The stepmother of missing woman Marnie Frey combed Vancouver's Downtown Eastside before dark tips about "Willie" and a wood chipper led her to the Pickton farm in Port Coquitlam years before police raided it.
Lynn Frey told the Missing Women Inquiry Monday she climbed a fence to get into the Pickton farm in search of clues to her drug-addicted daughter's disappearance but turned back when two Rottweilers appeared on the other side.
"I saw tractors, vehicles and big mounds of dirt and grass," she said. "I didn't see any bodies or anybody there."
Frey said it was the fall of 1998 – just over a year after 24-year-old Marnie vanished from the skid-row hotels she frequented.
She said she zeroed in on the lair of serial killer Robert "Willie" Pickton after prostitutes predicted Marnie was dead and suggested a man at a farm with a chipper was responsible.
She had made repeated trips to Vancouver from her home in Campbell River to search for Marnie.
Others searching for missing women played her a tape recording of a man claiming to have information, Frey testified.
"You're never going to find these women," she said the voice on the tape said. "They went with Willie and he's got the chipper."
Some prostitutes told Frey they'd been to a farm with a chipper 45 minutes from the Downtown Eastside near a fast-flowing muddy river.
Frey reasoned the farm had to be near the Fraser River, likely in New Westminster, Coquitlam or Surrey.
She relayed her suspicions to her foster daughter Joyce Lachance, who lived in Port Coquitlam,
"She said 'I know a guy by the name of Willie. He has pigs and he has a chipper on his farm. I can take you there blindfolded.'"
They drove that night to the Pickton farm, where a sign warned "Pit bull with AIDS" and Joyce was too scared to leave the car.
Perched atop the fence, Frey was just a stone's throw from the remains of her missing daughter – although confirmation wouldn't come for another five years, when searchers found Marnie's right jaw bone and four teeth on the farm.
"We were right all along – she was on the farm."
Frey said she told her suspicions to Vancouver Police Dept. Const. Lori Shenher, who gave her "heck" for climbing the fence but promised to investigate.
Several more women would die on the farm before the RCMP searched it for illegal guns in February of 2002 and then arrested Pickton for murder.
He was found guilty of six counts, including the murder of Marnie Frey, although 20 additional charges never went to trial and Pickton claimed to have killed 49 women.
The inquiry is probing why police failed to catch Pickton much sooner and what can be done to prevent similar tragedies happening again.
"If a civilian – an old person like me living in Campbell River – can figure out there's a farm, how come the police can't figure out there's a farm?" Frey demanded.
A Vancouver Police Union lawyer disputed some of Frey's claims under cross-examination, saying Shenher has no record that Frey reported visiting the Pickton farm.
The lawyer asked whether she could be mistaken about reporting it to Shenher or perhaps that her trip to the Pickton farm did not happen in 1998.
"I think there's a big cover up here," Frey responded.
"I know what I did. I know I went on the farm."
Frey told the inquiry she believes police failed to take the cases of missing women seriously, adding she felt "lost, empty, like I was garbage" after being turned away by police who suggested Marnie had merely taken a vacation.
She also testified authorities improperly cremated her daughter's remains, leaving her an urn containing "chunks."
Frey was the first of several relatives of murdered women expected to testify this week.
Marnie Frey grew up in Campbell River but ended up addicted and in the sex trade on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside before she was killed at the Pickton farm.