The Wells Gray Provincial Park Murders

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DISAPPEARANCE:

In August of 1982, three generations of a family went on a two week camping trip in British Columbia’s Wells Gray Provincial Park, in the Clearwater area. Those on the trip included 11-year-old Karen and 13-year-old Janet Johnson; their parents, Jackie and Bob Johnson; and their grandparents, George and Edith Bentley.

The family were regular campers, with George Bentley, in particular, preferring more secluded spots. While on this specific trip, the adults slept in the camper attached to George’s truck, while the two girls were in a tent.

In order to go on the camping trip, Bob had booked a few weeks off from work. When he didn’t show up to work on August 23, 1982, having already missed a few shifts, his boss grew worried and reported Bob and the rest of the family as missing.

INVESTIGATION & DISCOVERY:

Upon receiving the missing persons report, local police searched for the family at both provincial and private campsites throughout the Wells Gray area. However, they were unable to locate them during the first few weeks of searching.

On September 13, 1982, the burned out car belonging to the Johnsons was found in a secluded wooded area by a berry picker. Detective Mike Eastham of the British Columbia RCMP was dispatched to the scene, as skeletal remains had been found in the car. Under analysis, it was confirmed the remains belonged to Jackie and Bob Johnson, as well as George and Edith Bentley.

Upon discovering the remains, focus turned to the car’s trunk. Once opened, it revealed the remains of Janet and Karen Johnson. Both had died from gunshot wounds to the head.

Police were able to surmise given the lack of bullet casings that the family had been murdered elsewhere. They noted George and Edith’s 1981 Ford Camper Special was missing, along with a boat, motor and camping gear.

Police turned their attention to finding the missing camper. To help bring in as many tips as possible, they used the local media to spread its description.

Not long after reaching out to the media, police received a tip from a park ranger, who claimed to have seen the Bentley’s camper parked at Bear Creek a few weeks prior. Investigators were first suspicious as to why he’d waited so long to come forward with the information, given how long it had been since news of the murder spread. However, the ranger had been at a cabin with no TV reception and had only become aware of the murders upon returning to town.

Several more tips were called in that corroborated the ranger’s story.

The murder scene was located on September 14, 1982. Police found planks of wood they believe could have been used to level off a camper, as well a bottles of George’s favourite beer. They also found six .22 caliber bullet casings scattered throughout the campsite. However, the camper was nowhere to be found.

Investigators scoured the local area, going door-to-door asking residents if they’d seen anything suspicious in the lead up to the family being reported missing. They also worked around the clock to investigate the nearly 13,000 tips that were called in, 300 of which stated the camper had been seen driving across Canada.

One such person to call in with a sighting was a waitress from Clearwater, who said she’d seen two French Canadian loggers driving a truck similar to the one owned by the Bentleys. She helped police to develop a sketch of the two, which was spread through the media.

To help keep the case in the public eye, the RCMP drove an identical Ford Camper Special across the country, with signs on either side of it prompting people to call police if they had any information regarding the truck or the murders. They would also park it at strategic areas, like shopping malls. To make residents aware the truck was driving through their area, Detective Eastham would appear on the local news the day before.

After hearing about the case, a mechanic from Windsor, Ontario called in stating he’d seen the camper and spoken to the men driving it. He said they’d stopped by his shop asking for a paint job for their truck, which when described to investigators sounded a lot like the Bentleys’. He claimed the men also asked him to get a rid of a rifle for them, which he refused to do due to past legal issues. He had told them they could find what they needed across the border in Detroit and they went on their way.

The RCMP had thought they’d finally caught a break with the tip. However, the investigation shifted gears on October 18, 1983, when the camper was discovered by forest rangers at the top of Trophy Mountain.

Similar to the car, the camper had been burned. However, investigators were able to identify it from the license plate, which was still readable. There was a bullet hole in the back. The area was off the main roads and near a gorge, leading police to surmise the murderer was local and that they’d tried to dispose of the truck down the mountain, only for it to get stuck in the underbrush.

The theory surrounding the two French Canadian men was dropped.

Investigators returned to the basics, once again knocking on doors. A young detective caught a break when a woman told him about a local by the name of David Shearing, who’d told her he’d found a vehicle with a bullet hole in the Trophy Mountain area. This piqued their interest and they began to delve into Shearing’s past.

David Shearing was a logger who’d previous been booked for assault, drug possession and DUI. There were rumours floating around town that he had a thing for young girls, and it was believed by many that, due to a lack of evidence, he’d gotten away with the fatal hit-and-run of a local teenager.

It was also learnt that Shearing lived near the murder scene, as well as the two dump sites, and as such was aware of the land and its terrain.

Police raided his ranch, where they came upon the family’s possessions, as well as a .22 Remington hanging on the wall, which could be the murder weapon. At the time, Shearing was living in Tumbler Ridge, working construction.

Detective Eastham and Constable Ken Liebel brought Shearing in for questioning. They got him first to admit to the hit-and-run, which he claimed to have been an accident. When asked why he hadn’t reported it to police, he said he was worried about his mother finding out.

The pair then turned to talk of the Bentley-Johnson murder, where they got Shearing to implicate himself by having him name the murder site, which hadn’t been released to the public. He then detailed how the murder transpired.

Shearing claimed the murder occurred on August 10, 1982. He said he’d been watching the family and had wanted their possessions. He shot George, Edith, Bob and Jackie first, before turning the gun on Karen and Janet as they slept in the tent. He then put the bodies in the car and drove it to the spot where it was discovered before setting it ablaze and returning for the camper. He had initially wanted to keep it, but upon seeing news coverage had decided to get rid of it.

After his confession, Shearing re-enacted the murder for investigators and turned over the family’s possessions.

ARREST & SENTENCING:

Upon being arrested, David Shearing plead guilty to second-degree murder and on April 17, 1984 was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years. It was the first time in Canadian history that the maximum sentence had been handed down for a second-degree murder charge.

Detective Eastham couldn’t shake the feeling Shearing hadn’t been completely honest with him during the initial interrogation, so he visited him on the day of his sentencing to try and pry the truth from the convicted murderer.

Shearing admitted to Eastham that he’d been watching Karen and Janet throughout the duration of their camping trip and had wanted to be with them. Upon killing the adults, he abducted the girls and kept them alive for about a week and a half before killing them. During this time, he sexually abused them.

AFTERMATH:

The investigation into the Bentley-Johnson murders turned out to be one of the most expensive in Canadian history.

Detective Eastham was never able to forget about the case, calling it one of the worst crimes he’s ever dealt with. He continued to work with the British Columbia RCMP until his retirement in 1996.

Once incarcerated, David Shearing adopted his mother’s surname of Ennis. He is currently being held at the Bowden Institution, located north of Calgary, Alberta.

Shearing was first eligible for parole in 2008, where his request was denied. Since then, his subsequent requests have either been denied or he’s opted to not seek parole. In 2012, the parole board denied his request on the grounds that he was still having violent sexual fantasies, had yet to complete sex offender treatment and was therefore not ready for freedom.

Each of Shearing’s parole hearings have been attended by Detective Eastham, as well as those related to the Bentleys and Johnsons. Many have submitted statements to the parole board in order to keep him behind bars.

Image Credit: Strange Outdoors

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