NEW WESTMINSTER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Accused serial killer Robert “Willie” Pickton butchered his victims after killing them and told an undercover police officer that he had killed 49 women and wanted to kill one more, prosecutors told a Canadian court on Monday.
On the first day of the trial of the Vancouver-area pig farmer, prosecutors also said they have a witness who will describe seeing Pickton dismember a woman at the slaughterhouse at his farm.
“He murdered them, butchered their remains and disposed of them,” prosecutor Derrill Prevett told the court in New Westminster, British Columbia, in the first glimpse of horror-film like evidence that prosecutors say will prove Pickton to be Canada’s deadliest serial killer.
Pickton stared straight ahead and showed no apparent emotion in the prisoners’ box at the start of the trial, which is being held in a courtroom packed with the relatives of the victims.
Pickton is charged with killing 26 women, although this trial will deal with just six of the murder charges. The judge divided the case into two trials to make it easier for jurors to handle.
Prosecutors said they will show the jury a lengthy video tape of conversations that Pickton had with an undercover police officer, in which he first signalled by hand that he planned to kill up to 50 women.
“Mr. Pickton verbalized what he had earlier gestured. He says I was going to do one more, making it an even 50,” Prevett said.
Prosecutors did not describe Pickton’s statements as a confession. Pickton, 57, has pleaded not guilty.
Prevett said there is no dispute that the six women had been killed and their remains had been found on Pickton’s farm in Port Coquitlam, near Vancouver.
Defence lawyer Peter Ritchie said the defence acknowledges that the women were killed and the bodies found on Pickton’s farm but did not agree that he was the murderer.
“The picture of Mr. Prevett (the prosecutor) is not the full picture,” Ritchie said.
Ritchie hinted that the defence would suggest that other people who had access to the farm were responsible for the murders, but he did not elaborate.
Prosecutors said the evidence will include at least two heads found in buckets packed with the feet of the victims, and a gun with a dildo attached to it on which the DNA of at least one of the victims was found. All of the victims appear to have been killed by gunshot.
The judge presiding over the trial has already warned jurors they must brace themselves for “shocking” testimony.
A relative of one of the dead women rushed from the courtroom during the prosecution’s opening statements.
The women Pickton is accused of killing were among more than 60 prostitutes who disappeared from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside — one of Canada’s poorest neighbourhoods — from the late 1980s until late 2001.
Police initially raided Pickton’s ramshackle farm looking for an illegal gun. But the case quickly became a homicide investigation and murder counts were added over the next three years.
The trial will likely raise questions over how police handled the investigation, and the first witness to be called by prosecutors acknowledged that there had been problems.
“There was a belief in early 2001 that the disappearances had stopped in 1999,” Royal Canadian Mounted Police Insp. Don Adam told the court.
Activists first raised alarms about missing women in 1991, but a formal task force was not launched until 1999 and it had to be reorganized after stalling.
The DNA of at least 31 of Vancouver’s missing women was found on Pickton’s farm, according to police.
The second trial on the remaining 20 murder charges facing Pickton will begin once the first trial is completed. If convicted, he faces life in prison. Canada does not have a death penalty.
Additional reporting by Wency Leung in Vancouver