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Posted: April 26, 2020

A ghastly crime like no other stuns Canada

“Perceptions,” by Gerry Warner

Op-Ed Commentary

I’ve seldom encountered pure evil in my life. Then again, I’ve never been to Nova Scotia.

Like many of you I’m sure, I’ve been reeling all week as the grisly details spill out from the province best known—to me at least – for its fiddle players. Now, it will forever be known for one Gabriel Wortman, a 51-year-old denturist of all things, who committed a mass murder so big it briefly pushed the deadly COVID-19 pandemic off the front pages.

Dear God, what the hell is the world coming to?

Twenty-two people dead. Maybe more. Several houses reduced to ashes. A policewoman dead. Sixteen crime scenes. Someone in a fake police uniform driving a fake police cruiser gunning people down like so many bowling pins. A situation so confusing that at one point, police were shooting at their fellow officers.

Deadly mayhem that went on for hours in a normally quiet, rural setting until finally the next day – the next day for Christ sake – a take-down at a busy truck stop with the perpetrator shot dead in front of frightened onlookers who had only stopped for gas and instead were the final witnesses to the most deadly mass murder in Canadian history.

Even Stephen King has never written a plot as surrealistic as this.

This sort of thing, if it happens at all, is supposed to happen in the US where multiple murders occur almost daily, but few bigger than this and none so cruelly bizarre.

Even from afar, a tragedy like this shakes one to his or her core. I was a reporter for many years and I’ve seen my share including one of Canada’s most infamous killings where six people, including two children, were gunned down in a family killing in Wells Grey Park in 1982. That bothered me for years, especially because the killer wasn’t apprehended for 14 months. But mass murders are usually one-time events that unfold relatively quickly.

Think of the Ecole Polytechnique “Montreal Massacre,” when 14 female students were gunned down in 1989. It was over in minutes with the deranged killer taking his own life. But the Nova Scotia sadistic outrage went on for hours, almost half-a-day, starting in darkness at a party and continuing for hours overnight along a quiet stretch of rural highway for almost 100 kilometres. It ended almost by accident when both the killer and non-uniformed police officers arrived at the same truck stop to get gas; he to make his escape and the police to chase him. If it wasn’t for this fortuitous coincidence more people likely would have been killed. As I said earlier even professional crime writers seldom come up with a story line as creepy and twisted as this.

And what now? The killer is dead. Thank God for that. But the investigation has barely started and police still believe more bodies could be found.

This will take months to unravel and raises numerous questions. The perpetrator was a strange dude for sure. He had a long-time, obsessive relationship with a girlfriend who was allegedly the first person he attacked but who miraculously managed to escape after he tied her up or left her in handcuffs. The police aren’t sure at this point. What is sure is that she will shed some badly-needed light on this gruesome case which is sorely needed.

How did he get hold of one or two old police cars and for that matter an actual RCMP uniform with patches and all? These things are supposedly not available to the public, but apparently they are if you have a diabolical mind and the right connections. The killer, according to those who knew him, was apparently a friendly enough person – “jovial” even and generous to others.

But he had “issues” with his girlfriend and a “dark side” with an obsession for policing. He was involved in at least one shady business incident and had an assault charge against him that was later dropped after he was put on probation.

Candy Palmater, a Nova Scotia comedian, who befriended the killer when they were at university together said, “I always felt he wasn’t quite comfortable in his own skin.”

Perhaps that will be Wortman’s legacy because it will be hard for any Canadian  to feel “comfortable” in their own skin just thinking of him.

– Gerry Warner is a retired journalist, who was not comfortable in his own skin writing this piece.

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