The Pig Farmer
I knew his voice. Instantly. I had seen the jail cell tapes. The ones where he lamented he hadn't killed an even 50. It was hard to comprehend that a scrawny little bean pole of a person could have murdered 49 women. That is until he called my work- and I took the call.
I was contracted by the provincial government at the time. I was working as one of their switchboard operators. The job was simple: answer the phone, keep the call under seventy seconds and transfer it to where it needs to go. Well, that is- until I came along and changed things.
I've always been a magnet for mostly weirdos. It didn't matter where I went- the influx of oddities never ceased to appear. In fact, it was always noted. Generally, I didn't mind. It kept things interesting. Sometimes things would get scary, but that wasn't the norm.
During my training period, my trainer couldn't help but notice how odd the calls I routinely got were. Nobody else was getting calls like that, or at the very least, not the frequency at which they seemed to find me. Time and time again, as he listened in to my early calls, I'd see in my periphery him stand up and signal to the floor manager to listen in on the call. At the end of the call, they would both comment something along the lines of: "What the fuck was that!?" I'd respond with, "I was hoping you'd tell me."
I broke the 70-second rule over and over. It should have actually gotten me fired, but what ended up happening was it brought a level of customer service into the role that hadn't previously existed. Nobody was obligated to learn or use my approach, but it wasn't long before I was training people on what I was doing.
It started mostly out of habit. I had over a decade of customer service experience. It's second nature for me to want to get more information to make sure that I was directing people to where they actually needed to go. Because wouldn't you know it- by listening just a little more, it often turned out that what was initially being presented wasn't what needed to be addressed. Something else I had noted- lonely people were calling to talk- to anybody. What would end up happening is they would get transferred to a minister's office, that office would hang up on the caller, they'd call us back, and it would be the better part of the day just transferring them to anyone that would give them a minute of their time. I wondered what would happen if I was that person. So I started to stay on the line- some of these calls were 30 minutes. And they'd talk and talk. Sometimes utter nonsense, other times relieving themselves of their dread and worry. They wouldn't call back and hold up the phone lines (or ministry offices), so- I was permitted to take these long calls.
The majority of calls we took were either for social services or prison inmates looking to be connected to the hospital or courthouse phone trees. You see- they had worked out how to use those phone trees to open up those telephone lines and call any number they chose. One inmate had racked up nearly one thousand dollars in long-distance charges to a smaller hospital in the province. A few used that system to torment their victims. A few of us in the office figured out how to thwart that, but that's a story for a different day.
I remember this so vividly. It was an unbelievably beautiful day- especially for Vancouver. I worked close to the infamous downtown Eastside. My office building was used in huge Hollywood films and shows. You would probably recognize it as The Department of Mutant Affairs from the X-Men movies. And to be honest, given some of the phone calls I took, that was fitting. But I digress.
It was near the end of my shift. The past several days had been incredibly busy. I can't remember why, as it's been almost ten years now, but I do remember it was during a period when we saw a tremendous increase in calls. We each took hundreds of calls a day. You read that right. HUNDREDS. Each.
Depending on how long the inmate had been waiting on the phone, we'd get the prison introduction- which often included their name or prisoner number. If they had been waiting for a while, we'd get the prisoner on the line sans recording.
I connected to the call, and I got the recording. The voice identified the caller as "Pickton." No fucking way, I thought to myself. Someone is playing some kind of stupid joke. The line cleared, and the inmate came through. He sheepishly said hello and began to stammer.
I felt myself freeze in my chair. My blood ran cold. All the little hairs on my arms immediately stood up. Even over the phone, the absolutely sinister nature of this guy caused an immediate visceral reaction. My mind was racing. It took me a second to catch up to the call.
He wanted someone to talk to. He had been locked up in solitary for enough time that he wasn't even sure how long it had been. He had questions about the outside world. Surely there were other ways for him to get that information? He began by asking what he had heard about cell phones and what they were like at the time- if the rumours of them being like laptops were true. He asked about the weather, which led to him wanting to know where I was. I refused to answer truthfully. His questions were becoming increasingly personal. I wouldn't answer them.
I stood up from my chair. Eyes wide as saucers and made eye contact with the floor manager. His eyebrows furrowed as I frantically pointed to my headset, trying to signal I wanted him to hear the call. He finally clued in and connected. He shrugged, not understanding what the problem was. I must have looked at him like he was a fucking idiot because the next thing I knew, I had a direct message on my screen asking "What?".
ROBERT PICKTON. I responded. THE PIG FARMER. *THE* Pig Farmer.
We locked eyes again, his suddenly much closer to the size of mine. He was listening as this man, known as "The Butcher," was saying that I sounded really nice. That he hoped to one day be out of prison. And when he's out of prison- he'd like to invite me to his property for dinner. He went on to describe the property- the one he murdered at least 49 women on- and insisted we'd have a lovely dinner. He giggled a bit when talking about his farm, which he called "the property." It took everything in me to not be sick in my mouth.
WHAT IN THE HANNIBAL LECTER KIND OF INSANITY IS THIS?!
I have no doubt all the colour drained from my face because the manager gestured for me to sit down. I was covered in goosebumps. The chill that ran through me is unlike anything I have ever experienced since. I ended the call, the manager standing next to me, repeating "holy shit" over and over. I felt sick and a bit faint. I excused myself to get some water and stepped outside for a minute to get some air.
He was flippant. He spoke quietly- until he began to talk about the property. A pride kicked in, and a yearning to return home was present. It was bone-chilling to listen to. I don't imagine I hid my fear all that well, and perhaps he delighted in that. He's regarded as one of the most prolific serial killers- in Canada's history. It's unfathomable what he did. I'll be honest- I haven't recalled that day like this in many years, and it still makes me sick.