VANCOUVER - A civilian RCMP worker rang in the year 2000 at serial killer Robert Pickton's illegal booze operation, where she saw him with a woman she later recognized in news coverage of missing sex workers from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, the public inquiry into the case heard Tuesday.
But it's not known whether Beverly (Puff) Hyacinthe, who worked in the radio room at the Coquitlam RCMP detachment, ever told investigators what she saw or anything else she knew about Pickton. She isn't scheduled to testify.
The inquiry has already heard about Hyacinthe, who lived near Pickton in Port Coquitlam and had known him and his brother David for years. Her husband attended grade school with the Picktons; her son had worked for them.
Cameron Ward, a lawyer representing the families of more than two dozen missing and murdered women, revealed what Hyacinthe told police investigators several days after Pickton's arrest in February 2002, including details of her trips to an illegal drinking establishment known as Piggy's Palace.
"On Dec. 31, 1999, Willie brought a date to one of the parties at Piggy's Palace, who (Hyacinthe), when she saw the front page of the Vancouver Province several weeks later, immediately recognized as one of the missing women from the Downtown Eastside," Cameron Ward told the inquiry as he summarized the police interview.
"She could produce photos of that evening upon request."
Ward said the woman at the party was likely either Mona Wilson or Dawn Crey. Wilson was one of the six women Pickton was convicted of killing, and Crey's DNA was found on the Pickton property.
By the end of 1999, the RCMP were investigating a tip that Pickton killed a sex worker on his property and were considering the possibility he was responsible for more murders.
Hyacinthe was aware of that investigation and had spoken to officers involved in the case. For example, she told Cpl. Mike Connor, who in 1998 and 1999 was the lead investigator on the file, that Pickton was aware police were monitoring his activities.
Connor told the inquiry earlier this year that he didn't pry for more information from Hyacinthe about Pickton.
A group of four officers who testified Tuesday, including Ruth Chapman, who took over from Connor, and Earl Moulton, who was an inspector in charge of major crime in Coquitlam, said Ward's cross-examination was the first time they had heard detailed information about what Hyacinthe knew about the Picktons.
"All I can say is that if this is the state of Puff's knowledge, I sure wish she'd made it known to us," Moulton told the inquiry.
"I put it to you she did — she told you," said Ward.
"She did not," replied Moulton.
Other information Hyacinthe told the police during her February 2002 interview:
— Pickton staged cockfights and pit bill fights on his farm.
— Piggy's Palace was frequented by "a strange group of people" and Pickton would always bring "dates" to his parties.
— Years earlier, her husband helped the Picktons bury stolen cars on their property.
— Her son told her there were often women on Pickton's farm, who he believed were sex workers.
— Her son once saw bloody clothing in Pickton's truck.
The RCMP have maintained they did not have enough information to legally search Pickton's property, but Ward has argued police were well aware of illegal activities Pickton was involved in — any number of which could have been used to secure a warrant.
Ward noted a tipster told police Pickton was running weekly cockfights on his farm, and the RCMP knew for years about Piggy's Palace, which was frequented by members of the Hells Angels.
He said the Mounties also had information about illegal guns. Ross Caldwell, who told police in 1999 that Pickton may have killed a sex worker at his farm, recalled seeing guns on the property.
Almost three years later, a junior officer named Nathan Wells used another tip about illegal firearms to obtain a search warrant for Pickton's farm, which ultimately led to his arrest on Feb. 5, 2002.
"You could have got on the property in '99," said Ward.
Moulton insisted Caldwell's tip wasn't enough. He said he even asked a Crown prosecutor in 1999 whether police had enough evidence to obtain a search warrant, and he was told they did not.
"The information from Mr. Caldwell had been assessed by myself and many others, and the information did not support the issuance (of a warrant)," said Moulton.
Pickton was eventually convicted of six counts of second-degree murder.
Police found the remains or DNA of 33 women on Pickton's property. He once told an undercover police officer he killed 49.