I’m sure many police officers scratch their heads when they see me at crime scenes snapping photographs.
Some undoubtedly judge, others hopefully support.
I’m not in this to win hearts or make friends.
When I decided to create a vehicle to bridge the gap between what the police and press tell you, I realized I needed to have original content. I couldn’t rely on the press or copyrighted material to enhance my stories. I also didn’t want to publish photographs you would see in print or other forms of media.
That desire created the need to attend crime scenes so I could secure and publish original content.
It’s been an educational experience.
It took some adjusting.
I must confess, its been strange being on the other side of that yellow tape.
It’s also been emotionally difficult at times.
There are stories behind those captures.
Stories I’d like to share.
Double Homicide Rocks Quiet Neighbourhood
On Saturday, May 17, 2013 at 8:20 a.m., I received a telephone call about a homicide in Charleswood.
Police were alerted to the crime by the then accused, now convicted, killer Seymour Lloyd Sharpe (44).
Sharpe brutally murdered his girlfriend Natasha Jeffrey (37) and a second victim identified as Ronald Dabreo (39).
As it happens, I live only minutes from the crime scene and arrived at the location long before any media outlets.
Police had cordoned off the crime scene with reels of yellow tape while Winnipeg Ambulance Services patiently idled on the street waiting for the premise to be secured.
That’s when things started to get real.
People started arriving.
It was clear, they’d heard something was up but had no idea regarding the scope of the tragedy.
That picture became clear when the officers at the scene flipped that switch from crime scene investigators to compassionate messengers of the worst possible news.
It’s not something they teach at the Police Academy.
Death notifications are one of the most difficult tasks police officers will perform during the course of their careers.
They don’t teach compassion or sensitivity either.
I watched it all unfold.
I was struck by the care and concern demonstrated by the officers.
Police officers are most often portrayed as heavy-handed thugs who use excessive force in their daily abuse of the citizenry, but I was seeing was something very different.
Something members of the public rarely see.
A strong hand with a soft touch rubbing a young man’s back trying to comfort and console him.
I was witnessing tremendous compassion.
The man who received the news clearly suffered a profound loss, his face wretched in the worst kind of agony.
It was an emotional, gut wrenching scene.
I snapped a lot of photographs that day.
Powerful images of people in shock, denial, fear, emotional and crying.
I chose not to post the images out of respect for their privacy.
I drive by that house almost everyday.
I think of those officers every-time.
I doubt they were recognized for the exceptional job they did that day.
I was proud of them.
A Tragedy of Epic Proportions
On Wednesday, July 24, 2013 at 8:00 a.m., the City of Winnipeg was sent reeling after news broke regarding a St James woman who took the lives of her two young children.
Police would subsequently confirm Lisa Gibson (32) had drowned her children Anna (2) and Nicholas (3 mths) in the bathtub of their home.
Lisa fled the home and was the subject of an intense police search.
On Saturday, July 27, 2013 at 9:30 a.m., police recovered Lisa’s body from the fast flowing waters of the Red River.
The cause of death was identified as drowning, the manner of death – suicide.
The media at the crime scene seemed stunned by the tragic events unfolding on that day.
No one was talking, sharing stories or even discussing the horrific nature of the call.
I stood with them in silence watching neighbours and every day people drop off teddy bears and flowers at a make shift memorial on the boulevard.
That’s when it happened.
I heard a sound in the distance.
A familiar sound.
It was the sound of clear blue skies, sunshine and warm weather.
The sound that often made my young daughters run like crazed little people out to the front street.
I asked a reporter standing beside me, “Do you hear that?”
“Yes,” she answered. “What is it?”
“It’s an ice-cream truck,” I replied
I moved to the street corner and watched as the truck approached.
As it pulled up to the intersection I snapped the picture.
It was the contrast that struck me more than anything else.
One of our greatest symbols of summertime childhood joy descending upon a crime scene of unspeakable tragedy.
Police tape at a murder scene where two young innocents lost their lives and a deliciously decorated ice cream truck.
It’s not the kind of moment you can every really forget.
Double Murder in Wolseley
On Wednesday, September 4, 2013 at 7:50 a.m., members of the Winnipeg Police Service discovered the bodies of Unice Ophelia Crow (19) and her common-law husband Trevor James Sinclair (31) in their residence at 210 Chestnut Street.
At the time of the killings police did not rule out the possibility the deaths were caused as a result of a murder / suicide.
Subsequent investigation resulted in 2nd degree murder charges being laid against Jeffrey Kionke (44) of Regina, Saskatchewan.
Police indicated Kionke was a resident at the rooming house where the homicides occurred.
When I attended the crime scene I was immediately reminded of the Gibson case.
A quiet neighbourhood, a beautiful sunny fall day and sidewalk chalk.
That’s right, sidewalk chalk.
Evidence of the presence of little girls and boys playing outdoors, enjoying their freedom, creativity, friendships and the simple joys of life.
Meanwhile, directly across the street, two innocent people lay dead, brutally stabbed to death.
Once again, two diametrically opposed realities collide right before my eyes.
In Wolseley of all neighbourhoods.
Once again, it was the contrast that resonated with me.
St James Bloodletting
It was one of the bloodiest crime scenes I’ve seen.
On Friday, November, 15, 2013 at 9:00 p.m., EMS personnel were dispatched to The Capri Apartments at 2130 Portage Avenue regarding the report of an assault.
Upon arrival police transported a total of three (3) people to the hospital, one in critical condition with upper body injuries.
Brandon Lee How (39) of Winnipeg subsequently died from wounds he suffered in the attack.
Dawn Marie Mcfayden (32) was charged with 2nd degree murder in connection with the killing.
When I arrived on scene it was early in the investigation.
Members of the Forensic Identification Unit were working the case, strategizing and beginning the evidence collection process.
I stayed well out-of-the-way and went about my business, snapping photographs and quietly observing the officers doing their work.
At one point, a female officer emerged from the rear of the building and started to slowly make her way to the front street.
As she walked I snapped a few photographs not knowing if I would use them or not.
As an amateur photographer, heavy emphasis on the word amateur, I often don’t know what kind of quality an image will have until I download it on my computer and view it on a larger scale.
In this case I did just that.
When I arrived home I uploaded the images and started the editing process.
That’s when I came across a powerful image.
It was looking at the face of an experienced police officer.
The expression on her face appeared hard, focused, determined.
The look in her eyes fixed, steady, strong.
There was no discernible emotion.
Police officers are trained to push normal human emotion down so it doesn’t interfere with the work.
As I looked at the photo I thought, “I wonder just how much those eyes have seen.”
Most people can’t even imagine.
The truth is, police officers see hard, emotionally damaging things.
I wondered how she was.
I hoped she was okay.
I hoped she was able to handle the continuous exposure to the dark side of humanity.
I hoped she could laugh and find joy in her life even after decades of exposure to the aftermath of grotesque violence and brutality.
It’s a lot to expect.
It might even be unrealistic.
I guess it would be more realistic to hope the job hasn’t changed her too, too much.
At least, that’s my hope.
The Downtown Safety Bubble Bursts
I’ve always enjoyed participating in the downtown safety debate.
Mayor Sam Katz was defiant in his proclamation downtown Winnipeg was a safe, secure place.
A number of other politicians and business entities trumpet the same rhetoric.
When I’m asked the question, “Is downtown Winnipeg safe?”
I’m always honest with my answer, “Not so much.”
The downtown murder of Cyril Weenusk should end the debate.
On Tuesday, July 5, 2016 at 3:50 a.m., Weenusk was attacked and brutally murdered right in front of the MTS Centre at Donald Street & Portage Avenue.
Weenusk, a resident of Oxford House, Manitoba, had travelled to Winnipeg on a medical escort for his father who was fighting cancer.
It seems Weenusk was returning to his hotel after a night out when he encountered his killers.
Geordie Douglas Wood (22) of St Theresa Point, Manitoba and Renelle McDougall of Winnipeg were subsequently charged with 2nd degree murder in connection with the killing.
Police spokesperson Constable Rob Carver described the murder as a random occurrence between two parties.
That’s right, random violence.
When I attended the crime scene I was surprised to find I was the only representative of the media standing outside of the yellow tape.
The police had cordoned off vast areas of the downtown that included the entire block of Portage Avenue between Hargrave and Smith Street.
Nevertheless, I found a location to shoot a few photographs.
The distance from the crime scene meant I was going to need my zoom lens to secure a decent photo for my story. As I zoomed in, I was taken aback by the vast amount of blood staining the sidewalk, curb and roadway.
(The blood stains weren’t apparent using the naked eye.)
Ultimately, it wasn’t the blood that made this case memorable.
It was the painstaking work I saw being performed by members of the WPS Identification Unit.
I watched in silence as the officers meticulously organized their thoughts, created a game plan and began the process of collecting the evidence. It was like watching a well choreographed play with two professional actors playing their parts.
It was during the evidence collection process that the human tragedy and the ramifications of a senseless violent killing played out before me.
Scattered among the yellow evidence markers were a number of clothing items presumably owned by Weenusk.
Items like a baseball cap, a pair of sneakers, a grey hoody, grey pants and a black Adidas backpack with an orange stripe.
The first items to be collected were a pair of heavily blood stained sneakers, both placed in large brown paper bags.
(The amount of blood was grotesque and was evidence of the brutality of the killing.)
Then the backpack, hoody and finally the pants.
The pants contained a black wallet secured to the waistband by a silver chain.
I watched closely as a Forensic Investigator carefully opened the wallet to reveal the contents.
The first visible item was a family photograph situated so it would be immediately displayed when the wallet was opened.
The fact the photograph was placed in such a prominent place tells us something.
There were four faces in the picture.
(I would later learn Weenusk was a father of four young boys.)
It immediately struck me that this man, this man who had been so brutally killed, had a family, a family that he obviously loved and a family that I imagined loved him.
It was an agonizing revelation.
I felt their pain in that moment.
As I was digesting the tragedy I looked around and was surprised to see I was the only person seemingly aware of the magnitude of the events transpiring on this busy public street.
No press, no cameras, no onlookers, no one.
It was like this violent bloody crime scene was invisible somehow.
The next thing to come out of that wallet was a photo ID card.
It was at that moment I knew the man had an identity, other than victim that is.
The man had a name.
His name was Cyril Weenusk.
That brings us back to the safety debate.
Is downtown Winnipeg safe?
I’ll stick with my answer.
One of These Things
On Friday, October 20, 2017 at 10:45 p.m., EMS personnel were dispatched to the 700 block of Sherbrook Street regarding the report of shots fired.
Upon arrival, officers found a man identified as John Tuil Jok (29) suffering from a gunshot wound (s).
Jok died from his injuries.
Police subsequently charged Majak Mabior Kon (25) and Randi Tara Lynn Duke (27) with 1st degree murder.
Information received indicated the killing was believed to be gang related.
When I arrived on scene the first thing that caught my attention was the obvious gang tags spray painted on a garage in the rear lane. The existence of gang tags such as these tells us this is a dangerous neighbourhood.
The next thing I noticed troubled me.
Directly across the rear lane from the homicide scene was the Maryland Tot Lot, a children’s playground stuck right in the middle of a gang infested neighbourhood.
“That’s just wrong” I thought to myself.
As I went about my business, I saw several families walk past the yellow tape. Fathers, mothers and children in strollers seemingly numb to the precipitous gang violence infecting their neighbourhood.
No one said a word.
No one approached the police officers to ask what happened.
No one seemed surprised.
A sandbox, a slide and a set of swings meters from the yellow tape.
As I positioned myself to frame my shot I couldn’t help but think of that famous Sesame Street song;
“One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn’t belong, can you tell which thing is not like the others, by the time I finish my song?”
The lyrics “One of these things just doesn’t belong,” echoed in my mind.
Gang violence, blood shed and yellow tape just don’t belong in places you find sand boxes, slides and swing sets.
I felt sorry for the children who had to grow up in that neighbourhood.
I felt sorry for the parents who were stuck there.
It made me angry.
It told me we have a lot of work to do.
That’s it, my stories from behind the lens.
I hope you found them insightful & worthy of telling.
Several of the killers featured in this story have proceeded through the criminal courts.
- Seymour Lloyd Sharpe (47) went to trial and was convicted by a jury of two counts of 2nd degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for twenty-two (22) years.
- Jeffrey Kionke was convicted of two counts of 2nd degree murder by Queen’s Bench Justice J. Keyser. Kionke testified at trial indicating he witness Crow and Sinclair stab each other to death. The Justice indicated, “The other scenarios as put forward by defence as possible are far-fetched and unbelievable and do not in any way raise a reasonable doubt.” (The Court decision indicates Sinclair was stabbed 16 times while Crow suffered at least 12 stab wounds.)
- Dawn Marie McFadyen (35) plead guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter and was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison. The Crown indicated the issue of self-defence was a significant consideration in reducing the charge.
- The charges against Geordie Douglas Wood & Renelle McDougall are still pending.
- The charges against Majak Mabior Kon & Randi Tara Lynn Duke are still pending.