On hearing the new living arrangements of Shane Ertmoed, I will admit that my first reaction was to drop the “f” bomb a few times, something which was not unusual if you had ever worked with me, but maybe these ones had a little more emphasis and artistry behind them, and I did manage to string quite a few together in sequence. Of course, after I took a couple of breaths, I realized that I needed to now sell our ability to prevent another child from being hurt, when a five year old girl, was now living steps away from a homicide suspect, with only a ceiling separating them.
So at 8 that morning, in a briefing with upper management, I argued two points which would hopefully allow us to continue on course for the remaining few days. First, surveillance of the new residence was able to determine that there was a separate entry to Mr. Ertmoed’s apartment; which meant that if he tried to gain access to the upper floor, where the 5 year old lived, he would have to first come outside and then go up a separate set of stairs. Secondly and more importantly, the girl was only 5, and therefore was never left alone, and a parent or an adult would always be in the immediate presence of the girl.
The argument was accepted, albeit with some trepidation, but we were allowed to continue on. Needless to say the surveillance team was now under an even greater pressure, especially at night, when visibility to the residence was greatly limited.
(Unbeknownst to me, I would find out later that one of my manager’s, in an effort to placate the concerns of upper management, took it upon himself to go the landlord of this residence in Langley, and advise him of our homicide target now living in his rented out house. This manager, who will remain nameless, did not tell me or any of the investigators that he was about to break the police silence on our target, and in effect, jeopardize our entire operational plan. The landlord as it turns out, liked the RCMP, and decided not to tell his tenants right away, to allow us a few days as had been requested. So in the end, we survived this transgression by one of our own but anger would not sufficiently describe my reaction on finding out. My meeting, or confrontation, with this boss did not help my career aspirations I am sad to report. )
As the interview and arrest team continued their preparations, we were also busy with the reporting, the Report to Crown Counsel, and our ending Operational Plan. Other investigational results continued to come in, continued to be reviewed, evaluated, and re-assigned if necessary.
The interview team was in full bloom by Wednesday. The “team”was in its infancy in those days, just having come together more as a think tank, and there was little doubt that this case would be its biggest in terms of the investigational scope, and clearly they would be measured by the outcome and their role. This was the first time that I would not be calling on actual file investigators for the interview, feeling that a fresh set of eyes, a physically fresh group, a group which did nothing more than concentrate on the interview was a concept worth trying. Greg Bishop who was a member of the team from the North Vancouver detachment was chosen as the primary interviewer, he was going to be the actual “guy in the room” with Shane.
Greg, was similar in stature to Shane Ertmoed, and he had also played junior football like Shane, who as we now learned had played briefly for the Vernon junior football team. (we were interested to learn that Shane would have a large equipment bag when playing football) In fact, Greg bore a resemblance to Shane. Greg’s interest in conducting interviews had begun in North Vancouver detachment, where he specifically took an interest in interviewing sex offenders. This led him to join the interview team. Greg had not interviewed many if any at all homicide suspects.
So it was a bit of a risk, but I was convinced they were going to go to incredible efforts and a better prepared group would not be found. Even two psychologists were hired to take part in the developing of a psychological profile of Shane.
By Wednesday, November 1st, at the end of the day, the interview team sat in the board room with Chris and I, and all the other investigators. For three hours everyone tossed about ideas as to approaches and themes that may work with Shane based on what facts we knew about the case. It was a worthwhile exercise, and what was clearly evident was that almost everyone had taken some ownership of this file, they were all personally invested.
By now we had confirmed that the prints that had been found in Shane’s apartment were not those of Heather, they were a small childs, but who exactly would never be determined. Some minor blood stains which had been found near the bed, also turned out to not be matched to Heather. Blood stains that had been found in the car were also negative.
As to the gymn bag, the Lab was examining the handles and had now identified three DNA samples, and they were now “cooking them”. In layman’s terms this meant that a series of filters were being used to get to the pure sample of DNA. The problem was that this cooking process, this cleaning may actually remove too much, and we may be left with no core sample of DNA. It was a risk that we had no choice but to take.
Some hair had also been found in the bag, but the Lab testing and their eventual results would be at least another seven days. So any results would not be available to the investigators until after the arrest. Crown counsel would have to take a flyer as to whether we would get positive results in considering charge approval.
Also by this time, we had gone back to Shane’s Cloverdale address and rented the same apartment, allowing our forensic investigators to re-visit the site, but now they could do so with no time constraint or having to anticipate Shane’s return home.
It was also on this day that the funeral was held for Heather in Surrey. Cpl Janice Armstrong, our primary media person, attended along with our Forensic Ident group, who made a pretence of filming the crowd. This is often done by police in the event that the suspect shows up. In this case, we knew where he was, however, a lack of police presence may twig an astute media journalist who may find it strange that the police were not among the crowd. So far our secret seemed to be holding.
Wednesday quickly led into Thursday, and our report teams were up to date, and the arrest team was now prepared and ready to go once given the word. Our deadline for the arrest was Friday at 5:00 pm.
Thursday morning began with a flurry, when we learned that investigators had uncovered some letters from the complex garbage bins, hand written by what we believed was a young girl to “Shane”. They were able to quickly identify the girl and she and the father came into the office to speak with us. In the interview the girl, probably frightened, probably leery of her present father, would not elaborate on the “diary” letters. It seemed highly likely though, that Shane had befriended other girls in the complex, not a calming notion, but one would have to wait for a few days in terms of searching for other possible victims.
The afternoon also brought some more disquieting news, from the news media itself. Janice Armstrong, our media spokesperson came to meet to discuss a phone call she just received. A reporter was calling to say that they knew we were about to make an arrest, and they knew who we would be arresting!
Clearly our boast of having no leaks to date was now untrue, and our ability to stay on the timeline may now have been jeopardized. The reporter was seeking a comment from the RCMP and the story would be running that night on the 6 o’clock news. However, they wanted to make a deal.
If we allowed them to film the arrest, they would hold off until Friday to go to press.
We played out the various scenarios out loud, the what ifs, and I kept going back to my belief that they likely had one source, thus the need for comment from the police to confirm or deny. They needed confirmation because to go with such an explosive story without doubling their sources could prove devastating (at that time it was well known that news people would not run a story with only one source, sadly, that is not the case today). A final decision was made, we decided we would not have a comment; we would not confirm or deny. No deals would be made.
Of course at 6 o’clock that night, we raptly watched the VTV news, to see if our gamble had paid off. If they broke the news, then we would need to arrest Shane Ertmoed that night and not as planned. As the headlines scrolled up, the background music intensified, but there was no mention of any arrest. The bluff seemed to have worked, so as we headed out the door that night for a few hours of rest breathing a little easier.
Friday, the 3rd of November arrived. At 11 that morning I briefed all of upper management of the days activities that were coming, laid out our operational “plan” and the procedures that we were going to follow in terms of the arrest, and subsequent interview.
At 1200 noon, the Crown approved charges under Section 235(1) of the Criminal Code. 1st degree murder. This was the last piece of the operational puzzle that we needed prior to the arrest. So at 3:00 we briefed the arrest team and had them attend to await Shane Ertmoed’s return from work, outside his current residence at 206th and 44 A Avenue in Langley.
Chris and I could do nothing now but wait, so we drove to the perimeter area of the residence, a couple of blocks short of the house, occupied ourself with idle chat and monitored the surveillance and arrest teams. The calm before the media storm, waiting for that final radio transmission “subject in custody”.
Of course no arrest ever goes according to a book. The surveillance team lost him briefly for the first time in two weeks. Then they found him again. At 6:00 pm as darkness was falling and the air had become cooler, in this suburban residential area of Langley, with its tree-lined streets, and 1980 style homes Shane Ertmoed arrived home. A passenger in his commuting partner’s vehicle. Just as he stepped out of the vehicle, a plain clothes officer grabbed him by the arm and eased him out, and put up against the police vehicle, There was no struggle or resistance. On being told he was under arrest for murder, he feigned surprise, but said little else, and he was placed in the back of a van where members of the interview team awaited for the drive back to the Surrey detachment.
At 6:05 the local radio station, CKNW, was already broadcasting that an arrest had been made, and as we approached the Surrey detachment, media trucks were waiting at every intersection trying to identify the vehicle that Shane may have been in. They clearly now had their confirmation.
That evening, a press conference was held, where our managers took the podium to announce the arrest, pose for the usual congratulatory pictures, provide the usual “unable to comment at this time” to questions and provided the fodder for the 30 second sound bites. We stood at the back of the room able to hear, but out of sight, some of the adrenaline now draining away. A lot of work was looming ahead, but some satisfaction creeped in, temporarily blocking thoughts as to the further efforts that were going to be needed.
Shane spent the night in a jail cell, with an undercover roommate that had been arranged for him (in the event he would be stupid enough to say something); eating a microwaved meat pie and drinking instant coffee, no doubt preparing for the next day as well.
As he was watched on the cellblock video monitors, listened to on the audio coming from the implanted mikes in cell block, he didn’t seem scared. Was he struggling to control his thoughts, trying to steady his physical mannerisms, nonchalant, unperturbed by what had just happened to him?
As evening turned to night he curled up under the grey prisoner blanket and went to sleep, snoring slightly.
Photo Courtesy of Les Bazso of Vancouver Province newspaper Some Rights Reserved