That Lonely Section of Hell
September 5, 2015 11:48 AM   Subscribe

Former Vancouver Police detective Lori Shenher's book, That Lonely Section of Hell: The Botched Investigation of a Serial Killer who Almost Got Away, is a memoir about investigating the disappearances of women who would turn out to have been murdered by serial killer Robert Pickton. The Globe and Mail has published an excerpt here.

In 2012, Shenher told the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry (previously: 1, 2) that "she was almost alone in investigating the disappearances, that her superiors discounted her growing suspicion a serial killer was responsible and ignored her suggestions it might be Pickton."

At the time, she mentioned having written a book about it, but it remained unpublished.

Later that year, the commission concluded (pdf) that, among other things:
  • "...[I]n some instances, police did not accept [missing persons] reports, or accepted and closed reports without locating the missing women. Families reported facing a number of barriers when trying to report a loved one missing."
  • Police "...rarely attended the last known address or residence of the missing women immediately to conduct a search of the premise or canvass the neighbours or neighbourhood. In some cases, the police attended within the week of receiving the report; in others they did not attend for weeks or months; in others they did not attend at all. They also rarely canvassed areas where the women were last seen."

Parts IIA and II B of the commission's report, Nobodies: How and Why We Failed the Missing and Murdered Women, details how activism by family and friends of some of the missing women finally prompted the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) to take further action in April of 1999, when they would finally assign more than one person to the women's cases (at that time only Shenher was investigating).

The commission's mandate also included "a review of the investigations of other women who fit within the terms of reference, even though their disappearances are not linked to Pickton. This includes the women who have gone missing from Northern BC’s Highway of Tears."

These women's names are:

Marlene Abigosis
Sereena Abotsway
Sharon Abraham
Elaine Allenbach
Angela Arsenault
Sherry Baker
Cindy Beck
Yvonne Boen
Andrea Borhaven
Heather Bottomley
Heather Chinnock
Nancy Clark
Wendy Crawford
Marcella Creison
Dawn Crey
Sarah de Vries
“Jane Doe”
Sheryl Donahue
Tiffany Drew
Elaine Dumba
Sheila Egan
Cara Ellis
Gloria Fedyshyn
Cynthia Feliks
Marnie Frey
Jennifer Furminger
Catherine Gonzalez
Rebecca Guno
Michelle Gurney
Inga Hall
Helen Hallmark
Ruby Hardy
Janet Henry
Tanya Holyk
Sherry Irving
Angela Jardine
Andrea Joesbury
Patricia Johnson
Debra Jones
Catherine Knight
Kerry Koski
Maria Laliberte
Stephanie Lane
Kellie Little
Laura Mah
Jacquelene McDonell
Diana Melnick
Leigh Miner
Jacqueline Murdock
Lillian O’Dare
Georgina Papin
Tania Petersen
Sherry Rail
Dianne Rock
Elsie Sebastian (Jones)
Ingrid Soet
Dorothy Spence
Teresa Triff
Sharon Ward
Kathleen Wattley
Olivia William
Angela Williams
Taressa Ann Williams
Mona Wilson
Brenda Wolfe
Frances Young
Julie Young
The Women Identified as the Victims of “The Valley Murders”:
Tracy Olajide
Tammy Pipe
Victoria Younker

An attempted murder charge against Pickton was stayed in 1998. He would not be arrested until 2002. In the meantime, women would continue to disappear as the VPD fumbled the investigation. In 2010 he was convicted of the murders of Sereena Abotsway, Mona Wilson, Brenda Wolfe, Marnie Frey, Georgina Papin and Andrea Joesbury. In the end, Pickton was not prosecuted for the murder of 20 other women, even though he had been charged for them.
posted by mandolin conspiracy (34 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
I will work my way through this later but thank you for listing the women's names. I'm ashamed I never knew the women's names
posted by biggreenplant at 12:12 PM on September 5, 2015 [25 favorites]

This makes me wonder whether this type of slack investigation isn't endemic..
posted by bird internet at 12:29 PM on September 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yes, the current standard is becoming "To Self-Protect and Self-Serve". But as long as there are Police Procedurals on the broadcast networks giving them free PR, it will continue.

Every vehicle of the VPD should have bumper stickers proudly declaring "ACCOMPLICES OF ROBERT PICKTON".
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:35 PM on September 5, 2015 [4 favorites]

I'd be really interested in reading this. Too bad none of my local or regional libraries carry it, and it's a long shot for interlibrary loan...
posted by Rykey at 12:49 PM on September 5, 2015

...and looking more closely, that's probably because it won't be out until October. I'm requesting that our library purchase this. Thanks!
posted by Rykey at 12:55 PM on September 5, 2015 [9 favorites]

At work at the moment, will give the excerpt a read when I get home later this evening. I'm hoping that this is more informative and less exploitative.

I worked in a book store in St. Catharines, Ontario for 4 years and we unfortunately had a true crime section filled with two or three books about Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka. A family that still lives in the area would come in once a year to speak to the owner/manager and kindly ask that the books be placed out of sight. She did not want them banned, she just did not want them to be out on display to avoid sensationalism/exploitation with regards to her family and daughter's suffering.

So I'm always weary of reading books that would be categorized in the "True Crime" section. The one book that I have read that has did not give me that feeling was Capote's "In Cold Blood". I think largely because it was written more as a literary biography and less like a script for a Law & Order episode. The fact that it occurred a bit further back in history might also be a reason.
posted by Fizz at 1:18 PM on September 5, 2015 [5 favorites]

Fizz, I read the except. It seems very tasteful and factual. It is not a "true crime" piece. It's by a woman who makes it very clear that there were problems within the VPD. This excerpt notes the Kim Rossmo scandal and starts painting a picture of the problems within the Department.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 1:23 PM on September 5, 2015 [3 favorites]

Chaussette, that is good to hear. Thanks.
posted by Fizz at 1:24 PM on September 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

And the woman - Shenher, the author - is a former VPD officer who learned of the Pickton tip during her first week on the job. She has a BA in English and was a copyrunner for newspapers before she became a police officer, so she has strong writing skills and a good sense of story. Shenher was the first detective VPD assigned to the Missing and Murdered Women Investigation. She's on leave for PTSD now, while completing a degree in professional communications, which will probably help her ensure media attention for what seems like a worthy work.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 1:48 PM on September 5, 2015 [3 favorites]

The Bernardo/Homolka case also involved substantial police incompetence. In addition to some investigatory neglect involving disbelieving witnesses and credulous suspect interviewing there was incredibly shocking incompetence after the killers had been caught when they failed to uncover video tape evidence of the sexual assaults in a multi-month long house search and allowed a defense attorney to walk off with them.

It's important people know these stories so they don't fall for CSI style mythologizing of law enforcement competence. These police had murderers in their sights and let them get away to continue murdering and in the Bernardo/Homolka case failed to secure evidence that would have locked Homolka away as full participant in the sexual assault/torture/murder spree.

We pay cops well and should both expect and demand better from them.
posted by srboisvert at 1:51 PM on September 5, 2015 [10 favorites]

Thank you for listing all of their names. Friends of mine in Vancouver knew some of these women. I'll go read the links before I say more about this case, but it haunts me that it took so long to stop him.
posted by gingerbeer at 3:16 PM on September 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

In 1986 I took the train from Vancouver to Montreal. I happened to be seated in the dining car with a couple of VPD detectives. They talked shop and generally ignored me. By this time in my life I'd already worked in a number of First Nations communities and counted a number of members of those communites as friends, acquaintances, co-workers. So when the detectives turned the conversation around to aboriginal relations, my ears were ready.

One of the detectives told a story, more or less as, "So this 'chug' [derogatory term for indigenous person] came in my office and was complaining her sister was missing and we weren't doing anything, and was raising a big stink. And I couldn't get rid of her, ha ha ha. So I sent her down to Fred's office to fill in a form. Ha ha ha, she was under the impression I gave a shit about her sister or any of those people. Ha ha I didn't give a shit about her sister. Fucking chugs."

I mean that's been seared in my mind ever since, and the entire Pickton case in the broad sweep and in its details came as absolutely no surprise. It's good to see some cops having a crisis of conscience I guess but it doesn't bring those women back.
posted by Rumple at 5:04 PM on September 5, 2015 [21 favorites]

Sorry - my bad. Should have mentioned in the FPP that the book isn't out yet.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 5:17 PM on September 5, 2015

According to amazon, it is currently available.
posted by googlebombed at 5:40 PM on September 5, 2015

The photo of and letter to Sarah de Vries.

posted by allthinky at 5:59 PM on September 5, 2015

I live in Vancouver and I remember this time well, because people just knew, they just knew, that there was a serial killer operating in The Downtown Eastside. Meanwhile, the VPD kept denying it, but it was part of the conversation during those years, it was in the air and one of the day to day things you talked about. People just knew.

People also used to say that the VPD just let it go on for so long because of racism and classism and nothing I have heard since leads me to believe otherwise.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 6:25 PM on September 5, 2015 [6 favorites]

The Bernardo/Homolka case also involved substantial police incompetence.

Most serial killer cases seem to.

Jeffrey Dahmer was caught red-handed twice before the police did anything, and was arrested on the second occasion only because his escaped victim -- still in Dahmer's handcuffs -- managed to essentially drag the police to the scene by their ears and shove their faces in the piles and piles of proof so ironclad they couldn't possibly deny it. That's what it took for them to even humour the idea.

And, again, not the first time they were there. And the details of the first time are much, much, MUCH worse.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:04 PM on September 5, 2015 [9 favorites]

The Aleutian Low hunkers down each winter off the West Coast of North America, spawning the bitter winds which scour the mill-towns and fishing-villages of the North West rain-forest. It stings the skin of the under-dressed Party-Girls, so relentlessly chased by the lounge-lizards among the post-and-beam Legion halls and faux-medieval pubs, which pass for leisure in these places.

The small-town heroes are beyond tedious,with their vulcanized mullets, and Trans-Am minds. Another Saturday night, another meat-raffle; the Party-Girl is positively going to scream. The sulfur-pall of the local pulp-mill is her town’s last lingering-scent, as she flees her past in a Pontiac.

It’s way-warm down South in winter. The Clubs are side by side, even on top of each other. The barred doors of the trendy After-hours joints magically unlock, for freshly-minted Party Girls. You can boogie till dawn, no question. There is always a place for the Party-Girl in some circles. Mostly they were harmless fun. Others… not so much.

At the age 18 or 20, everything glitters for Party Girls. No Fear isn’t a Brand; it’s a lifestyle. Dawns are sparkling and full of promise. Before free-base and Aids, the possibilities were limitless.

But when the music stops, and the disco-ball quits spinning, no clear pathway lies amongst the empty bottles and discarded Baggies, at age 30. The tips get smaller, the invitations aren’t so glamorous.

Heineken and Harley Davidsons replace Dom Perignon and Porsches. Opening-parties and chalets become Strip-joints, and trailer-parks.

Occasional now becomes a habit. Friends are forgotten. Their wisecracks and jokes have turned into boring pleas, and lectures. After all, She’s in control; she’s a Party Girl. She can quit any time she wants.

The way down is always far swifter than the way up. Blink, and you’ll miss it. Besides, you did your best. It’s not your fault. You had other priorities. You hadn’t thought of her in a decade, until you saw her picture in the paper.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 9:34 PM on September 5, 2015 [6 favorites]

These women's names are:

Thank you for doing this. Thank you so much. Every day that we are not investigating what happened to these women--and the ridiculously large number of murdered and missing indigenous women (MMIW/#MMIW)--deepens the stain on our nation. It is an obscenity that we are not seeking justice for these people.

there was incredibly shocking incompetence after the killers had been caught when they failed to uncover video tape evidence of the sexual assaults in a multi-month long house search and allowed a defense attorney to walk off with them.

I have a vaguely disturbing obsession with serial killers (Barnardo/Homolka especially--tenuous personal connections at a couple degrees remove, geographic proximity), and it's really not quite so cut-and-dried as that. The warrant provided by the judge was very specific (as they not-infrequently are) that the cops couldn't look for anything they weren't already expecting to find. Because Homolka had been let's say less than forthcoming (which, to my mind, should have invalidated her plea deal), the police were not expecting to find video evidence and therefore couldn't search for it.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:59 PM on September 5, 2015 [6 favorites]

In the end, Pickton was not prosecuted for the murder of 20 other women, even though he had been charged for them.

It's a hard calculus, and I really think the correct decision was reached there: Pickton will never again breathe air as a free man; the charges he was convicted on (+ dangerous offender status, IIRC) will ensure that. Mounting prosecutions on the other 20 (known) murders would just be a drain on tax dollars and revictimize the families.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:04 PM on September 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Sys Rq: "Most serial killer cases seem to."

I wonder if it is something like trouble shooting where an (in hindsight) glaringly obvious cause of a problem gets overlooked repeatedly because the cause-effect chain is so rare. Cops have a hard time conceptualizing the existence of a serial killer because most of them never deal with a serial killer case.

The Pickton case doesn't support this hypothesis sadly; it was bloody apparent to everyone but the VPD that there was something going on.
posted by Mitheral at 11:52 PM on September 5, 2015

Everyone including the VPD. Difference was, they just didn't care.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:01 AM on September 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

They were too busy bullying Rossmo and it delayed the investigation.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 12:21 AM on September 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

I still think little justice has actually been served. The VPD were all too happy to hold Pickton up to the media and say "Look, we got him, everyone can sleep easy now!". It seemed clear to me (although I did have the benefit of hearing some first-hand stories from women who spent time on his farm in the 90s) that he was the low-IQ fall guy for his brother and the Hell's Angels. Not that he was innocent - he was either an executioner or a corpse-disappearer for them.

These women continue to go missing today, across the province, across the country. We should not sleep easy until they can as well.
posted by mannequito at 12:36 AM on September 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

About the systemic racism and classism behind the apathy of the police in this case: I've mentioned this before in previous threads, but I remember reading a comment that said something like: if any other relatively homogenous group of women started disappearing regularly from a particular geographic location--for example, if the young women living in residence at UBC started disappearing--you better believe the police would have been on the case in an organized, serious way LONG before the numbers reached this high.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:01 AM on September 6, 2015 [8 favorites]

And HGG, this is why this group is targeted. But thanks to programs like Insite there will be more people noticing that regulars disappear, parts of the community haven't been seen, etc. These folks are extremely vocal and have a decent dialogue with the VPD.
posted by qinn at 3:37 AM on September 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

This makes me wonder whether this type of slack investigation isn't endemic . . .

I could immediately think of several serial killer investigations where attempts to file missing persons reports were rebuffed and key, obvious evidence ignored or never followed up on. Dean Corll, for example.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:04 PM on September 6, 2015

This makes me wonder whether this type of slack investigation isn't endemic...

I'd argue it's a well-established pattern in Canada.

There's also the two men, Robert Baltovich and Anthony Hanemaayer, who were arrested, tried, and convicted for crimes later tied to Paul Bernardo.

Police and Crown attorneys in Canada have a lengthy track record of dangerous incompetence. James Lockyer would not be so busy otherwise.

Let's not forget the forensic pathologists in all of this either.

It's a dual tragedy - people are wrongfully convicted (thank goodness we don't have the death penalty), and then the families of victims are denied a proper and timely investigation into the real perpetrators.

Or, in the case of Charles Smith's victims, people were charged and convicted for the deaths of their own children - that they were not responsible for.

Of course, in the case of Pickton, there was literally no investigation for years.

If it had been white women disappearing from, say, Kitsilano, there would have been a province-wide task force on week one of victim one.

This isn't really about Pickton himself. It's about the continuing inaction on cases of missing Aboriginal women by police forces across the country. Hell, the RCMP's own report says as much:

The updated data reflects that 9.3% of unsolved Aboriginal female homicide and missing persons cases captured in the 2014 Overview have since been resolved.

When held up against overall homicide clearance rates, that number speaks volumes.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 12:38 PM on September 6, 2015 [8 favorites]

I was on the board of the Vancouver Police/Native Liaison Society in the mid 1990s when some of our clients started to go missing. Several of them are on this list. My heart breaks to this day that we couldn't get enough people to believe us that something was happening.

This has brought it all back. And things have only gotten worse.

posted by salishsea at 2:25 PM on September 6, 2015 [10 favorites]

Just to say also, Dave Dickson was one of our liaison officers and that list he tried to get taken seriously was partially developed by our staff. He was a decent guy and a great officer. he was well loved and respected by the people of the downtown eastside, and put up with a lot of shit from the VPD brass who seemed not to get the point of community policing and the role it plays in stopping what lori has documented here.

Agh. What a set of bitterweet memories this has triggered. Thank you for this post.
posted by salishsea at 2:42 PM on September 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

Another book is On the Farm: Robert William Pickton and the Tragic Story of Vancouver's Missing Women by Stevie Cameron.
posted by ovvl at 5:17 PM on September 6, 2015

The quality/crap ratio of any given True Crime section is tiny; but the work that is done genuinely well - rare though it is - is astonishing.

Thank you for their names.
posted by Gin and Broadband at 12:44 PM on September 7, 2015

Heads up to anyone who listens to CBC Radio One--tomorrow (Sept. 10) Lori Shenher will be interviewed on The Current. I heard a preview of it this morning and it sounded like it'll be a very good (but harrowing) interview. You can listen to it streaming from the site, or on the archived audio podcast later.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:41 PM on September 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Thanks hurdy gurdy girl.

Audio's now available here.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:30 AM on September 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

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