We’ve seen the story before: Boy meets girl. Boy asks girl out on date, but impresses her neither by showing her pictures of various women he has photographed nor with his foul smell.
A couple of years later, girl sees boy on the news. The man, Robert “Willie” Pickton, is a serial killer who was convicted of murdering six women — and confessed to 49 more. Police say that Robert Pickton targeted sex workers, and allege that he fed his victims’ remains to the pigs on his farm. There is also strong evidence to believe that meat that he gave away to friends and served at his parties and barbecues was pig meat combined with the human meat of his victims.
But when Lorraine Murphy (above) met the man who would become Canada’s deadliest serial killer in 1990, when she was an aspiring freelance journalist, she just thought of him as a sad creeper. They met at The Classical Joint, a Vancouver Cafe, where “Willie” was taking pictures.
Willie told her that he was a local farmer who had had several photographs published, and suggested that they collaborate. Despite strangers warning her that Willie was “not nice,” she said she took his number and arranged to meet him anyway.
“Willie was creepy. He gave off a very bad vibe, but not an impression of personal power, so I wasn’t frightened or intimidated. But I deliberately took his number, for instance, so he wouldn’t ask for mine,” Lorraine told CrimeFeed.
“Didn’t stop him from asking though — repeatedly. And pressuring me to go in the back room with him. And, over and over, telling me he could tell me all these marvelous stories about the Downtown Eastside — oh, so many stories — but only if we were out at his ‘place in the country’ with his ‘mementoes and photographs.’ Nowadays we would say he had boundary issues, but at the time, I just thought he was a pushy creep.”
Lorraine wrote in The Guardian that she saw two older men at the cafe, who she said “appeared to know Willie quite well, and loathed him.” The men told her that Willie had a bad reputation, and brought up the question of why he would remove the door handle on his car — which Ted Bundy also did.
Despite her gut feeling that Pickton was creepy, Lorraine did take his number, and arranged a meeting with him. “I didn’t think he was dangerous, I just thought he was creepy and eager. I was callow, and literally didn’t believe anything bad could happen to me, because I was too smart,” she said.On their “date,” Willie showed Lorraine dozens of images of women and asked her to select two. “In the two photos I selected, the women were the waitresses, and they were serving tables. One was tall and blonde, the other short, with long, blunt-cut red hair. In the other pictures, it was a typical cafe/club scene, with people chatting with others, or listening to music, reading, or writing,” she said. “It was all over the map. But none of the pictures was about anything other than the woman or women in it.”
Lorraine said that she made her excuses and left after a couple of hours — despite Willie insisting that she should come back with him to his farm for a barbecue.
Lorraine said that numerous people had reported Willie to the police and, based on her experience, knew his reputation, but she felt that “the police and the judicial system basically didn’t care, as long as he was only killing hookers.” She gave the example of the mayor who, when confronted with the number of missing Vancouver women, said that he was “not running a location service for wayward girls.”
Lorraine said that the case has completely changed Vancouver. “Once it became The Missing Women Case, you couldn’t go to a club, networking meeting, or cafe without hearing someone mention that one of the missing was a relative, friend, or former colleague of theirs,” she said. “It taught everyone that there are not six degrees of separation; there are one or two in a town the size of Vancouver, and that every life deserves protection.”
The Missing Women Case had been news for a couple of years already when Lorraine finally saw Willie on the news at her father’s house. Willie had been arrested on weapons charges in 2002, which led to the investigation — and discovery of human remains — at his farm.
In his confession, Willie coldly told police that he had killed 49 victims and that he had hoped to kill one more to make it “an even 50.”
When Lorraine told her father that she knew the killer, he was shocked and asked her how she had made the man’s acquaintance. “I told him the story, and he took it very seriously, much more seriously than I. He insisted I call the police, and said that if I didn’t do it, he would,” she said.
Police showed up at her house for an interview, and showed her a photo lineup. She picked Willie out of the group. “I have no idea where they found so many balding, alcoholic-looking gingers, but there was very little to tell them apart,” she said.
When asked if she had any advice to young women who may be facing a similar situation, Lorraine had this to say:
“Clearly, I am the LAST person to give advice about avoiding serial killers. Not only do I have no qualifications, but my experience has been all the other way. It would be ridiculously presumptuous of me to give advice on avoiding doing exactly what I did.”
“You know, Jeffrey Dahmer’s father wrote a parenting book. This would be in that category. Take advice from ANYONE but me. I thought if I were clever, nothing bad would ever happen to me, because I had read too many Nancy Drew books or something. Nowadays we would call it “privilege.” It gives you massive blind spots.”
“It’s not really up to women not to encounter evil people. It’s up to society to produce fewer evil people, and to protect its citizens from those that exist now.”
“Each of our lives is much more intertwined with those of the people around us, whether we know them or not, whether we will it or not, than we can possibly imagine. The Missing Women Case taught that to Vancouver.”
“If anything good comes from this story getting told, that lesson will echo around the world. And more good men will step forward and say something.“
To learn more about Robert Pickton, watch the “Chop Shop” episode of Investigation Discovery’s Evil, I on ID GO now!
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Main photo: Lorraine Murphy [Robert Shaer]