Robert Pickton, Notorious Canadian Serial Killer, Dies at 74

Robert Pickton, one of Canada’s most notorious serial killers, whose crimes called attention to police and societal disregard for the violent deaths of Indigenous women, died on Friday after a fellow inmate attacked him in prison in Quebec, where he was serving a life sentence. He was 74.

His death, in a hospital, was announced by Correctional Service Canada, which said he had been assaulted on May 19 at Port-Cartier Institution and had died of unspecified injuries. The announcement did not give a motive for the attack.

In 2007, Mr. Pickton was convicted in the murders of six women, though he boasted to an undercover police officer that he had killed 49 in all.

The remains of his victims were found at a ramshackle pig farm he owned outside Vancouver, where authorities conducted what at the time was the largest crime-scene investigation in Canadian history. After 18 months, they found the remains of 33 women.

The victims were mainly members of Indigenous groups, and most were sex workers and drug addicts whom Mr. Pickton encountered in the Downtown Eastside, an underbelly of the scenic, affluent Vancouver.

Mr. Pickton was able to continue killing for so long, according to an investigation by the provincial government of British Columbia, because of police bias toward the race and marginalized status of his victims.

Though family members of missing women had alerted authorities, the Vancouver police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were slow to suspect that a serial killer stalked the Downtown Eastside. The official inquiry, released in 2012, named 67 women who had been murdered or disappeared from the neighborhood in a two-decade period before Mr. Pickton’s arrest in 2002.

“The pattern of predatory violence was clear and should have been met with a swift and severe response by accountable and professional institutions, but it was not,” the report said.

The evidence of Mr. Pickton’s atrocities was discovered almost accidentally, when an R.C.M.P. detail arrived to investigate a report that Mr. Pickton had an unlicensed shotgun on his property in Port Coquitlam, a suburb of Vancouver.

A sign in front of his 15-acre farm, which he owned with a brother, warned away intruders: “No Visitors, Agents, Peddlers or Salespeople — Admittance by Appointment Only!! (No Exceptions.)”

The police uncovered grisly human remains, including dismembered hands and feet and the severed heads of women. They believed that Mr. Pickton had fed body parts to his pigs or destroyed them in a wood chipper.

According to a 2002 New York Times article, Mr. Pickton, his brother and a sister inherited the pig farm from their father, who died in the 1970s. Mr. Pickton never married and had no children.

Robert William Pickton, who was known as Willy, was born on Oct. 24, 1949, in Port Coquitlam, to Leonard and Louise Helene (Arnal) Pickton. Information on survivors was not immediately available.

He was charged with 26 murders, but the judge limited his trial to six cases to keep the evidence manageable for the jury. Prosecutors later suspended the other 20 cases after Mr. Pickton was convicted of six counts of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. (Canada does not have the death penalty.)

The women he was convicted of killing were Sereena Abotsway, Mona Wilson, Andrea Joesbury, Brenda Wolfe, Georgina Papin and Marnie Frey.

In 2014, a report by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police found that some 1,181 Indigenous women were killed or disappeared across Canada from 1980 to 2012. While Indigenous women and girls make up about 4 percent of Canada’s female population, they account for 16 percent of those who are murdered.

In 2019, a national investigation concluded that the police and the criminal justice system had failed Indigenous victims by viewing them “through a lens of pervasive racist and sexist stereotypes.”

The chief commissioner of the investigation called the scope of the murders “genocide.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose government authorized the three-year inquiry after it had been blocked by his conservative predecessor, said on its release, “This is an uncomfortable day for Canada, but it is an essential day.”

A statement by Correctional Service Canada on Friday acknowledged the racial overtones of Mr. Pickton’s murders: “We are mindful that this offender’s case has had a devastating impact on communities in British Columbia and across the country, including Indigenous peoples, victims and their families. Our thoughts are with them,” it said.

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