Wells Gray Provincial Park Family Murders

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David Shearing killed a family of six in August 1982 while they were camping in the Clearwater Valley near Wells Gray Provincial Park, about 120 kilometers north of Kamloops in British Columbia.[1] The media coined the term "Wells Gray Murders" but the actual murder site was beside Fage Creek, 18 km (11.2 mi) north of Clearwater and 18 km (11.2 mi) south of the Wells Gray Park entrance on Clearwater Valley Road.[2]

The Murders[edit]

On August 2, 1982, three generations of a family set out on a camping trip. They were Bob and Jackie Johnson, their two daughters (Janet, 13 and Karen, 11), and Jackie's parents, George and Edith Bentley. The family last contacted relatives on August 6 when Edith called a second daughter, according to retired RCMP Sgt. Mike Eastham who wrote a book in 1999 about the investigation.[3] On August 16, Bob failed to return to work at Gorman Brothers Lumber in Westbank which was very unusual for the 44-year employee. A week later, he was reported missing to the local police.[4]

The search centered on Wells Gray Park where the family had planned to meet up. On September 13, a mushroom picker reported finding a burned-out car near Battle Mountain Road that was similar to the car that the Johnsons were driving. When the RCMP officers searched the vehicle, they found the burned bodies of the four missing adults who had been shot in the head with a .22 caliber weapon. In the trunk were the remains of the two girls.

The Hunt[edit]

During spring 1983, several innovative methods were used to try to solve the baffling murders. In April, the crime was re-enacted on-site for TV cameras and aired across Canada in hopes that some significant clue would be triggered. In May, police drove a replica of the Bentleys' 1981 Ford camper truck to Ontario and Quebec, as over 300 people had claimed they had seen such a vehicle heading east during the fall and winter. The reward for finding the truck was raised to $7,500 and 10,000 posters were sent out to police detachments and post offices across North America.

A year after the families disappeared, the murderer had still not been caught and the summer of 1983 became one of the worst for tourism in nearby Wells Gray Park. During the Canada Day holiday weekend, the weather was splendid and the media advised tourists not to head to British Columbia's parks because all campgrounds were full. The exception was Wells Gray Park where only 18 of 105 sites were occupied.[2]

On October 18, 1983, the missing truck was found by two forestry workers on an abandoned logging road on Trophy Mountain and, like the Johnsons' car, it had been burned. The police were criticized for embarking on a costly wild-goose chase across the country when, for that whole year, the truck was just a few kilometres from the murder site. It now seemed more and more likely that the killer lived in the Clearwater area as few outsiders would be familiar with the maze of logging roads on Trophy Mountain. The truck was lifted out of the forest by a Sikorsky helicopter and flown down the mountain to a flat-bed truck, then taken to the RCMP crime lab in Vancouver. The media were told that the truck yielded no new clues. Police then conducted a second door-to-door questioning in Clearwater. By then, they had amassed a total of 13,000 tips about the case.[2]

The Capture[edit]

On November 19, 1983, local residents were shocked when David Shearing, 24, was arrested in Dawson Creek, escorted to Kamloops under guard, and charged with the second-degree murders of the six members of the Johnson and Bentley families. The clue that ended the long search for the killer was gleaned during the Clearwater questioning after the truck was found; one person told police that, over a year earlier, Shearing had enquired about how to re-register a Ford pickup and repair a hole in its door. The police had never revealed that there was a bullet hole in the Bentleys' truck. When questioned by Sgt. Eastham, he said that he had stalked the victims at their campsite and shot all four adults with his .22. He kept the girls alive for a week, raping Janet, and then killed them as well.[2]

The Sentencing[edit]

On April 16, 1984 David Shearing pleaded guilty to six counts of murder. In his ten-minute summation, Supreme Court Justice Harry McKay described the crime as "a cold-blooded and senseless execution of six defenceless and innocent people...a slaughter that devastated three generations in a single bound. What a tragedy. What a waste, and for what?" He sentenced Shearing to life in prison with no eligibility for parole for 25 years. This was the maximum possible penalty for second degree murder and the first time in Canadian history that it had been handed out.[2]

Parole[edit]

In September 2008, David Shearing was up for parole. The National Parole Board ruled that he still had violent sexual fantasies, hadn't completed sex offender treatment and was not ready for freedom.[5] His second application, in 2012, was also rejected. Shearing applied again in 2014, then withdrew the request a month before the hearing. In the meantime, online and paper petitions garnered 15,258 signatures urging the parole board not to release him. Family members of the Johnsons and Bentleys also appealed for relief from the agony of reliving the tragedy and campaigning against Shearing's release every few years.[2]

References[edit]

Rodgers, Garry - Dyingwords Blogpost http://dyingwords.net/david-shearing-the-monster-from-wells-gray-park/#sthash.JbMhpspV.dpbs

  1. ^ Mulgrew, Ian. "Wells Gray murders won't soon be forgotten: Mulgrew". Vancouver Sun. Retrieved 2 July 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Neave, Roland (2015). Exploring Wells Gray Park, 6th edition. Wells Gray Tours, Kamloops, BC. ISBN 978-0-9681932-2-8.
  3. ^ Eastham, Michael (1999). The Seventh Shadow. Warwick Publishing.
  4. ^ "B.C. multiple murderer seeks parole after 25 years". Canada. Retrieved 2 July 2014.
  5. ^ Youds, David. "Wells Gray murderer denied parole". Kamloops News. Retrieved 2 July 2014.

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