This article includes graphic descriptions of intimate partner violence, multiple murders, and trauma to children.

The public inquiry into the mass murders of April 18/19, 2020 today looked at events in Portapique on Saturday night (April 18). Thirteen residents of the community of about 30 houses were murdered that night.

The summary cited below was produced by lawyers working for the Mass Casualty Commission, reflected thousands of pages of documents, most made public for the first time today. Much of the information has been previously reported, but the summary’s detailed timeline of events includes new disclosures from witnesses and poignant descriptions of how people reacted to the crisis.

The commission’s summary of events on that tragic night also raises questions about how police responded, why they delayed protecting children, and how they seem to have ignored information from Portapique residents about who the killer was, that he was driving a replica police car, and could have easily escaped the community; as a result of not responding to that information, the murderer was able to continue his murderous spree on Sunday morning.

Along with other media organizations, the Halifax Examiner was given advance access to the (mostly) un-redacted documents. In return, we agreed not to report directly from those documents, but rather from the (further) redacted documents placed on the commission’s website today.

Some documents we reviewed will not be made public. Those include 911 transcripts and police interviews with children, and the medical examiner’s reports on murder victims. We have, however, reviewed those documents, and they are consistent with the commission’s summary.

There is more to the summary than is reported below, but we wanted to concentrate on the timeline of events and the most compelling human stories.

Portapique, look north (bottom) to south (top). Graphic: Brian Cobett / Mass Casualty Commission
a map of Portapique annotated with numbers reflected in the text below.
Perpetrator’s Movements in Portapique looking south (bottom) to north (top): Hypothesis. Graphic: Brian Corbett / Mass Casualty Commission

1. Before 10:00 — Perpetrator in warehouse with Lisa Banfield

2. Before 10:00 — Perpetrator assaults Lisa Banfield at the cottage

3. Before 10:00 — Perpetrator sets fire to warehouse

4. 10:00 — Murder of Greg Blair

10:04 — Murder of Jamie Blair

5, 6, or 7. Between 10:05 and 10:13 OR Between 10:16 and 10:20 — Murders of Joy and Peter Bond

5, 6, or 7. Between 10:05 and 10:13 OR Between 10:16 and 10:20 — Murders of Jolene Oliver, Aaron Tuck, and Emily Tuck

5 or 7. Approximately 10:13-10:16 — Murder of Lisa McCully (before or after perpetrator attends Cobequid Court)

8. Between 10:20 and 10:25 — Murders of Frank and Dawn Gulenchyn

9. 10:26 — GW shoots Andrew MacDonald

10. Approximately 10:27: Perpetrator at intersection of Portapique Beach Rd. and Orchard Beach Dr.

11. 10:29-10:38 — Murders of Joanne Thomas and John Zahl

12. 10:38-10:39 — Perpetrator travels through trail on Lot 287

13. 10:40 — Murder of Corrie Ellison

14. Approximately 10:41 — Perpetrator proceeds to ‘blueberry field road’ via Cobequid Court

15. Approximately 10:41-10:45 — Perpetrator exits onto Brown Loop

Lisa Banfield

The Halifax Examiner has previously reported on Lisa Banfield’s accounts of April 18 found in court documents obtained by the consortium of media organizations. Those court documents were based on two interviews police had with Banfield — on April 20 and April 28 — and transcripts of those interviews are included in material collected by the Mass Casualty Commission.

Additionally, the commission’s documents include an earlier police interview with Banfield, from the morning of April 19 as she was being treated by paramedics in an ambulance and was being transferred from the Great Village Fire Hall to hospital in Truro; a police interview with a resident of Houlton, Maine; a statement from Portapique resident Leon Joudrey; a transcript of Joudrey’s 911 call; and Banfield’s medical records.

There is no inconsistency between the various documents; Banfield’s account of April 18 is credible.

That doesn’t mean, however, that she shouldn’t be called as a witness at the inquiry. Banfield’s involvement in the events is pivotal, and she has detailed knowledge of the killer and his actions for years before the event. She, and she alone, can likely answer outstanding questions about events leading up to and including the mass murders. It would be irresponsible not to call her as a witness.

In the commission documents, Banfield described a chaotic 19-year relationship with the killer.

“The first couple of years it was really good and he was loving and kind and generous,” Banfield told a police investigator. But about two and half years into the relation the killer (who the Examiner identifies as GW) began cheating on her with various other women — with a “tom-boyish” woman in Eastern Passage, a patient, and one night with two women who lived in a “crack house” next door to the denturist clinic GW owned on Portland Street in Dartmouth.

Banfield said GW first struck her while they attended a party together on Folly Mountain. She ran into the woods, and eventually an older man agreed to drive her to Portapique to pick up her car. When they arrive, GW had taken the wheels of her car so she wouldn’t be able to drive it. Banfield moved in with her sister, who took photos of Banfield’s injuries and wanted to go to the police, but Banfield declined to do so.

Banfield describes another incident when GW hired two men to work on the Portapique cottage. GW had a couple of drinks “and was being a jerk again,” and then took her into the bedroom and started beating her. “I was screaming so bad and they [the two men] wouldn’t do anything,” she said. “And one of them was yelling ‘just leave her alone’… I ran out of the bedroom through the window and he chased me… around a car in the driveway and the two guys are sitting there just watching, doing nothing.”

After such incidents she’d eventually get back together with GW, but she’d be “on eggshells.” She noted that for about the last 10 years of their relationship he hadn’t beaten her, but he would get “ugly” about minor things.

Banfield was aware that GW was purchasing guns. He would go to gun shows in the United States, or by guns online and have them shipped to Sean  Conlogue’s house in Houlton, Maine. Periodically, GW would pick up the packages and hide the guns by placing them on the tonneau cover on his pickup truck, rolling the cover up, and then drive across the Canadian border. “Why would they undo that?” GW said.

GW told Banfield that he had so many guns for “safety.” But conversations about guns included a dark warning. “He used to always say, like, ‘when I go out I’m going out with a bang. It’ll be in the news.’”

Banfield faces charges for procuring ammunition for GW’s illegal weapons.

The documents released so far don’t shed much light on GW’s finances.

Banfield was aware that in his youth GW smuggled tobacco across the border, but she mentions no other recent source of illicit income.

She told investigators that GW obtained a loan from his father to purchase a property in Portapique; GW paid the loan off in a year, but his father refused to take his name off the property deed, which caused GW to attempt to kill his father. The father’s brothers (one an active RCMP officer, the other a retired RCMP officer) intervened, and GW was prevented from carrying out his plan. But no one formally notified the police of this attempted murder.

Neither was it explained how GW was able to reverse his financial circumstances so quickly to pay off the loan. And consider that by 2020, GW owned a veritable fleet of vehicles: a Jeep, a Ford F150, four Ford Tauruses, (including one fully decked out as an RCMP cruiser), lots and lots of motorbikes (one of the neighbouring kids counted 16), some side-by-sides, and a backhoe. Lisa Banfield owned a Mercedes. Additionally, GW owned two adjacent properties on Portland Street in Dartmouth (he bought the crack house after it burned down), three properties in Portapique, and had $705,000 in cash. Not to mention a lot of expensive weapons.

It appears that GW inherited some property from New Brunswick lawyer Tom Evans, and sold them for about $300,000 in 2010, but even that revenue doesn’t appear to explain his considerable holdings in 2020.

As for April 18, the commission’s documents reflect the story the Examiner has previously recounted:

[After driving around in the country] The couple returned to Portapique, where GW owned buildings referred to as a cottage and a warehouse. The couple went to the warehouse to have drinks. They called friends in the US, and Banfield told those friends that she and GW were planning a commitment party on their 20th anniversary [which would have been April 19, 2021]. The woman in the US said “don’t do it,” which angered Banfield, as she considered the woman a friend, so she “ended the conversation.”

According to Banfield, this short conversation created a misunderstanding that soon exploded with violence.

GW “got mad and accused Lisa of ruining their anniversary,” reads the document. “Lisa left the warehouse and was headed to the cottage but got half way and went back to the warehouse to apologize. Lisa Banfield explained [to GW] that she was mad at [the woman in the US] and not [GW] but [GW] was getting mad so she left the warehouse again and went to the cottage and went to bed, naked.”

GW soon went to the cottage and assaulted Banfield, pulling her out of the bed, pulling her hair and kicking her while she was on the ground. GW then told her to get up and tied her hands together with what she thought was the belt of a bathrobe.

GW poured gasoline around the cottage and then dragged her into a spare room, where he picked up a gun he had stored there. She could feel the wetness of the gasoline on the floor, and GW told her “to be careful” as he marched her out of the cottage. He told her not to look back, and he lit the cottage on fire.

GW marched her back towards the warehouse, and Banfield started screaming and trying to kick him. GW told her they were going to go to Dartmouth, and she presumed he intended to burn down their Portland Street residence and business. He also said they were going to the house of a couple who lived in the Dartmouth area, and “she believed it was to kill [them].”

During the march back to the warehouse, Banfield managed to escape and run, but she tripped and fell. GW caught up with her and “took Lisa’s shoes and threw them in opposite directions and said, ‘now you can’t run, bitch.’”

Banfield told GW “it didn’t have to be this way and [GW] said it was too late and put a handcuff on one hand on Lisa and she dropped to the floor when he tried to put on the other handcuff. [GW] pulled Lisa’s hair to make her stand up and she heard a shot on one side of her and then another on the other side.” She placed her hands over her face, expecting she would be shot, but instead GW put her in the back of the replica police car, then went to collect more guns.

While GW was collecting the guns, Banfield managed to escape the car and run out into the woods. She found a truck and thought to hide in it, but when she opened the door the overhead light came on and she feared that GW would see it and learn where she was, so she kept running. “She believed that she had a puffy jacket on and threw it in the woods hoping that police would find it.”

The narrative continues: “Lisa Banfield heard shots and thought that [GW] might blow up the truck and she left that hiding spot [?] and eventually came across a tree with an exposed root system and hid inside the cavity.”

Banfield said she heard shots through the night and someone on a speaker calling “this is the police,” but feared it was GW. She stayed in the tree until daylight, and then went to Leon Joudrey’s house.

GW then set fire to the warehouse and several vehicles outside it, before leaving in the replica police car. He went across the road, to the Blair residence.

There are new details about Banfield’s account contained in the commission’s documents:

• the woman in the US was named Angel Patterson, She had met Lisa Banfield and GW after Sean Conlogue brought GW into the Elk’s Lodge in Houlton. Conlogue, Patterson, and Patterson’s fiancé had once travelled to Nova Scotia to visit with Banfield and GW. Patterson gave an account of the April 18 phone call that matched Banfield’s account of the call.

• It’s a tiny detail, but the newly released documents show that Lisa managed to get the one handcuff off her wrist while she was locked in the back of the fake police car, and suffered injuries to her wrist as a result.

• While Banfield emerged from the woods at 6:28am on Sunday, she didn’t tell police about the look-alike police cruiser until she was in the ambulance, at 7:22am. That shouldn’t have made a difference — as reported below, multiple people had told police about the look-alike police cruiser throughout the night. But it’s worth noting that in the RCMP press conferences after the murders, police said they first learned of the fake car from Banfield, at about 6:30am. That discrepancy should be an issue during the commission’s review of police actions.

• Banfield showed deep concern for the victims, and expressed that if she had not run into the woods, perhaps they would not have been killed. She thought GW was looking for her in the various houses where he killed people — a notion a police investigator later tried to convince her wasn’t the case.

Murder of Greg and Jamie Blair

Jamie and Greg Blair. Photo: Facebook

At 10:01, Jamie Blair placed a call to 911. She told the operator her neighbour had just shot her husband on the front deck of their home at 123 Orchard Beach Drive. 

In the two minutes before the perpetrator entered her house, killing the family pets and then firing multiple shots through the bedroom door where she was standing, Jamie Blair told her boys to hide on the floor behind the bed. That quick thinking saved their lives because the killer never saw them. 

Before suffering a fatal gunshot wound, she also managed to identify the killer as “Gabriel” and tell the 911 operator “there’s a police car in the fucking driveway.” The 911 transcript says, “there is a police car…but he drives…he’s a denturist…it’s decked and labeled RCMP …but it is not a police officer.”

According to the commission’s summary, the perpetrator then placed things on the Blairs’ propane stove and scattered logs from the wood stove in an attempt to burn down their house. 

The Blair boys, aged 11 and 9, had heard all the shots including their mother’s screams as she fell. They also heard and recognized the voice of their neighbour in their house. It’s difficult to imagine anything more tragic.

Increasing smoke inside the house forced the boys outside. They ran next door to the home of Lisa McCully, an elementary school teacher. There they encountered the two McCully children, a girl aged 12 and her 10 year old brother, who were worried about their mother. 

Lisa McCully had gone outside after noticing a fire that began shortly after 10pm across the road at 136 Orchard Beach Drive — the the warehouse where the killer kept his motorcycles and replica police cars.

Murder of Joy and Peter Bond

Joy Bond and Peter Bond. Photo: Facebook.

There are two possibilities for what happened next. The first is that GW killed Lisa McCully, then travelled south to Cobequid Court and killed the Bonds and the Tucks, then drove back north on Orchard Beach Drive to kill the Gulenchyns. The second is that he initially drove south to Cobequid Court, then turned north again and killed Lisa McCully on his way the Gulenchyns. The commission’s summary adopts the second scenario, but admits either scenario could fit the evidence.

It’s also not known if GW killed the Bonds or the Tucks first. The two houses are about 60 metres apart; neither was set on fire, and shell casings were found at both. Each set of murders seem to have involved the killer simply barging in the house and shooting everyone he saw.

“Peter Bond’s body was located in the front doorway of the residence,” reads the commission’s summary. “The front door accessed the living room, where Joy Bond’s body was located. The television in the residence was on.”

Joy Bond’s DNA was found “on the top left of the left boot worn by the perpetrator, suggesting that the perpetrator was in close proximity to Ms. Bond and may have crossed the threshold of the front door of the Bond residence.”

Murder of Jolene Oliver, Aaron Tuck, and Emily Tuck

Jolene Oliver, Emily Tuck and Aaron (Friar) Tuck. Photo: GoFundMe

“Aaron Tuck’s body was located in the doorway on the north side of the residence,” reads the commission’s summary. “The bodies of Jolene Oliver and Emily Tuck were located in the hallway to the south of his body. The television in the residence was on.”

The summary contains an heart-rendering account of a group of teenagers becoming aware of the unfolding tragedy.

That night, a 15-year-old boy referred to as AH was texting back and forth with 17-year-old Emily Tuck. The last text Emily sent was at 10:03pm.

At about 10:30, a boy (age unstated) referred to as AI was out walking his dogs on East Montrose Road, which is just north of Highway 2 from Portapique. He saw flames rising above Portapique and returned home to tell his mother, Megan Netzke. Netzke called 911 at 10:37, and then she and her son jumped in the family car and drove to Portapique. They were stopped at the police roadblock on Portapique Beach Road, where they saw “a man in a vehicle who was bleeding” — Andrew MacDonald. Police told them to return home.

Still in the car, at 10:47, Netzke called Lisa McCully; there was no answer. AI texted 17-year-old Emily; she did not respond. AI also contacted his friend AH to tell him about events in Portapique, and AH sent “a concerned text” to Emily; she did not respond.

See more about the remarkable life story of Aaron Tuck, Emily Tuck, and Jolene Oliver: “‘There’s some fiddle for ya’: A Portapique love story.”

Murder of Lisa McCully

Lisa McCully. Photo: Facebook

When Lisa McCully left her house to inspect the fire across the road, she instructed her children not to leave the house for any reason. The commission’s timeline states McCully was killed at the edge of her property sometime after 10:15. 

The Blair boys and the McCully children went into the kitchen where the oldest Blair boy called 911 at 10:16, according to records. Despite the horror he had just experienced, he managed to stay calm and offer police important information as events unfolded.  He described the police car he had seen in his parents’ driveway and said the man had “a massive gun.” 

At 10:19 he said he “could hear gunshots every 30 seconds.” He also told the operator he and the McCully girl didn’t know where their younger brothers were because they had just gone outside to watch the fires. 

At 10:21, the eldest Blair boy reports the boys had returned and told them “he’s shooting everybody.” In a heart-stopping line, the summary reveals the two youngest kids “hid in a deep ditch” and “we watched him go back and forth…Gabriel in his car.”

At 10:30, the operator is told the children saw a car go by “but it’s not Gabriel’s.’” The kids observed (correctly) that the killer’s car would blend in with the police because “he has a cop car.”

At 10:39, Lisa McCully’s daughter reported a car was moving out of a driveway and somebody exclaimed, “It’s Gabriel!” The children again reported they could hear gunshots at which point the dispatcher told them to get away from the window and turn off all lights.

The summary of events is heart-breaking. Reporters have signed confidentiality agreements which prevent us from revealing the contents of the entire 911 transcript with the children unless and until it is entered as an exhibit at the public hearing.

As they listened to gunfire that killed 13 people in less than 45 minutes, the children must have worried they might die as well. The Blair kids knew their parents were dead, the McCully children must have been increasingly anxious as their mother did not return home. 

There is nothing in the summary document that indicates if the children asked the operator when police would come to their rescue, but it seems a reasonable assumption. There is no reference in the summary document to any feelings of fear or horror the children may have expressed.

From 11pm to 12:22am, the four children were directed to remain in the basement, in the dark, hiding in a closet. Three times during the evening, at 10:53 and 11:09 and 11:27, a couple of police officers came to the back door to speak with them. On the third visit, the kids were told to lock the back door and not open to anyone unless they heard the word “pineapple.” 

Finally, almost two and half hours after their ordeal began, RCMP officers Grund and Neil arrived to take the children to safety. The children were taken in Lisa McCully’s car to the Great Village Fire Hall where they were checked by paramedics before being taken to hospital in Truro.

The question of why it took RCMP so long to rescue them will undoubtedly be raised at a later point in the public process.

Murder of Frank and Dawn Gulenchyn

Dawn and Frank Gulenchyn. Photo: Facebook.

“The perpetrator arrived at 71 Orchard Beach Drive, the residence of Frank and Dawn Gulenchyn, prior to 10:25pm,” reads the commission’s summary. “He parked his vehicle in their U-shaped driveway, with his vehicle facing south and his driver-side door closest to the Gulenchyns’ front door. It appears plausible of available information that the perpetrator shot Frank and Dawn Gulenchyn. He then set the home on fire.”

After leaving the house and returning to his car, GW saw Andrew and Kate MacDonald in their car, stopped on the road beside the house.

Encounter with Andrew MacDonald

Andrew MacDonald is lucky to be alive. 

MacDonald and his wife Kate live on Portapique Beach Road which is parallel to Orchard Beach Drive. Shortly after 10pm on April 18 Kate heard “popping sounds” and saw a fire from her bedroom window. The couple jumped in their car and drove down Orchard Beach Road where they saw a huge fire engulfing the warehouse at 136 Orchard Beach Drive. 

Kate MacDonald called 911 and reported the fire. They turned and on their way back up Orchard Beach Drive noticed a white police cruiser parked in the driveway of Frank and Dawn Gulenchyn’s home at 71 Orchard Beach Drive. Kate MacDonald was startled by the sight of a fire in the kitchen of that home and reported it to 911.

The white police cruiser pulled out of the driveway and came alongside of the MacDonald car, on the driver’s side, about two feet away. According to the commission’s summary, the gunman pointed a handgun equipped with a laser sighting device. In that split second, Andrew MacDonald recognized the perpetrator and ducked. Two shots can be heard on the tape of the 911 call as well as an exclamation from MacDonald “It’s our neighbour, Gabe! He just shot me in the arm!” A second bullet narrowly missed his head.

MacDonald, who owns Maritime Auto Salvage in Glenholme, was able to describe the fake police car in some detail as well as identify the make of the car owned by another neighbour (Faulkner, see below) who followed behind MacDonald.

At the police checkpoint on Portapique Beach Road, Andrew MacDonald recognized one of the officers from the Bible Hill detachment. Four officers had arrived from Bible Hill detachment by 10:26pm and were soon joined by three more. While waiting for an ambulance to take him to hospital in Truro, MacDonald told the officer what had occurred. 

Kate MacDonald was talking to a female officer and mentioned there was a back road out of the Portapique area that connected with an old church in East Montrose. At 10:48 the female officer radioed that information over the Colchester RCMP radio channel. 

Even then, the killer may already have made his escape from Portapique. 

David Faulkner

At around 10:30, David Faulkner and his wife and daughter were driving west along Highway 2, en route from Truro to their home in Bass River. As they approached Portapique, Faulkner saw “flames in the air” above the community.

Faulkner knew Portapique well, as he had previously lived on Portapique Crescent — he had sold his house to Leon Joudrey.

Faulkner turned left off the highway onto Portapique Beach Road; there was not yet any police presence at the entrance to the community. He then turned left onto Orchard Beach Drive and saw “a marked police car at Frank’s” — that is, at the Gulenchyn house — in front of the door, facing south. He didn’t see any people.

The house was on fire. “The curtains were open, and … the left hand wall, that was just flames, you know, two or three feet off the floor” Faulkner later told investigators.

He drove past the Gulenchyns’ house, then turned left onto Portapique Crescent and on to Leon Joudrey’s house, where Faulkner pulled into the driveway and called Joudrey; the call went to voicemail.

Faulkner then backed out of the driveway and retraced his steps. As he turned the corner back to Orchard Beach Drive, he saw two vehicles in the road in front of the Gulenchyns’ house, both facing north.

“The cop car was sitting on the left-hand side … and there was another car sitting on the inside of him, which would have been to the right of him,” explained Faulkner. ”

He heard “at least two” loud sounds — “either explosions or gunshots” — and both cars sped north. He couldn’t tell which care was leading and which was behind, but as he continued down the road, he saw the fire in the Gulenchyns’ house had grown.

Faulkner followed behind the other two cars and when he got to the intersection of Orchard Beach Drive and Portapique Beach Road, he found the police car stopped across the road; the other car had continued north on Portapique Beach Road. Faulkner drove on the lawn of the abutting house to get around the police car, and continued north on Portapique Beach Road.

A short way up the road, Faulkner saw RCMP cars with flashing lights — the first real police to respond to Portapique. The officers were engaging with the first car that had sped in front of him — that is, Andrew MacDonald’s car. Faulkner looked in his rear-view mirror but there was a “drop in the road” that blocked the view back to the fake police car.

The RCMP officers approached the Faulkner family at gunpoint and told them to put their hands out the windows of the car. One officer approached the car and “asked us what we were doing in there,” said Faulkner. “And I just told him the story about my buddy was Leon. He asked if I knew Gabriel and I say ‘yes.’ I’m pretty sure he [the cop] said he [GW] went crazy or went — like he had said — said to me that he was on a rampage or shooting or what.”

Faulkner and his family were allowed to leave, and on his way home he stopped at the Bass River Fire Hall and told the chief where the fires in Portapique were.

Bjorn Merzbach and Allison Francis

Bjorn Merzbach also considers himself fortunate to be alive after a night of terror. 

Merzbach is the president of the Orchard Beach Estates Landowners Association and lives on Orchard Beach Drive with his wife, Allison Francis. Francis thought she heard “fireworks” at 10:21 on Saturday night and texted her husband who was in his workshop. 

Merzbach went outdoors and heard two separate rounds of shots from two different firearms. Merzbach went inside his home to get his rifle. From his bedroom, he saw the Gulenchyn residence at 71 Orchard Beach Drive engulfed in flames. 

He went outside and took cover behind his truck, where he heard two shots from the direction of the Gulenchyn home. He then saw three white cars drive quickly north toward the Portapique Beach Road — the MacDonalds, the fake police cruiser, and the Faulkners.

Allison Francis attempted to contact her neighbour Lisa McCully and Frank and Dawn Gulenchyn without success. An earlier call to the Blairs had also gone unanswered. 

At 11:14, she received a call from the RCMP telling her to lock her doors and shelter in place. She told them fire was rapidly approaching their home – volunteer firefighters were not permitted to come into the area while an active shooter was in the area — and she was preparing to leave with her children. The RCMP phoned back and said they would send officers to help evacuate them but Francis didn’t wait and packed up the truck and left with their three kids and two dogs. 

When RCMP visited the home around midnight and later at 12:35am, they found Bjorn Merzbach “protecting his property.” Merzbach told them about the shots he had heard from two different weapons. 

The commission summary doesn’t mention it, but Merzbach confirmed to the Examiner many months ago that he stood in his front yard with a hose and a rifle all through the night, in case the fire or the killer came closer.

Murder of Joanne Thomas and John Zahl

John Zahl and Joanne Thomas. Photo: Facebook.

The killer sat in his car, stopped at the intersection of Portapique Beach Road and Orchard Beach Drive, just a hundred or so metres from where RCMP officers were attending to Andrew MacDonald and questioning the Faulkners, but the real cops couldn’t see the fake cop. That allowed the killer to continue on.

The commission’s summary theorizes that GW then drove south on Portapique Beach Road to the home of Joanne Thomas and John Zahl; the summary provides no details about the couple’s murders, beyond information from Thomas’s phone that helps time their deaths:

Joanne Thomas was texting with a relative on April 18, 2020. Ms. Thomas’s final text was sent at 10:23pm. It was unrelated to the perpetrator or the events in Portapique. The next message in the conversation was sent by the relative at 11:32pm.

There was no response to the 11:32pm text. The next morning, at 8:04am, the relative texted again: “Are you ok? Please text.”

Murder of Corrie Ellison

Corrie Ellison, photo: Facebook

The commission’s summary then theorizes that the killer next drove on a trail he had constructed on his own property — a parcel known as Lot 287. The trail connected the cottage on Portapique Beach Road to the warehouse on Orchard Beach Drive. If so, he would have seen both structures burned from the fires he had set earlier.

He emerged on Orchard Beach Drive, next to the warehouse, only to discover Corrie Ellison taking photos of the fire.

Francis Ellison lived on Orchard Beach Drive, about 450 metres south of GW’s warehouse. On that weekend in April 2020, his two sons, Corrie and Clinton were visiting. They spent Saturday together, and then at around 10pm, Richard went to bed.

Corrie and Clinton thought they heard a gunshot. They went out onto the deck of the house and saw flames. Richard, who couldn’t sleep, joined them. Corrie said he was going to go check out the fire, but Richard told him not to. “Don’t go up there, there’s a bad — bad cat up there,” said Richard. “He’s got guns and if he’s been drinking, anything can happen.” Corrie went anyway, and Clinton came along, but only to the end of the driveway, and then returned to the house. Corrie kept walking up the road.

At 10:36, Corrie called Richard and told him the warehouse was on fire. Corrie took three photos. The first two — at 10:39:26 and 10:39:33 — were of the warehouse burning. The third, at 10:40:12, was an “indiscernible” image. Then, nothing.

After about 15 minutes, Clinton was concerned about Corrie and so walked up the road carrying a flashlight to look for him. Near the warehouse, Clinton found Corrie’s body lying in the road, with blood beside it. Clinton turned off his flashlight and ran into the woods.

For the next few hours, Clinton was hiding in the woods, thinking that the light he saw from flashlights carried by police officers was actually the killer coming for him. He turned his phone off so it wouldn’t make noise or shine, giving away his location. But through the hours he would turn it on briefly to call his father, who in turn made a series of frantic calls to 911. All the while, Clinton didn’t know the fate of his brother — he wasn’t told Corrie was dead until the next morning.

Corrie’s DNA was later found on one of GW’s boots.

During one of his calls with 911, at 1:40am, Richard named GW and said GW had probably killed Corrie. Richard also said that GW had a Smith & Wesson handgun he had smuggled into Canada from the United States.

Eventually, 911 was able to get on the phone with Clinton, and at 2:35am he was connected with police on the ground.

The next morning, in an interview with police, Richard said that he knew about GW’s illegal weapons. “I don’t know if that’s my fault, if I should have said something, ’cause he showed me these weapons that he’d, I think he got them in the States,” said Richard. “He had his ways of getting around stuff like that — he must of knew the right people and that to get these things, and he showed me the rifle that he had bought and it was one of those Ruger mini-14s, and plus he had a stainless steel Smith & Wesson and I’m pretty sure he had a shotgun too.”

Richard said his brother David Ellison was friends with GW and had seen the replica police car, although Richard hadn’t seen it himself. Richard also related an incident when GW thought his uncle Glen was trying to sleep with Lisa Banfield, and “he ripped right through Glen, almost had him crying … just right in a rage, like the jealousy had just, yeah.”

Killer escapes Portapique

After he killed Corrie Ellison, GW appears to have driven south again, to Cobequid Court, and then east to the entrance of the “blueberry field road”  — a rough road that runs along the western edge of a commercial blueberry operation, north from Cobequid Court to Brown Loop.

One family that lives to the west of the blueberry field road saw a vehicle on the road at about 10:45.

A man named Dean Dillman lives in Five Houses, which is west of Portapique River, across from Portapique. On Saturday night, Dillman’s mother, who also lives in Five Houses, called him to say she could see a fire in Portapique.

Dillman, “who has a background and training in forest firefighting,” packed up his firefighting gear and drove to Portapique. There were RCMP cars with their lights flashing at the head of Portapique Beach Road; Dillman thought the fire was at his friend Leon Joudrey’s house, so Dillman drove farther on Highway 2 to Brown Loop. He stopped at the bend in the road, right where Brown Loop meets the northern end of the blueberry field road. He turned off his lights so he could see the fire better, got out of his car, and broke out his compass in order to better locate the fire.

It’s uncertain when Dillman arrived at Brown Loop, but he wasn’t there long. He called Joudrey, got no answer. He called a mutual friend at 10:53, and they spoke for two minutes. At 10:58, Dillman’s mom called him back and said she was afraid — there was someone walking around in the woods near her house with a flashlight — so Dillman left Portapique and drove back to Five Houses to be with his mother.

The entire time he was on Brown Loop, Dillman did not see any other vehicles. If GW escaped the community via the blueberry field road, he must have done so just before Dillman arrived.

A still from a video taken at 10:51pm, April 18, 2020, from the Wilson’s Gas Stop in Great Village

There’s video of what looks to be an RCMP cruise passing the Wilson’s gas station on Highway 2 in Great Village at 10:51pm.

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

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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  1. Great reporting, but some confusion about place names – is it Orchard Beach Road or Orchard Beach Drive? In some places you write Ocean Beach instead of Orchard Beach.