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David William SHEARING

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Mass murderer
Characteristics: Rape - Robbery
Number of victims: 6
Date of murders: August 2, 1982
Date of arrest: November 19, 1983
Date of birth: 1959
Victims profile: George, 66, and Edith Bentley, 59, their daughter Jackie Johnson, 40, son-in-law Bob, 44, and grandchildren Janet, 13, and Karen, 11
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Wells Gray Park, British Columbia, Canada
Status: Pleaded guilty to six counts of murder on April 16, 1984. The next day he was sentenced to six concurrent terms of life imprisonment with no possibility of parole for 25 years
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Horror in the woods

Six family members vanished while camping in British Columbia 

By Max Haines - Toronto Sun

Sunday, September 19, 1999 

It was to be a glorious two-week camping vacation in Wells Gray Park, one of British Columbia's largest and most rugged recreational areas. Bob Johnson, his wife Jackie, and their two daughters, Janet, 13, and Karen, 11, left their home in Kelowna with the intention of meeting up with Jackie's retired parents, George and Edith Bentley. The Bentleys were avid campers and had recently purchased a 1981 Ford Camper Special. For the trip, they had secured a 10-foot aluminum boat on top of the camper. 

This was a close-knit family, three generations of compatible, loving individuals who wanted to spend time together. It was Aug. 2, 1982. All six would soon be dead. 

Two weeks passed. Bob didn't report for work at his place of employment. In over 20 years, he had never missed a day's work. As a result, when he failed to return from the camping trip, he was reported missing to police. 

The search for the two vehicles and their occupants centred on Wells Gray Park, where the families had planned to rendezvous. The massive search failed to turn up any sign of the families. On Sept. 13, about a month after the Johnsons had been expected home, a mushroom picker told police he had come across a burned-out vehicle deep in the park similar to the one driven by Bob Johnson. 

Investigating RCMP officers, led by Sgt. Michael Eastham, examined the burned-out vehicle. Inside, among the melted glass and metal, were the incinerated bodies of the four missing adults. They had been shot in the head with a .22 calibre weapon. The bodies had been literally cremated. 

Eastham opened the trunk of the '79 Plymouth. He froze in horror as he viewed the burned remains of what had once been two vibrant young girls. There was very little left of the children. The officer could make out skull fragments. Some monster had used an accelerant to generate such intense heat. 

Tracking dogs, helicopters and all the manpower the RCMP could muster were employed in the search for the Bentleys' camper. Despite public interest in the cruel murders and the resources utilized, the vehicle was not found. 

Meanwhile, investigators located what they felt was the murder site, some 20 km from where the burned out Johnson car was found. It was in an area known as Old Bear Creek Prison Site. Here they located .22 calibre shell casings and some beer caps of the brand known to be favoured by Bob Johnson. Full bottles of the same brand of beer were discovered cooling in a nearby stream. Also found were two sticks with sharp ends, probably used by the two girls to roast marshmallows. 

It was at this stage of the investigation that police were given the information that a camper exactly fitting the description of that owned by the Bentleys had been seen in North Battleford, Sask., driven by two French- speaking males. This information was the first of a series of sightings that led police down a trail which in the end proved to be false. Other sightings indicated the unit was heading east. Because the occupants spoke French, it was assumed the men were making their way to Quebec. 

The RCMP constructed an exact duplicate of the Bentleys' camper and had it driven across the country in the hope that someone would remember a similar vehicle, which would lead to the apprehension of the killers. No detail was spared. An aluminum boat was placed on top. In advance of the camper, Mounties travelled across the country, holding press conferences to publicize its arrival. In all, the wanted camper unit was reported seen by 1,300 individuals. Nothing came of this mammoth effort, but it did keep the mass murder in the public eye. 

On Oct. 18, 1983, about 14 months after the Johnsons and Bentleys disappeared, two forest rangers came across the truck/camper on Trophy Mountain, only 20 km from the murder site and about 30 km from where the Johnsons' car was located. Because of the location of the truck, police figured a local man was involved. The remote sideroads would only be known by someone familiar with the area. 

In all, police received 13,000 tips regarding this case. One caller told them about a David Shearing, who had been involved in a hit-and-run death a year earlier and had apparently beaten the rap. The Mounties learned that 23-year-old Shearing had previously been in trouble with the law. He had been arrested for assault, drinking and driving, and drug possession. Shearing had lived in the area all of his life and knew the park and the roads. 

The RCMP located him in Tumbler Ridge, north of Kamloops, where he was to appear in court in a few days on a possession of stolen property charge. Shearing was taken into custody for questioning. Although they had precious little hard evidence against him, police felt Shearing was their man. 

Despite his unsavoury reputation and criminal record, Shearing came from a respectable family. His father, since deceased, had once been a prison guard; his brother a sheriff. Shearing had graduated from high school and had successfully completed a heavy mechanic's course. 

Under adroit questioning by Sgt. Eastham, the man who had allegedly taken six innocent lives broke down. Little by little, he revealed how he had stalked the victims at their campsite. He had first shot all four adults with his .22. The two girls were shot dead in their tent. The bodies of the adults were placed in the Johnsons' car and the two girls' bodies placed in the trunk. 

Shearing went home that night and returned next day to drive the car to where it was eventually found. He torched it there. A couple of days later, he returned for the camper unit and drove it to Trophy Mountain, where it too was set on fire. Shearing went on to say that he had looted the camper of anything he thought was valuable. Later, police recovered many of the items he had stolen. Most were at his parents' ranch, where he lived. Shearing was taken to the three pertinent sites, where he re-enacted his crimes. 

On April 16, 1984, David Shearing pleaded guilty to six counts of murder. The next day he was sentenced to six concurrent terms of life imprisonment with no possibility of parole for 25 years. 

For all intents and purposes, the case was over, but Sgt. Eastham, who had lived with this case for almost two years, couldn't believe that Shearing had taken six lives because he coveted the possessions of his victims. Before Shearing's trial, Eastham made a deal with him. When the trial was over, he wanted the truth from the convicted killer. Eastham let Shearing know that he would be writing a parole report, which would follow him throughout his stay in prison. 

At their meeting, Shearing admitted it was the two girls who had attracted him to the campsite. After killing the four adults, he had sexually attacked the girls. No one will ever know what torments the children suffered during the two days they were with Shearing after the death of their parents and grandparents. 

Today, David Shearing is serving his sentence in prison. From his retirement home in British Columbia, former RCMP Sgt. Eastham tells me he is determined that Shearing remain in prison. 

"If ever released, he could kill again," Eastham says. 

The definitive account of the tragedy which befell the Johnson and Bentley families can be found in Eastham's book, The Seventh Shadow (Warwick Communications Group).

 
 

Killer Fears

Campground mass-murderer eligible to apply for parole

By Jason Van Rassel - Calgary Sun

Monday, September 27, 1999

He may be retired, but the Mountie responsible for catching one of Canada's worst mass-murderers says his work isn't done until he's sure the killer is locked up for good.

David William Shearing, who in 1983 killed four adult campers in the B.C. Interior and held two children as sex slaves before killing them as well, has served more than 15 years of his life sentence and is up for early parole eligibility.

The case has long since faded from public memory -- and retired Sgt. Mike Eastham said he's worried that will work in Shearing's favour should he apply for early release.

"If people don't pay attention, he's going to get out," he said.

And to make sure people never forget about Shearing's crime, Eastham just released a book about the case, The Seventh Shadow, where he speaks candidly about his frustration with the justice system -- an exercise made possible, he says, by his retirement from the RCMP three years ago.

"I was in the RCMP for 35 years and for 35 years I had to keep my mouth shut," he said from his home in Nanaimo, B.C.

"This is one of the worst crimes in Canadian history -- to me, (Shearing's) no different than Clifford Olson or Charles Manson."

In August 1982, Shearing shot dead George, 66, and Edith Bentley, 59, of Port Coquitlam B.C., their daughter Jackie Johnson, 40, son-in-law Bob, 44, and grandchildren Janet, 13, and Karen, 11, of Kelowna, as the family camped in Wells Gray Provincial Park, 75 km north of Kamloops.

After killing the adults, Shearing held the girls captive for days, sexually assaulting them before shooting them.

Shearing then loaded the bodies into the Johnson's car and set it ablaze near Clearwater, B.C., about 20 km from the family's campsite.

Shearing pleaded guilty to six counts of murder and on April 17, 1984 was given six concurrent life sentences with no chance of parole for 25 years.

Under the Criminal Code's so-called "faint hope" clause, lifers can apply to have that eligibility reduced after serving 15 years -- a benchmark Shearing, now 40, passed in April.

Shearing hasn't applied yet, but Eastham said the killer almost certainly will.

"He's never shown one indication of remorse ... he's one of the big guys in the big house because he's a murderer and he's having a good time there," said Eastham.

 
 

Ex-cop still aims to keep killer in prison

By Jason Van Rassel - Sun Media

Monday, September 27, 1999 

CALGARY -- He may be retired, but the Mountie responsible for catching one of Canada's worst mass murderers says his work isn't done until he's sure the killer is locked up for good.

David William Shearing, who in 1983 killed four adult campers in the B.C. Interior and held two children as sex slaves before killing them, has served more than 15 years of his life sentence and is up for early parole eligibility.

The case has long since faded from public memory and retired Sgt. Mike Eastham said he's worried that will work in Shearing's favour should he apply for early release.

And to make sure people never forget about Shearing's crime, Eastham just released a book about the case, The Seventh Shadow, where he speaks candidly about his frustration with the justice system - an exercise made possible, he says, by his retirement from the RCMP three years ago.

"I was in the RCMP for 35 years and for 35 years I had to keep my mouth shut," he said from his home in Nanaimo, B.C.

In August, 1982, Shearing shot dead George, 66, and Edith Bentley, 59, of Port Coquitlam, B.C., their daughter Jackie Johnson, 40, son-in-law Bob, 44, and grandchildren Janet, 13, and Karen, 11, of Kelowna as the family camped in Wells Gray Provincial Park, 75 km north of Kamloops.

 
 

First chance at parole for a killer

The man who shot six members of a B.C. family in a grisly killing spree that sparked a national police search will have his first chance at parole this week.

The Vancouver Sun

October 21, 2008

The man who shot six members of a B.C. family in a grisly killing spree that sparked a national police search will have his first chance at parole this week.

David Shearing, then 24, pleaded guilty to murdering six people -- girls aged 11 and 13, their parents and their grandparents -- as they camped near Wells Gray Provincial Park in August 1982.

The case sparked a Canada-wide hunt as RCMP drove a replica truck and camper across the country seeking tips. Nearly 1,300 people told police they had seen the family's truck heading east before RCMP found the burned-out hulk hidden on a mountain less than 40 km from where the family was shot to death.

Shearing was arrested in November 1983 and five months later was sentenced to 25 years in prison without parole.

The 49-year-old, who now goes by his mother's maiden name, Ennis, is scheduled to appear Wednesday before the parole board at Alberta's Bowden Institution, a medium/minimum security jail where he is serving his life sentence.

Residents in his home community joined with residents in his victims' communities this summer to gather names on a petition asking that he not be released. In two months, almost 10,000 people signed.

In August 1982, George and Edith Bentley, both in their late 60s, went camping in their Ford pickup and Vanguard camper.

They met their daughter, Jackie Johnson, and her husband, Bob, along with their two daughters in Wells Gray Park.

The family last contacted relatives on Aug. 6 when Edith called a second daughter to say they were enjoying their holiday, retired RCMP Sgt. Mike Eastham wrote in his 1999 book on the investigation.

Bob Johnson's boss in Kelowna filed a missing person report Aug. 23 when Johnson was more than a week overdue for work. On Sept. 13, RCMP working out of Clearwater found the Johnsons' burned-out Chrysler wedged between trees on a rough dirt road on Battle Mountain. In the trunk and back seat they found the charred remains of six people.

Over the next year, investigators mounted a massive aerial and ground search of the park and drove a replica truck and camper across Canada to try to generate tips.

Thirteen months after the family was reported missing, two forestry workers stumbled on the truck and camper high in the mountains, not far from the murder scene. That was Oct. 18, 1983.

Investigators narrowed their focus again to the Clearwater area and within weeks, investigators had several leads that pointed to a local man named David Shearing. One man reported that Shearing had asked him how to fix a bullet hole in a pickup truck door.

Investigators took Shearing in for questioning on Saturday, Nov. 19. He confessed and was formally charged with six counts of murder.

Shearing told investigators he had seen the six camping alone one night in a clearing just off the highway on his way home from work, and said he went back a second night with a .22-calibre rifle and killed them all. He said he didn't know why.

Investigators had doubts that Shearing had told them the whole story, but pushed forward, and the Crown got the conviction and Shearing was given the maximum sentence.

As the 24-year-old sat in a police holding cell, waiting to be processed and transferred to prison, Eastham decided to give him one last try.

"You know why I'm here, David," Eastham said, according to his 1999 book on the investigation. "I think you sexually abused those girls before you killed them.

"You told me some time ago that you would consider telling me the rest of the story after you were sentenced. We'll, I'm here to collect, David, and I'm not taking no for an answer."

Shearing finally gave in.

Eastham says Shearing told him he shot the four adults that summer night around the campfire.

The two girls were already in their tent, ready for bed. Shearing said he peered in, told them a dangerous biker gang was around and their parents had run for help.

While they stayed in the tent, he said, he loaded the bodies of their parents and grandparents into the back seat of the family car, and covered the bodies with a blanket. Then he crawled into the tent with the girls.

Shearing told Eastham he kept the girls alive for nearly a week, staying with them both at his ranch and at a small fishing cabin on the Clearwater River.

They left the cabin after they were nearly discovered. A prison guard was supervising prisoners from a local jail who were fishing on the river. He came to the door of the cabin to tell Shearing not to be alarmed.

But Shearing hid the girls behind the door and told them to stay quiet. The guard noticed nothing unusual.

The next day, Shearing said he took the girls back to his ranch. Then, one at a time, he took each girl for a walk in the woods, told her to turn around so he could urinate, then shot each sister in the back of the head.

To double-check the story, Eastham found the prison guard. He remembered the meeting exactly as Shearing had described it.

Then, RCMP Const. Ken Leibel hiked through the bush to the fishing cabin. Shearing told Leibel he carved his initials in the wall there. Leibel found them next to a second set, JJ, for 13-year-old Janet Johnson.

"That's how close everyone was to them," said Leibel, reflecting on it 25 years later. "There's some things that just stick with you."

The town of Clearwater has grown since the murders put it in the national spotlight, he said. Shearing's home was bulldozed and a row of new homes was built just down the road, said Leibel, now retired from the RCMP.

In a letter from prison to a childhood pal, Ennis asked whether the people of Clearwater still hated him.

The friend, who once called Ennis his closest friend, never responded to that letter. His answer, however, would have been yes.

When the people of Clearwater and Little Fort learned a petition was being circulated in Westbank, the Johnson family's hometown, in a bid to keep Ennis from being released, they asked that it be sent up the North Thompson Valley.

"The community didn't know what to do when we heard he was coming up for parole," said longtime Westbank residents Dorene Lander. "We wanted to do something. When he was sentenced, it seemed like a long time, but it's not."

Signed by some 9,320 people, the petition was sent to the parole board at the end of August.

Art Johnson, 76, can still barely speak of his family's tragedy. He lost his best friend when his younger brother Bob, was killed. His sister, Elaine Woods, lost her twin.

"I just hope the petition makes a difference," he said. "What he did was so terrible. What in the world was wrong with the man? And what he did to those two little girls, that's the part that tears you apart."

TIMELINE OF A TRAGEDY . . . AND THE KILLER'S BID FOR FREEDOM

1980: David Shearing runs over a body on the Wells Gray Road. He doesn't stop to confirm whether the person was dead or alive. Details only come out when he is sentenced for the Johnson-Bentley murders.

Aug. 6-13, 1982: Shearing comes across the Bentley and Johnson families, who were on a camping trip in the forests behind Clearwater. He secretly watches them and at some point during that week, he shoots the adults and disposes of their bodies.

Aug. 16, 1982: Shearing shoots and kills 11-year-old Karen Johnson, according to Sgt. Mike Eastham.

Aug. 17, 1982: Shearing shoots and kills 13-year-old Janet Johnson, according to Sgt. Mike Eastham.

Aug. 23, 1982: Police are contacted when Bob Johnson, a reliable employee, doesn't return to work from holidays as scheduled. An extensive search of the province begins for the two families.

Sept. 13, 1982: The burned wreck of the Johnson family car is located 50 metres off Battle Mountain Road and down a slight incline. Skeletal remains are found in the back seat. What appeared to be two small bodies are found in the trunk.

Sept. 14, 1982: Police find six .22-calibre shell casings at the old Bear Creek prison camp, later identified as the murder site.

Nov. 19, 1983: Shearing is arrested in Tumbler Ridge. He had moved there from Clearwater four months earlier.

April 16, 1984: Shearing pleads guilty in B.C. Supreme Court to six counts of second-degree murder.

April 17, 1984: Shearing is sentenced to life imprisonment with no eligibility to apply for parole for 25 years.

1984 to 1995: Shearing changes his surname to Ennis, his mother's maiden name.

1995: Ennis marries a Prince Albert, Sask. resident named Heather.

Oct. 22, 2008: Ennis is eligible for a legislated full parole review. He has applied for day parole, which will also be reviewed at the same hearing.

 
 

Killer denied parole says he hates 'own skin'

The Edmonton Journal

October 23, 2008

BOWDEN - With the four adults dead around the campfire, David Shearing crawled into the tent to find the object of his violent, sexual fantasies -- blond-haired, 13-year-old Janet Johnson.

But she started to cry when he hit her.

"At that point, I lost the excitement that I had felt. I wasn't able to continue any further in the sadistic part of it," Shearing told his first parole hearing Wednesday, 26 years after the crime.

With their parents and grandparents dead, Shearing said he kept the girls alive for six days and molested Janet.

Then, because he was scared he would be found, he shot them both in the back of their heads, loaded their bodies into their family vehicle and burned them.

He had never met the family before he slaughtered them.

On Wednesday, three members of the National Parole Board heard his first application for parole at Bowden Institution south of Red Deer.

Shearing's apologies and explanations weren't enough.

"The board's decision today is to deny both day and full parole," member Dave Scott said after three hours of questioning.

Shearing, now 49 and going by his mother's maiden name, Ennis, can again apply for full parole in two years.

In August 1982, George and Edith Bentley went camping near B.C.'s Wells Gray Provincial Park with their daughter Jackie Johnson, her husband Bob, and their granddaughters, Janet and 11-year-old Karen.

When they didn't turn up three weeks later, Bob Johnson's boss called police and their families started a search.

"That was a start of a never-ending nightmare," Kelly Nielsen, the girls' cousin, told the parole hearing.

It was nearly a month before Neilsen's mother phoned phone to say the Johnsons' car had been found. "They're all dead, all six of them," Nielsen remembered her aunt repeating in horror over the phone.

The family held a memorial service the day before Nielsen's 18th birthday. The charred remains of all six victims fit inside one baby-sized casket, she said.

"If I focused on it too long, I would scream until my vocal cords would no longer allow it."

Other cousins, themselves now mothers and fathers of young families, talked about growing up nearly in prison themselves, their parents afraid to let them out of their sight.

Michelle Botelho said she grew up without any family photographs because, years later, her father's emotions kept him from looking at pictures of the victims.

"You have ruined my life," she told Shearing. "I will never know the man my father was (before) his heart was ripped out of his chest."

Shearing sat with his back to the two dozen relatives in the gallery and dabbed his eyes with a tissue during the victim-impact statements.

Balding and heavy-set, he has served more than half his life in prison. Shearing told the hearing he started having violent sexual fantasies at the age of 15 and would sometimes be so preoccupied with them that he would be on "autopilot" throughout the day.

It was a product of his anger at not fitting in, he said. "I thought it was normal for a man to think that way."

When RCMP first interviewed Shearing, he confessed to killing the family but said he killed all six at once. He said he had noticed the family one day as he drove by their campsite, and went back the next day and killed them.

He didn't tell anyone he kept the girls alive until after he was sentenced.

Because no one knew he molested the girls, he was treated like a celebrity in prison, he said. Killing six people, "they thought that was OK."

Molesting two girls -- "They would have killed me."

It was also shame, he said. "My biggest fear was having people find out that I was having problems sexually, because it made me feel like less of a man."

He didn't start talking about the girls until he started treatment in 1995.

On Friday, he asked for day parole, starting with brief escorted trips out for therapy groups and eventually job interviews. He said he would count on the support of his wife of 14 years, who met and married him while he was still in prison.

Heather Ennis sat shoulder to shoulder with him Friday throughout the hearing, quietly fidgeting with her manicured nails, and then spoke at the end on his behalf.

The two have a "wonderful marriage," she said. "I have seen so much change in this man since we met (in 1993) ... I know the man's heart is in the right place and I'm just here to back him up."

When asked if he had anything else to add, Shearing pulled out a double-sided piece of creased, yellow paper.

The parole board members looked surprised, and Shearing read out his first public apology in 25 years.

"My crime was an enormous, brutal and inexcusable tragedy ... resulting in tremendous loss to the community that I can never make up for," he said.

"It makes me hate to be in my own skin."

Outside the prison gates, cousins of the dead girls said the apology meant nothing.

"Don't listen to anything he says. He has no remorse," Shelley Boden said.

"It was like looking at the devil," said Botelho, promising to return for each parole hearing Shearing gets.

"He's a waste of a body."