The genius of Stevie Cameron's new book, On the Farm, about the Robert Pickton murders is that it makes the 49 women he killed sound much more interesting than the man who strangled, gutted and fed them to his pigs.
This is rare. Society deletes female power even in death. Pickton, who looked like a peeled rat and smelled of pigs and personal filth, still reigned over the drug-addicted native women of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
And news stories naturally choose the active verb — the man who kills — over the passive noun — the small woman who is killed. We know a lot about serial killers. There is a recipe for making them. Take a normal baby boy, isolate, beat and abuse him, torture his pet, put him in situations far from normality and you're well on your way to baking a murderer.
But the murdered women had been pulped in a thousand different ways. The reason all parents should read Cameron's book is her tracing of the short path from birth to horrible death of these pretty, bright, loving little girls.
There are intervals of vulnerability in a girl's life when she can be saved or destroyed. If parents and teachers are alert to these crucial moments, they might be able to fend off energetic predatory evil.
Many of the dead had been sexually abused as children. No one gets over a smashed childhood but it offers another critical moment when rescue is possible. They may be moved by social workers to a better place, a happy family with an elastic heart that expands with love. Or, because native children aren't a priority and adoption isn't carefully vetted, they may be adopted by families where the father has essentially placed an order for a living sex toy.
The move into high school is the toughest moment of a girl's life. A native girl is sent into a white school where she is taunted and ridiculed. She turns to whatever friend she can find for help, and invariably it's a dirtbag boy who feeds her drugs and enslaves her. Toxic friends: this was a common pattern.
We think of prostitutes as big, lurking, tough women, but a different sketch emerges. Pickton's victims were usually slender, about 5-foot-2 in height. They were tiny. They needed their drugs to give them respite from the non-stop emotional pain of existing and remembering. But they all phoned home, regularly.
At several points in On the Farm, you will be halted by the pain of coincidence. Take Janet Henry. The youngest of 11 children in a native family in north-central B.C., she was a shy, sensitive girl who had been drugged and raped by Clifford Olson when she was a teenager. She fell in with a boyfriend who introduced her to hard drugs. What are the odds that she'd meet Pickton? Pretty good, actually.
We all know to teach our children about “the deliberate stranger” (Theodore Bundy's strategy). The most prolific serial killers take care to have no link to their victims beyond a woman's moment of inattention as they drive by.
But poverty brings new dangers. There are not enough police to guard the poor, even if they cared to, which in the Pickton case they actively and energetically did not. Serial killers are learning this. In the U.S., where Downtown Eastside poverty is commonplace, they don't even bother leaving the house anymore. Last year in Cleveland, a man named Anthony Sowell was caught with 11 corpses in his house. Even complaints about a rotting smell couldn't persuade police to drive into a black neighbourhood and sniff out the dead.
Police attention: that's the last moment of opportunity to save little girls who repeatedly missed chances at rescue. It's our failure after failure after failure that let them die. Being a good parent is the greatest test in life. Imagine those parents today and the pain of knowing you tried, but did not succeed.