POLITICS
02/11/2012 04:00 EST | Updated 04/11/2012 05:12 EDT

Man who warned Pickton was killer returns to support first cops on the scent

VANCOUVER - There's a refrain that's been buzzing in Bill Hiscox's head while he's sat in attendance at the public inquiry examining why it took so long for police to stop Robert Pickton from killing women.

"Can you hear me now," he asks, cupping his hands around his mouth as though holding a megaphone. "Get up on a stand, 'Can you hear me now?'"

Four years and more than a dozen slain women before Pickton was arrested, Hiscox went to police with accurate and macabre details pointing to the horrors at Pickton's Port Coquitlam, B.C. pig farm.

But 14 years later, Hiscox does not intend to get up on a soapbox.

But he was at the inquiry this week, he said, to offer his support to the victims' families and to the only two officers who he said took him — and the case — seriously from the beginning.

The officers who had the serial killer in their crosshairs in the late 1990s listened closely to the former drug addict.

They were given the floor at the inquiry over the past two weeks to give a full accounting of their roles on the public record.

At times, testimony by Vancouver Police Det. Const. Lori Shenher and retired RCMP Staff Sgt. Mike Connor morphed into an airing of the emotional weight they've carried in the ensuing years.

"Don't be shouldering it all," Hiscox said in an interview with The Canadian Press. "(Shenher is) not alone and she needs to know that. What she tried to do was exactly the same thing I was doing and we both know how it feels to be up against a wall and go ..."

He exhaled, dropping his raised arms.

"Nobody's listening."

Shenher brought several inquiry spectators to tears when she broke down in the witness box, describing the futility she felt as the first officer in charge of investigating the women vanishing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

Connor masked his own longtime suffering of post-traumatic stress disorder with the occasional joke or smile, haunted by a case he testified he still thinks about daily.

"Shenher and Connor should have got a lot more praise than what they got for doing what they did," Hiscox said, describing both as fine officers. "They really bent over backwards trying to expose this. And the (police) departments? Shame on you."

Hiscox brought all he knew about the Pickton farm to Shenher in 1998 at a time when he was working for Pickton's demolition business.

His friend Lisa Yelds, who had been inside buildings on Pickton's property, told him she'd seen bags of bloody clothing, numerous purses and identification. He'd also heard the farmer bragged about disposing bodies with his meat grinder.

"I came forward because I had, well, I guess a bit of a conscience," said the tattooed 52-year-old, who now loads trucks and has been living in Alberta of late. "When you know something's happening and nobody is doing anything about it, you gotta say something."

Shenher phoned Connor to discuss Hiscox's information after she got a hit in a shared police database matching parameters about missing sex trade workers to the near-fatal stabbing of a prostitute in March 1997. Pickton had been accused of attempted murder in the attack, but the charge was later dropped.

The two officers met with Hiscox several times, looking for ways to corroborate his second-hand information. They felt it wasn't quite enough to trigger a search warrant.

They contemplated using him as an agent in an undercover operation, but for a time, he fell off the map. Connor was promoted and transferred off the case, to his reluctance, and work on the case fizzled.

"They had him right under their radar big time and they just shut 'er down," Hiscox said, adding that to him, the case appeared "open and shut."

It was the fluke of an unrelated illegal firearms tip that led one police officer to the farm exactly a decade ago this month, prompting a full-scale search that uncovered gruesome remains and the DNA of 33 women.

Pickton was convicted in 2007 of murdering six. He was charged with killing 26, though bragged of having 49 victims in total.

"The problem is the red tape and the politics of the police departments," said Hiscox, adding that improper cash flow and a disregard for the lives of sex workers, in his mind, were also likely factors.

Ultimately, he said he believes all those women died due to a "horrendous communication problem."

Hiscox was never called to testify at Pickton's trial. He confirmed that he received a small portion of the $100,000 reward money that wasn't offered until several years after he went to the police. He said he's ready and willing to testify at the inquiry should he be called.

Anger and frustration still churns in the man's own gut, he said, looking back at the sickening crimes he tried to stop.

"I can see where (Shenher) got all frustrated and shaking her head too, going: 'I'm working for a department that's supposed to help people and nothing's happening,'" he said.

"Every day now, when I see these police cars go by and it says 'to serve and protect,' I go, what a joke. Who you protecting? Willie Pickton?"

Hearings at the inquiry resume on Monday.