Featured Stories

Hitting Zero: Three days inside the bouncy, sparkly, girl-powered, extremely hard-core world of competitive cheer

Photo by Melissa Tait/ The Globe and Mail

It was the third and final day of the Canadian Cheer National Championships in Niagara Falls, and the Golden Girls were feeling fierce.

The GGs, as they called themselves, had done their warm-ups and gone through their rituals. They’d screamed together in the foyer of the Niagara Falls Convention Centre, shouting out the doubt and negativity, anything that could hold them back.

They’d run their routine, working their pyramids and tumbling and baskets and dance over and over – and in their minds so many more times than that – until its relentless rhythm was as natural as breathing. They’d stretched into splits, lifted their legs into standing scales, flipped and tumbled down the practice mats. They’d stood swaying together in a circle, two dozen teenagers and women with their arms wrapped around each other, singing Lady Gaga at the top of their lungs.

“Take it in, but remember this is what you trained for,” their coach, Jess Montoya, had told them, her raspy voice straining over the raucous noise of a backstage hallway. She was a former cheerleader who went to university for child and youth psychology, but kept coming back to cheer.

“Chill out, take it moment by moment. Enjoy it.”

Outside, the sun was shining, other groups of girls glimmering in constellations on the grass.

The CheerForce WolfPack Golden Girls and the Cheer Sport Great White Sharks are two of the most prominent and closely watched teams in the rapidly developing world of Canadian cheer. Going into Nationals in April, the Great White Sharks were five-time world champions and the subject of Canadian reality show Cheer Squad, a team known for precise and beautiful routines, for stunts that pushed the limits of what seemed possible.

But the Golden Girls had been circling, coming second to the Great Whites at Worlds in Florida last year, nipping behind them in Dallas in February, placing second at the Face-Off event on Friday night.

The idea of a rivalry between the teams was a bit overhyped – the effect of social media, and maybe the American influence, where “cheerlebrities” and cheer fan accounts could be dramatic and mean. But while the Great White Sharks and the Golden Girls respected each other, there was no doubt both teams were there to win.

Going into their second and final routine for Nationals on Sunday, the Golden Girls were in first place. It was the end of the season, the last chance at Nationals for some of them.

They had 2 minutes.

Continue reading this story, and see its full multimedia treatment, in the Globe and Mail

The Outsiders: Followers of a self-styled spiritual leader now facing multiple counts of sexual assault are buying property around Fort Assiniboine, Alta. Uneasy locals are asking why they’re moving in, and what comes next

Photo by Amber Bracken/ The Globe and Mail

It started slowly, so slowly that it took the folks around Fort Assiniboine a long time to notice anything was happening at all.

But properties that had been for sale for years were getting snatched up, sold at prices that were sometimes far over market value. People were showing up at residents’ doors asking to buy their land, tying notes onto farm gates with golden string, addressed: “To the Landowner.” An area realtor told locals she had a list of people wanting to buy properties, then sold her own house and moved south. One by one, family homesteads were flipping: the Levy place, the Bradleys’, the Edeltrauds’, all bought by newcomers to the area.

The buyers were similarly unexpected. Not farmers expanding their land or moving from other rural properties, but people from Spain, Australia, Israel, New York. There were psychologists, designers, a pharmacist – professional people and retirees scooping up property and asking who else might be selling, because, they said, their friends were interested in buying there, too. When locals asked why – why would you move to this isolated area two hours away from Edmonton, with nothing out here, and a town so small it didn’t technically qualify as a town at all – they would say, “peace and quiet.”

The influx would eventually be traced to numbered companies and individuals connected to John de Ruiter, a 63-year-old former orthopedic shoemaker who, for 30 years, has commanded a legion of dedicated followers from around the world in a group some say is a cult. The self-styled spiritual leader has long faced questions about his sexual relationships with women in his community, and in January was charged with four counts of sexual assault. His wife, 64-year-old Leigh Ann de Ruiter, has since been charged with three counts of sexual assault in relation to the same allegations.

Over many months, residents around Fort Assiniboine began to suspect what property documents now prove: John de Ruiter was coming to the area, and his followers were moving with him.

Continue reading this story in The Globe and Mail

In Her Defence: After suffering decades of abuse, Helen Naslund was sentenced for killing her husband on their Alberta farm. She opens up for the first time about a life of violence and her fight for freedom

Photo by Amber Bracken/ The Globe and Mail

Wes Naslund’s phone rang early. It was the Labour Day weekend of 2011, the golden fall in central Alberta. The most important time on the farm, those precious, contracting days when the work of the whole year pays off or comes to nothing.

“We don’t know where the father is,” Wes’s 19-year-old brother, Neil, was saying. Wes could hear their middle brother, Darrell, talking in the background. “He went to cut hay and his gun is gone. His wallet’s here, and the car is gone.”

To Wes, the implication was clear. Their father had been talking about shooting himself for years, and, from what his brothers were saying, it sounded like he’d finally done it.

Wes was 26, and he’d been imagining his father’s death most of his life. He pictured it, planned it, even. Thought about how easily he could steer the truck off the road some night, speed straight into a power pole with his father in the passenger seat. And it hadn’t been long since Wes had downed a bottle of whiskey and drove to the Holden Hotel, where he stalked into the bar and raised a loaded rifle to his father’s forehead, telling him: “Either you do it or I’m going to.”

That’s the way it was with them then, everything always teetering on the brink of life and death. Miles Naslund had held his sons at gunpoint more times than they could count. He’d punched and hit them, threatened them, beat them with boards and tools and belts from the time they were little children. He’d smashed Wes’s head through the windshield of a truck once, ramming it into the glass until there was a hole big enough to fit through. But whatever hell Miles had inflicted on his sons, the things he’d done to his wife were worse.

No matter how hard she tried to hide it, even people outside the family knew something was happening to Helen Naslund. There were stories that went around, bruises people noticed. She was 46, and you could see sorrow and pain in the lines of her face. But it was also how she wouldn’t meet your eyes, how she didn’t laugh or speak unless someone spoke to her, the feeling of fear that came off her.

Among the various scenarios Wes had been playing out in his mind since childhood, his father going off to shoot himself was the best one he could imagine. But after Wes hung up the phone, it struck him weird. He hadn’t expected his father to actually do it. He didn’t trust it. It seemed, in a way, far too easy an ending for what they’d all been living through.

Continue reading this story in The Globe and Mail

The Yebes Test

Globe and Mail illustration

The smell of smoke woke him, so faint at first it seemed like a dream.

Tomas Yebes had been listening to music in bed – earphones on, cord snaking to the stereo system downstairs – but when he awoke, the cassette had ended, and it was quiet.

He was confused at first. Was the smoke coming from his pipe? The toaster?

Downstairs, an acrid brown-grey haze was emanating from the small utility room where one of his sons had been sleeping. Tomas opened the door to find both boys there, lying still on the bed even as flames licked around them.

He pulled Tommy out first, fire blistering his hands and feet as he dragged the small, stiff body from the room. He tossed pans of water onto the child, though it was already far too late. He didn’t touch the older boy, Gabriel. It was clear he was already gone.

It was Feb. 24, 1982, a Wednesday, just after 1 a.m. in Surrey, B.C.

Police and firefighters arrived at the townhouse at 10570 Holly Park Lane in minutes, spraying the smouldering mattress first with fire extinguishers, then pulling it onto the balcony and tossing it to the ground, dousing it with water until it finally stopped smoking. Tomas was on the phone with his wife, speaking in what officers and firefighters would recall as a “foreign language.”

“The boys are dead,” he was saying, in Spanish. “They’re gone.”

Continue reading this story in The Globe and Mail

He said, they said: inside the trial of Matthew McKnight

Photo by Amber Bracken/ The Globe and Mail

By the morning of the third day, Juliette was starting to worry. It was the middle of January, 2020, a viciously cold week in Edmonton. She’d been so sure the jury believed her, believed them. But after 26 hours of deliberation, she wasn’t as certain as she had been, and now the question hung on her like a stone: What was taking so long?

The others were waiting, too.

Among them was Nancy, alone at a house in a small Alberta town, staring silently out the window. Angie, up north, trying to concentrate on school. Sarah, at home in Edmonton with her phone in her hand, putting it aside only to shower, then scrubbing the shampoo out as quickly as she could so she wouldn’t miss the call. Juliette, the youngest of them all, was getting ready for work.

They were complainants, not victims. In the court system, you’re considered a victim of sexual assault only if the charge is proved.

It was just before noon when word came out from the jury room.

Prosecutors Mark Huyser-Wierenga and Katherine Fraser hurried through a frozen pedway from the Crown’s office to the courthouse across the street. Defence lawyer Dino Bottos, who had been distractedly trying to work on his next case, rushed from his office several blocks through the cold. Sarah, waking from a nap, jumped out of bed and raced across the city. She’d be the only one of the women in court, the others not able or not wanting to be there – not able to ask for yet another day off work, to miss another day of school, to pay for another trip to the city; not wanting to be back in that room, to be anywhere near him.

Soon, Courtroom 417 swelled with people. There were reporters and sheriffs, lawyers and students, onlookers who’d been hearing about the case in the courthouse hallways for months. There was a small group of friends and supporters of the accused. There was his mother, fumbling for tissues, tears brimming in her eyes.

Matthew McKnight had recently turned 33. He was tall and fit, with dark brown hair and dark eyes, and was neatly dressed in a thin-cut suit, as he had been throughout the trial. He looked tense as he stepped back into the wooden prisoner’s box where, four months earlier, he’d listened to the charges being read against him: 13 counts of sexual assault against 13 women. He’d answered “not guilty” 13 times.

The courtroom was silent and heavy with the questions everyone in that room – and many others far beyond it – had been considering for months.

Would an innocent man really be accused of 13 sexual assaults?

And could a guilty man face so many charges and still walk free?

Continue reading this story in The Globe and Mail

Hitchhiker, hero, celebrity, killer: The strange journey of the man called Kai

Illustration by Klawe Rzeczy/ The Globe and Mail

It was late in the morning on Feb. 1, 2013, when Caleb Lawrence McGillivary met Jesus Christ on a highway outside Bakersfield.

McGillivary had been on the road a good while by then, having left his home in Alberta as a teenager to find his own way in the world. He’d gone back at times, back to his family, back to school or work, but that kind of routine never suited him for long, and by the early months of 2013, he was drifting once again. Not homeless, he would tell people. Home free.

He’d hitchhiked through provinces and states, walked over mountains and across borders. He moved as the mood took him, sleeping under bridges and in vans and on boats and couches, working when he had to, finding friends and parties and beaches to surf along the way.

He called himself Kai, unless the authorities were asking, in which case he was Edward Carl Nicodemus or whatever other series of monikers might come to mind. He was 24 years old. The road had turned him lean and luminous, burnished golden by dirt and sun.

He spent the last night of March sleeping alongside Route 99 in California, the road heading north toward Fresno. He was standing beside the highway when a black Oldsmobile rolled to a stop, and the driver beckoned him inside.

Continue reading this story in The Globe and Mail 

‘This can happen to you.’ David Milgaard works to help free other innocent people – even though it opens the wounds of his past

Photo by Todd Korol/ The Globe and Mail

David Milgaard’s garden sits on the edge of a sweeping valley. It’s not much, but enough for what he needs. Tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries for the kids. Some parsnips and wild flowers grown from seed.

His yard is small but boundless, a thin patch of grass that turns quickly wild, then dips into a valley and stretches out to the horizon beyond. It’s the expanse that made him want to live there. Vast and open. Endless. You can see the Bow River snaking by, and at intervals, trains clatter and squeal on the tracks alongside. He hasn’t always liked trains, they remind him more of captivity than freedom, bringing to mind for him the dark purposes they’ve served in history, how they carried people away to captivity and worse.

“I try not to think about that,” he says. “I’m getting used to them.”

David Milgaard is 67 years old. His name, like his face, is deeply familiar, a part of our history and our culture. His story is one of Canada’s most egregious wrongful convictions, and it is never out of the news for long, even now. On the day I arrive at his townhouse outside Calgary, it is almost 50 years to the day since he was arrested and charged for a murder he didn’t commit.

“Is it really 50 years?” he says, when I mention the anniversary to him, and he pauses for a moment to do the math. Then his voice grows soft.

It is difficult for him to talk about even now. But he knows he cannot stay silent. 

 Continue reading this story in The Globe and Mail 

After the fire: Murder, lies and a missing deer head

Globe and Mail illustration

Off Range Road 132 in central Alberta, a broad driveway leads past an edge of trees into a yard, where once there stood a modest white house and a tidy farm.

On the morning of Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013, the house off the highway was quiet and dark. A light snow was falling and it was bitterly cold, sound waves bending and refracting in the air, seeming to amplify every noise. The crunch and pop of truck tires on a frozen road. A dog barking. A gunshot.

You would have been able to see it well before dawn if you lived across those fields, or if you happened to be travelling one of those dark and deserted highways: a spot of fire burning bright on the horizon, hot orange flames licking upward to the sky, a house disintegrating into embers below.

The first firefighters arrived around 7:30, when the family who lived in the house would usually have been up having breakfast, getting ready for work or chores.

In the country, it is friends and relatives who are called to help. On that morning, 16 volunteer firefighters from town and the farms around – local people who knew, as soon as they heard the location, whose house was in flames, whose lives were disappearing into thick plumes of smoke in the winter sky.

Jeff Ensign was the first to call Jason Klaus that morning. He knew Jason. He also knew Jason’s parents, Gordon and Sandi, and Jason’s sister, Monica. Jason was at home in his trailer across the property when the phone rang.

“The house is burned to the ground,” Jeff said when Jason answered the phone. “Where are your mom and dad?”

“They’re there. They’re in the house,” Jason told him. “They didn’t go nowhere. And Monica was there too.”

 Continue reading this story in The Globe and Mail 

Searching for Answers: The Hunt for Bryer Schemegelsky and Kam McLeod

Photo by Rafal Gerszak/ The Globe and Mail

It’s the wildness of the place that draws people here. An area almost unfathomably vast, some of the emptiest terrain remaining on the continent. In the height of summer traffic, you can easily go half an hour or more without approaching another vehicle. Areas of highway have no centre line, no shoulder. There is no cell service for hundreds of kilometres. Hospitals and police are hours away.

Some people, like American Chynna Deese and her Australian boyfriend, Lucas Fowler, are drawn by the adventure, romance and freedom of these endless highways. Others, like Leonard Dyck, a 64-year-old botany lecturer at the University of British Columbia, may be pulled by a passion for the natural world and the untrespassed wilderness, the richness of the foliage and forest.

When teenaged best friends Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod drove north out from Port Alberni, B.C., around July 13 in a vintage Dodge Ram pick-up truck and Bigfoot camper top, they were heading to Yukon and Northwest Territories in search of work, better jobs than they had working the night shift at their home-town Walmart.

Or, that’s what they told people.

Instead, the two men have been identified as suspects in the killings of Ms. Deese and Mr. Fowler, who were found shot to death along the highway near the Liard River hot springs, and of Mr. Dyck, who was found dead beside the road outside Dease Lake five days later.

Continue reading this story in The Globe and Mail

Staring Back: Are a spiritual leader’s relationships a calling or a dangerous abuse of power?

John de Ruiter, in footage excerpted from the College of Integrated Philosophy video
John de Ruiter, College of Integrated Philosophy

There was a cup of coffee on her desk, growing cold. There was her wallet and her cell phone, her purse and her winter coat, a framed picture of John. The face she had stared at for countless hours, light hair and clear blue eyes, a gaze that felt as though it could unlock the universe itself.

Anina had moved across the world to be close to John de Ruiter. Four times a week, she and hundreds of others filled the long rows of chairs at The Oasis Centre in west Edmonton, staring silently at him for hours as he sat beatifically under a beam of light, staring back.

He was their guru and teacher, to some even a saviour, a humble messiah they called simply “John.” They left their lives and families to be with him, devoted themselves completely to him and his teachings.

He arranged their marriages and relationships, their jobs and homes, gave them counsel and made their decisions, their lives winding ever more tightly around him while he drew from them their time and their labour, their money and their love.

They were Johnites or Oasis, sometimes The College, or just “the group.”

Anina’s mother and sisters struggled to understand. Like others on the outside, they thought it was a cult or a sect and they wondered about de Ruiter’s motives and his power. They’d seen his followers sitting rapt and silent while he spoke what, to Anina’s family, sounded like gibberish.

They saw how Anina had changed. How when she talked about him, she adopted his mannerisms and tone, her face becoming distant and her voice sleepy and soft, almost like an entirely different person than the one they had known.

They weren’t the only ones with questions. There had been allegations de Ruiter had sex with married female followers, stories about the break-up with his first wife and his relationship with two beautiful blonde sisters, who later filed court documents saying he was nothing more than a manipulator and a fraud.

Some former followers believed they’d been brainwashed or hypnotized while in the group, targeted with disturbing “psychic violence” when they left.

But though Anina’s family worried, John seemed to help her and give her balance, and they didn’t want to lose her altogether. If forced to choose, they knew, she would choose him.

 Continue reading this story in The Globe and Mail

The elephant nobody forgets: The fight for Edmonton’s last elephant

Lucy the elephant. Photo by Amber Bracken, The Globe and Mail
Photo by Amber Bracken/The Globe and Mail

The elephant house is squat and made of concrete, with windows of bullet-proof glass and gates of heavy steel. Its design reflects the reality of securing animals so strong they can break through bars and fences, so smart and deft they can use their trunks to open latches and doors. The house is linked to three outdoor pens – a large enclosure for the Edmonton Valley Zoo, though some would argue still far too small for an elephant. 

On a sunny Thursday afternoon, both the elephant house and its outdoor pens are empty. Packs of parents wheel strollers and follow stampeding children into the building to find only a desolate barn, then wheel out again, disappointed, into the sunshine.

“I haven’t seen her for the past three weeks,” one woman says, a little girl tugging on her hand.

A man with two small children calls to a zoo worker unloading a bale of hay from the back of a pickup truck. “Is the elephant coming back today?” he asks.

The worker shrugs. “I don’t know,” he says, then drives away.

A small crowd gathers at the display of black-tailed prairie dogs nearby, hoping maybe the elephant will return while they wait. The prairie dogs are important. They are a crucial part of the ecosystem in North America, and now nearly extinct, their population and habitat only 1 per cent of what it once was. The prairie dogs pop up on their hind legs; they pose and scurry. The crowd watches for a moment, then begins to break apart. The prairie dogs are cute, but they are not elephants. They are not Lucy.

Continue reading this story in The Globe and Mail

Little Girl Lost: What happened to Tamra Keepness?

Tamra Keepness - missing girl - Police file photo - 2004
Tamra Keepness in 2004/ Regina Police Service

Few children in Canada just vanish. Fewer still stay gone for longer than a couple of days. Some are found alive, others are hurt or killed, but rarely does a child simply disappear. The rcmp’s National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains database lists 147 missing children, in a country of more than 35 million people. Of the sixty children under the age of twelve, a quarter are thought to have been abducted by their parents. A large portion of the others were lost to apparent accidents or misadventure, falling through ice or swept away in the pull of wild rivers, their bodies never recovered. The database shows twenty-four children in the past sixty years who have inexplicably disappeared. Because there are so few, we know them. In Edmonton, there is Tania Murrell, six when she vanished while walking home from school for lunch in January 1983. In Toronto, Nicole Morin, eight when she disappeared from a condominium building in July 1985. Michael Dunahee was four years old when he went missing from a playground in Victoria in 1991. In Regina, there is only Tamra Keepness. 

Continue reading this story in The Walrus

Did an innocent man spend 34 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit?

Photo by Ben Nelms/ The Globe and Mail

In the first year after he was charged with the rape and murder of a child, Phillip James Tallio wrote his teenaged girlfriend 116 letters, every one of them repeating the same thing. He said it before his trial and after his conviction, and when he was sentenced to life in prison. For more than 34 years he said it, over and over, and he would not stop. He said it to family members and to correctional staff, in prison programs and to the parole board, even though he knew saying it meant he would not be released. When people told him to stop saying it, so at least he could get out of prison and have some kind of a life, he told them he would never admit to something he didn’t do. And then he’d repeat the same thing he’d been saying for 34 years: I didn’t do this.

Now, a lifetime later, people are listening. 

Continue reading this story in The Globe and Mail

The Radical Grief of Cliff and Wilma Derksen

Photo by David Lipnowski/ The Globe and Mail

It was late on Jan. 17, 1985, one of the longest days of their lives. There had been people around them for hours but he came to the door the moment they were alone, as though he’d been waiting outside for the others to leave. He was dressed in black and they recognized him from news coverage, though they couldn’t quite place it at the time. He stood outside their house in the dark, in the cold.

“I’m the parent of a murdered child, too,” he said. “I’ve come to tell you what to expect.”

Cliff and Wilma Derksen had identified their daughter’s body at the hospital just hours earlier. They were in shock, reeling, but still they invited the man into the warmth of their kitchen and offered him the fresh cherry pie one of their friends had made. Then he started to speak.

For two hours, the man recounted the things he had lost to murder. Not only his daughter but his relationships and his work, his belief in justice, his trust, the goodness of his life before. Even his daughter’s memory. He showed them notebooks from the trials, lined up the bottles of pills he was taking. He told them, “It will destroy you.”

As he spoke, the Derksens saw for the first time what faced them. They would come to know it as the darkness, an abyss of sadness and anger that could swallow a person and take away everything they loved, that would spread until it destroyed all that was beautiful. Alone in their bedroom after he left, they made a decision: They had lost Candace, they wouldn’t lose everything else, too. They couldn’t.

“We kind of looked at each other and said, ‘We have to stop this,’” Cliff says. “We have to forgive.”

But what does it mean to forgive the person who killed your daughter? The person who bound her hands and feet in a way so dehumanizing it is called “hog-tying,” then left her alone and helpless to die in the cold? How do you forgive a person you have never met? Who has never asked your forgiveness? How do you forgive a person who may not even be sorry?

It took more than 22 years for a man to be charged, and four more for him to stand trial for murder. Now, after a second trial, the violent sex offender Cliff and Wilma believe killed their daughter may go free. A verdict could come within weeks.

He has never admitted he did it. He has never said he’s sorry. And the Derksens are still discovering what it means to forgive him.

 Continue reading this story in The Globe and Mail

The death of Wonder Woman

Ruth Kelly, courtesy Larry Kelly.

On the night it was finally over, when even Ruth’s last hopes had fallen through, Larry Kelly told his wife something he’d known for weeks, even months: There’s no more running away from this. It’s time to shut down the business.

We’ll give it the weekend, he told her. Then on Monday we’ll start figuring out what to do next. We’ll declare bankruptcy. You’ll get a job. It will be tough for a year or two, but it will get better. We will get through it.

It was a big step. Ruth was 60 years old. Venture Publishing and its flagship magazine, Alberta Venture, had been her life, her passion, and defined both her working life and her public identity. She was also not one to walk away from a challenge. In speeches to other entrepreneurs and business leaders, she talked often about the struggles of entrepreneurship, of the importance of embracing risk and making your own luck, of the “pathological stubbornness” and “irrational optimism” which had seen her through tough times before.

But by June of 2017, the qualities that were once Ruth’s greatest strengths were only making the situation worse. Venture was deeply in debt, a sinking business that owed huge amounts of money to throngs of companies and individuals, and which was rapidly taking Ruth and Larry down with it. Ruth’s steadfast belief that she could somehow power through it, that the business could still turn around and recover, had become unhealthy; her optimism not an asset but a trap, like a gambler desperately trying to make back money already lost.

It was a tough conversation, but the next morning Ruth seemed almost like her regular self again. She dressed nicely, and came to kiss Larry goodbye while he showered. It was unusual, but not enough to make him worry. He didn’t think anything about it until he saw the police officers in his office later, their faces grim, the female officer telling him, “I’ve got some bad news.”

Continue reading this story in The Globe and Mail

‘Nothing short of catastrophic’ : Shawn Beaver was once considered one of Alberta’s top legal minds. Then money started to go missing from clients’ accounts

Photo by Amber Bracken/ The Globe and Mail

On the day it all came crashing down, Shawn Beaver got up early and dressed with extra care. He wore polished shoes and a carefully chosen tie, taking care with the little things as though he were dressing for a wedding or a funeral, an added formality to steel himself for what was to come. From the outside, it seemed like he had it all. He was an elite criminal defence lawyer with his own successful firm, a respected legal mind who taught at the university and argued cases before the Supreme Court. His wife had been discharged from the hospital and was at home with their newborn baby. They’d been married one month. Their baby daughter, Aguilera, was one week old.

That morning had been coming for a long time. But although Mr. Beaver had been expecting it – knew it was inevitable even, and that he could not put it off any longer – its arrival was no less grim. He made a phone call from his office, then he left, walking east, toward the courthouse, alone. It was the same route he walked nearly every day to court, a walk he could do almost without looking. But this time he turned off and went into an office building instead, up 17 floors to see a long-time friend and mentor who would now become his lawyer. There, Mr. Beaver opened the door, and got ready for everything to fall apart. 

Continue reading this story in The Globe and Mail

The Day I Met a Serial Killer

The day I met a serial killer, I was 21 years old, an art student living in Halifax. It was late on the afternoon of Saturday, June 1, 1996. I know that date for certain because he was arrested a few hours after I met him and charged with three counts of first-degree murder.

I have seen him described as both a serial killer and a spree killer, and there are varying definitions for both. You could certainly call him a spree killer, since the murders he committed all happened one after another on a single night. I’ve always thought of him as a serial killer, because of how he targeted certain victims, and because the murders were so intentional and specific. I call him a serial killer because, by the time I met him, 12 days after the murders, he’d acquired a new gun and a knife and several cartridges of ammunition. I call him a serial killer because I’ve always believed that when he walked up to my friend Trina and me on the street in Halifax that day, he was looking for more victims. We, unwittingly, told him exactly where to find them.

Continue reading this story in The Globe and Mail

My Life as a Crime Reporter


I meet a lot of people on the worst days of their lives. Sometimes, at their very worst moments. These are very intense meetings. After 17 years as a crime reporter, the images remain vivid in my mind: a man watching his wife’s body being pulled from a wreck on the highway. Another walking toward a line of police tape strung around his family’s house, looking as scared and lost as an orphan.

“What happened?” he asked me.

I told him, “You need to speak to that man over there,” and pointed him toward a homicide detective.

Those are the moments that divide lives permanently into before and after. You can see an entire life changing in the muscles of the face. 

Continue reading this story in Sharp Magazine 

The news scarf mystery: A true story of fashion and coincidence

Photo by Jason Franson/ The Globe and Mail

The scarf is filmy and soft, with a blurred newspaper pattern and a wispy fringe on all sides. I have it in two colours, one blobbed blue like watered ink, the other smeared coral like an old lady’s blush. It is 65 per cent polyester and 35 per cent viscose, according to its tag, and it is made in China. Machine wash cold, don’t bleach.

I came across it in Edmonton at TRENDS, “the biggest and best apparel show in the country,” where my friend Lisa was looking at things for her store. I wouldn’t have been at a fashion trade show except that I was procrastinating, and I wouldn’t have looked at the scarf except that I was bored. It was the very end of the day and my eyes were so bleary I could barely focus. But as I flicked at the scarf, something within its folds caught my eye.

“Holy [expletive]!” I said. In retrospect, I wish I’d said something much wittier, or at least more printable, but unfortunately that’s not how it happened. So, “Holy [expletive]!” I said. “That’s my byline! One of my stories is on this scarf!”

Trade shows don’t usually sell items on the spot, but when I asked the woman at the booth if I could buy the scarf, she shrugged, as if helpless in the face of such a strange coincidence.

“It has your name on it,” she said. “I think I have to sell it to you.” 

Continue reading this story in The Globe and Mail