Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Stevie Cameron has dedicated many years of her life to following and investigating the crimes of the North American serial killer who would eventually be identified as Robert William Pickton. In her book titled On the Farm, she unravels the sordid story behind the man and his victims, based not only on official police material, but also her personal experience with the case, even including some elements which never made it into official transcripts.
Table of contents
Stevie Cameron Dives into the Mud
While I think it’s fair to assume serial killers have existed since ancient times, if not before then, the branch of science preoccupied with their study is still in its infancy and isn’t capable of providing us with many definitive answers. Nevertheless, there are people such as Stevie Cameron who aren’t afraid to keep on diving into the darkness following such people, a journey she describes in great detail in her book titled On the Farm.
Just to make things clear right off the bat, this book is a work of non-fiction and has no imaginary elements to it. The author herself has spent a considerable chunk of her live investigating the case of Robert William Pickton, and in this book she aims to create a definitive resource on the case which shook America some twenty years ago.
As is becoming increasingly popular these days, this true crime book is told in the form of a narrative, beginning with the author’s own investigation back in 1998 into the story of women going missing. Since those women were drug-addicted sex workers from Vancouver’s Downtown East-side, their vanishing wasn’t exactly a priority for the police.
From there on out, she takes us through the development of the case until 2002 when Robert Pickton was arrested, and following through to him being found guilty in 2008, and his subsequent court appeals in the following years.
In addition to showing us her perspective of the story and gathering all the various official facts in one place, she also takes it upon herself to try and explore the case from every possible angle. From her private interviews with Pickton‘s friends and surviving victims to the many botched investigations headed by the police, Stevie Cameron does her best to leave no stone unturned and tries to paint the most complete picture possible of one of Vancouver’s most tragic stories.
On the Farm and its Factual Riches
The first order of business when reading literally any non-fiction book, in my opinion at least, is to make sure the author not only really knows what he or she is talking about, but that they also have something unique to add to the story. After all, if everything relayed by an author can be found on Wikipedia, there really isn’t much of a point to buying the book.
On both accounts Stevie Cameron passes the test with flying colours. From the very first pages it is overtly obvious she has conducted decades of research on the case and has spent a significant chunk of her life following it. As the journalist who was reporting on the case is it was happening, Cameron is in a special enough position where she might realistically hold information absent from the official accounts.
She has a lot of facts and details to share with us, never shying away from giving names and describing events to the best of her extensive knowledge on the matter. I did need to pause my reading a few times to conduct some research on the personalities mentioned, which, in my opinion, is something every non-fiction book should be pushing their readers to do.
I was especially taken aback by her meticulous and pinpoint examination of the police investigations and their countless failures to make the right decisions. While she certainly does highlight the unconventional problems one faces when investigation murders perpetrated by serial killers (lack of connection with the victim being the primary one), she impart strong criticism where necessary.
With On the Farm actually covering a period of many decades, I think it goes without saying Stevie Cameron had to make some concessions here and there, picking and choosing the areas she dove into. In other words, there are sections where the depth gives way to a more shallow broadness, but with the power of the internet at our fingertips, these necessary (and often harmless) blanks can be easily filled in. The important elements are always given the attention they deserve.
Voices from the Past
Learning about the case from a factual perspective is indeed enthralling, but I think we all know there are a few more dimensions to it worthy of being looked at. For starters, we get an in-depth account of Robert Pickton‘s family and formative years, with the author trying to stay as neutral as possible and simply telling us the man’s story.
I was somewhat disappointed by the lack of psychological analysis included in On the Farm, but on the other hand, I can understand why the author stayed away from it. While such an analysis does present interesting hypotheses and perhaps even theories, the domain of psychology hasn’t moved far enough for them to be considered undeniable facts. Nevertheless, I think we do learn enough about him to start formulating ideas as to why he ended up the way he did.
Beyond the man himself, Stevie Cameron also dedicates a good bit of time to exploring not only Pickton‘s former friends, but also his victims and their families. It’s both eye-opening and heart-wrenching read the kind of imprint he left on certain people, and just how many opportunities were missed to identify him as a potentially-deranged individual.
There is one specific point upon which the author turns our attention, a topic which I believe has come up time and time again in her work as a journalist: society’s nonexistent concern for certain classes of people. Connecting back with the botched police investigations, she shows beyond the shadow of a doubt how the status of the victims influenced the work of Vancouver law enforcement agents, leading to more eventual deaths and losses.
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Ultimately, Cameron isn’t here to point the finger and assign blame in the name of the victims. Rather, she writes in hope of changing the world for the better, to show us the sort of misery we breed and what we can change in ourselves to start building a better tomorrow. She writes about all those mistakes in hopes they won’t be repeated again.
The Final Verdict
On the Farm by Stevie Cameron is, in my opinion, the definitive source for anyone looking to get familiar with the Pickton case from every major angle imaginable. Delivered through an impactful prose and a structured narrative, this true crime story aims to educate us with facts while also making us truly feel for the man’s victims.
If you’re specifically interested in the Robert William Pickton case, or are simply a true crime reader in search of a meaningful experience, then I highly recommend you pick this book up and explore it thoroughly; it has mountains of knowledge to share.
Stevie Cameron is a Canadian investigative journalist and author with an honours B.A. In English from the University of British Columbia. She worked for a number of publications including the Toronto Star and the Ottawa Journal, and some of her most widely-acclaimed works include On the Take, Blue Trust, The Pickton File and On the Farm.