The killer’s replica police car. Photo: RCMP

People knew.

Long before he went on a murder spree across Nova Scotia, killing 22 people, lots of people knew about the gunman, who we’re calling GW.

They knew GW was disturbed, and called him a “psychopath,” a “sociopath,” “paranoid.”

They knew he beat women.

They knew he collected an alarming number of weapons, some of them semi-automatic assault-style rifles, and that those weapons and caches of ammunition were stored at his houses in Dartmouth and Portapique.

They knew he had talked about how to dispose of human bodies without leaving behind evidence.

They knew he collected old police cars and restored them to look like real police cars, improperly placing look-alike police decals on them.

And as the murderous spree approached, they knew that GW had purchased propane tanks and an enormous amount of gasoline

People knew.

And yet, so far as can be determined, those people took no meaningful action to intervene, to warn police or anyone else.

This is the takeaway from a court document obtained by the Halifax Examiner related to the search of GW’s properties. The document is an “Information to Obtain” (ITO), which is delivered to a justice of the peace as an application for a search warrant.

This particular ITO was authored by RCMP Sergeant Angela Hawryluk, and approved by Justice of the Peace Allison Rose.

The ITO is 40 pages long, and is highly redacted. The ITO includes summaries of police interviews with eyewitnesses to various parts of the April 18/19 murder spree, and interviews with people who knew GW. All of the interviews were conducted on April 19 or 20.

The interviews with eyewitnesses are heart-wrenching, and provide new details about what occurred that night and the next day. Those interviews will be the subject of another article.

The latter set of interviews — those with people who knew GW — shed light on warning signs that GW was violent and could become even more violent.

We summarize those interviews below. The names of the interviewees are redacted in the copy of the ITO obtained by the Examiner.

Among other things, the interviewees discuss GW’s properties — a denturist office on Portland Street in Dartmouth, with an apartment above it, and three properties in Portapique, which are variously described as a cottage, a garage with an apartment, and a warehouse.

Interviewee #1

This person was interviewed on Sunday, April 19 by Halifax Regional Police Detective Constable Susan Lynch and Constable D. Penfold. It appears by the context of the interview that this person worked “with” GW at his denturist clinic in Dartmouth.

According to the ITO, the colleague “said that [GW] had been disturbed and that he was severely abused as a young boy” and that GW “was very smart, cheated, was a psychopath and abused [redacted].” Presumably, that redaction refers to a person, as there would be no reason to redact the name of a drug.

The ITO continues, relating the interview with the colleague:

“[GW] had a mental break down and talked about the deed for property in Portapique [redacted].”

“[redacted] said there were guns at the warehouse and the dental office;

“[GW] was paranoid about the pandemic [long redaction];

“[GW] talked about all types of guns, assault rifles, hand guns, but [redacted] did not know where or how he got them.”

The colleague also told the police officers that GW “collected police cars and bought the decals for the cars and was going to use the cars for downed officers; [GW] would dress up as a police officer and would role play. [GW] had a whole uniform, with a hat, jacket, and has a vest.”

Interviewee #2

Someone who knew GW’s girlfriend spoke with Halifax Regional Police Detective Constable Jennifer Lake at the Portland Street property on Sunday, April 19.

That person said that on Saturday at about 6pm, they had received a text from GW’s girlfriend, which contained a photo of GW and the girlfriend together in the warehouse in Portapique.

Interviewee #2 described GW to Cst. Lake as “a sociopath, abusive [redacted].” They said GW was a funeral director and embalmer. They described GW’s property in Portapique, and explained that it included a garage where GW “collected motorcycles and police cars and bought them from auctions” and “talked about having a police car that had RCMP decals on it.”

The person told Cst. Lake that GW had “recently purchased a bunch of gas.”

At one point, GW had shown this person a gun which made them “uncomfortable”; they “described it as being like a machine gun. This gun was kept by the fire place in the warehouse.”

Interviewee #3

Another person was interviewed by RCMP Constables Holly Murphy and Denis Chartrand on Sunday, April 19.

This person told the constables that GW “has assaulted [redacted] in the past.” It seems likely the redacted name is that of GW’s girlfriend.

They also sad that GW was “very intelligent but paranoid,” and “was wealthy.”

Interviewee #3 additionally knew that GW had cars that were modified to look like police cars, and that he had a police uniform.

Eight years ago, said the interviewee, GW had shown them “where he kept a high power rifle.” The location is redacted from the ITO. However, another time, “a few years ago,” GW showed them something — presumably a weapon — that was kept in a shed at the Dartmouth property.

Interviewee #4

A fourth person spoke with Halifax Regional Police Constable Steven Wagg on Sunday, April 19.

This person told Cst. Wagg that “Years ago [GW] was abusive [redacted].”

Interviewee #4 said they had been to the property in Portapique and that “there was lots of security” and GW “had numerous police cars and you wouldn’t know the difference.” The person also said that “about a year ago” GW had a police uniform and a badge.”

“A few weeks ago, [GW] bought $800 worth of gas and bought propane bottles,” the interviewee told Cst. Wagg.

Interviewee #5

A person who described themself as “friends with” GW was interviewed by RCMP Sgt. Brian Fitzpatrick on Sunday, April 19.

The friend described GW as “a millionaire and very smart.”

The friend said that GW “had [redacted] who is a retired RCMP member and this [redacted] gave [GW] parts of his uniform.” (We know that GW’s uncle is a retired RCMP police officer.)

If this is true, it contradicts a public statement from the RCMP to the contrary.

In a paragraph that is highly redacted, the ITO explains that the friend’s cell phone was seized and is in storage — it is presumably the subject of another search warrant application.

Interviewee #6

A person who first met GW in 2011 spoke with Halifax Regional Police Detective Constable Anthony McGrath on Sunday, April 19.

This section of the ITO is extensively redacted.

Interviewee #6 described the Dartmouth and Portapique properties, and said that GW had a “rifle” and “a stockpile of guns.” They said GW had “an HRP uniform” — that is, a Halifax Regional Police uniform.

The person said that GW “would speak of getting rid of bodies, burning and chemicals…. would tell… different ways of getting rid of a body and had lime and muriatic acid on the property. The barrels for these would be underneath the deck.”

This person additionally called GW “controlling and paranoid.”

Interviewees #7 and #8

Interviewees #7 and #8 are employees of a business whose name is redacted in the ITO. Both were interviewed on Monday, April 20; Interviewee #7 was interviewed by RCMP Cpl. Dave Lane, and Interviewee #8 was interviewed by RCMP Sgt. Derrick Blanche.

Interviewee #7 said that GW had come to the business to purchase “a couple of sheets of reflective and sapphire blue vinyl.” While there, GW told Interviewee #7 that “he had a police cruiser that he had bought at an auction and wanted to do it up like a police car.”

Interviewee #7 told GW “that he would get in trouble for driving the car (with decals)” and that GW said “that he knew and that it would be illegal.”

The next paragraph in the ITO is redacted. But the document returns to the narrative, and Interviewee #7 said GW came back to the business on October 18, 2019 to buy “7 yards of carbon wrap film and 1 yard of Red Dragon.” Interviewee #7 knew this because they looked up the purchase on the business computer, and saw that someone — presumably Interviewee #8 — had completed the sale.

The ITO’s summary of the interview with Interviewee #8 is too redacted to make any sense.

Red flags

Would it have made any difference had any of the interviewees contacted police with concerns about GW’s behaviour?

Perhaps not.

One person — Boe, who spoke with the Halifax Examiner last week — said that she did call the RCMP to tell them that GW had beaten his girlfriend, and that he had illegal weapons. Boe says the RCMP took no action, as since none of the three men who witnessed the beating would speak, the girlfriend herself would have to make a complaint. And, presumably, there was not enough evidence to apply for a search warrant for the alleged illegal guns.

But what’s disturbing about the eight interviews above is that, at least as summarized by the ITO, none of the eight took any meaningful action. None of them says they contacted police and nothing happened. None seems to have attempted to intervene on behalf of the woman they knew to have been beaten. None appears to have done anything at all to address what should have been seen as alarming behaviour.

And now, 22 people are dead.

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Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. I suspect there are many people who are violent and own weapons, and their neighbours know not to antagonize them, but there’s little police or courts can do until a major crime is committed, especially if the person is a wealthy white professional. Reporting them for threats or vandalism is likely to make things worse, particularly in rural communities where police presence is minimal. We would need significant changes in how we consider anti-social and misogynist behaviour to prevent cases like this – even if it’s just appreciating that every mean drunk or abusive husband is a potential killer. Consider this killers’s assault charge: a conditional discharge, and temporary weapons ban, likely with no check to see if there was compliance, or any follow up. Perhaps more monitoring of people with ‘minor’ charges and convictions is necessary – especially if they have the money to acquire weapons, costly toys, and multiple properties.

  2. Tim, I think the following quote from Edmund Burke was, for a very long time, printed on the masthead of the Toronto Globe and Mail (maybe it is still there) …

    Irish and English statesman Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”

  3. It is chilling and unfortunate how often people look the other way.

    In 1998, Paul Matthew Thornton murdered his parents Philip and Ann Thornton in Blandford NS. An act, he clearly premeditated and deliberated on while obtaining a rifle and practicing at the gun range in secret. He pretended to attend trade school and by all viewpoints, was a model son. After the act, with no remorse, he staged to look like a break and enter and left his parents dead where they would stay until the next day when neither reported to work. After he was picked up and to his trial in 1999, many individuals were revealed to have known of his plot to kill his parents but no one thought he was serious. Not even those that he helped select an alibi present, “cover for me and I’ll buy the car you pick here in the auto trader.” Not his girlfriend or her mother who he confessed to after the act when he went to their home. As the good friend of the only surviving member of that family, it rocks me to the core that all of those “accessories” before and after the fact were traded their innocence and an unblemished name to obtain evidence against him to build a strong case. He plead guilty anyhow, no trial, no airing of the facts of the case and no explanation for the family. The blood of his actions are on their hands whether the rest of the province know them or not. No one said a word until it was far too late. They have to live with that and his sister has had to live in a prison of her own suffering for all 22 years since. Nothing on Paul Thornton, he is soon up for parole and being assessed as a low risk to re-offend since he got rid of his problem – the doting parents who wanted a good life for him and for him to try and make something of himself.

    Nova Scotia is full of people that look the other way. We don’t learn from this and it needs to be spoken of.

  4. In fairness to some of those interviewees, the way you view someone – and the significance you attach to previous words and actions – would change significantly after they commit mass murder.

    I agree those who witnessed abuse should probably have reported it.

  5. GW’s antisocial behaviour from the late 1980s onwards was an Open Secret to people in his circle.

    Not just friends, relatives, customers but also HRM police and RCM police, maybe NB police as well.

    Short of going door to door with a leaflet warning of his behaviour (hey its been done) most couldnt really do much if the police weren’t going to do much more than go through the motions.

    Ever wonder why so few blacks, aboriginals or moslems become spree killers ?

    Its because as soon as the police hear rumours of a minority member with a cache of guns, they are onto them like a ton of bricks.

    White Anglo Saxon Protestant bricks….