Associated Press

PORT COQUITLAM, British Columbia (AP) – Every day, outside the pig farm’s gate, relatives weep for lost sisters and daughters as police perform their own grisly ritual, picking through the farm’s muck to unearth clues about the fate of 50 missing women.

“I’m a basket case, wondering what’s going on,” said Ada Wilson, peering over the fence. Her sister, Mona Lee Wilson, 27, vanished from the streets of Vancouver in November, and police suspect she may have ended up here. “I’d like to find her,” Wilson said, “but not like this.”

Since 1983, women have been vanishing from the seedy east side of downtown Vancouver, many of them drug-addicted prostitutes. For years, investigators were stymied by the case. In fact, they long maintained that there might not even be a case. With no bodies or other physical evidence of homicide, it was possible that the women had simply left, detectives said.

But as the number of disappearances increased, police and the public took more interest. A joint task force of Vancouver police and Royal Canadian Mounted Police formed last spring.

Last month, five more women were added to the missing roster, bringing it to 50 and surpassing the Seattle area’s Green River slayings of 49 women.

The Vancouver task force’s first big break came Feb. 5, as police executed a search warrant on a 10-acre farm in Port Coquitlam, 22 miles east of downtown Vancouver. They charged one of the farm’s owners, Robert “Willy” Pickton, 52, with unlawful possession of a rifle and pistol. They also found enough evidence to prompt another search.

Since then, up to 85 investigators have swarmed over the 10-acre farm, a muddy jumble of rundown buildings, junk cars and huge mounds of dirt bordered on two sides by new housing developments. Dozens of animals were taken from the farm by animal-welfare agents.

Officials blocked off the property with metal security fences and brought in search dogs and trucks, including a refrigerated unit. Workers in rubber boots and white “moon suits” walked slowly across the muck, mapping, taking photos and taping black plastic over the windows of a shabby trailer.

“Please rest assured investigators will examine every nook and cranny, every square foot of ground and every inch of material if necessary,” Vancouver Police Detective Scott Driemel said. He said the search could take months.

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What they’ve found so far is a closely held secret.

Driemel said “specific items of interest … that contain certain DNA samples” were found in the trailer. But he refused to comment on news reports that cited unnamed police sources as saying identification and personal items of at least one of the missing women had been found.

Neither Robert Pickton nor his younger brother Dave Pickton, who also lived at the farm, has been charged in connection with the disappearances.

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