A Vancouver police officer who raised red flags about women disappearing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside says her concerns were dismissed by the "old guard" within the department.
And Det. Const. Lori Shenher on Monday told the inquiry into the investigation of serial killer Robert Pickton that a group formed to look into the missing women was merely window dressing.
"There were a lot of things that were going on at that time under chief (Bruce) Chambers that were on paper and I felt this was very much a paper squad," she testified.
"It was a bit of a shell game. I don't think it was really going to turn into actual investigators actually doing this work."
'I thought 'bingo,' this is the kind of guy we're looking for.' —Det. Const. Lori Shenher on Robert Pickton
Shenher, who was working the missing persons unit at the time, testified she communicated to her superiors that these women weren't seeing their families, weren't picking up their cheques and there was a problem.
"So that was hard because somehow that message just wasn't getting (through to the) old guard, if you want to call it that. That was definitely a problem," Shenher told the inquiry.
"It seemed as though the more experienced people there were around the table, the less appreciation there was that we were dealing with a serial killer."
The theory was brushed off as if those raising the possibility had read too many detective novels or seen too many movies, she said.
Agreed with Kim Rossmo
Shenher said then-Det. Insp. Kim Rossmo was a good example of how senior officers dismissed an opinion if that person bypassed the chain of command.
Rossmo told the inquiry last week that his serial killer theory was dismissed by an "arrogant" and "egotistical" Vancouver Police Insp. Fred Biddlecombe.
Shenher said she involved Rossmo in some of the theories of the missing women case knowing that she would get a hard time from some of the other investigators.
"But I felt like those were the kinds of stones we need to not leave unturned, we need to try and use the resources that we have.
"I took that risk knowingly and thought that if anything good were to come from his information, then it was worth the risk."
One of Shenher's first jobs was working in the Downtown Eastside, trying to make contact with the prostitutes in the area while also conducting undercover operations to arrest men trying to buy sex.
Shenher got to know many of the women, and made a special connection with Sereena Abotsway and Angela Jardine, two of the women who would later appear on the missing women's list.
It was their disappearance that really cemented her suspicions, she said.
"These were people who were very much of a fabric of the Downtown Eastside. They drew all their support and sustenance from the community and I couldn't conceive of either one of them voluntarily leaving that community."
Led to Pickton's door
A tip in July 1998 led Shenher right to Pickton's door.
She began investigating the Port Coquitlam, B.C. pig farmer and found that a charge of attempted murder had been stayed against him.
A sex-trade worker told police she was picked up in the Downtown Eastside and offered $100 for sex back at Pickton's farm. The woman was attacked and stabbed, but made it out to the road where a couple passing in a vehicle helped her.
"Honestly, my thought was this is the kind of guy we were looking for," she said. "The idea that he had a large property and that he had what seemed quite clear to me was the ability to dispose of bodies."
Shenher said she was very mindful that they weren't finding any bodies up to that point, so they were looking for someone who could get rid of the evidence. Her tipster told her Pickton had a "grinder" to get rid of the bodies.
"I thought 'bingo,' this is the kind of guy we're looking for."
Shenher later interviewed the woman who was allegedly attacked by Pickton and was even more convinced that he should be moved to the top of the suspect list.
The woman — whose name is protected by a publication ban — told Shenher that Pickton clapped a handcuff on her wrist while they were in his trailer and she began fighting for her life. The woman slashed Pickton and then he stabbed her before she ran to the road for help.
"It was exactly the kind of scenario I had envisioned. It was frustrating as well."
The woman told Shenher she was told the charges were stayed because the woman was a drug addict.
But Shenher said she never came to know the true reasons for why the charges were stayed against Pickton in connection to that attack.
"I'm sure this commission will find that out."
She recalled discussing the case with the investigating RCMP officer and learned that the woman had almost died on the operating room table a few times during surgery.
"As morbid a thought as it is, had she died, we probably would have had a slam-dunk murder conviction without her testimony."