Pickton inquiry hears from serial killer profiler

Kim Rossmo was one of the first officers to warn that a serial killer could be responsible for the disappearance of women in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Kim Rossmo was one of the first officers to warn that a serial killer could be responsible for the disappearance of women in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. (The Magazine of Simon Fraser University)

A renowned criminologist who warned the Vancouver Police Department that a serial killer might be at work while women went missing in the Downtown Eastside is scheduled to testify Tuesday at the missing women inquiry.

Kim Rossmo, a geographic profiler who was on the force at the time, was part of a working group formed as public pressure mounted for police to solve cases of missing sex workers.

Rossmo is credited as being among the first officers to warn about the possibility of a serial killer.

In 1998, he and another officer were preparing to issue a news release that said, in part: “The objective of this group is to determine if a serial murderer is preying upon people in the Downtown Eastside and, if so, what murders and disappearances are linked together.”

It would have marked the first time Vancouver police had publicly acknowledged the possibility of a serial killer, but just two weeks before the news release was scheduled to be issued, it was scrapped by the head of the force’s major crimes section and the working group was disbanded.

Systemic failures

In a brief address prior to the opening of the inquiry Tuesday, commissioner Wally Oppal compared the Pickton investigation to other serial killer cases including Clifford Olson, Ted Bundy and Gary Ridgway, known as Green River Killer.

Even though the cases spawned their own investigations and inquiries, Oppal said the same problems keep cropping up — issues of leadership, morale and resources within the policing community.

Oppal said he has to ask himself what he can do differently if previous reports failed to affect change.

Oppal said his final report will examine the systemic failures in the policing environment, including the relationship between police and the victims, and the failures in the organization itself.

Report due in June

Pickton wasn’t arrested until February 2002, five years after his name first surfaced as a suspect in the disappearance of sex workers in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, when officers showed up at his Port Coquitlam farm with a search warrant related to illegal firearms and stumbled upon the belongings and remains of missing women.

Pickton was convicted in 2007 of six counts of second-degree murder, but the remains or DNA of 33 women were found on his farm. He claimed to have killed a total of 49 women. He is currently serving a life sentence.

Rossmo, now a professor at Texas State University, invented a technique of tracking crimes that is used around the world. He was the first Canadian police officer to get a PhD in criminology.

The missing women inquiry, headed by Oppal, is examining why Vancouver police and the RCMP failed to catch Pickton in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and why prosecutors declined to pursue an attempted murder charge against him after an attack on a sex worker in 1997.

A final report is due by June 30, 2012.

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