Category Archives: True Crime

The Beatle Bandit: A Serial Bank Robber’s Deadly Heist, a Cross-Country Manhunt, and the Insanity Plea that Shook the Nation by Nate Hendley

There have been several excellent true crime books reviewed here at The Miramichi Reader recently, such as those by Dean Jobb and now another great Canadian true crime author, Nate Hendley, has just released his latest, The Beatle Bandit which takes us back to a bank robbery and a murder in North York Ontario on a hot July morning in 1964. Today, one’s mental state would be questioned if they tried to rob a bank, what with video surveillance, alarms, information sharing between police forces, and the Internet poised to spread the news at lightning speed. But, back in 1964, it would appear that a bank robbery was not such a risky undertaking. Just walk in and demand the money. That’s what Matthew Kerry Smith did, and he was successful to a certain point, remaining at large for some time until some dogged police work and a little luck paid off.

However, on that fateful July day, things got complicated when an ex-army civilian customer took it upon himself to try and stop Smith, AKA “The Beatle Bandit”. Jack Blanc, using one of the bank’s revolvers (yes, banks kept guns onsite in those days) tried to shoot Smith, but Smith, armed with a semi-automatic weapon shot Blanc dead.

“Forensic science being what it was in those days, combined with paper files and limited information sharing, it took time to solve the mess that The Beatle Bandit created.”

North York Police had an unidentified bank robber and a murderer on their hands at this point. Forensic science being what it was in those days, combined with paper files and limited information sharing, it took time to solve the mess that The Beatle Bandit created.

Nate Hendley was contacted by a man who had planned to write a book about the Beatle Bandit but never got around to actually writing it despite having banker boxes full of information. Torontonian Nate Hendley was the obvious choice as his authorship of dozens of true crime books speaks for itself. While Mr. Hendley had a lot of the legwork of research gifted to him, as it were, it still needed to be assembled into a story that readers would find interesting. This has been admirably accomplished by Mr. Hendley and published by Dundurn Press. Mr. Hendley’s writing style is relaxed with a pleasant tone and as such is very readable. He excels at unpacking the crime in light of the time setting in which it occurred, particularly regarding the laws (or lack of them) at the time. (There was still the death penalty, for example). Highly recommended for readers of the true-crime genre.

About the Author

Nate Hendley is a journalist and author. His books include The Boy on the BicycleThe Big Con, and Bonnie and Clyde. He lives in Toronto.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Dundurn Press (Nov. 16 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 216 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1459748107
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1459748101

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The “Mr. Big” Sting: The Cases, the Killers, the Controversial Confessions by Mark Stobbe

True crime aficionados can rejoice, for here is a very insightful look into the so-called “Mr. Big” sting operations that have been carried out by the RCMP and other police forces over the years. There are a lot of surprising elements in Mark Stobbe’s book. For instance, it was the RCMP that devised and perfected Mr. Big over the years. I simply took it for granted that it would have been an American tactic to get criminals to confess, but no, it was created here in Canada. In fact, as I came to learn, it is little used in the USA.

“The bottom line is that if a person tells Mr. Big they have killed someone, they and their associates have a very good chance of going to jail for a very long time.”

What is the “Mr. Big” sting? There is no one person who portrays Mr. Big, rather, police create an imaginary criminal gang to trick homicide suspects into a confession. “Mr. Big” is the top boss who requires the prospective gang member to come clean of his offences so that he can make them ‘go away’. Mr. Big is typically used as a last resort when evidence fails to fully incriminate a suspect. It is elaborate and expensive to stage a Mr. Big sting, but it is effective. It is not without its pitfalls too, and it has its detractors. Nevertheless, it has put men and women behind bars who would otherwise have never been convicted of murder. They are the next best thing to a smoking gun at a murder scene.

The “Mr. Big” Sting follows several cases of unsolved murders into which police decided to bring Mr. Big into the picture. The murders and facts of the case are examined, legal aspects are discussed and after all avenues of conviction are exhausted, Mr. Big is brought in.

Fascinating in its reach, especially for those who like “Law and Order” type shows and stories where criminal cases in which police, lawyers, judges, and the legal system are all involved, The “Mr. Big” Sting: The Cases, the Killers, the Controversial Confessions is a book you need to read.


Mark Stobbe has a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Saskatchewan and has taught at Keyano College and Okanagan College. He began studying the criminal justice system after being accused and acquitted of the murder of a loved one. Dr. Stobbe now lives and works in Regina, Saskatchewan.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ ECW Press (Sept. 28 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 264 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1770416129
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1770416123

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Twice to the Gallows: Bennie Swim and the Benton Ridge Murders by Dominique Perrin

Billed as “A New Brunswick Non-Fiction Novel” Twice to the Gallows by Fredericton author Dominique Perrin is the perfect type of story that leans more toward the “creative’ side due to the paucity of facts surrounding the unusual case of Bennie Swim, a double-killer (he was only convicted of murder for one of his killings) in the Carleton County area of New Brunswick back in the early 1920s.

Bennie’s story is the timeless one of an angry jilted lover with the mentality “If I can’t have her nobody can” and sets off to visit Olive, the girl who wanted nothing to do with him and her new husband, Harvey. He has a revolver that he traded his worldly belongings to acquire.

What facts are known is that acting in a blind rage Bennie killed both Olive and Harvey Trenholm in their home, and then attempted suicide by shooting himself, at which he failed. He then fled the scene and managed to escape capture for a few hours (it was wintertime, so he wasn’t hard to track on foot). As Mr. Perrin notes in the Afterword:

“Bennie’s behaviour may look pretty stupid to us, but it was driven by his unbearable loss and passionate jealousy.”

More facts are known once Bennie is in jail awaiting trial, his quick conviction (despite the best efforts of his beleaguered lawyer in a losing cause) and his incarceration awaiting his execution by hanging. Bennie attempts to claim insanity, and while he cleverly fools two New Brunswick doctors, an Ontario psychiatrist is brought in and isn’t fooled one bit. Bennie must hang. However, a professional hangman cannot be sourced locally, so two apprentice hangmen are brought in, much to the Sherriff’s chagrin, as one is a total drunk and the other inexperienced in the science of a proper hanging (hence the book’s title). This section is particularly entertaining as Sherriff Foster appears to be the only competent person in Bennie’s solitary life.

Mr. Perrin has done a fine job of recreating the times and mores of an early 20th century rural New Brunswick with its small inter-related communities of simple, hardworking folks. Of necessity, he recreates dialogue where needed and reasonable speculation where possible when all the facts are not known. He has certainly performed careful research through archives, tracing out all the connections to the story down to the present day. If you like books that recreate true historical crimes (such as Debra Komar’s, for instance), then I am sure you will enjoy reading Twice to the Gallows.

Dominique Perrin served in the Canadian Armed Forces for twenty-six years. Since retirement he has become a jazz musician, playing alto saxophone. He regularly plays in jazz clubs of several European cities. He also performs and gives lessons in advanced saxophone in Fredericton, New Brunswick, where he lives.

  • Publisher : Chapel Street Editions (June 11 2019)
  • Language : English
  • Paperback : 242 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1988299241
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1988299242

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Pinkerton’s and the Hunt for Simon Gunanoot by Geoff Mynett

“Pinkerton’s and the Hunt for Simon Gunanoot throws new light on the extensive manhunt for an accused murderer in northern British Columbia in the early 1900s. After a double murder in 1906, Gitxsan trapper and storekeeper Simon Gunanoot fled into the wilderness with his family. Frustrated by Gunanoot’s ability to evade capture, the Attorney General of BC asked Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency in Seattle to assist in the pursuit.

In 1909, two Pinkerton’s operatives disguised as prospectors were sent to Hazelton, BC, to find and apprehend Gunanoot. From 1909–1910, they delivered reports to Pinkerton’s in Seattle detailing their progress. Many of these reports, written around campfires in the wilderness, provided a vivid picture of life in the frontier, relations of settlers, prospectors, and the conflicting loyalties and tensions in both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.

One of the most famous fugitives in BC history, Gunanoot’s story has taken on the status of legend. This is a tale of early twentieth-century crime-solving techniques, politics and backwoods survival, based on never-before-published accounts of the two operatives.”

Somewhere in the dim recesses of my memory – second-year college, I believe – I took an elective course on BC history, the content of which was, for the most part, colonial settler history. Despite a decidedly narrow window onto Canada’s west coast past, I enjoyed the course, learning more about my home province than I’d previously known: the Dominion enclave of Victoria, the capital (at the time) of New Westminster, place names alone alluding to perceived provenance, and the vast wilds of BC’s northern interior. We learned what we knew at the time about Simon Gunanoot, perhaps BC’s most famous “outlaw,” quotation marks indicating the fact we don’t know all the facts, and assuredly never will. But now, for the first time, through extensive research by author Geoff Mynett presented in a well-organized, engaging narrative, we have perhaps the very best account of this fascinating story.

“One night in June 1906, a Gitxsan trapper and storekeeper named Simon Gunanoot argued and then fought with a packer named Alex MacIntosh. When MacIntosh’s dead body was found the next morning, Police Constable James Kirby swiftly concluded that Gunanoot and his brother-in-law, Peter Himadam, were the killers and out to bring them to justice.”

As a retired lawyer, Mynett shares meticulous research in readable detail, along with good story-telling, suitable slices of speculation, and a clear passion for the subject matter, before, during, and after the trial of this story’s famous fugitive.

“While waiting for trial, Gunanoot would have understood that, if convicted, he could well be hanged. Necessarily, he had to trust entirely to his counsel’s abilities and to the mercies of a Vancouver jury.”

Like any great tale, particularly one in which the players involved may or may not share a common language (literally), this story struck me more often than not as a childhood game of “whisper.” When something is stated with certainty, then told and retold, partially forgotten, then embellished, too often peppered with preconceptions and prejudice, and so on, until eventually what actually occurred (or what was initially said) no longer resembles what it once was. So too during an investigative search by operatives in frontier wilderness, discrete discussions over too many drinks in saloons and around campfires – the setting alone, uncertainty, and personal biases skew every facet of every piece of dialogue. The result? Too many versions of “facts” to be certain as to where the truth lies. Even reading the text I found myself unwittingly deciding my own version of truths, taking sides and pulling for certain parties over others.

This book sheds light on a richly layered piece of history, challenges preconceived notions of right, wrong, justice and law, and provides an intriguing window onto a time and a place, surprisingly not far removed from where we are now. I applaud author Geoff Mynett for his diligent work and commitment to share an important and riveting story from BC’s past and doing it exceptionally well.

About the Author: Geoff Mynett was born in England where he qualified as a Barrister. After emigrating to British Columbia in 1973, he became a Canadian citizen, requalified as a lawyer and practiced law until his retirement. His first book, Service on the Skeena: Horace Wrinch, Frontier Physician (Ronsdale Press, 2019), received a Jeanne Clarke Memorial Award. His second book, Pinkerton’s and the Hunt for Simon Gunanoot, was published by Caitlin Press in 2021. Geoff and his wife Alice live in Vancouver and have two sons.

  • Title: Pinkerton’s and the Hunt for Simon Gunanoot
  • Author: Geoff Mynett
  • Publisher: Caitlin Press Inc, 2021
  • ISBN: 978-1-77386-050-3
  • Pages: 256 pp

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This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Seventh Shot: On the Trail of Canada’s .22-calibre Killer by Ann Burke

“Who shoots someone six times then stops to reload and shoots a seventh?”

The answer: someone with a 9-shot pistol instead of the usual 6-shooter. This unique gun would prove to be a vital clue in tracking down the murderer (and rapist) of two women in May 1970 in the Gormley, Ontario area.

Ann Burke has worn many hats over the years, but her favourite one is her writer’s cap. The Seventh Shot is her first book and it is a true-crime story told in the best journalistic style. There is even a personal connection, which serves to make the story of the serial killer (and former Metropolitan Toronto Police Officer) Ronald Glen West all that more fascinating. The fact that West may have killed even more adds to the story as well, for there were other unaccounted for murders and disappearances in the surrounding area in the years before West was incarcerated. These many unsolved cases are recounted by the author in the chapter entitled “The Cold Corridor”.

In a TMR interview with Ms. Burke, she was asked: “What do you want the reader of The Seventh Shot to come away with?”

She replied: “I would like them to discover, as I did, that however cruel and evil these crimes were, that there are heroes out there. I cannot tell you how many times I was assured that the officers “felt a commitment to bring justice for the sake of the survivors”, and at no small cost to themselves.”

In a documentary style, Ms. Burke introduces us to these ‘heroes’ —mainly OPP officers— and manages to get personal interviews with them, all retired now. She then proceeds to recreate the crimes, how there were similarities between the two victims, West’s background and so on. Adding a nice touch to each chapter is an appropriate quote that sets the tone for what is to follow. Latitude 46 Publishing of Ontario is to be commended for all aspects of this title, from cover to cover.

It is quite imaginable that The Seventh Shot might be made into a made-for-tv mini-series. Five stars for an excellent first book and a great read!

About the author: After serving in the Royal Canadian Navy as a Navigational Operator/Radar Technician, Ann turned her interest to her greatest love, writing. Working largely in the social services sector as a counsellor in a Women and Children’s Shelter, co-ordinating a Homeless drop-in and directing a rural community centre, she freelanced for newspapers, including The Toronto Star. Her most memorable years were spent working for The Walden Observer in Lively, Ontario and covering events for The Sudbury Star. She now lives in Innisfil with her husband. You can read an interview with her here.

  • Publisher : Latitude 46 (Oct. 22 2020)
  • Paperback : 174 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 198898923X
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1988989235

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Daring, Devious, and Deadly: True Tale of Crime and Justice from Nova Scotia’s Past by Dean Jobb

Historical non-fiction can sometimes present itself as a stained parchment paper timeline of facts, the kind that is best saved for a game of trivia or a college term paper. Other times, it can deliver as a timely, fascinating excursion. In this case, Daring, Devious, and Deadly is definitely the latter as an easy, must-read work. Author Dean Jobb does an extraordinary job of winding several notorious, landmark cases in Nova Scotian history into a book that should be on every Canadian History bookstore shelf. Each tale reads as a dramatic episode of a favourite mystery or court case TV program. In part, due to the verbatim capture of dialogue that journalists recorded at the time, Jobb was able to thoroughly research and document these criminal cases as captivating stories rather than daunting historical text. A read that is hard to put down mid-tale; history is held under a page-turning microscope, not too subtly blowing the dust off Nova Scotia’ sordid, unsettling history of deceit, bloody violence, and various courtroom shenanigans.

A #ReadAtlantic Book!

This book, which could serve under another apropos title of “Anglo Saxon Men Behaving Badly over Two Centuries”, opens with the sharp-tongued comedic legacy of A.B. MacGillivray, an early 20th century Cape Breton magistrate. Presiding as judge over cases resembling present-day courtroom reality tv, we are offered an initial flavour of Nova Scotia’s shifty legal system. Episode one features corrupt magistrates hastily resigning after a contentious libel case involving a victorious newspaper press. As if binge-watching Netflix, we are quickly spun into Death at the Waterloo Tavern, a suspenseful whodunit or who-done-who wrong at an 1850s brothel. 

Every tale in this book was an attention-grabbing newspaper headline. Highlights include the controversial beginnings of the Bank of Nova Scotia, featuring decades-long mismanagement and embezzlement, and how bank tellers’ fear of missing out when the PT Barnum circus came to town led to a robbery in broad daylight; mariner crimes involving mutiny, murder, and libel; gruesome homicides, the resulting prosecution, public executions, and time served; and one of the most deadly cases in Nova Scotia’s history, earning it a 100-year commemoration by Canada Post, the 1917 Halifax Explosion.

“Every tale in this book was an attention-grabbing newspaper headline.”

Given the current global climate of radical political unrest, another timely historical piece, Death at the Polls, may have you wondering if this isn’t something that could occur in the present. 

Earlier in 2020, I’d originally planned to visit a friend who recently relocated from the West Coast to Halifax, a city I’ve never travelled to before. Needless to say, with travel plans indefinitely cancelled, I am glad I had an opportunity to explore a piece of Nova Scotia’s controversial underbelly this way, perhaps fuelling a future trip with a connection I otherwise wouldn’t have considered while mindlessly traipsing down Barrington Street in Halifax. When the time comes, I will impress my dear friend with my knowledge of brothels, infernos, and hangings in her new backyard, as one does, post-pandemic. 

Dean Jobb is an award-winning writer and the author of Empire of Deception. It won the Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis Award and was a finalist for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Nonfiction Prize. Dean writes a monthly true crime column for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and he is a professor of journalism and a member of the faculty of the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction Program at the University of King’s College in Halifax.

  • Paperback : 240 pages
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1989725238
  • Publisher : Pottersfield Press (Sept. 21 2020)

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Blood in the Water: a True Story of Revenge in the Maritimes by Silver Donald Cameron

Blood in the Water is really the story of two men, the most apparent being that of Phillip Boudreau, the not-so-innocent victim of murder, the other being that of the book’s author, the late Silver Donald Cameron. While it certainly would not have been the author’s wish that this book would be published posthumously, it has nevertheless drawn even more attention since the active mind of this wonderful gentleman is now at rest.

I had never met Donald personally, however, we did have some brief email correspondence around his previous book, Warrior Lawyers, a couple of years back. I have a similar relationship with his wife, Marjorie Simmins, an accomplished author in her own right. It is her I can thank for ensuring I received a review copy of Donald’s final book.

Now on to the review….

“It’s just something that had to be done. It’s just a pity that it was those guys who had to do it.”


“I don’t care what anybody says, those guys were not murderers.”


Those are just two examples of “Island Voices” that Mr. Cameron ingeniously inserts into Blood in the Water. The island being Isle Madame (off Cape Breton Island), Mr. Cameron’s home since 1971. Emotions were various regarding Phillip Boudreau’s life and premature death at the hands of three other island men, all good honest citizens (by most accounts) that Phillip appeared to have pushed a little too far that fateful June day in 2013.

Isle Madame

All four were fishermen, as many in the small hamlet of Petit de Grat are. Phillip was a ne’er-do-well that had a string of petty crimes (mostly theft) but could have included more serious crimes such as rape, but there was insufficient testimony against him. Phillip was the type that the community put up with, for if you got on his wrong side, he may just threaten to “burn you out” or cut your traps or slash your tires.

The Phillip situation reached a boiling point with the three fishermen on the Twin Maggies the day they came across Phillip in his small Midnight Slider boat out cutting their lobster traps in broad daylight, right under their noses. Unable to catch up with him because of being in a slower fishing boat, a rifle was produced and four shots were fired, one allegedly hitting Phillip (although the evidence proved otherwise) and one knocking out his outboard motor, leaving him a sitting duck. From then on, the Twin Maggies struck and rammed the Midnight Slider several times. Phillip’s body was never recovered.

There are many stories swirling around this seemingly brief encounter, and as is true in any small community, everyone has an opinion and everyone knows everyone else. What is truly unique about the telling of this story of true crime is that it is told from one of the island’s residents, who knows the people he interviews as well as the defendants in the trial, some of the lawyers, peace officers and so on. Those he doesn’t know Mr. Cameron endeavours to get to know by talking to relatives, friends and coworkers.

“He [Silver Donald Cameron] was first and foremost a storyteller. He was a remarkably attentive listener who was so full of engagement and curiosity and interest,” she said.”He was just a very engaged human being who loved people and loved stories and loved hearing people’s stories.”

Amy Cameron, Donald’s niece, in a CBC interview.

A master interviewer as well as a storyteller, Mr. Cameron’s comments and insights are both informative (especially about the Canadian judicial process) and emanate a true down to earth flavour. This is a book anyone can read without getting bogged down in legal and journalistic jargon. The author’s summing up is a superb analysis of vigilanteism, the strengths of Indigenous law and community values. A strong dose of food for thought and self-examination. Classic Silver Donald Cameron.

Some have said this is Mr. Cameron’s best work, and I’m not about to dispute that. This is an excellent book for those that enjoy true crime stories no matter where they take place or who they involve. It unfolds in an extremely logical manner, evidence of an orderly mind with good editing skills. There is an insert of black and white photographs, many from the author’s own collection.

Sadly, it is to be noted, and not without some irony, that Mr. Cameron passed away on June 1st, seven years to the day that Phillip Boudreau was murdered. If this is to be considered Silver Donald Cameron’s swan song, then it is an extraordinary one. Thank you, Donald.

  • WINNER of the 2021 Atlantic Book Awards’ Robbie Robertson Dartmouth Book Award
  • Shortlisted for the 2021 Crime Writers of Canada Brass Knuckles Award for Best Nonfiction Crime Book 

SILVER DONALD CAMERON was one of Canada’s most accomplished authors. His literary work includes plays, films, radio and TV scripts, hundreds of magazine articles, and nineteen books. He was a columnist for The Globe and Mail, and for thirteen years he wrote an influential weekly column for the Halifax Sunday Herald. Cameron had also been a professor or writer-in-residence at seven universities and Dean of Community Studies at Cape Breton University. In 2012, he was appointed to both the Order of Canada and the Order of Nova Scotia, and awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal. In 2019 he was appointed the first Farley Mowat Chair in Environment at Cape Breton University. He died in June 2020, soon after completing the manuscript of Blood in the Water.

  • Publisher : Penguin (Aug. 11 2020)
  • Language : English
  • Paperback : 256 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 0735238057
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0735238053

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Two Crows Sorrow: Love and Death on the North Mountain by Laura Churchill Duke

I find true crime books fascinating, particularly historical crime, which is probably why I like Debra Komar’s books so much. But what if there is a paucity of details regarding an actual crime? How does an author bring this event to life, so to speak? The author then cleverly builds a story and dialogue around the actual characters, while maintaining the integrity of the actual occurrence. That is what Laura Churchill Duke has done with a grisly murder committed in Nova Scotia in 1904. Fingerprinting was in its infancy and any type of crime scene investigation in rural areas was amateurish at best, typically carried out by a local coroner. There weren’t sufficient police records to assist Ms. Churchill Duke, but there were court records, newspaper articles and community resources which assisted her in recreating Theresa’s story immensely.

Theresa Balsor McAuley Robinson

Two Crows Sorrow is the story of Theresa McAuley Robinson, a hard-working woman whose well-liked husband, William passes away leaving her the farm to manage. In steps William Robinson (there are a few Williams in this story) a man who is not that well-liked and he has no fondness for Theresa’s grown children. “I haven’t known happiness for many years,” Theresa tells her niece Lucinda. “I thought when I married Mr. Robinson that I would be happy, but alas, no.”

There is an altercation between her son Eustace and his step-father, that if Theresa hadn’t intervened, it would have ended up in Eustace’s death. Once she agrees to testify against her husband at the trial, the atmosphere is set for William Robinson to seek retribution.

“Two Crows Sorrow is creative-non-fiction based on actual people and events on Nova Scotia’s North Mountain in 1904. This story affected and changed the whole community, as one shocking event led to others.”

Laura Churchill Duke

Ms. Churchill Duke does a commendable job of creating both a realistic atmosphere and dialogue of the time. Especially notable are the courtroom scenes with lawyers, judges and juries all well-drawn. The tension in the latter half of the book is palpable, so much so that this reader wanted to reach into the pages and throttle William Robinson himself! My only quibble (and it is a personal one) is the decision by Moose House Publications to print the text in a sans serif typeset which I find “cheapens” the look and feel of a book. Other than that, a fine endeavour on behalf of Ms. Churchill Duke to recreate a historical crime that time has all but forgotten. Recommended, and I am adding it to the 2020 long list for a “The Very Best!” Book Award for Best Historical Fiction.

Two Crows Sorrow by Laura Churchill Duke
Moose House Publications

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This article has been Digiproved © 2019 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

First Degree, From Med School to Murder: The Story Behind the Shocking Will Sandeson Trial by Kayla Hounsell

Who doesn’t like a good courtroom drama? From Perry Mason to Matlock to Law & Order, tense courtroom stories have always been popular. No two are truly alike. Add in the fact that it is a true crime drama, and you have a story that is all the more realistic. This is where a book like Kayla Hounsell’s First Degree, From Med School to Murder: The Story Behind the Shocking Will Sandeson Trial really excels. Ms. Hounsell is currently CBC’s National Reporter for the Maritimes and while she covered the trial, she hadn’t considered writing a book about it until a stranger (who would become the book’s editor) emailed her with the idea. The result is an extremely interesting and dramatic recounting of the story of two Dalhousie med students, Willam Sandeson and Taylor Samson, the murder victim. It is also a world of drugs, primarily marijuana, and the desire for the “big score” the deal that will pay off debts and (if you believe Mr. Sandeson) allow him to get out of dealing before school starts in the fall.

“A rare Canadian look at the intersection of campus life, drugs and murder.”

Greg Marquis, author of Truth & Honour
Ms. Hounsell succinctly describes the case that Mr. Sandeson’s lawyer, Brad Sarson is about to take on:

Sarson could not have picked a more high-profile, labour-intensive case in Nova Scotia — a case which would eventually involve surprise witnesses, calls for a mistrial, and a private investigator who would end up working against the team that hired him. It was a trial that involved society’s most desirable cohort — people who were young, attractive, and from all appearances, headed for success.

A turning point in the trial comes when the defence calls for a mistrial. Judge Arnold is not amused: “The clumsy sequence of events in this case cannot help but result in confusion in the community as well as the skepticism about the efficacy of the jury system,” he explained. “The importance of the public’s confidence in the Canadian jury system cannot be overstated. This public trust, respect, and acceptance if eroded will be at great cost to the effective operation of the criminal justice system.”

A mistrial was denied.

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Ms. Hounsell is to be credited with keeping all facts to the forefront and avoiding any speculation or the embellishing of personalities and events. She lets the story tell itself, and she has done a wonderful job of collating the various police and family interviews, testimonies and courtroom proceedings to make the entire book flow very nicely. If you like true crime, then you’ll enjoy First Degree. Added to the “Summer Reads” list and it will appear on the 2020 long list for a “The Very Best!” Book Award for Non-Fiction.

First Degree was nominated for the 2019 Robbie Robertson Dartmouth Book Award (Non-fiction).

First Degree, From Med School to Murder: The Story Behind the Shocking Will Sandeson Trial
Nimbus Publishing

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The Court of Better Fiction: Three Trials, Two Executions, and Arctic Sovereignty by Debra Komar

What better place to write and research a historic event that took place in Canada’s far north than while living in Canada’s north? Debra Komar was writer-in-residence at Berton House in Dawson City for one year and considered her time there one of the “greatest experiences” of her life.

Ms. Komar’s latest book is a concise, scathing, and at the same time, sympathetic account of a travesty of justice committed against the Indigenous peoples living above the Arctic Circle.

The result is a concise, scathing, and at the same time, sympathetic account of a travesty of justice committed against the Indigenous peoples living above the Arctic Circle. As a retired forensic anthropologist who participated in numerous legal proceedings, Ms. Komar’s prior books have won her many honours, including the 2016 Canadian Authors Award for History for The Bastard of Fort Stikine. As a writer, she excels at getting to the crux of the matter, both legally and forensically. She fully sketches out the characters involved, using her research skills and critical thinking.

Alikomiak, one of the two Inuit men charged with murder.

The story of The Court of Better Fiction* is that of the arrest, trial, conviction and hanging of two Inuit men charged with murder. The murders of not only those in their own band but of two white men, one an RCMP officer, the other an HBC employee. Considering the event in hindsight will leave most readers aghast at the legal circus that travelled north from Edmonton and Vancouver to convict and hang these two men. There were even a hangman and the materials for a gallows sent along, intimating the verdict was already in. Chapter Fourteen, “All Evidence to the Contrary” highlights how Judge Dubuc’s court was “awash in procedural and ethical violations” just two days into the proceedings. The two accused, Alikomiak and Tatamigana, were unrepresented by counsel. Officers had failed to fingerprint the two, and the body of the victim, Corporal Doak, never underwent an autopsy to recover the bullet that took his life to be matched against the murder weapon. Any of these miscarriages of justice would have been enough to get a mistrial for the defendants, had they taken place in a conventional court of law, but as Judge Dubuc admonished the jurors:

“Our Government has not undertaken this expensive Judicial Expedition to have exhibited a mockery and travesty of justice before these primitive people.”

Yet, that is what it was. It was all designed to show these “primitive people” the white way of law, one they didn’t comprehend, never having been educated in our school system or even in the English language. As such, they were amused by the spectacle of it all.

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Ms. Komar is an acknowledged expert at parsing historical crimes and then re-creating the crime scene and sequence of events based on modern technology. It is fascinating to read The Court of Better Fiction as she methodically puts everything into perspective so we can see just how the British legal system was foisted on peoples who had no conception of judges, juries and legal proceedings. To them, all white men were “rich men” who were to be appeased. The Court of Better Fiction makes for compelling reading and it certainly earns a place on the shelf alongside her previous works of historic forensic legal cases. Five stars, and a place on the 2019 longlist in the Non-Fiction category for a “The Very Best!” Book Award for 2019.

The Court of Better Fiction: Three Trials, Two Executions, and Arctic Sovereignty by Debra Komar
Dundurn Press

*Note: this review was based on an Advance Reading Copy supplied by Dundurn Press. Please note if you choose to purchase this book through Amazon using the link below I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: Thanks!

The Boy on the Bicycle: A Forgotten Case of Wrongful Conviction in Toronto by Nate Hendley

Readers of true crime will be happy to hear that Nate Hendley is back with The Boy on the Bicycle (2018, Five Rivers Publishing). This was a project Mr. Hendley had put on hold while finishing his encyclopedic book The Big Con, which was a history of confidence men, hoaxes and frauds from past to present.

“The experience of 1956 had a very negative effect on my life”.

Ronald Moffatt

The Boy on the Bicycle revisits the murder of seven-year-old Wayne Mallette on the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) in Toronto 62 years ago in 1956. at the time, the only clue in the case that horrified Torontonians was that of a boy leaving the grounds of the CNE after briefly speaking with a security guard. Unfortunately, a truant young teen named Ronald Moffat was picked up by police and under extreme duress, confessed to the murder and was convicted as a juvenile offender. Although the real killer (and child predator) Peter Woodcock was eventually found and confessed to the killing, thus freeing Ronald, no compensation was forthcoming for the months he spent in detention, his distraught parents using what little money they had to pay legal costs.

How could this have happened? Why did Ronald confess to a crime he didn’t commit? Whatever became of the other principal characters such as Peter Woodcock, the various police investigators and judges? Mr. Hendley does an admirable amount of forensic investigation to get to the many facts of the case and the stories behind the forgotten account of Ronald Moffatt (who fully co-operated with Mr. Hendley in telling his side of the story).

“Beyond [a few] references, however, no one had written a complete book about Moffatt’s wrongful conviction. There was a very human side to the story as well: unlike Steven Truscott, Moffat never received an official apology much less compensation for his arrest and incarceration.”

In an interview with the author, Mr. Moffatt was asked: What do you personally hope to get out of the book?

Ron Moffatt (2016)

Ron replied: “This year I finally get to be “heard”. I feel that is important as I have lived with this locked up inside of me for over 60 years. The experience of 1956 had a very negative effect on my life. It would be nice if somehow the justice system decided I deserved financial compensation for the wrongful conviction, but I have come to the conclusion that will never happen.”

The Boy on the Bicycle is an exceptional read and serves as a unique time capsule of the times and mores of post-WWII Toronto when murders were rare and sexual predators were practically unheard of. While Ronald Moffatt remains uncompensated for his wrongful conviction, it was Mr. Hendley’s wish to finally tell Ron’s story after these many years, which he has done in a direct, yet compassionate manner. Five stars!

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book through Amazon using the link below I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: Thanks!

This article has been Digiproved © 2018 James Fisher

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Murder Lost to Time by Joseph A. Lapello

Clipping from the Toronto Mail and Empire Newspaper

The year is 1917. Less than two decades into the new century and already the Great War is occurring in the muddy fields of France. Soon there will be the Spanish Influenza which will kill many more millions. An inauspicious start to a new millennium, to be sure. In one of Canada’s largest cities, Toronto, there has been a murder. A cab driver is found dead in west-end Toronto, stabbed multiple times. The cabbie’s name is Carmine Lapello (AKA Tony Lapello, Tony Ross), an Italian Canadian. Inquests occur, but the murderer is never found.

Now, we take a leap forward to the year 1964 when a ten-year-old Joe Lapello is going through some cardboard boxes in his parent’s basement. He finds an old photo of a handsome young man (see book cover above). He takes the picture to his father and is told that the picture is of Joe’s great uncle, Carmine Lapello. Joe’s father was only seven years old at the time of the murder.

I was left wondering, my eyes lingering on the photograph in my hands. My great uncle stared back at me, forever trapped in monochrome, a mere memory lost in time. Still, his image seemed so alive. Perhaps it was his escaped smile or maybe the sorrow in my father’s voice, but for whatever reason, a single thought began to haunt me then. Even as I left Carmine behind, back in his box, and continued cleaning. Even as I closed my eyes when night came; for days to come the words would always echo in the back of my mind: who took my great uncle’s life?

A cab similar to Carmine Lapello’s

Joe Lapello vowed to someday discover who had killed his great uncle. It would seem that “someday” would never come, for life intervened, forcing the deceased Carmine to take a backseat until the time was ripe for Joe to investigate. Ten years after discovering the photograph, Joe meets Joseph Pill, who was actually with Carmine the night of the murder. Mr. Pill, by this time, is quite old, and pretty much down on his luck. Incredibly, their paths cross in a downtown pool hall and Joe gets more information about that fatal night.

Take another leap forward to 2005 and Joe comes across Carmine’s photo once again while cleaning out his deceased mother’s house.

Up until this point my resolve to someday solve my great uncle’s murder had been no more than a child’s fantasy, an unreachable adventure that could only ever be a dream. After all, I was only a child when I first encountered Carmine and the stories of his unsolved homicide. Back then, clutching his photograph with hands too small to clean a storage shelf, I had looked at the unshed tears in my father’s eyes with a dismay I hadn’t yet properly grown into. But I was no longer that young innocent boy; I had grown up with my great uncle’s ghost following me periodically along the way. I now had the renewed inspiration needed to begin my quest. With these thoughts in mind, I took my great uncle’s picture and attached it to my computer’s monitor as a reminder of my decision. I would research this old murder with the sole intention of answering Joseph’s question. Sooner or later I would find who took Carmine’s life.

Murder Lost to Time was a captivating book to read. I think it is pretty safe to say that Mr. Lapello would have been hard-pressed to discover much information before the Internet came along. It was by using it that he was able to get leads on where to look, what archives to search and he even uses to assist in tracking various descendants and such. Mr. Lapello took a very methodical approach and used good old-fashioned faculties such as logic and reasoning to put together a complete picture of  “the Ward” (St. John’s Ward) a poor immigrant section of Toronto now lost to high rises, condos and businesses. It was quite amazing how Mr. Lapello pieces it all together, narrowing down the list of possible murderers, the places they went, the people they knew and even their eventual ends. Prohibition, bootlegging and the “Black Hand” all figure into the grand scheme of things, too. I learned quite a bit about this time period in Toronto!

If you enjoy true crime stories, and especially ones that happened in another time period, then I know you will like Murder Lost to Time. I gave it 4 stars at Goodreads.

Murder Lost to Time is available in paperback as well as a Kindle edition.


This article has been Digiproved © 2018 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Joseph A. Lapello

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Death at the Harbourview Cafe by Fred Humber

Three deaths: one, a popular Chinese businessman, the second his adopted son, and the third a rookie RCMP constable in a popular cafe and store in the unassuming town of Botwood Newfoundland. If that doesn’t have the makings of a good mystery-thriller, then I don’t know what does. But this isn’t fiction, it’s a true crime story that occurred in 1958, and it remained untold for many years, but lay dormant in the collective memory of the town and any eyewitnesses that happened to be in Botwood that fateful November day.

“After intense research, I was able to uncover an RCMP file and the findings of a provincial magisterial enquiry, completed in December of 1958 and withheld from publication for nearly sixty years after the event. Its findings and formal statements from those called by the enquiry, most now deceased, combined with current interviews and research, have been used to create Death at the Harbourview Cafe.

Fred Humber, a native of Botwood, was thirteen years old at the time. and as a first-time author, he has done an admirable job of getting the facts straight and unfolding the story in an easy to follow chronological order. He provides us with a backstory on the times, the extensive Chinese population in Newfoundland, as well as life in the busy port of Botwood itself. Notable too, are the inclusion of black and white photos which help to set the scene in the reader’s mind.

“I told the Mounties that Mr Ling had a gun in his quarters….I mentioned to the officers that I believed Jim had hurt Ken so the latter could not talk.”

Hearsey Canning's official statement

The following excerpt from the book takes place when Hearsey Canning (an employee of the cafe Cafe whom Jim Ling affectionately calls “Boey”) climbs a ladder to the second story to call out to Jim whom no one has seen for days now:

Hearsey climbed up the ladder, stepped out onto the roof of the back porch extension, and went to the window on the left. She had to be careful of the barbed wire. After twenty minutes of knocking on the window, she finally heard Jim speak from the inside. “Who is it?”
Hearsey replied with the Chinese name Jim had given her. “Boey. Come down and let me in, will you, Jim?”
“No! No! No!” Jim sounded quite agitated.
“Where is Ken?” she asked.
“Me not know,” he replied, his voice rising in volume and sharpness.
“Is he in there with you?”
Jim replied, “No! No No!” This time he was even louder and quite emphatic.
“Do you need a doctor?” Nothing. The place fell silent.
There was no question about it. By this time, Jim was coming unglued. He had screamed in such a high pitch and volume, Hearsey figured he had gone savage with rage and frustration. Her questions to him seemed normal enough.
What the hell was going on?

This was a particularly tense part of the book, and there are others too. Death at the Harbourview Cafe is a story worthy of a prime-time drama, and Mr. Humber draws on the many peculiarities in the story (an unarmed RCMP constabulary, citizens milling about the cafe after shots have rung out, and Jim Ling’s mental health issues just to name a few) to maintain a level of strangeness, confusion and suspense in the telling of this real-life drama. Included are nineteen appendices which contain artifacts, photographs, news clippings, official letters and eyewitness statements.

A well-compiled and researched book, Death at the Harbourview Cafe will be enjoyed by all fans of the true crime genre, fact or fiction. It goes on my 2018 Longlist for a “The Very Best!” Book Award in the Non-Fiction category.

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Death at the Harbourview Cafe by Fred Humber
Flanker Press

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The Big Con: Great Hoaxes, Frauds, Grifts, and Swindles in American History by Nate Hendley

Toronto-based author Nate Hendley has written over a dozen books, primarily in the true-crime genre. He has written books about the American Mafia, Ontario’s infamous Black Donnellys and the wrongful conviction of Ontario teenager Steven Truscott. His latest book is The Big Con: Great Hoaxes, Frauds, Grifts, and Swindles in American History (2016).

“This book is dedicated to whistleblowers and skeptics everywhere.”

Dedication page
When I think of con (or confidence) jobs, I immediately think of the movie “The Sting” with Robert Redford and Paul Newman. It was a big operation they staged, but most cons are on a smaller scale, such as the Nigerian email scam that I’m sure anyone with an email address has received and continues to receive (see below).

The Big Con is a big book, almost 400 pages, and as such, it is very authoritative, making it a great reference book to have for those who enjoy reading true crime, crime fiction, or who are born skeptics and get a certain “kick” out reading how easily people can be fooled.
Mr Hendley has expertly organised The Big Con into Eleven sections such as Classic Cons (small and big), Business Fraud, Despicable Scams, Great Pretenders, Hoaxes, Urban Legends, and Popular Delusions, Dubious remedies, Online Scams, Para-Abnormal Fraud, Pop Culture Cons, A Gallery of Rogues (and One Hero), and finally, Section Eleven: Interviews.

The following is an excerpt from the “Classic Cons” section, and is reproduced in full with the author’s kind permission:


The Spanish Prisoner con is the forerunner of the modern-day “419” or “Nigerian e-mail” scam. A person receives a letter from a foreign city, supposedly written by a Spanish prisoner or on his behalf. The letter explains that the prisoner is a wealthy man who is being held captive on totally unjust charges. Because the man is in jail, he can’t access his fortune. The letter asks the dupe to send some money to another address in Spain (or elsewhere). Supposedly, this money will be used to bribe the guards to release the prisoner from his Spanish hell-hole. The mark is promised a huge fortune for being so helpful. Money is sent, but the “wealthy prisoner” never makes good on his promise of a huge payout. The address the dupe sent his money to, of course, is controlled by the con artist who penned the letter in the first place.

This scam has deep roots. An article published in the March 20, 1898, New York Times is headlined, “An Old Swindle Revived—The ‘Spanish Prisoner’ and Buried Treasure Bait Again Being Offered to Unwary Americans.” “One of the oldest and most attractive and probably most successful swindles known to the police authorities has again come to the surface, having been brought to the attention of Anthony Comstock, president of the Society for the Prevention of Crime … it is known as the ‘Spanish Prisoner’ and has been in operation more than 30 years,” explained the Times.

The Times detailed several other attributes of the Spanish Prisoner scam, which are worth noting, given the durability of this con. The letter in question is usually neatly written, though with a few grammar mistakes or foreign idioms to indicate the writer doesn’t speak English as a first language. The letter writer has been imprisoned on either trumped-up or political charges. Often, the supposed prisoner has a poor, helpless daughter. The writer hopes to recover his fortune to help his daughter. The “helpless daughter” gambit is designed to tug on the dupe’s heart strings and make him more likely to put money in the mail. The prisoner says he sent the letter to the dupe after a mutual friend (who goes unnamed) vouched for his integrity and dependability.

Like many classic cons, the Spanish Prisoner letter mutated into a new scam that continues to be carried on today. The scam in question comes in the form of a frantic e-mail message sent by a foreign dignitary or tycoon (often from Nigeria) who is desperate to recover his lost fortune. The e-mail recipient is promised a share of the wealth if only he can help the poor man regain his wealth.

Authoritative and Readable

Other popular cons and hoaxes contained in The Big Con are bad credit scams (“no-hassle loans”), ATM skimming, Ponzi schemes (“It remains unclear if [Charles] Ponzi was a cold-blooded conman or was simply deluded”), Pyramid schemes,  opportunists who use natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, or faking cancer to get people to donate money. The Bermuda Triangle. Then there is the real story of Frank Abagnale, the subject of the film “Catch Me If You Can” starring Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio.

There’s just so many cases of scams contained in The Big Con, that space does not permit mentioning them all. Mr Hendley always quotes his sources at the end of each article, so you can be sure of what you read is up-to-date.

Very readable The Big Con is one of those books that you can pick up and start reading anywhere. There is an extensive bibliography at the back for further reading suggestions. Mr Hendley has done sceptics a genuine courtesy by assembling the history of frauds, cons, scams and hoaxes into one beautiful volume. The only thing lacking are photographs to complement the text. Aside from that, this book is perfect reading for the casual reader, true crime/fiction aficionado and sceptic.

You may get the book from the publisher here, or ask your local library to stock it.

This article has been Digiproved © 2017 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Nate Hendley

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Death Dealer by Kate Clark Flora

On January 26th, 2003 David Tanasichuk of Miramichi New Brunswick called the Miramichi Police Force (MPF) to report that Maria, his wife was missing. He stated that she had been gone since January 14th and he hadn’t heard from her since. An MPF constable, in following up on the call said: “Hi David, I understand you haven’t seen your wife since January 12th?” Tanasichuk replied, “Yes.”

“I found that the Miramichi investigators were very open to discussing the details of the case, and the story they told me was very compelling.”

Kate Clark Flora

That was the first of many mistakes that David Tanasichuk would make over the course of the investigation. Maria’s body was found in the woods five months later. What is notable in this case is the use of cadaver dogs and their trained handlers from Maine who volunteered their services for their cross-border neighbours.

Kate Clark Flora, a former assistant attorney general for the State of Maine and crime writer has produced an excellent moment-by-moment account of how members of the small but very capable police force of Miramichi with the assistance of the Maine warden service and Maine Search and Rescue Dogs were able to find Maria’s body once the snow melted enough for the cadaver dogs to get a scent of the decomposing body. It is highly readable, suspenseful and educational (for police procedure, cadaver dogs and the legal system) all at the same time. Ms Flora had the full co-operation of the MPF in the writing of Death Dealer (New Horizon Press, 2014), which makes it feel even more authentic and adds to the realism. Highly recommended for true crime readers and those who enjoy the Law and Order/CSI type of story.

Hardcover, 300 pages with 8 pages of black and white photos.

The following Q&A with Kate Clark Flora is reprinted by kind permission of New Horizon Press:

Kate Clark Flora

What kinds of twists and turns interested you in this case?
The relationship that existed between the Miramichi police and David and Maria Tanasichuk at the time Maria disappeared was unusual. Though David had a lengthy criminal record, an explosive temper and a reputation for violence, the relationship had become a close and supportive one, developed when the police became involved in the death of Maria’s only child, B.J. The bonds forged as the police supported them through the investigation and trial of B.J.’s killer had softened the Tanasichuks’ anti-police stance to the extent that David Tanasichuk had actually told Detective Brian Cummings that if they had another child, they would name it after Cummings. So close that Cummings had even considered inviting the couple to his wedding.
That close relationship pulled them into the case in a powerful way when David Tanasichuk first called them to report his wife missing and begged for their help in finding her. And made it feel like a greater betrayal when they realized how many of David’s statements to them were lies.
What is it about Maria’s murder that touched the police involved in the investigation so strongly?
During the investigation of her son’s death, the investigators, primarily Paul Fiander and Brian Cummings, had become close to the Tanasichuks. Both of them fathers who are devoted to their own children, they were touched by Maria’s deep sorrow over the loss of her only child. Part of the role that police officers play in a homicide, especially in situations where there isn’t a victim/witness advocate, is helping the family through the legal process. Here they watched a woman who had been hardened by lifelong contact with the legal system into being distrustful become a softer and more vulnerable person, a person they could care about. When she disappeared, the loss was personal and, while all victims matter, getting justice for this particular victim became extremely important.
David and Maria appeared to have a close and loving relationship. What is it that the investigators discovered that changed their understanding of this marriage?
In the past, I was a government attorney doing child support enforcement and protecting battered kids. Later, I did domestic relations law. What I learned from the former was that people are very good at excusing their own bad behavior. From the latter, that sometimes the stories people who’ve been married tell are so divergent you might think they’d never met, let alone spent decades together. But when I started talking to Miramichi detective Brian Cummings and to Maria’s friends, what I learned about David and Maria Tanasichuk was that they had been deeply in love. Friends described them as always together and expressed envy at their closeness. I was curious to explore how that had changed, and what it was that had led David to kill his wife rather than divorcing her.
Something that crime writers know is that the underpinnings of many crimes are people’s secrets, and people will go to great lengths to keep them. I was curious to find out what David Tanasichuk’s secrets were. In addition to affairs and flirtations, some of which Maria knew about and had forgiven, and drug dealing, the investigators learned that David had much deeper secrets, secrets which involved the death of at least one, and possibly two, other people. As long as the Tanasichuks were happy, Maria was willing to be the keeper of her husband’s secrets. But if the marriage fell apart, that incentive might go away.
From a civilian’s perspective, what drew you into the events surrounding Maria’s murder and compelled you to write about them?
Initially, I was interested in the case because it involved the Maine game wardens and I was fascinated by these almost unknown public servants who possessed skills and expertise that could be put to use in assisting in criminal investigations.
Then I found that the Miramichi investigators were very open to discussing the details of the case, and the story they told me was very compelling. I was intrigued by taking readers behind the news stories and into what really happened in the investigation.
Three aspects of the case, in particular, attracted me. First was the discovery that this wasn’t an isolated domestic homicide. David Tanasichuk had a reputation for violence and an aversion to police pressure that had led him, in a prior instance, to plot the assassination of a police officer, the crown prosecutor and the judge in a case against him, so they knew that he was a dangerous individual.

David Tanasichuk

Second was an aspect of the case I call “crossing the thin blue line.” In general, due to their small numbers, police are only able to function in society if they enjoy a level of protection and respect that make harming them unthinkable. This is doubly true for their families. In this case, the investigators discovered, through an informant, that Tanasichuk had become so angry at their questions and surveillance, and the way that impacted his life, that he had decided to target their families if they didn’t back off. This turning of the tables was unusual and added a powerful extra dimension of tension to the story. Third was their unwillingness to quit when endless initiatives and relentless searching failed to turn up Maria’s body. It’s tempting, when a criminal investigation hits a wall, to move on to something else. The Miramichi detectives’ willingness to “think outside the box” when months passed and they were unable to find Maria’s hidden body was impressive, beginning their stories of the many avenues they investigated, such as metal detectors and searching with poles and nighttime surveillance. They then explored cadaver dog resources in Canada and looked across the border to the United States for help.
Cadaver dogs play a key role in solving this case. How did you learn about the ways in which cadaver dogs work?
I was the beneficiary of the generosity of both the warden service and Maine Search and Rescue Dogs, who allowed me to attend training in search and rescue and in cadaver dog training. Reading a dozen books can’t duplicate the experience of watching. The bond between the dog and handler is a very powerful one and it was fascinating to watch a series of different handlers take their dogs through training exercises. I watched beginners working with a row of cinderblocks where a single coffee can held cadaver scent to experienced dogs working different situations where the scent might be above ground, buried or even up in a tree in a large block of land.
I watched warden dogs doing building searches where cadaver scent was present, scent running the spectrum for a very recent scent to many years old and got to observe the ways that individual dogs would respond. Some are averse to the scent; others will thrive on finding it. Trainers will carry many different types of scent to prepare dogs for different situations, including scent from burned bodies and scent that may be a decade old. As part of the training, I also got to be a victim hidden in the woods that the dogs had to find.
In what ways are cadaver dogs different than general search and rescue dogs?
Put most simply, cadaver scent searching is one of the many expertises that search and rescue dogs will acquire. There are defined rules for the different abilities and the dogs must train and then pass a test to be certified in different areas of searching.
The case’s investigators were eager to have their story told, yet getting them to tell it was a complex process involving time and trust. How did you earn their trust and get them to open up?
One of the initial challenges of writing about a real crime from the police perspective is getting their trust. Law enforcement personnel are naturally skeptical about civilians and can be wary about whether a writer is going to write bad things about them. I was lucky in this case that my introduction came from Lt. Dorian, because, in their minds, his contribution to the case had been instrumental in helping them solve it, something they could never have done without Maria’s body.
That got me through the door. After that, it was up to me. I’ve found that having a genuine and sincere interest in their stories, and being a good listener, helps. I’m pretty new to this, so when I’m done with what I think are the right questions, I always say: Now what are the questions I should have asked you? That usually brings me the most useful information.




This article has been Digiproved © 2017 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: New Horizon Press

Some Rights Reserved  

Original content here is published under these license terms:
License Type:  Non-commercial, Attribution
Abstract:  You may copy this content, create derivative work from it, and re-publish it for non-commercial purposes, provided you include an overt attribution to the author(s).
License URL: