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Tuesday, 26 February, 2002, 00:12 GMT
Pig farmer in court over missing women
Canada murder case
Police have been gathering DNA evidence from the farm
A court in the Canadian city of Vancouver has charged a pig farmer with double murder in a case which may be linked to the disappearance of up to 50 women over the last 20 years.

Robert William Pickton, 52, was charged with the first-degree murder of 26-year-old Mona Wilson, who was last seen in November, and 29-year-old Serena Abbotsway, who disappeared in August.

Canada murder case
Ricks wants to "talk to" Pickton
The two women are among 50 drug-addicted prostitutes who have vanished without trace from Vancouver's notorious red light district, Eastside, since 1983.

Police say more charges could follow as officers continue to comb Mr Pickton's dilapidated 10-acre pig farm for clues.

Mr Pickton, who appeared unshaven and dressed in a grey tracksuit, was not asked to enter a plea during the hearing, although his lawyer, Peter Ritchie, has previously said both he and his brother denied any involvement in the disappearances.

"When a person gets arrested for something like this, they're completely shocked by it," Mr Ritchie told reporters on Monday, while asking the media to leave Mr Pickton's family alone.


She told me many times she'd like to die. She was sick of this hell, all the hooking and drugs

Steve Ricks, partner of Mona Wilson
He will remain in custody until his bail hearing, which was set for 2 April.

Friends and relatives of missing women have made a makeshift shrine of candles, flowers and cards outside the Pickton farm since Mr Pickton's arrest on Friday.

After the hearing, Mona Wilson's common-law husband Steve Ricks told reporters he had last seen her get into a car with two men.

"Now I feel better, knowing she's at peace, hopefully," Mr Ricks said. "She told me many times she'd like to die. She was sick of this hell, all the hooking and drugs."

Now he said he wanted to talk to Mr Pickton, although "I know they won't let me near him".

'Piggy's Palace'

Mr Pickton, 52, owns the pig farm in a suburb of Vancouver together with his brother Dave and his sister.

Canada murder case
Robert "Willy" Pickton has denied any involvement
The two brothers also operated a drinking club known as "Piggy's Palace" near the farm, which was a haunt of bikers and prostitutes.

Mr Pickton, was charged with attempted murder in 1997, for the stabbing of a drug-addicted prostitute at his home, but the charges were later dropped.

Trevor Greene, who wrote a book on the case of the 50 missing women, said he had heard of a man known as "Farmer Willy" who used to invite Vancouver prostitutes to parties at his farm, but he had never looked into it.

DNA evidence

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.

He was not taken into custody at the time as police did not consider him a suspect.

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

DNA evidence has been gathered from the farm and police have launched an appeal for anyone who has been there to provide a DNA sample, hoping to eliminate suspects.

Rebecca Guno was the first of the 50 women to disappear, in June 1983.

Disappearances became more frequent in 1997 and 1998, with nine women going missing in each year.

All the woman are presumed dead although no bodies have been recovered.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Ian Gunn
"Picton is charged with murdering 2 of the fifty women who vanished"
See also:

08 Feb 02 | Americas
Pig farm searched for missing women
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