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Sex worker says Pickton raped her in 1991

Susan Davis stands on East Hastings Street in the Vancouver downtown eastside June 13, 2006.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail/Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Serial killer Robert Pickton could have come to the attention of police years earlier if an officer had responded to a 911 call after a violent rape at knifepoint, the Pickton inquiry has heard.

Vancouver prostitute Susan Davis told the inquiry on Monday that Mr. Pickton raped her in the winter of 1990-91 – an allegation that, if substantiated, would make her one of his earliest sexual-assault victims.

The incident has not been mentioned publicly before.

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The alleged attack occurred only months before another prostitute, Nancy Clark, went missing from the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood.

Ms. Clark was last seen in August of 1991. Her DNA was found on Mr. Pickton's pig farm years later and police now believe Mr. Pickton killed her.

In testimony before the Pickton inquiry Monday, Ms. Davis said she initially did not know who had assaulted her.

She did not realize that it was Mr. Pickton until he was arrested in 2002, more than a decade after the assault. "I saw his picture and I thought, 'That's the guy,' " Ms. Davis told the missing-women Inquiry.

She thought she may have been mistaken but then she described the vehicle to another woman, who told her that the car belonged to Mr. Pickton.

"That's the truth I live with, even though I cannot prove it," Ms. Davis said.

The government-appointed inquiry is looking into why police did not arrest Mr. Pickton before February, 2002. Mr. Pickton was convicted of the second-degree murder of six women. Police believe he killed at least another 27, beginning in 1991 with Ms. Clark. Mr. Pickton has said he killed 49 women.

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Ms. Davis, who grew up in an upper-middle-class family in Nova Scotia, has been working in prostitution for more than 25 years. She began working in an escort business in Halifax and then moved into prostitution. She was a street prostitute in Vancouver for several years but has worked indoors since 1994, she said.

Ms. Davis was picked up by the man she now believes was Mr. Pickton on a wet, snowy evening during the winter of 1990-91, she said. She jumped in a blue station wagon, although the vehicle was a mess with a dented side and garbage filling the back seat.

The man, who had wispy auburn hair, a scruffy, dirty beard and sallow skin, was smelly and dirty, Ms. Davis recalled.

They went to a nearby parking lot where the man punched her in the face, pulled out a knife and threw her down on the front bench seat. "He proceeded to rape me at knifepoint," she said.

Once he was done, he started to drive her back to the corner where he had picked her up, she said. She jumped out of the car, went back to the hotel where she was living, cleaned up and got high on cocaine "to calm down," she said.

She had the vehicle's licence-plate number and called 911. The dispatcher transferred her to an officer who said he would meet her to take down the details. She waited for an hour but the officer did not show up. She left and went back to work.

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Over the next three weeks, she tried twice to contact police but no one ever came out to take her report, she told the inquiry. "I gave up after that," she said.

But the incident haunted her, she said. "It was my first serious assault and, being an upper-middle-class daughter, I believed I would get equal treatment. It haunted me that I couldn't. That is why I think I kept trying to [call the police]after I failed," she said.

In response to questioning by Tim Dickson, a lawyer representing the Vancouver Police Department, Ms. Davis said she did not remember the name of the officer. She did not give the licence number or a description of the attacker to 911 and she lost the paper with the plate number, she said.

Ms. Davis said later she did not respond to an appeal from police for anyone who had contact with Mr. Pickton. She said her husband at that time would not allow her to speak to police.

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