For days in the summer of 1982, a predator stalked a family at their campsite in British Columbia, then made his move. The trail of death and destruction David William Shearing left behind is remembered by all who visit Canada’s Wells Gray Provincial Park.
- “Air Search To Begin for Missing Family” by staff for The Vancouver Sun
- “Police Air Search for Lost Families Heading North” and “Remote Logging Road Searched” by staff for The Vancouver Sun
- “Search For Families Reaches Alberta” by Jon Ferry for The Province
- “Trips Around B.C. ‘were way of life’ for missing couple” by staff for The Vancouver Sun
- “No New Clues on Vanishing Six” by The Times Colonist
- “Psychic Detailed Killings” by Keith Morgan for The Province
- “400 Gather ‘to show love; for Slain Johnson Family” by staff for The Vancouver Sun
- “Service for the Bentleys Marks ‘Lives well spent’ by staff for The Vancouver Sun
- “Police Not Interested in Car Sighting” by Province Staff for The Province
- “Massacre Camper Found” and “Massacre Mystery Deepens” by Terry Glavin and Rick Ouston for The Vancouver Sun
- “Few Clues Expected in Camper” by Larry Still for The Vancouver Sun
- “Extra police guard suspect in B.C. camper-murders case” by Staff for The Ottawa Citizen
- “B.C. Murders Suspect Charged” by Staff for The Leader-Post
- “Arrest Eases Anxious Town” Gerry Bellett for The Vancouver Sun
- “Slaying Suspect ‘Shy’, ‘Good Worker’” by Staff for The Times Colonist
- “B.C. Mass Murder Suspect Remanded” by Staff for The Calgary Herald
- “Murder Suspect Remanded” by staff for The Edmonton Journal
- “B.C. Murder suspect is fit to stand trial” by staff for The Leader-Post
- “The Disturbing Story of David Shearing and The Wells Gray Park Camping Murders in Canada” by Strange Outdoors
- The Seventh Shadow: The Wilderness Manhunt for a Brutal Mass Murderer by Michael Eastham and Ian McLeod
- Bad News HQ: Documentary, “The Wells Gray Gunman”
- David William Shearing, Muderpedia
- “Deny Day and Full Parole to David Ennis (aka Shearing) For The Brutal Mass Murder of the Johnson-Bentley Family
- “Westbank Efforts To Keep Killer Behind Bars Growing” by Kathy Michaels for Kelowna Capital News
- “Notorious Murderer of West Kelowna Family Waives Right to Parole Review” by Kathy Michaels for Kelowna Capital News
- “Ennis Waives Parole Hearing 34 Years After Murdering Family in Wells Gray Park” by Sarah Payne for Tricity News
- “No Closure to Johnson Bentley Murder Tragedy: Man Convicted of the Johnson Bentley Family Murders Can Seek Parole Release in 2021” by Barry Gerding for BC Local News
- Murder Times Six: The True Story of the Wells Gray Park Murders by Alan Warren
Hi park enthusiasts…
I’m your host Delia D’Ambra, and the case I have for you today shook me to my core.
It’s the harrowing tale of a through-and-through predator who literally hunted a family for days in the wilderness of British Columbia, Canada.
What happened to the Johnson-Bentley family inside the rugged and beautiful woods of Wells Gray Provincial Park in the summer of 1982 is considered to this day one of the worst mass murders in Canadian history.
The park is located five hours north of East Vancouver and is one of 391 parks in the country that’s considered a “class-A” wilderness area.
“Class-A” status means that the parkland is fully protected no one, including commercial companies is permitted to extract industrial resources from it, even though the land is rich for mining and logging.
The park is mostly uninhabited and since1939 has been considered a pristine sanctuary for nature.
In August 1982, one man used several remote locations within the park to carry out horrific crimes, forever changing two families and the natural fear of people across Canada.
This Park Predators…
On August 22nd, 1982, a 38-year-old man named Kurt Krack was walking through some thick woods in Wells Gray Provincial Park picking berries when he noticed something strange.
There, a few feet ahead of him stashed behind a bunch of brush and berry bushes was the burned-out shell of a sedan.
Kurt initially thought the car was just another case of someone dumping abandoned property in the park. With so much uninhabited wilderness, it wasn’t uncommon for people to just let nature take its course with unwanted junk, but the spot where the car was located, so far off the beaten path, seemed more than odd to him.
The sedan wasn’t close to any roads so Kurt figured whoever had put it there, intended for it to never be found.
The fact that it was so charred made Kurt concerned enough that he couldn’t get it out of his head and towards the end of his hike, he stopped two people riding on horseback and asked them to call the local Royal Canadian Mounted Police office to report it.
Kurt had no idea what he’d found would launch one of the largest manhunts in Canadian history and be the critical clue in solving six murders.
SFX of car doors shutting & engine starting
A month before Kurt’s find, 44-year-old Robert Johnson, his wife, 41-year-old Jackie, and their two daughters, 13-year-old Janet and 11-year-old Karen left their home in West Bank, British Columbia for a long-planned camping trip.
The family intended to spend a few weeks hiking and fishing with Jackie’s parents, George and Edith Bentley in Wells Gray Provincial Park.
One of Robert’s best friends described the family as “very close” and said they all got along really well, especially when they spent time in the outdoors camping together.
Robert and Jackie left their house on August 2nd and spent a few days visiting friends in Red Deer, Alberta before making their way to Clearwater, British Columbia, a town just outside of the Wells Gray Park boundary.
According to The Vancouver Sun, the family left their friends in Alberta on Friday, August 6th, and made the eight-hour drive to Clearwater, British Columbia to meet up with George and Edith on Saturday, August 7th.
After 36 years of marriage, George and Edith had sold their home near Vancouver the previous year and were taking a lot of road trips in their brand new 1981 Ford pickup truck that had a camper attached to the bed of it.
According to the documentary, The Wells Gray Gunman, the camping trip with Robert, Jackie, and the girls was the first time Edith and George had been to Wells Gray Park.
In the three years prior, the couple had taken a lot of summer trips to the Southwestern United States and other parts of British Columbia but now that they had the camper and truck they were going to take up traveling full-time.
George and Edith’s friends told The Vancouver Sun that the elderly couple usually liked to camp in secluded spots because they didn’t like crowds. George was an introvert who enjoyed quiet afternoons fishing and camping by himself or with his granddaughters. Edith was the more outgoing of the two and lived to be on trips with her family and grandchildren whenever she could. In addition to their adult daughter Jackie, George and Edith also had two other grown-up children, Brian and Karen who lived near Vancouver.
George and Edith’s friends told the newspaper that the couple was routine about checking in with family or friends during their travels. At the age of 66 George’s health wasn’t super great. He’d been forced to take an early retirement from a career job at a logging mill because of an ongoing heart condition. Edith, who was 59, cared for her husband closely. She never missed the opportunity to phone one of their kids while they were traveling to let someone know how they were doing and how George was feeling. She always wanted someone to know where they’d be and would often send letters or call whenever they got to a new city or park.
The Johnson and Bentleys plan, according to their friends and co-workers, was to spend about ten days on vacation in Wells Gray Park but after ten days it was August 16th and no one had heard from anyone in the two families.
Now, at first, this wasn’t a huge alarm. You have to remember this is 1982, no one was using cell phones or tweets or Facebook updates to stay in touch with family or friends back then.
The first pang of concern didn’t come until Robert didn’t show up for his scheduled shift at Gorman Brothers Lumber in Westbank on Monday, August 16th. His absence caused his coworkers to start to think something was up.
According to The Vancouver Sun, Robert was the mill’s head sawyer and never in his two decades of working at the mill had he ever overstayed his vacation days before. His colleagues wanted to take their concerns to the mill’s manager, a man named Alan Bonar, but Alan was on vacation too.
So, instead, the mill workers called Jackie’s brother and sister, Brian and Karen who were also George and Edith’s other two adult children.
Right away, they knew something wasn’t right.
Jackie’s siblings went to Robert and Jackie’s house in Westbank to check on things and found the home eerily quiet but completely normal. According to an article in the Vancouver Sun the house still had power and an operable phone line, the family’s shoes were sitting on a staircase, food was in the pantry and there were unpaid bills neatly piled on the coffee table. All of the things you’d expect to see in the three-bedroom home if a family were planning to come right back.
Trying not to think the worst, the family members waited a few more days to hopefully hear from either Robert and Jackie or Edith and George.
But on August 23rd, Robert’s manager returned to Gorman Brothers Lumber from his own vacation and realized Robert was STILL MIA. Bewildered that one of his most-trusted supervisors was not showing up to work, Alan started calling Robert’s friends and family to figure out what was going on.
Karen, George and Edith’s other adult daughter, said the last time she’d spoken with her mother was on Friday, August 6th. Edith had called her from a payphone in Clearwater and mentioned they were looking forward to meeting up with Robert, Jackie, and the two girls.
Everyone Robert’s boss spoke with echoed his own dark fears. And as they spoke, the first thought in everyone’s mind was that maybe the Johnsons and Bentleys had gotten into a car accident or were trapped or lost somewhere in the dense forest.
So, the next day, August 24th, friends and family officially filed a missing persons report with the local branch of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
With that information in hand, RCMP officials launched a massive search in Wells Grey Provincial Park and investigators fanned out across the nearby town of Clearwater, where they knew Edith and George had been and where the Johnson’s had told their friends in Alberta they were headed.
Investigators had to rely on information from eyewitnesses who’d seen either the Johnsons’ sedan or the Bentleys’ truck and camper the weekend of August 7th and 8th or any time between then and August 23rd.
According to The Vancouver Sun, authorities were able to confirm that before calling their adult daughter Karen, George and Edith had signed their names in a park register book on August 3rd but after that, government employees in the park had gone on strike and no one put out the register in the days following that.
So, based on the logbook and the known phone call placed from Clearwater, RCMP investigators felt sure George and Edith had come and gone freely from the park between August 3rd and 6th but they had no concrete way of knowing when Robert and Jackie and the girls had arrived to meet up with them.
On September 1st, The Province reported that a gas station clerk near Clearwater told police that they’d given the Johnson family directions into the park via an old logging road the weekend of August 7th and 8th.
The clerk positively identified the girls’ pictures and told RCMP detectives that the family had specifically asked where camping areas were in the park that were close to wild berry patches. At the time, the girls were excited to spend time berrying picking on the trip after they met up with their grandparents. The directions the clerk gave the Johnsons would have put them on the old rural logging road the same day heavy rainfall hit the area.
This eyewitness report confirmed for investigators that the two families had indeed made plans to meet up in the park and find a campsite where they could be together…but the question in everyone’s minds was, did one or both of the families get into an accident during the bad weather?
SFX of airplanes circling/buzzing overhead
Six days into the search, RCMP detectives brought in airplanes to fly over Clearwater and most of Wells Gray Provincial Park. The pilots were instructed to look in washed-out areas for any sign of the Johnson’s 1979 Plymouth Caravelle and the Bentley’s Ford Pickup truck with a camper on the back. The sedan would be harder to spot, but authorities knew the truck with the camper would be larger.
Friends told investigators that the Bentleys had an aluminum metal boat strapped to the top of the camper, which should have made it stand out even more.
Pilots were also instructed to be on the lookout for any tents or remnants of tents in remote camping locations of the park.
Shockingly, two weeks of intense searches went by without a single clue about the family’s whereabouts surfacing. No sign of the two cars, no metal boat, no tents, nothing.
Police didn’t know it but they were actually sitting on a huge clue, the entire time.
According to several Canadian news reports, 19 days passed between when berry-picker Kurt Krack had first stopped horseback riders in Wells Gray Provincial Park and asked them to call police about a burned-out car and when those riders came forward to RCMP detectives with that information.
On September 9th, they finally reported what Kurt had told them he’d found in the woods.
Keith Morgan reported for The Province that three more days passed before RCMP looked into the report.
So, just to recap, that’s 25 DAYS after the Johnsons and Bentleys were first overdue from their vacation and almost a complete month since they’d started their camping trip before RCMP officials learned that a burned-out car was found in the park around the time they vanished.
When investigators finally got a hold of Kurt on September 12th, he took detectives to the spot and sure enough they found the burned-out shell of a 1979 Plymouth Caravelle camouflaged in the wilderness. The sedan was the same year make and model police knew the Johnson family had been driving.
When RCMP detectives checked the license number and it came back as belonging to Bob and Jackie Johnson.
When officers peered inside they realized that whoever burned the car didn’t just splash a little bit of accelerant around and light a match. Detectives knew that whoever set it on fire had to have doused it with gasoline because everything inside was melted. All that remained were the springs for the seats and metal floorboards.
Piled in the backseat area was a bunch of ashes and what appeared to be an assortment of human bones. Right away, detectives called in a forensic photographer and pathologist to process the car.
A man named Harvard Boswell was the forensics photographer RCMP called in and he told producers for The Wells Grey Gunman that his job was to photograph and record all of the evidence to make sure everything was documented and collected. He said the task took hours.
When a forensic pathologist arrived and began examining the pile of ash and bones in the back seat, he recognized several of the bones appeared to be fractured in multiple places. Some of them weren’t distinguishable at all because the fire had reduced them to ash but he could at least tell they belonged to people, not animals. Next to the bones, he found the metal head of an axe. The wooden handle was completely gone but the iron blade remained.
After the pathologist spent a few hours removing all of the bones from the back seat, he determined that in total, four sets of adult skeletal remains had been piled in the sedan and set on fire.
Growing suspicious that the remains belonged to their two missing families, Bob and Jackie Johnson and Edith and George Bentley, the police decided to search the car’s truck for remains that they believed could be 11-year-old Karen and 13-year-old Janet.
RCMP investigators got a tire iron and pried open the trunk and just as they suspected, inside they found two more sets of burned bones both appeared to belong to children.
Eventually, dental records for all six victims confirmed what police already knew in their hearts. The bodies belonged to the Johnsons and Bentleys.
The pathologist noted in his report that because of the way all of the remains were positioned, piled on top of one another, it was highly unlikely they’d died in the fire. He determined it was more likely all six of the victims were killed before being stuffed into the car and setting it ablaze.
According to the documentary The Wells Gray Gunman, one of the victims’ skulls had a distinct bullet entry hole that indicated they’d been shot. When the pathologist conducted an autopsy on that skull, he was able to retrieve a bullet.
Within a few weeks, the ballistic results came in and confirmed the bullet was fired from a .22 caliber rifle. RCMP officials didn’t release that information to the public right away though. All they told the media was that they believed both families had been shot to death. They wanted to keep the specific details of the type of murder weapon a secret from the public because it was a detail that only the killer or killers would have known.
News of the six gruesome murders and arson spread far and wide across Canada.
Families in all of the provinces, but especially British Columbia, were fearful a violent murderer was on the loose and out there waiting to strike again. People and news outlets also theorized that maybe the perpetrator wasn’t working alone and there could be a network of killers in and around Wells Gray Park.
I mean, after all, there were six victims found inside the Johnson’s torched sedan. Everyone was asking how one person would be able to overpower that many people?
SFX of funeral music
On September 24th, 400 people gathered in the town Westbank to honor the Johnsons and Bentleys. After marrying in July 1961, Robert and Jackie had planted deep roots in British Columbia and were well-liked. Robert had worked for the Gorman Brothers lumber company for almost 25 years and was described by his coworkers as being a dedicated family man who loved his wife and two daughters deeply. There isn’t much information out there on Jackie, but in her obituary, she was described as a quiet and unassuming person who shared a lot of her life with her two daughters.
According to the Vancouver Sun, 13-year-old Janet was an honor student at her school and was involved in sports and music. Karen was described by her teachers as always being full of humor and sass.
During the family’s eulogy, Robert’s boss talked about how much the family meant to the Westbank community, saying quote— “Their memories will live on and on. Those of us who knew them will be better off for it. Their loss cannot be replaced”– end quote.
Detectives with RCMP were equally as disturbed by the crime…but investigators had to focus their attention on understanding the crime scene in and around the Johnsons’ car. Which, not surprising, was huge. We’re talking dozens of acres of Wells Gray Park that could have been part of the crime scene in one way or another.
Investigators started combing through as much of the woods near the burned-out car as possible to find more clues.
One rural dirt road a few hundred yards away from the sedan caught their attention. On that road, they noticed a freshly chopped tree off to the side that appeared to have been cut down, almost as if a path was being cleared to the spot where the Johnsons’ car ended up.
The chopped-down tree made a lot of sense to investigators because of that axe head they’d found with the victims’ bodies in the back seat of the burned-out car. Police connected the two things and realized the killer had intended to hide the sedan as far into the woods as possible.
Whoever they were, they’d gone as far as bringing an axe with them to clear a path, which RCMP found incredibly disturbing and intriguing at the same time.
Despite making good connections like this early on, lead investigator Michael Eastham told the producers for The Wells Gray Gunman that the big problem facing the investigation from the start was that all of the victims weren’t found until more than a month after they’d disappeared.
That kind of delay really set RCMP detectives back in terms of being able to quickly develop a suspect and Investigator Eastham said he knew that reality would be very difficult for the public and families of the victims to accept.
SFX of tow truck loading car
Eastham was determined to make progress though. A day after discovering the Johnsons’ car he ordered crews to tow it to an RCMP warehouse for further processing. However, not much else came from that examination, simply because the fire had consumed the inside.
Right after that, RCMP’s Vancouver Serious Crime Unit arrived to assist Eastham and the rest of the regional police officers.
One thing all of the investigators noted right away was that George and Edith’s pickup truck and camper was missing from the crime scene. They knew if they could find that vehicle, it might bring them one step closer to identifying the killer.
Investigator Eastham made finding the truck his top priority and once again, hundreds of law enforcement officers began searching Wells Grey Park. They split the vast wilderness into quadrants and began walking trails and roadways looking for the vehicle or any tire tracks.
RCMP sent up airplanes to survey the woods from the sky but the forest cover was so thick that those efforts weren’t all that helpful.
At the same time, investigator Eastham and a squadron of officers started door-knocking at every home in Clearwater, British Columbia. They wanted to speak with every single person who lived and worked in town to try and figure out if anyone had seen or heard anything that could help the investigation.
Within a week, RCMP got two major breaks. A park employee came forward to report that during the week of August 9th they’d seen Edith and George’s Ford pickup with the camper fixed to the back of it parked in a remote clearing inside Wells Grey Park. This specific area was called Bear Creek Campsite.
There was no water hookup or bathhouse facility near the campsite. It was just a patch of flat brush where you could build a fire and set up a tent.
The clearing was not a well-known camping area but friends of Robert Johnson said he knew where it was located and has spoken once about taking his family there.
Immediately, investigators went out to the area and when they arrived, were in for the surprise of their lives.
SFX of police radio chirp
Almost as soon as they arrived at Bear Creek Campsite in the wilderness of Wells Gray Park they secured it with crime scene tape.
It was obvious after quickly scanning the matted down grass and recently used fire pit that someone had been camping at the location within the last month.
Investigators began looking around for clues and quickly located a cooking pot in the ashes of the firepit that looked incredibly similar to one that the Johnsons family had owned.
Police also found an unopened pack of beer bottles lodged in a nearby creek. It appeared as if someone had put them there to stay cold but never returned to drink them. I can’t find any reports that state what specific brand of beer the bottles were but according to RCMP investigator Eastham’s interview with The Wells Gray Gunman, when authorities asked Bob’s friends if he drank that particular brand of beer from the creek bottles, everyone said yes.
This was looking promising but after a few hours of processing the campsite, that’s when officers got their bingo moment and KNEW they’d found their initial crime scene where the murders took place.
In the grass, officers discovered six .22 caliber spent shell casings from a rifle.
Whoever killed them struck there then transported their bodies to where the burned-out sedan was eventually found. According to media reports, the distance between where the car was found and the campsite was only a few miles apart.
At the time, RCMP didn’t release to the media anything about the Bear Creek Campsite or the shell casings. Detectives were very tight-lipped because they didn’t want to tip off whoever the killer was.
Right around the time the bullet casings were discovered, investigators got another lucky break. Someone came forward to report they’d seen the Bentleys’ truck and camper driving east away from British Columbia in the weeks that the family was missing.
The tipster told RCMP detectives that he’d followed the same exact make and model truck into a gas station in the town of North Battleford, Saskatchewan. More than a thousand miles away from Wells Gray Park.
The witness said two rugged-looking men got out of the truck and went into a restaurant inside the gas station to eat.
When RCMP followed up on the lead they received several more reports of similar sightings. Witnesses who worked at the gas station described the two men as being in their mid 20’s, appeared to be scruffy and disheveled and spoke with thick French-Canadian accents.
Detectives brought in a sketch artist to create drawings of the men and not long after RCMP flooded local and national media outlets with the composite sketches. Authorities also released pictures of the Bentley’s missing camper and truck.
After that, more than 1,200 tips from across Canada poured into investigators. Some of the information was bogus but a lot of the reports were super similar.
The pattern police noticed in all of the tips was that sightings indicated the truck and camper were traveling east across Canada, a little further every day after the murders made headlines.
For example, tipsters who came forward with information shortly after the murders were announced in mid-September said they’d seen the truck and camper in eastern British Columbia. Then a few days after that somebody in Alberta reported they’d seen it, a week or two after that it was in Saskatchewan, then Manitoba, and eventually East Ontario.
So, police were sure that whoever stole the truck, and likely committed the murders, was definitely headed away from British Columbia.
Through the end of 1982 and into the first few months of 1983 investigators processed and cataloged all of the information and tips in the case.
By March of 1983, RCMP still had no named suspects and to everyone’s dismay, fresh avenues of investigation were beginning to dry up. To help drum up new leads, RCMP decided to let a Canadian documentary crew from a program called Citizens Alert put together a segment on the unsolved murders.
RCMP detectives provided interviews and cooperated fully with the film crew. They even allowed them to stage reenactments inside the park with hired actors, replica vehicles, and similar camping gear that the Johnsons and Bentleys would have owned.
Lead RCMP investigator Michael Eastham spearheaded an effort to drive a replica 1981 Ford Pickup Truck and camper along the same route through Canada that so many tipsters had reported seeing the real vehicle. Officers mounted large signs on the side of the replica asking people to come forward if they’d seen a similar-looking truck and camper since August 1982.
In May, two RCMP officers started driving the look-alike truck and camper from Wells Gray Park and stayed on the road for three weeks. At various stops along the way, officials held press conferences to keep the murders in the public eye.
This effort, though atypical for a law enforcement agency, worked.
The road trip and media blitz throughout the summer of 1983 kept people talking about the case and brought in hundreds of more tips in. Most of which reinforced authorities’ belief that whoever had killed the family definitely traveled east across Canada in the Bentleys’ truck and camper.
By September, investigators focused a lot of attention on one lead in particular.
A mechanic from an auto body shop in Windsor, Ontario came forward and reported that two men matching the description of the composite sketches police had released asked him to paint the outside of a 1981 Ford truck with a camper on the back. He said both men spoke with thick French Canadian accents and were carrying a .22 caliber handgun. They asked the mechanic where a good place to dispose of it was in town.
This information was the closest thing RCMP detectives had to a solid lead in months. They felt good about it and continued to press the mechanic for more details. He told them that after he painted the vehicle for the two men, they told him they were headed south, across the US-Canadian border to Detroit, Michigan.
RCMP officials immediately contacted the United States authorities to try and coordinate a search for the men.
But right as that was happening, forestry workers back in Wells Gray Provincial Park stumbled upon something disturbing that brought investigators’ focus away from the U-S and straight back to British Columbia…
On October 18th, 1983, two forestry workers walking through the woods on a remote mountainside in Wells Gray Provincial Park noticed something eerie in a thick section of evergreens and brush.
SFX of tree branches
They peeled away a few tree branches and discovered the burned-out shell of a pickup truck with a camper on the back.
Because RCMP had been making so many requests for help about wanting to find Edith and George Bentley’s truck and camper…these two forestry workers knew they had to call police right away.
Within a matter of hours, RCMP teams descended on the location and confirmed from the truck’s license plate that it belonged to George Bentley.
According to a short video documentary by The Vancouver Sun, the location of the truck was 12 kilometers or roughly seven and a half miles from where the Johnson’s burned out Plymouth was ditched a year earlier with the bodies inside and less than 20 miles away from the campsite authorities knew was the primary crime scene.
After the truck’s discovery, RCMP investigators had to face and publicly address the reality that for a year they’d been following leads east across Canada trying to find the truck and two unknown men who likely weren’t even connected to the murders. All the while they’d been looking in the wrong direction and the Bentleys’ truck and camper were in Wells Gray Provincial park the entire time.
Former detectives admitted in several interviews that the blunder was embarrassing and they were dismayed to realize that they had essentially wasted an entire year on a wild goose chase.
George and Edith’s surviving children, Brian and Karen told The Vancouver Sun that they were disheartened to learn that the truck and camper had been overlooked by police but they did not criticize the authorities. Karen told the paper quote— “As far as I’m concerned the RCMP have done a great job. I wasn’t all that surprised about where it was found. It’s really something that never leaves your mind.” — end quote.
As soon as the Bentleys’ truck and camper were identified though, everyone refocused and got to work trying to start over on the case.
The first obvious clue was that the truck was hidden extremely well in a thick grove of evergreen trees in an isolated ravine. Police had to actually chop down all of the trees around the site to even get to the truck and process it for clues.
According to an article in the Vancouver Sun, the vegetation in the area was so dense that during the first weeks of searching back in 1982 RCMP pilots that had been searching the park would never have been able to see the vehicle among the foliage cover. One search and rescue volunteer told the newspaper that in the remote area of the park where the camper was found, you could be standing within 15 feet of it and never know it was there. That’s how dense the woods were.
Also, the likelihood of finding any usable forensic evidence like fingerprints or hair fibers was out of the question according to RCMP officials who were quoted at the time. The truck was so badly burned that they weren’t even able to tell if the aluminum boat was still attached to the top of it everything including the truck body itself, the camper shell, and interior had melted into one another.
One of the first things officers found on the camper that was helpful to the investigation was a .22 caliber bullet hole in the driver’s side door panel.
The location of the burned truck and camper was another glaring clue in and of itself that RCMP did tell news outlets revealed a lot about the killer.
RCMP investigators said that the only person who could have known to burn and abandon the truck there was someone who was familiar with that area of the park and knew police would never be able to search thoroughly there.
When detectives fanned out from the truck they noticed it was just a few meters away from the edge of a cliff. RCMP surmised that the driver had likely intended to launch the vehicle off of the cliff but been unable to get as far as they wanted to.
At that point, police officers began recanvassing and re-interviewing everyone who lived in Clearwater or nearby homes close to where the burned-out truck and camper were found. They completely abandoned the idea that the killer had left British Columbia and taken off into other Canadian provinces.
They felt certain that after murdering the families and setting the Johnson’s sedan on fire, the killer or killers drove the Bentley’s truck and camper and it was the last vehicle to be torched. Investigators also speculated that the killer would have had all the necessary accelerant they needed to torch both vehicles…already easily accessible. The fact that the Johnsons had stopped at a gas station prior to entering the park meant that their tank was close to full around the time they were killed, George and Edith’s truck and camper contained close to a hundred gallons of gasoline.
Officials with RCMP were certain, the murderer was from the area, likely only had to bring a .22 rifle with them and an axe to get away with the crime.
Police officers brought in dozens of people for further questioning, ran 24-hour surveillance on men from the area who had criminal backgrounds, and asked all of them to take polygraph tests. According to news reports, every person the police looked into, passed.
According to The Wells Gray Gunman, after two weeks of doing this non-stop…authorities caught a break when they visited the home of a couple living in Clearwater. Before leaving the man and woman’s house, the wife said out loud to her husband quote— “tell the officers something Dave said.” —end quote.
The husband was reluctant to explain more but eventually told the officers that their friend, a man named Dave, had asked them a few months earlier how to register a vehicle if it had a bullet hole in the door.
At the time, authorities had not released to the media the information that the Bentley’s truck door had a bullet hole in it. They’d released that the victims had all been shot to death but never mentioned anything about any of the vehicles being shot.
So, the fact that the couple said their friend talked about trying to register a vehicle that had been shot at was incredibly interesting to RCMP investigators.
The couple told officers the man they knew as Dave was 24-year-old, David William Shearing. They said in the summer of 1983 he’d recently moved to Clearwater after living on his parents’ ranch just outside of Wells Gray Park.
When RCMP detectives checked their records, they learned that they’d already interviewed David once before, earlier on in the investigation while going door to door for tips and information back in September of 1982.
At that time, investigators didn’t get any bad vibes from David. There was nothing that indicated he was related to murders in any way. He’d completely passed the sniff test, so to speak.
When police tried to locate him in late October of 1983, they discovered that he was no longer living in Clearwater.
When they dug into his background further they found a report connecting him to another crime in British Columbia a few years before the Johnson and Bentley murders.
In that incident, a witness had come forward and accused David of hitting a person with his car on a main road near Wells Gray Park. David allegedly struck the pedestrian, ran over their body, and left them for dead. RCMP searched their records and discovered no one had ever been arrested for that hit and run death, and David remained the only suspect.
After a few days of searching, officers found out he was living in Tumbler Ridge, British Columbia. A town about 900 miles north of Wells Gray Provincial Park.
In November 1983, RCMP homicide detectives working the murder investigation got in touch with the local RCMP chief in Tumbler Ridge, named Ron German. Ron told the homicide detectives that he was well aware of who David Shearing was because Ron had arrested David himself a few times for petty theft and traffic violations.
Ron told producers of The Wells Gray Gunman that he never got a good vibe from David. He said that David would never look him in the eyes and had a general demeanor that he was unsavory and untrustworthy.
Ron said a few months after David moved to Tumbler Ridge, he’d pulled him over during a traffic stop. He noticed David was hauling a lot of newer-looking tools in the back of his pickup truck. When Ron asked David where the tools had come from he claimed they were his and he was returning from a worksite. The next day, Ron got a call from two stores in town that reported being burglarized and were missing $40,000 worth of tools.
Ron arrested David for the theft but Canadian laws in the 1980’s for petty crimes were not very stringent. So, David was eventually released and continued to commit thefts and misdemeanors in town.
When Ron learned that David was the prime suspect in the unsolved Bentley and Johnson murders he was eager to arrest him right then and there, but his counterparts in Clearwater told him to hold off. They wanted to surveil David and gather more information before moving in for an arrest.
On November 19th, 1983, a RCMP team led by chief Ron German, converged and approached David as he was getting off a bus in Tumbler Ridge and they asked him to come in for questioning. Ron said David asked if he was under arrest or going to be arrested and Ron told him no.
According to his interview with The Wells Gray Gunman, Ron said he and David rode in his patrol car for two hours to an RCMP post in Dawson Creek that was equipped with better interrogation rooms. Ron said the entire drive David was calm. He sat next to him in the passenger seat without handcuffs smoking a cigarette, meanwhile, Ron was sort of freaking out…
When the pair arrived in Dawson Creek, Ron handed David over to RCMP homicide investigator Michael Eastham and another detective from Clearwater.
Even though they didn’t have any physical evidence tying David to the family massacre in the park, they decided to try and get him to confess.
Investigator Eastham started asking David about the unsolved hit and run that a witness had accused him of committing years prior to the family murders. Eastham told filmmaker Steve Allen that at the first mention of the hit and run, David’s expression softened and he appeared to be relieved. Within minutes, David confessed to the deadly hit and run.
Authorities used David’s sense of ease and relief of confessing to the hit and run as a way to confront him about the Bentley and Johnson murders.
For 45 minutes police talked with David about information in the murder case that was all public knowledge, stuff like who the victims were, where their burned-out cars were found, etc. Then investigator Eastham asked David if he remembered hearing about where the victims had been killed, and David answered and said Bear Creek Campground.
Up until that point, RCMP had never released ANY information about the campsite to the public. The location of what police believed was the initial murder scene was only something the killer would have known.
At that point, investigator Eastham realized he’d caused David to slip up. Big time.
The next few moments were critical for investigators to get David to confess. They told news reporters after the fact that as soon as David realized he’d said the family was killed at Bear Creek Campground he started sweating profusely, chain-smoking cigarettes, and becoming combative with detectives.
The RCMP investigators didn’t let up though. They got more aggressive with their line of questioning and after a half-hour David broke down and began to cry.
He confessed that he’d committed all six killings and disposed of the family’s vehicles.
After writing a full confession David agreed to draw a map of Wells Gray Park and walk investigators through how he stalked and killed the families in August of 1982.
He told police that he saw the group several times at Bear Creek Campsite while driving to and from his parents’ ranch in the area. One night he snuck down to the spot and took the family by surprise while they were around their campfire.
He said Bob Johnson saw him come out of the woods with a gun and David fired at him first. He then shot and killed George, Jackie, and Edith at point-blank range. He said the last two people he shot were young Karen and Janet. He swore that his only motive for the killings was to steal their possessions, vehicles, and tools.
But investigators suspected David’s motive was much more sinister than that. They believed the crime was sexually motivated, specifically towards young Karen and Janet.
After several hours of wearing David down, investigator Eastham asked him directly if he sexually assaulted the girls. David eventually confessed that he had abducted Janet and Karen from the campsite after killing their family members and kept them alive for several days in the woods to continue assaulting them. He took them to his parent’s ranch and a remote cabin in the woods.
At one point David said a prison guard supervising inmates working on the Clearwater River near the cabin knocked on the door while Karen and Janet were still alive inside. David said he was able to get the guard to leave and fearful he would get caught, he shot the girls in the woods the next day, placed their bodies in the trunk of the Plymouth Caravelle, doused it in gasoline, and set it on fire.
While walking through police through his crimes…he also took detectives to his family’s farm and showed them several items that he hid in a barn which had belonged to the Johnsons and Bentleys. In the hiding spot, he also showed police the .22 caliber rifle he used to commit the murders.
When word of David’s arrest broke, everyone in British Columbia and honestly all of Canada breathed a sigh of relief. Most people were glad to see someone held responsible for the heinous killings, but a lot of people in Clearwater who knew David were totally shocked to learn he was the perpetrator.
Some of his former high school classmates and long-time friends in town told The Vancouver Sun that they’d always known David to be a quiet, polite, highly intellectual person who never got into fights growing up or had any problems with anyone.
His mother, a woman named Rose, told the newspaper that David worked odd jobs his whole life in the Clearwater area and had always lived at home. He was the youngest of three siblings and never had a steady girlfriend or any close friends. In 1983 he finally moved out of the family ranch to Tumbler Ridge to find work at a coal mine.
David’s former employers told the Times Colonist that in March of 1982 David’s father died of a heart attack and that event really upset him.
On April 16th, 1984. David went to trial for six counts of murder.
Shortly after the proceedings got underway it became apparent how much evidence the crown had against David not to mention his detailed confession.
David decided to plead guilty to all of the charges and a judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years. That is the maximum sentence under Canadian law. Canada’s criminal justice system allows offenders, even if they’re self-admitted murderers, the option to be granted parole.
MANY people from British Columbia were outraged by this sentence. A lot of residents wanted David to be put to death for his crimes.
According to The Edmonton Journal, David who by that point had changed his last name to Ennis applied for parole in October 2008 at the age of 49. After more than 9,000 people in the town of Clearwater signed a petition opposing David’s request, the National Parole board denied him parole.
The board ruled the same way when David reapplied for release in 2012 and 2014. In their summary, board members wrote quote –“Regardless of the gains that you have made since your incarceration, you are not a low risk for public safety. Although he has spent nearly 30 years behind bars and participated in several programs, his “sexual deviance in fantasy” remains. He does not fully understand the risk factors for his behavior or how to manage them.” — end quote.
Sarah Payne reported for Tricity News that in 2016 David waived his right to apply for a parole hearing.
The next chance he’ll get to apply for parole is this year, 2021.
Currently, David is serving his life sentence at a medium-security prison in Canada. He married a woman in 1995and through conjugal visits has fathered two children. He claims that he has renewed his faith in God and is reformed.
Author Alan Warren wrote in his book, Murder Times Six that after interviewing David in person, he left the prison with the impression that the convicted murderer wanted to make himself out to be a changed and decent person, but Alan says that’s what all serial killers do.
During his interviews, Alan got to see the inside of David’s prison cell. The small space was simple, had a TV and on a regular basis, David could come and go as he pleased, even finding time to tend a garden in the prison yard.
If the Canadian parole board denies David’s request for release again, which many hope they will, his prison yard garden is the closest thing he’ll ever see to the lush outdoors ever again
And that’s exactly what the residents of British Columbia want.
Park Predators is an audiochuck Original Podcast.
Research and writing by Delia D’Ambra with writing assistance from executive producer Ashley Flowers.
Sound design by David Flowers.
You can find all of the source material for this episode on our website, Parkpredators.com.
So what do you think, Chuck? Do you approve? *howl*