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Sunday, 24 February, 2002, 01:19 GMT
Pig farmer charged over missing women
Police guarding the entrance to the farm
Up to 80 investigators have been searching the farm
Police in Canada have arrested the owner of a pig farm that has been the focus of an investigation into the disappearance of 50 Vancouver women.

Robert William Pickton has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of two women and more charges may follow, police said.

We believe we now have answers regarding the disappearance of two missing women, but this is a case involving 50 missing women

Constable Catherine Galliford
Investigators have been combing the grounds of the dilapidated pig farm for more than two weeks, hoping to discover the bodies of the women, who have gone missing from the Vancouver red light district over the last two decades.

About 80 police are involved in "the detailed, inch by inch search of the farm property that will continue for many months", Joint Task Force spokesperson Constable Catherine Galliford said.

Charges denied

Most of the 50 women who disappeared without trace between 1983 and late 2001 worked as prostitutes in the red light area of central Vancouver.

Robert Pickton
Police first quizzed Mr Pickton two weeks ago
Mr Pickton, 52, owns the 10-acre (four-hectare) farm, which is in a suburb of Vancouver, with his brother and sister.

Through their lawyer, both Mr Pickton and his younger brother Dave have previously denied any involvement in the disappearances.

The farm was familiar to some prostitutes who work the streets of Vancouver. They talk about a man, known as "Farmer Willy", who would invite women to parties there.

Illegal weapons

Members of the police task force investigating the missing women had their first big break when police searched the farm, about 32 kilometres (20 miles) east of the city centre on 5 February.

That unearthed enough evidence to prompt further searching, and Mr Pickton was charged with unlawful possession of a 22-calibre rifle and a 22-calibre pistol.

Ernie Crey (right) and common-law wife Sarah Festerling wait for news of Mr Crey's sister Dawn
The victim's relatives are awaiting news
He was not taken into custody at the time as police did not consider him a suspect.

Police are remaining tight-lipped over exactly what evidence led to the murder charges and are stressing that as the investigation unfolds they may start focusing on other suspects.

Identity unknown

Police have said they found DNA evidence on the farm and have launched an appeal for anyone who has been to the farm to provide a DNA sample, hoping to eliminate suspects.

Police briefed victims' relatives following Mr Pickton's arrest, but - out of courtesy to their families - have not yet released the names of the two women Mr Pickton is charged with killing. The names will be made public on Monday.

Police never officially classified any of the women as dead because no bodies had been recovered, although they have acknowledged that the women are probably dead.

"We believe we now have answers regarding the disappearance of two missing women, but this is a case involving 50 missing women. There are a lot of questions still unanswered," Constable Galliford said.

See also:

08 Feb 02 | Americas
Pig farm searched for missing women
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