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Jury selection begins in serial killing case

The women began disappearing from Vancouver's seediest streets in the 1980s, prostitutes and drug addicts abandoned on the margins of society. Desperate friends and families were outraged when the police appeared to do little to find them.

Now, the man accused of murdering at least 26 of those missing women is going to trial. Jury selection began Saturday for the case against Robert "Willie" Pickton, a pig farmer who, if convicted of all the murders, would become the worst serial killer in Canadian history.

Pickton stood and softly said "not guilty'' as each of the names of six of the alleged victims was read in court. Justice James Williams has ruled that the trial will be divided into two parts, with the first six counts being tried first.

The gruesome allegations against Pickton fall under a publication ban that prevents the media from revealing details of the alleged crimes until opening arguments Jan. 8.

What can be reported is that Pickton, 56, was arrested in February 2002 by police investigating the disappearances of sex-trade workers from Vancouver's grubby Downtown Eastside district.

Pickton and his brother, Dave, used to throw parties at the hog farm in a barn they dubbed the "Piggy Palace," telling neighbors they were raising money for charity. Investigators have said the parties were drunken raves with prostitutes and drugs.

After Pickton was arrested and the first traces of DNA of some missing women were allegedly found on the farm, the buildings were razed and the province spent an estimated $61-million to sift through acres of soil.

Friends and family of the missing women say those who survived tell horror stories about what took place at the 17-acre pig farm outside Vancouver.

Relatives of the missing women and others who work or live on the streets of the Downtown Eastside say officials ignored their pleas for help in the disappearances until the media began investigations.

Constable Catherine Galliford told reporters just after Pickton was arrested that their resources were limited and the magnitude of the case overwhelming.

The task force investigating the case says 102 women once believed to be missing have been found alive. Sixty-seven women remain on the list, as well as three unidentified DNA profiles from the Pickton farm.

Dave Pickton, flagged down in his truck near the farm, gave a friendly laugh but said he did not care to discuss his brother.