Informant warned Mounties about Pickton in 1999
Published Monday, August 23, 2010 6:12PM PDT Last Updated Friday, May 18, 2012 11:30PM PDT
Two years after B.C. prosecutors dropped attempted murder charges against Robert Pickton, Leah Best warned Vancouver police that the Port Coquitlam man was a killer -- but her warning was not heeded.
Her secondhand account of Pickton murdering a woman in his barn in 1999, three years before the arrest that led to his conviction in 2007, was touched on in the official Vancouver police account released last week. But Best, known only as an informant code-named Wood in that report, had not spoken publicly until her interview Monday with CTV News.
She says police did not seem to take her seriously. "I did feel angry about it," Best said. "It didn't seem like they cared."
Eleven years later, she is convinced that 13 women's lives could have been saved if police had acted more aggressively on her information.
Ms. Best, now a grandmother in her 50s living in the Fraser Valley, says she was introduced to Pickton through a friend, Lynn Ellingsen, who was getting money from Willie for drugs.
"Lynn said he was a millionaire," she said. "I said, ‘Oh, some millionaire, with gumboots and a tattered jacket.'"
Pickton looked dirty, but didn't appear "creepy," she said. It wasn't until she ran into Ellingsen at a friend's house that a truly horrifying story came out.
"She was staying at Willie's the night before," Best said. "She was out wandering and came upon Willie in the barn. She said he was gutting a woman."
Best was surprised -- but thought the story had a ring of truth. Best said she thought Ellingsen would go to the police with the information. A month later, Best went to the Burnaby RCMP detachment herself.
She was one of three informants in 1999 that related the same story: that Ellingsen had seen a woman being butchered in the farm.
In all cases, the informants told police that they had heard of body parts being stored in the freezer.
The main among them was an informant code-named "Thomas." The report shows that he was asked to be an "agent" for the Vancouver police.
But when Ellingsen was approached by the Provincial Unsolved Homicide Unit of the RCMP, she denied the story, and the RCMP detectives believed her -- discounting Pickton as a suspect.
"The opinion of the provincial unsolved homicide unit investigators was that the informant information was not credible, and not backed up by evidence," the Vancouver police report says.
"It was opinion only and should never have been sufficient to derail an investigation when the allegations were so serious."
Another problem was that the lead investigator on the file at the Coquitlam RCMP detachment had just been promoted -- and he was not there to push Pickton as a suspect, the report says.
Neither the RCMP nor the Vancouver Police Department would comment on Best's story. On Friday, VPD Deputy Chief Doug LePard told reporters that the informants should have been listened to.
In the report, the Vancouver police say that an immunity deal might have helped Ellingsen co-operate. The VPD report quotes an RCMP officer who said there was "insufficient follow-up" after the summer of 1999 with respect to the various potential witnesses, including Best.
After Pickton's arrest in 2002, Ellingsen was persuaded to co-operate and she became the crown's star witness in a trial that resulted in six murder convictions.
Best said she hoped her story would win out in the end and she wished that women's lives could have been saved.
"I thought that they would have got a search warrant or something right away, and looked in the freezers at least," she said.