Police are starting to dig near the Canadian city of Vancouver, for evidence that links a farmer to the disappearance of over 50 women. It is the latest development in an investigation that has already resulted in seven murder charges.
In a suburb 30 kilometers east from Vancouver, Archaeology students, dressed in dark blue overalls and wearing gloves, reflective vests, and hard hats, are closely examining tons of dirt, covering the site of a four-hectare pig farm.
The students specialize in Osteology, the study of human bones, and are looking for evidence linking pig farmer Robert William Pickton to 54 missing women, most of them prostitutes from Vancouver's impoverished Downtown Eastside. He is already charged with killing seven of them. Through his lawyer, he is denying the allegations.
The dig comes after a detailed investigation of the grounds and over 15 buildings.
The searchers are using a soil screener, two 50-foot flat conveyor belts, a rubber tire loader, an excavator, and two dump trucks.
Investigators started searching Mr. Pickton's farm February 6 and say they have found human remains at the site.
At a recent meeting between family members and the investigators, Rick Frey, whose daughter Marnie is missing, says the coroner warned families that any discoveries resulting from the dig might be shocking.
"Well, I don't think it can be any harder than what we're going through now. Especially with the gory details coming out of what is actually being collected at this time," he said. " Hopefully, a lot of the family members have kind of put that aside. All we can hope for now is that whatever is there for us will be identified with our daughter, if indeed she's there."
Police have asked family members to help identify personal effects, including jewelry, clothing, bags and shoes taken from the pig farm.
The first of the women disappeared in June 1983, the most recent, last November.
Mr. Pickton's farm was three times its current size, at the time of the early disappearances. Houses and commercial developments have since been built on much of the property. Authorities will not disclose if they plan to search in the developed area.