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Multiple construction excavators at the World Trade Center site in New York.

Pickton investigators studied work done at Ground Zero

Recovery efforts at the World Trade Center site in New York influenced the investigation at Robert Pickton's B.C. property where police found the remains of multiple women he murdered. Credit: RCMP

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks that killed thousands, including 24 Canadians. Although they occurred in the US, the impact was felt around the world as flights were rerouted, security tightened and borders closed. In Remembrance, Gazette writer Paul Northcott talks to several RCMP officers and staff about their personal accounts of the horrific day and aftermath. Read Part 4 of our 4-part series below.

The September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States changed many things around the world, including the way police do their work.

The recovery efforts in New York at the World Trade Center site influenced the police investigation into the largest crime scene in Canadian history ­­– Robert Pickton's property in Port Coquitlam, B.C., where police found the remains of multiple women he murdered.

"The work they did at Ground Zero had a critical impact on what had to be done on the Pickton investigation," says Supt. Darren Campbell, who, 20 years ago, was a member the B.C. Major Crime Unit's Missing Women Task Force (MWTF).

He reached out to the Gazette to share the story and highlight the work of those officers who went to New York.

In February 2002, during a raid of Pickton's property, RCMP officers and members of the Vancouver Police Department found personal items from dozens of women who disappeared from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

The Pickton farm was a mess, with signs of freshly dug earth, car wrecks and dilapidated buildings. As the search for more evidence continued, police realized they would have to dig up the property to ensure the investigation was as thorough as possible.

However, there wasn't exactly an already-established plan for police to follow to locate, recover, and examine evidence found over the almost seven-hectare (17 acres) site.

"Officers started to discuss what happened in New York a few months earlier. It was a concentrated mass-casualty site," says Campbell. "So how were police there doing the recovery?"

Part of the answer to that question was to send three officers to Ground Zero to survey the methods used to recover evidence.

"Being in New York at the time was somewhat surreal," says ret'd Supt.Wade Lymburner, who was in New York with ret'd S/Sgt Randy Hundt and ret'd S/Sgt. Bob Stair on March 19 to 21, 2002.

"There was literally a national effort underway and you could see the overwhelming support from the citizens of New York for their first responders," said Lymburner.

Lymburner says in New York, investigators used large commercial screening equipment to sift, sort and display recovered materials across a series of conveyor belts, which were then examined by law enforcement personnel.

He says investigators in the Pickton case built upon the lessons learned in New York by adjusting the screening methods used to sort more material, which allowed for a significant increase in the recovery of evidence.

They also used non-law enforcement personnel, such as a heavy-equipment operators, engineers, and anthropologists specifically trained in the recovery of human remains to examine materials moved on a conveyor belt system.

The work on Pickton's property took years to complete and involved hundreds of forensic experts, pathologists, scientists, coroners and police investigators. Still, Lymburner says the decision to send a team to New York helped inform the investigators work.

"In doing so, it changed the way these large searches are conducted," he says. "I believe the inclusion of trained professionals from outside the law enforcement realm was the single most impactful decision which lead to the successful search of the Pickton site."

Pickton was initially charged with the murder of 26 women, but convicted years later of killing six. He was sentenced to life in prison, with no possibility of parole for 25 years.

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