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Rape and Sexual Assault

UPDATE on Vancouver’s 69 Missing Women: Murdered by Men, Remembered by Women — Pickton Found Guilty of Second Degree Murder

UPDATE:  A Vancouver B.C. jury returned their verdict today in the trial  of Robert Pickton, finding him guilty of second-degree murder in the deaths of six of the women depicted below:  Sereena Abotsway, Mona Wilson, Andrea Joesbury, Brenda Wolfe,Georgina Papin and Marnie Frey.  The verdict carries a life sentence.  Pickton faces a second trial for the murder of the remaining women whose remains were found at his pig farm.

Link, and thanks to Gretchen for the heads up. 

I blogged about these murders here, and here as well. May the families find healing, somehow. 

— Heart

Dianne RockSereena AbotswayMona WilsonJacqueline McDonellHeather BottomleyAndrea JoesburyBrenda WolfeJennifer FurmingerHelen Hallmark

Patricia JohnsonGeorgina PapinHeather Chinnock

Tanya HolykSherry IrvingInge Monique Hall

Marnie FreyTiffany DrewSarah deVriesCynthia FeliksDiane MelnickDebra Lynne Jones

Wendy CrawfordKerri KoskiAndrea Borhaven

Cara EllisDawn Crey

The images above are of women believed to have been murdered by pig farmer Robert “Willy” Pickton of Vancouver, B.C., over decades of “Piggy Palace” parties.  They were created by a group of artists troubled over the fact that photos of the missing women which appeared in newspapers were stark, dehumanizing mugshots, the women characterized as “prostitutes” or “hookers”  or “drug addicts,” as though any of this were any issue when a woman is murdered.


Pamela Masik’s  “The Forgotten” project is comprised of mural-size paintings of the women’s faces which are to be displayed throughout Vancouver.  The description of Masik’s project reads:

The Forgotten is a large-scale, powerful series of portraits of women’s faces. Sixty-nine portraits, to be precise – the number of women from Vancouver’s downtown eastside who have been missing for more than a decade. The majority of them have now been identified, yet the public’s knowledge of them has, for the most part, consisted of small police photos aligned in a grid on a poster, showing most of them as blurred and haggard representations at their worst.

At one time these women had multiple faces and roles in the community. They left thousands of memories and historical details. They were mothers, friends, wives or daughters. They had run from abusive relationships, they were drug addicts, mentally challenged, or had families to support and little means to do it other than prostitution. Many were First Nations people. At this point, 26 of the missing women have been identified as slain by Port Coquitlam farmer Robert Pickton.

… Believing it is our collective responsibility to support and empower individuals of high risk, Masik is painting each woman on a 8 x 10 foot canvas using a style raw with energy and passion. The cinematic scale by itself is scary. She is taking the tiny faces off the poster and forcing us to see the narratives of sadness, anger and fear.

…The FORGOTTEN portraits are designed to provoke a personal emotional reaction – something that is becoming harder and harder to accomplish. One hundred years ago, news that a man nicknamed “Jack the Ripper” killed five prostitutes sent shock waves across Western countries that still reverberate. Yet a monstrous anomaly in today’s news is like just another body in a television show like CSI.

Are human beings wired to accept only just so much horror? Are we selective about what we respond to? And should we be? These are the kinds of questions that motivate Masik.

Some of the women will fade like ghosts because little, if anything, is known about them. Many, hopefully, will be memorialized and the healing process begun for those who knew them. But Masik’s project shouts at us. It speaks of women marginalized in societal structures, made dependent and disillusioned about their own power and self-worth. It points to our own geographic and spiritual distance from them. After all, they are not where we live; they are “downtown”; they are sick, or poor, or “on drugs”. We might even think they could help themselves if they really wanted to. We certainly believe other people will help them if we don’t. They are invisible both physically and socially in the alleys where we don’t go, behind cars where we can’t see them, in buildings we will never visit.

This is the moral distance that Masik goes, to make us see their faces and hear their voices, to force us to face the passion, anger and despair in lives and deaths like these. She brings the missing women to us and wraps us in the violence.

Robert “Willy” Pickton and his brother had been respected pig farmers who lived in Vancouver, B.C.  on their family farm (which was recently sold for $10 million to pay Pickton’s attorney’s fees) for all of their lives.   Prostituted women, drug-addicted women, who had gone to Willy Pickton’s “parties” at his bidding had sometimes warned one another about Pickton, the parties, the cocaine and other drugs he made freely available, had said that there might be trouble for women there.   Even women who had not been harmed there sensed they could have been, and that something was wrong.

In 1997, attempted murder charges had been brought against Pickton for an incident in which a woman bleeding from stab wounds ran from Pickton’s farm to a neighbor’s house for help.   Pickton was exonerated, and if I am recalling correctly, it was because in the end, the woman would not testify against him or could not be found to testify against him.  Women in trouble rarely are willing to risk giving that kind of testimony.

It wasn’t until December 2001, after 46 women had been known to have gone missing from Vancouver’s East Side, that authorities began to investigate their cases not as missing persons cases, but as possible murders.   It wasn’t until 2002 that Pickton was finally arrested and charged, his farm seized and sealed off, with authorities searching the farm and fields for evidence.  150,000 DNA swabs were taken in that search.  In the end, remains of 26 women were found on Pickton’s properties, most of those remains limited to what  could be captured on a DNA swab.  Authorities reported that it could not be ruled out that meat produced at the farm might have contained human remains.

Castaldi and Bold

In the shock and outrage that followed each new revelation, First Nations healing ceremonies were held at the farm for the sake of the spirits of the women murdered there.  Marches were held in memorial.   A beautiful song was written and produced  (you can listen if you click on the link) in which each of the murdered women is named.  A book,  Remembering Women Murdered by Men,  written by Sly Castaldi and Professor Christine Bold (pictured above) was published about the 60 monuments made to murdered women throughout Canada.  The authors say they encountered tremendous resistance to including the words “by men” in the title of their book, something they did in solidarity with the monument-makers, some of whom received death threats for including those words.  We aren’t supposed to talk about the way women are murdered “by men.”  We’re supposed to talk about “murdered women,” as though men were not their murderers, when almost always, men are.  As the authors say, “It takes courage to name men’s violence against women.”

Pickton’s trial has been bifurcated, and he will be tried for six of the murders he is charged with beginning January 22, 2006 in Vancouver, B.C. .  He will be tried afterwards on the remaining 20 charges.   The trial will be headline news for a long, long time; it is expected to last a year.   Survivors of the murdered women are going to be compensated by the government for parking, transportation and lunches for five days only.   Two “citizen journalists,” former prostituted women, one of whom knew Pickton, will be among those covering the trial.   I know I will be paying close attention to what they report and say.  I am not posting a photo of Pickton.  Enough people can be expected to remember him, and not the women whose lives I believe he has taken.

We can be sure that the murdered women will be described in media, in blogs, in ways which dehumanize them and grieve and enrage their families and all of us who are committed to ending violence against women.  In anticipation of the trial and attendant reporting, I wanted to offer these images, this music, these beautiful words in memory of beautiful young women, with their whole lives ahead of them, had they somehow been able to make their way into freedom.  May each one rest in the arms of the goddess, and may their loved ones, friends, may all of us who care what happened to them, ultimately find peace and healing.



Our sisters at Vancouver Rape Relief have done some amazing activist work and provided fine information about the missing women:

Another fine source for information is Holly’s Fight For Justice.

More Links:

Seen Me Lately
Missing Vancouver Women
Vanished Voices, Angela Jardine
Highway of Tears
Turtle Island Native Network
Vancouver East Side Missing Women
AddThis Social Bookmark Button



32 thoughts on “UPDATE on Vancouver’s 69 Missing Women: Murdered by Men, Remembered by Women — Pickton Found Guilty of Second Degree Murder

  1. Everyone of these women is Metis. Every one of these women is the great, grand, or daughter of native women who when they were given, or taken, or went happily with white husbands, lost their native rights. Because their children were the children of WOMEN who went with white husbands, they also lost their rightful status. MEN, their brothers who also may have taken white wives did not. The children of the MEN who took white wives did not. White women living with native men on the reserve gained what was these women’s birthright. Every one of these women is Metis, and had none of the benefits her brothers, uncles, male cousins did.

    Posted by Pony | January 11, 2007, 12:01 am
  2. Thanks for this Heart. As a BC Canada women, this whole thing just makes me sick. The highway of tears is near me too and that has had no progress at all. Sometimes women in Canada think it is just in the US that this sort of thing happens. We can get smug that way. You know it really was not until a white tree planter women went missing that any this highway of tears made the news. As much as that is awful, most of the missing are native women as were the ones in Vancouver. You know prostitiutes and runaways. A few of the Vancouver women have turned up elsewhere in the country, as if that excused the police. It seems to me to be really wierd that this trial is taking so long to get going.
    I have a friend who tried to get on the search party for one of the women on the highway of tears. They (the police) said no, that they had it all under control. Right. You know, they should not have been hitchhicking in the first place is the attitude. Yet you get this bureaucratic crap about how concerned they are and that they are working on it, yada yada yada. Anyone else would have fired for their non-performance.

    Posted by rhondda | January 11, 2007, 12:29 am
  3. And because of the pitiful state the evidence which was found was in, there are only six (I believe) charges of murder against Pickton.

    Posted by Pony | January 11, 2007, 12:33 am
  4. Pony, I think there are going to be two trials, the first one six of the murders, and then another one on 20 murders, but I could be wrong, I’ll try to find the link. There was DNA evidence found for more than the 26 women, but there wasn’t enough other evidence to bring charges in those cases. 😦


    Posted by Heart | January 11, 2007, 12:38 am
  5. I’m kind of concerned that the artist’s loving sketches may lead to a misunderstanding of how desperate these women’s lives were:

    Posted by Pony | January 11, 2007, 12:42 am
  6. Yeah, pony, I had that thought, too. On the one hand, the reality was, their lives were horrible. On the other hand, they were women, not “prostitutes,” “drug addicts,” “criminals,” and so on. I think that was what the authors were feeling.


    Posted by womensspace | January 11, 2007, 12:50 am
  7. Quite right Heart.

    Posted by Pony | January 11, 2007, 3:31 am
  8. I just read the latest story on this. The Piggy Palace was said to be home to drunken sex shows featuring the women Picton brought there. I wonder if we can now admit snuff porn exists.

    Posted by Pony | January 11, 2007, 3:35 am
  9. I know I am not safe simply because I am older, but I must admit that horrible crimes like these feel more distance the older I get. I remember being in my twenties and being sick with fear about random violence, serial killers, and rapists. Now I am sick for my twenty five year old daughter.

    Posted by chasingmoksha | January 11, 2007, 4:20 am
  10. I know that fear for daughters too CM. I also think that some of the women in that link I posted looked late 40 or 50s. I recall reading a story about prostitution in one large Canadian city, with the quoted ‘authority’ saying that women in their 60s and girls as young as 9 worked the streets there.

    Posted by Pony | January 11, 2007, 4:50 am
  11. Dear womensspace,
    Thank you for this wonderful article about the missing and murdered women.
    You kindly linked Holly’s Fight for Justice. I will link you also, if you do not mind. Bringing awareness to the issues about the violence, and the murdered and missing women, who deserve JUSTICE is very important. Let’s hope it does not end in a miss trial. The families and friends who are faced with this ordeal will see justice served. Take care, all the best.
    Email if you wish and once again the awareness is very important. Sincerely Holly Desimone

    Posted by Holly Desimone | January 11, 2007, 7:36 am
  12. Until I see otherwise to prove me wrong, I believe however accurate the stories might be about the trial process, the story about what went on there, the lives women lived on the streets of Vancouver, I don’t think we will hear the truth.

    The truth that MEN did this and why will only come from radical feminist perspective. Even feminists working for mainstream media will not say MEN murder women, except when they quote the project authors of Remembering Women Who are MURDERED by MEN. Mainstream media will focus on the trial process with blah blah blah about how Canadian society has wronged native people/ditto male-centric Aboriginal media from their perspective. I hope Vancouver Rape Relief will be there, be our eyes and ears. The truth here will only come from a radical feminist perspective.

    Women are murdered by men.

    Posted by Pony | January 11, 2007, 5:31 pm
  13. Pony said,

    “Women are murdered by men”.

    Yup. For the crime of being female.

    Posted by Mary Sunshine | January 11, 2007, 9:02 pm
  14. It’s something we’ll never see highlighted let alone said in the mainstream media, and by that I mean virtually ALL media.

    Posted by Pony | January 11, 2007, 9:20 pm
  15. I was wondering if WSTM could have an edit button. I think WP does have one because I see IBTP includes it now.

    Posted by Pony | January 11, 2007, 9:23 pm
  16. As soon as I switch WSTM to my own server, in the process of doing that, or it’s begun anyway, then commenters will have all sorts of options and stuff you can do with your posts. It will be much better!

    In the meantime, I fixed your typo. 🙂


    Posted by womensspace | January 11, 2007, 9:39 pm
  17. 🙂 I have cataracts and the beginning of macular degeneration Heart. So as the Canadian healthcare system has waiting lists this loooooooooooooong for opthomology procedures, I may need a really big edit button sooner than later.

    Posted by Pony | January 11, 2007, 9:49 pm
  18. “… yet the public’s knowledge of them has, for the most part, consisted of small police photos aligned in a grid on a poster, showing most of them as blurred and haggard representations at their worst…”

    I think it is a beautiful act of charity to use art to present them to soicety as more multi-demnsional (not just haggard) women. Beautiful, unique souls, loved by God who wanted us to love them too.

    Posted by Eliza | January 12, 2007, 6:59 pm
  19. I was in tears reading this post and so glad, at the same time, to read about the very public memorializing of Vancouver’s missing and murdered women. I grew up in BC and spent lots of time in Vancouver over the years – you would hear year after year of women – native prostitutes primarily – going missing, but always nothing was done. The police didn’t care – they were just prostitutes. That is took so long because of inaction to get an arrest is atrocious. The city of Vancouver didn’t care about the Downtown Eastside and the rate of crime, murder, suicide, drugs, homelessness, AIDS, hepatitis there. Not until the city was awarded the 2010 Winter Olympics did the City of Vancouver and the BC government decide it was time to focus efforts on the chronic social problems of Downtown Eastside.

    Public memorials are so important for the power of remembering – to get remembrance into other people’s minds and hearts and consciousness and let them OWN it for themselves and to take a new shape. This is beautiful.

    – Artemis.

    Posted by Artemis | January 13, 2007, 1:14 pm
  20. Don’t Forget (Dreams)
    by Reid Jamieson Feb 2007
    recorded at home in Victoria
    [audio src="" /]

    Dedicated to all the lost ladies of Vancouver’s east side.

    Don’t Forget (Dreams)

    You know
    how much it’s gonna hurt
    When that needle is inserted
    in your vein again

    You try
    to pretend there is no pain
    But I see it in the stains
    under your fingernails

    Hold on tight,
    Keep looking for an answer
    Hold on tight
    Remember younger days
    When dreams were
    something you could
    say you had

    Don’t forget
    because the world
    forgot you

    When night falls
    is the newspaper your bed
    Does it have you seeing red
    What the people with money complain about

    You’re drunk
    on a can of aerosol
    And your tales are getting taller
    than the will
    to make it work

    Hold on tight,
    Keep looking for an answer
    Hold on tight
    Remember younger days
    When dreams were something you could
    say you had

    Don’t forget
    because the world
    forgot you

    You spoil your self while asleep
    with sweet precious dreams
    Held in the arms of your mother

    It’s gone
    the fire in your eyes
    The face you recognize
    is just another
    sad memory

    Hold on tight,
    Keep looking for an answer
    Hold on tight
    Remember younger days

    Hold on tight,
    Keep looking for an answer
    Hold on tight
    Remember younger days
    When dreams were something you could
    say you had

    Don’t forget
    because the world
    forgot you


    While the addiction aspect of this song does not apply to all of the missing women, it is a significant factor in society’s excuse for forgetting about many of them. This is no excuse.

    Posted by carolyn mill | February 10, 2007, 7:50 pm
  21. Indescribably beautiful. I hope everyone will listen to what Carolyn Mills has posted, above, and here.

    [audio src="" /]

    Posted by Incorrigible | February 12, 2007, 3:09 am
  22. I’m the Associate Editor for, a news Web-site based in Vancouver, Canada, which aim to put a human face on the news by showcasing vivid, first-person stories from individuals involved in current events. Unless the traditional media, we showcase stories told by the protagonist or witnesses of the events that are shaking the world, always in their own words.

    Recently we’ve got an extraordinary media attention from all over the world, including the BBC, The Guardian, CNN, The Poynter Institute, Online Journalism Review, CTV, CBC, Canadian Press and several other independent international news outlets, because of our unique covering of the Pickton trial. We have sent to former sex trade workers from the Downtown Eastside who worked alongside many of the victims to cover the trial as “citizen reporters.” The idea is adding the voice of the so-called little people, the lost ones who really have felt the full and deadly impact of this tragedy to the mainstream media’s coverage.

    We invite you to check our site and, if you consider it appropriate, link to our special section where Pauline VanKoll and Trisha Baptie are posting their impression on the ongoing trial.

    Should you have questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate in contacting me.


    Cecilia Jamasmie
    Associate Editor
    Orato Media Corporation

    Posted by Cecilia Jamasmie | February 13, 2007, 9:14 pm
  23. This news makes cry so much. I can only hope that it gives a small piece of peace for the friends and families of the women that were murdered.
    There is so little justice when women who are labelled as “prostitutes” are murdered. Sadly, and I say this with anger, many men believe that if they kill a prostituted woman or girl, they will get away with it.
    When I was a prostituted woman/girl, I know women and girls that “disappear”. I was often told that to kill me, would mean they could save money.
    The way the media goes on about whether women who are murdered were prostitutes or not, puts all women’s lives in danger. It is unimportant what the woman’s lifestyle was. She was a woman with dreams, difficulties, friends, hopes and so much more.
    That men feel that killing a woman who they consider to be worthless is alright, that is what should reported.
    All women’s lives are to be cherished.
    This hurts so much. I send many good wishes to all involved.

    Posted by Rebecca | December 10, 2007, 11:05 am
  24. The proportion of coverage op this on the (American) news channels is tiny and askance. I first learned of this horrible series of murders on this blog and even with trial information coming out now, Womensspace is STILL my major source of information. For shame, media! Bless you, Heart.

    Posted by Level Best | December 10, 2007, 7:51 pm
  25. Yes all these murdered women were first and foremost human beings but unfortunately the media and society in general still separates women into two categories either good or bad. The women society label ‘bad’ are disposable objects, whereas the women labelled ‘good’ according to male-dominant society are sentimentalised. But still male sexual and physical violence against women goes on ad nauseum. Even putting the word ‘male’ in front of violence against women creates immense problems because immediately we supposedly blame all men for those men who choose to abuse and murder women.

    Yes, Rebecca you are so right – it is irrelevant what these women’s lifestyles but what is important is that yet another man decided he had the right to murder women simply because they were women. Femicide on a mass scale but the media will portray this male murderer as a monster and/or the women as deviants. All lies of course.

    Posted by jennifer drew | December 10, 2007, 9:35 pm
  26. Wow, just a few days ago– Wednesday, Dec. 12, I read an article about the Pickton horror. Los Angeles Times. Of course he was mentioned by name, and the women were lumped together under the label prostitutes/drug addicts living in a “seedy neighborhood.” As if this had anything to do with the man being an evil woman killer!
    Just as Heart predicted the U.S. media would respond.

    Next to that article was another one about a father who killed his daughter for refusing to marry the man he picked out for her — an “honor killing.” And then there was another piece on yet another man’s murder of a woman!

    The trio of articles on one page — way into the first section, was a text book case of patriarchal reporting on crimes against women. Creepy as all hell, after you’ve read the context of it all on this Blog!! I know this is tough stuff to write about and to read, but we have to see things as they are, so we can rise up and change the world!

    Horrifying as all of this is, at least the pig farmer, or should I say the pig himself, got 25 years, and I hope he is beaten, tormented and subjected to every indignity in that prison, and even that won’t be enough!

    Don’t get me started on rapists getting parole after a few years; one reason I want all of them to get the death penalty so we never have to worry about them EVER getting out.

    On another note of outrage, they’re still singing Norman Mailer’s praises in the obituaries worldwide– he stabbed his second wife with scissors in the 60s, and almost killed her, he beat and assaulted one of his other wives, and both did not press charges. Then he was instrumental in getting a murderer paroled, because the man was a “great writer”, and then the paroled man went out and killed someone else. Mailer said he made a “mistake.”

    I was happy that the evil sexist and woman hater had died, but nowhere in the “glowing” obits of the “great man” was there any mention of his rampant woman hatred and virilent hatred of feminists. Mailer once said that all women should be caged! My three dollars worth today!!

    Outrage women! Tell the truth about the oppressors, and tell it loud and proud! Shine the light of day on their dark “domestic worlds,” expose the “great men” for the frauds they are!!

    Posted by Satsuma | December 15, 2007, 10:39 pm
  27. I’m going to make a post out of what you just wrote there, Satsuma. “Feminist” and “Pro-Feminist” bloggers actually blogged favorably about this guy!

    I knew only dimly that Mailer was a misogynist. I had no idea he’d done all of this stuff.

    Posted by womensspace | December 15, 2007, 10:44 pm
  28. 😦

    Ellen R. Sheeley, Author
    “Reclaiming Honor in Jordan”

    Posted by ammani | December 17, 2007, 1:10 am
  29. I think I just felt sick to read that pro-feminist blogs are supporting Mailer. Call me naieve, but this really takes the cake Heart. Can’t really believe it. I almost didn’t write anything about Mailer — you know the… oh they all know this, it will only bore the young. But now I’m glad I did if it helped add weight to our cause.

    I was mad that Gloria Steinem was not interviewed about him, nor Kate Millet. There is a huge feminist context to Mailer that was not reported on at all in the mainstream obits!

    The same thing happened when Hefner was lionized on the 50th anniversary of Playboy! Nobody had the feminist side of the story during the Playboy “love’ fest a few years ago.

    This lack of journalistic “balance’ drives me nuts, and then we have to put up with this pro-porn feminist nonsense, and the complete absense of historical context about so many issues of great importance to women.

    But on a happy note, C-Span had a 1999 playback of a White House conference on women’s contributions to constitutional democracy, and it was fantastic. Hillary was really really good back in ’99, and it was so eerie to hear them talk about the Taliban and the women of Afghanistan, and also other issues that turned into really big ones later on. Proof that the Clinton White House was on to things, much more so than when Bush first got into office. I know, I know, it’s not cool to talk about the Clintons here, but somehow, they give me hope, and I miss them in power. I guess if Hillary didn’t kick Bill out of the house, then I won’t judge their marriage.

    Ugh oh, I know I’m going to get nailed for writing this… but it’s just in my mind at the moment, and I was so horrified by the other stuff this past week, that this little White House conference just made me feel energized and happy, so I wanted to report happiness too now and then.

    Posted by Satsuma | December 17, 2007, 8:37 am


  1. Pingback: Feminist Law Professors » Blog Archive » “Vancouver’s 69 Missing Women: Murdered by Men, Remembered by Women” - January 15, 2007

  2. Pingback: Women are amazing. « The Burning Times - December 10, 2007

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