No doubt, I will be showing up at my local booksellers to pester them for this title!
Sunday, March 11, 2012 - 08:00
The Chronicle Journal
A new book on Canadian serial killers doesn't leave out the Northwest.
The book, Cold North Killers: Canadian Serial Killers, looks at some of the most notorious serial murderers in the nation's history. Its author, Lee Mellor, says it attempts to answer the question "Why?"
The book started out as a novel about an RCMP profiler, but while Mellor was doing research he realized something he found a bit surprising.
"When I thought of Canadian serial killers, I could only think of three, which were (Clifford) Olson, (Robert) Pickton, and (Paul) Bernardo," Mellor said. "It seemed like a very low number. So I started to look into it a little more, because I didn't want to replicate a serial murder that had actually occurred in real life in my fiction," he said. "I found about another eight names.
"I became more interested in writing a non-fiction book on the subject, because I saw that there was a hole in the market. . . . I ended up getting up to about 75 serial killers."
About 60 of those cases - some of which are yet to be solved - are included in Cold North Killers. Pickton, Bernardo and Olson are there, as are Edward Rulloff, William Fyfe, John Martin Crawford and Charles Kembo.
Thunder Bay and Northern Ontario aren't omitted.
Cold North Killers includes two serial murderers who committed their crimes in the Lakehead itself in Michael Hector, who shot and killed three men in 1997, and Braeden Benjamin Nugent, who beat two men to death.
There is also the case of Michael Angelo Vescio, who sexually assaulted and killed two 13-year-old boys in 1940s Winnipeg, but was born in Port Arthur, where, ironically, his crime spree came to an end during the infamous Palm Dairy robbery.
The book also includes a section on Ronald Glenn West, who's incarcerated for the murders of two Toronto women in 1970, but is also suspected in a double murder in Blind River, Ont., in 1991.
Mellor suggests that the reason some serial murders - such as those committed by Nugent - aren't very widely known is confusion over what makes a serial killer.
That question is actually an ongoing debate that draws in a wide range of individuals and organizations, including the FBI, forensic psychiatrists, professors and international law enforcement agencies, Mellor said.
"For a long time, they were saying that there had to be three victims, but more recently that's been revised to say that it's a two-victim minimum," he said. "That's mostly because . . . if you're going by three victims, you're looking at the success of the serial killer, rather than his intent. Two victims will give you a pretty good sign of his intent."
For the purposes of Cold North Killers, Mellor used a definition of a serial killer as put forward by forensic psychologist and author Katherine Ramsland: A serial killer is someone who murders at least two people in two separate incidents and has a "strong likelihood" of killing again. There is a "psychological cooling-off" period between incidents, which may serve as time to prepare for future killings.
Take Nugent as an example. He killed two people in Thunder Bay, and was described by police upon his arrest as a "serial killer in the making."
Nugent's case stretches back to 1995. He pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder for the vicious beating deaths of two Thunder Bay men earlier that year.One of the victims was developmentally disabled; the other was a loner who was heavily intoxicated when the murder occurred. Nugent died of a methadone overdose while incarcerated in a southern Ontario prison in 2005.
But still, despite the viciousness of the assaults as reported by police at the time - both men were beaten so savagely they "looked like they had been in a motor vehicle accident," and both actually died by suffocating on their own blood - the case isn't well-known across Canada, Mellor said.
"Perhaps in the case of Nugent, it was the victims themselves," Mellor said. "This is an unfortunate reality. When you have people from the middle class, young with lots of friends and connections, being killed - like as in the Bernardo case, the (Russell) Williams case - it tends to go more high-profile, especially if that victim goes missing. There are big searches, it becomes a media focus."
"However, if you look at Nugent's victims . . . I think that the types of victims that are being selected certainly plays into it," he said. "Also, the nature of the crimes. The Bernardo thing involved abduction, torture, bodies being found. It involved Karla Homolka, an accomplice. All these ways the press can look at the story. If you're looking at the Nugent case really simplistically, it just comes across as a psychopathic young man just beating people to death. It doesn't have all those angles that you might have with, say, a Robert Pickton and the whole pig farm thing."
Cold North Killers takes a wide-ranging look at Canadian serial murder, examining the first-ever Canadian cases and attempting to understand how they're created through the lens of the old nature vs. nurture question.
And Mellor also sets out to raise awareness about peripheral issues. He cites the chapter on victims, which is about the kind of people that serial killers typically prey on, such as prostitutes, homosexual men, young people who have left home, aboriginals and children.
"There are certain subgroups of society that are more at risk," he said. "Maybe this should be addressed."
Through it all, Mellor is attempting to answer the question of why certain people do what they do.
"After the Williams trial, there was a woman on the news saying, 'We just want to know why this happened,'" Mellor said. "That's something that I delve into a lot, the childhood factors and different things like fetishes and psychopathy. I hope that it gives people an understanding of what motivates these kinds of killers," he said. "I think that when you start to understand them a little more, they become less alien, and you actually become less afraid of them."
Cold North Killers was officially released March 5. It can be found at major book retailers, including Chapters.