Throughout the 80’s and 90’s, women were going missing at an alarming rate from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside area. But despite the best efforts of the women’s families, friends and others – like the community workers who came into contact with them – to report them missing, and despite warnings from experts within the law enforcement community that Vancouver had a serial killer problem, the Vancouver Police Department would choose to ignore that for nearly twenty years, often lying to concerned relatives about their missing loved-ones’ wellbeing and whereabouts, and clearly of the opinion that the disappearances of women who happened to often be drug addicted sex workers from impoverished or native backgrounds were of no consequence. Which is how Robert Pickton came to rack up such a horrifying body count, becoming one of Canada’s most prolific serial killers.
On The Farm painstakingly pieces together the events of those twenty years, building up a vivid picture of the squalid, disgusting lives of Robert Pickton and his brother Dave, raised in a filthy, ramshackle farm house in which the livestock were allowed to freely wander and defecate and where the family’s own personal hygiene habits would have disgusted a medieval peasant.
Despite the farm being worth rather a lot of money, and despite the family’s many land sales since the death of their parents having made them rich, the Pickton’s continued to live in filth, and even managed to make the already fetid farm even more sordid, with rusted machinery lying everywhere and their pigs kept in a sickly state, crammed permanently into a horse box. Despite their grossness, the Picktons had plenty of people constantly hanging about, with wild parties thrown where women attendees often experienced assaults and attempted rapes. But that didn’t put people off from continuing to come – Pickton was free with his money, and more than happy to hand out wads for people to go and score drugs with, which is how so many of his victims came to be lured to his farm.
Whilst piecing all this together, unlike the Vancouver Police Department, Cameron devotes the rest of the time to the women who lost their lives, giving glimpses of who they were and how their loss affected those around them, rather than reducing them to nothing more than a name and a body, as well as taking lots of opportunity to lay bare just what the hell the police were up to instead of their jobs (posturing and infighting, the pricks. And the Missing Person’s Unit guy who could have made even a tiny effort to investigate the missing women but didn’t? Eventually fired for the child pornography he’d been downloading). This isn’t something that is always done particularly well in some true crime writing, and I appreciated the efforts that Cameron went to to ensure that these women were viewed as valuable people, regardless of their life choices.
On The Farm is an excellent book on a truly appalling person, and a damning indictment of the Police Department – I hope that those in charge during the Pickton era have had seriously miserable retirements and that their shame keeps them from sleeping at night.