not sure that this has been verified.
Robert wasn’t popular with the girls at school, probably because he always smelled like dirt and farm animals. His clothes were always dirty. School was tough for him and he eventually dropped out.
But there is one story from the childhood of Robert and David that may have played a pivotal role in Robert’s eventual killing spree.
On October 16, 1967, David Pickton was behind the wheel of his dad’s red truck. He had just got his license. What happened next isn’t crystal clear, but somehow, that truck ended up hitting a 14-year-old boy named Tim Barrett, who had been walking along the roadside.
Overcome with panic, Dave rushed home to tell his mom about the accident. Louise Pickton went back with him to the scene of the accident.
There, they found Barrett, badly hurt but still breathing. Louise bent over, examined the injured boy, then shockingly pushed him into a deep ditch by the road.
The following day, Barrett was discovered dead. Upon examination, the coroner found that the young eighth grader had drowned. His injuries from the truck crash were pretty bad, but they wouldn’t have been fatal.
Louise Pickton was possibly the most influential figure in his life. So, it’s probably not too shocking that Robert later turned out to be a killer.
The Disappearances Begin
The Pickton Brothers Hit the Jackpot
In 1978, tragedy struck when the boys lost their father. Barely a year later, in 1979, their mother also passed away. Now in their late 20s, the brothers, along with their sister, found themselves as the sole inheritors of the farm.
By 1994, the Pickton siblings hit the jackpot. The farmland, bought for a mere $18,000 back in 1963, had ballooned in value over the years. In 1993, the property was worth $300,000.
But just a year later, it skyrocketed to a stunning $7.2 million. Seeing the financial potential, the Picktons made a significant move in the fall of 1994.
They sold a portion of their farm to a townhouse development company for a tidy sum of $1.7 million. The city of Port Coquitlam also saw value in the land, purchasing a slice for $1.2 million. This land was transformed into a public park.
In the following year, 1995, the local school district decided to invest. They paid a hefty $2.3 million for a piece of the pig farm. The land found a new life as the site of Blakeburn Elementary School.
If you’re doing the math, the Picktons earned more than $5 million dollars from their inheritance.
On the land, the Pickton brothers kept a huge boar to patrol the property. And let me tell you, this was no cute pig from a kids’ story, this was a big, mean boar that had no problem giving intruders a nasty bite or chasing them off the property.
When the Picktons hit the jackpot and became millionaires, things took a turn for the worse. Women started disappearing at an unsettling rate from the Downtown Eastside (DES) area of Vancouver.
Catherine Gonzales vanished in 1995. Shortly thereafter, Catherine Knight, Dorothy Spence, Diana Melnick, Tanya Holyk, and Olivia Williams all went missing. The list didn’t stop there, with dozens more vanishing from the area, adding to the tally. The wave of disappearances didn’t slow down until 2001.
It seems that Robert’s newly acquired wealth coincided with the surge in missing women. After accumulating his wealth, David Pickton moved off the family farm and relocated just down the road to a new property on Burns Road.
With David out of the way, Robert Pickton now had the wealth and the space to do whatever he wanted, and that is chilling.
The Attempted Murder of Wendy Lynn Eistetter
It was March 23, 1997, when Robert Pickton found himself facing charges of attempted murder. His alleged victim? Wendy Lynn Eistetter, a sex worker whom Robert had reportedly attacked at his farm.
The scene was horrifying: Wendy, severely wounded from multiple stab wounds, had managed to escape from Robert’s clutches. She recounted to authorities how Robert had restrained her with handcuffs during their grim encounter.
Despite her injuries, she succeeded in fighting back, disarming Robert, and turning his own weapon against him.
After the incident, both Robert and Wendy sought medical attention. Robert went to Eagle Ridge Hospital, nursing injuries from the ordeal. Meanwhile, Eistetter was rushed to the nearest emergency room to recover from her numerous lacerations.
Yet, despite the chilling accusations, Robert didn’t stay behind bars for long. He was freed after posting a bond of Canadian $2,000. As the legal proceedings continued, the attempted murder charge against Robert began to lose steam.
On January 27, 1998, less than a year after the charges were filed, the prosecution decided to stay the charge. Why? Wendy’s struggles with drug addiction. Prosecutors feared her personal issues would render her testimony unreliable and could jeopardize their chances of securing a conviction against Pickton.
In a disappointing turn of events, the charges were dropped, and Pickton was left to continue his life as if nothing had happened.
In light of what we know about Robert’s other murders, this was such a missed opportunity to get him off the streets of Vancouver. I’m of the opinion that being a drug addict doesn’t mean that someone can try to kill you and simply walk free.
Piggy Palace Good Times Society
In 1996, Robert Pickton and his brother David created a non-profit organization known as the Piggy Palace Good Times Society. Its stated purpose was ambiguous at best – to “orchestrate, facilitate, manage, and conduct special events, functions, dances, shows, and exhibits on behalf of service and sports organizations, as well as other commendable groups.”
Yet, the reality of these so-called “charity” events was far removed from this seemingly well-intentioned description. Instead, the brothers used the society as a front for hosting massive raves at their farm’s slaughterhouse, which they’d cleverly transformed into a warehouse-like venue.
These events were no secret – quite the opposite. They were the talk of the town, often attracting up to 2,000 attendees, including a crew of bikers and local sex workers. It wasn’t unusual to see members of the infamous Hells Angels biker group among the attendees.
Taking place at their property on Dominion Avenue in Port Coquitlam, the events hosted by the Piggy Palace Good Times Society ranged from wild parties teeming with Vancouver sex workers to wild raves in the renovated slaughterhouse.
In the end, the Pickton brothers found themselves in hot water with the Port Coquitlam authorities. They accused the brothers of skirting the rules about how their land was supposed to be used. Instead of focusing on farming, as specified by the zoning laws, they were dabbling in a hodgepodge of non-agricultural activities.
They made major changes to a farm building, transforming it into a space fit for dances, concerts, and other recreational events. The farm’s original purpose had fallen by the wayside.
Ignoring the mounting legal scrutiny, the Pickton brothers held a New Year’s Eve party in 1998. However, this turned out to be a bridge too far.
In response, the authorities issued an injunction that banned future parties at the farm and authorized the police to “apprehend and evict any person” who attended events there.
In the aftermath, the society’s non-profit status was revoked in the following year due to its failure to produce financial statements. This marked the end of the road for the Piggy Palace Good Times Society, which was ultimately disbanded.
The Grisly Discovery
On February 6, 2002, the police showed up at the Pickton farm with a search warrant for illegal guns, and they weren’t leaving without them. Both Robert and his brother were arrested.
But the police saw something that made them think there was more to the story-personal items belonging to some of the missing women.
They got a second search warrant and started looking at the farm more closely.
The police immediately closed off the property. A combined team from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Vancouver Police Department took over the case.
Following a thorough search of Robert Pickton’s property, investigators discovered evidence far more chilling than they had expected. The farm, at first glance an ordinary pig farm, held the gruesome secrets of Pickton’s nefarious activities.
DNA evidence or remains of not just one or two, but a staggering 33 women, were unearthed on this horrifying ground.
Initially, law enforcement arrested Pickton on the basis of two murder charges. But as the investigation continued, it became increasingly apparent that these were merely the tip of the iceberg.
The charges against Pickton began to pile up, one after the other. By 2005, the magnitude of Pickton’s atrocities was clear. He was now facing 26 charges of murder, etching his name as one of the most prolific serial killers in Canadian history.
As the police dug deeper into the abyss of Pickton’s crimes, the disgusting methods he used to murder his victims came to light. The evidence was piling up, which included police reports and a taped confession from Pickton himself, portrayed a chilling picture.
His victims had been killed in a variety of disturbing ways, each more depraved than the last. Some had been bound with handcuffs and ruthlessly stabbed, while others had been lethally injected with antifreeze.
The sinister tale of Pickton’s actions didn’t end with the murders. Post-mortem, he would dispose of the bodies in two horrifying ways. Some bodies were transported to a nearby meat rendering plant. Others, in a more macabre twist, were ground up and used as feed for the pigs on his farm.
In March 2004, a shocking revelation was made by the government. There was a horrifying possibility that Pickton may have mixed ground human flesh with pork, a product he subsequently sold to unsuspecting members of the public. This led the provincial health authority to issue a public warning.
In 2003, during a preliminary hearing related to the attempted murder of Wendy Eistetter, Robert’s clothes and rubber boots were seized by police from an evidence locker. Further lab testing in 2004 confirmed the worst – the DNA of two women was found on the seized items.
The Trial of the Pig Farmer Killer
In 2006, Robert Pickton stood trial, beginning on January 30, in New Westminster. He declared his innocence, facing 26 counts of first-degree murder at the British Columbia Supreme Court.
Throughout that year, a substantial part of the trial was spent figuring out what evidence would be admissible before the jury, with a media blackout on court proceedings, which is not uncommon in Canada.
By March 2, Justice James Williams dismissed one of the charges due to inadequate evidence. By August 9, the charges were divided into two groups, one consisting of six counts and the other of twenty counts.
The trial continued, focusing on the first six-count group. But the remaining twenty charges were effectively put on hold as of August 4, 2010. Although the full reasons were kept under wraps due to a publication ban, Justice Williams suggested that hearing all 26 charges simultaneously would have been a difficult job for the jury. It could also have heightened the risk of a mistrial due to the trial’s potential length of up to two years.
Originally set for January 8, 2007, the jury trial commencement for the first six counts was rescheduled to January 22. On that date, Robert confronted first-degree murder charges for the deaths of six women. Eventually, the media ban was lifted, revealing the grim details of the investigation’s findings.
Lab staff during the trial mentioned about eighty unidentified DNA profiles discovered on the evidence. Let that number sink in.
Robert’s trailer housed a bizarre and unsettling collection of items, including a loaded .22 revolver with a dildo fitted over the barrel, a supply of .357 Magnum ammunition, night-vision goggles, faux fur-lined handcuffs, a syringe filled with blue liquid, and an aphrodisiac.
Two videotapes were played during the trial. The first featured Robert’s friend revealing that Pickton had described a method for killing a female heroin addict using windshield washer fluid.
The second featured another acquaintance, who claimed that Robert had discussed killing sex workers by handcuffing and strangling them before feeding them to pigs. The court also saw photos of a garbage can from Pickton’s slaughterhouse containing some of victim Mona Wilson’s remains.
On December 9, 2007, the jury found Pickton not guilty of six counts of first-degree murder but guilty on six counts of second-degree murder. A few days later, on December 11, Justice James Williams sentenced Pickton to life imprisonment with no chance of parole for 25 years, the harshest sentence for second-degree murder.
It was equivalent to the sentence he would have received for a first-degree murder conviction. Because he had already received the most severe sentence possible, the courts chose to not try him for the 20 other counts. I imagine this was to keep the victims’ families from having to go through a traumatic trial that wouldn’t lead to increased prison time.
Missing Women Commission of Inquiry
The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, set up in British Columbia in 2010, reviewed how police reacted to cases of missing or murdered women. It wrapped up in 2012, suggesting 63 improvements to the provincial government and police, but faced criticism from various groups, including Indigenous communities, over its method and the government’s inaction on its advice.
The Commission’s main tasks were to look at police responses to reports of missing Downtown Eastside Vancouver women, understand why Robert Pickton’s 1998 charges were dropped (attempted murder of Wendy Lynn Eistetter), suggest improvements on handling missing women and murder cases, and advise on cases with multiple investigating groups.
The study reveals that Indigenous women are more prone to violence and are often victims of severe crimes at higher rates, which is no surprise to me. Despite comprising only 3% of the population, they make up a shocking 33% of missing women cases. Let that sink in.
They are at greater risk of sexual assault, murder, and being targeted by serial predators. The report tied this heightened risk to ongoing marginalization and inequality faced by Indigenous women in British Columbia, Canada, and worldwide, pointing to the impact of Canada’s colonial past.
The study rejected any assumptions linking high-risk lifestyles to victimization. While Indigenous women’s high rate of missing cases is noted, the study suggests it’s a matter for federal, not provincial, authorities to address.
I’ve talked a lot about the killer in this case: Robert Pickton. But I think it’s so important to remember the victims in this case. These were women that were marginalized their entire lives, even in death.
Robert Pickton was convicted of second-degree murder in the deaths of the following women:
Robert Pickton was charged with but not convicted of 20 other murders. Below are the victims:
Robert Pickton is suspected to have murdered the below women, but he has never been charged:
Y’all, this was a tough one. This story shakes us to our core, reminding us that monsters don’t always lurk in the shadows, sometimes they’re hidden in plain sight. With his life sentence, Pickton will spend the rest of his days behind bars, which brings some form of closure to the families of his victims.
But the haunting legacy of his crimes continues to echo, proving once again that real life can be scarier than any horror movie. It’s a chilling reminder to stay vigilant and aware because you never know what’s lurking beneath the surface. Stay safe out there.