VANCOUVER - Almost four years before Robert Pickton was arrested for a string of horrific murders, the stepmother of one of his victims tried to climb a fence at his notorious pig farm in a desperate search for any signs of the young woman.
Lynn Frey told the missing women's inquiry Monday that she was following a horrible rumour after her stepdaughter vanished from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in 1997.
Frey said that more than a year after Marnie Frey disappeared, she spoke with a prostitute who relayed the rumour that bodies of Vancouver prostitutes were being stuffed into a wood chipper.
Frey later found an aide worker who had a tape recording of a woman who also offered a chilling warning about Pickton.
"The lady's voice on the tape said you're never going to find these women. Willie's got them and he has a pig farm," she told the inquiry.
Frey said many other women were looking for their daughters around that time and had heard the same rumours.
In September 1998, Frey said she drove to Pickton's farm in suburban Port Coquitlam and tried to climb a fence but was chased away by a couple of dogs.
"That night when I went there, when I was backing out of the driveway, I had a very weird feeling," Frey said. "My heart was pounding and I thought at first it was just because I was having anxiety attacks, but I guess it wasn't really an anxiety attack. It was a reality check. She was there."
Frey said she spoke with a Vancouver police officer the next day and told her about the farm, rumours and tape, but was told not to play a cop and that she shouldn't have visited the farm.
Frey said the officer said Pickton was a person of interest.
Frey said after her first visit to the farm, she returned there every time she travelled to Vancouver from Campbell River, B.C.
In December 2007, a decade after Marnie Frey disappeared, Pickton was convicted of murdering her and five other women. The remains or DNA of 33 women were found on his farm.
Another 20 murder charges against Pickton were stayed after he lost his appeal at the Supreme Court of Canada.
Frey told the inquiry that her stepdaughter was a drug addict and a sex worker, and that the last time they spoke was on Marnie's 24th birthday at the end of August 1997.
The young woman had taken on the street name Kit Kat, and to this day Frey said she can't eat the popular chocolate bar of the same name.
She said her stepdaughter even told her to use the moniker if she ever wanted to find her on the streets.
Frey said she did just that as she battled police indifference and initiated her own search to find Marnie Frey in the months after she disappeared.
Between August 1997 and March 1998, Frey said she made at least 10 to 15 trips to the Downtown Eastside from her Vancouver Island home to look for her daughter.
"They just didn't really care," said Frey of one interaction she had with police, during which she showed the officers a photo of her stepdaughter. "They were too busy."
She said that after her stepdaughter went missing, police in Campbell River told her to wait a few more days because the woman was a 24-year-old adult and that she may be on a holiday.
Frey said that several days later, she returned to the detachment but was told to wait a few more weeks.
That's when Frey travelled to the Downtown Eastside to look for Marnie herself, even though her own mother was dying at the time in the Fraser Valley.
"I just had an awful feeling that something was wrong and I wasn't getting anywhere with the police so I took it upon myself. As I said my mother was dying, so I'd go down there as often as I could and spend time with my mom during the day and look for Marnie on the streets of Vancouver at night."
Frey said she and her foster sister walked up and down the streets in November 1997 with a picture of Marnie, asking local residents if they had seen "Kit," and even looked in dumpsters.
Over the coming months, inquiry Commissioner Wally Oppal will try to determine why police failed to stop Pickton as he murdered sex workers from the Downtown Eastside starting in the late 1990s.
Oppal will also examine the decision of Crown counsel to not prosecute Pickton for attempted murder after an attack on a sex worker in 1997.
Vancouver police have apologized several times for failing to catch Pickton as he continued his killing spree. The force released a report last year that was critical of itself and the RCMP in Port Coquitlam, where Pickton's farm was located.
The RCMP has not offered such an apology or admitted its officers made mistakes, insisting it is up to the inquiry to confirm what happened.