The man behind one of Canada’s most notorious mass murders will remain behind bars.
The National Parole Board determined during a Tuesday hearing at Bowden prison, north of Calgary, that David Ennis is still a risk to society after 30 years of incarceration, and not ready for release.
Ennis, who was known by the name David Shearing when he murdered six members of the Johnson Bentley families in 1982, expressed regret and “shame” about his crimes, but was told he’d have to take programs aimed at rehabilitating violent sex offenders if he’s to gain release at his next hearing, which could be as early as two years from now.
Although the verdict was what friends and family of the slain Westbank residents had been working toward for months, it wasn’t really cause for celebration.
“It was a very emotionally draining day, but there was a huge sigh of relief at the end,” said Tammy Arishenkoff, a childhood friend of one of the girls that Ennis sexually assaulted and killed, and a driving force behind the most recent effort to keep him behind bars.
Around 20 advocates for the Johnson Bentley families attended the hearing, and were escorted to a chapel on the prison grounds where it took place.
“We took our seats, and he was brought in,” Arishenkoff said, noting he never looked at them, but they did see his face as he passed.
“He sat maybe 10 feet away from where we were…It’s the first time I’ve seen him, its not what I thought it would be.”
Ariskenkoff, who was one of many who read a victim impact statement Tuesday, has said that Ennis’s violent act forever changed the way she and many other Westbank residents saw the world, and she dreaded seeing him in person.
What she imagined and actually experienced, however, were two very different things.
“It’s almost surreal. For 30 years we’ve had this picture of him, which came from that same file footage of him from 30 years ago…That man with black hair and a big nose,” she said.
He still has the big nose, she said, but he’s 53 years old, so he wears the time that’s passed and he doesn’t have all the earmarks a childhood bogeyman may.
“When he speaks, it’s not the voice that you’d expect a monster to have. He sounds like a soft-spoken, normal person,” she said.
“And it was surreal seeing him do normal gestures, like scratching his arms. I kept thinking, these are the hands that brutally killed six people, these are the hands that did horrible, awful things to my friend and her sister.”
Arishenkoff said she and the family also found it difficult to listen to him answer questions about the crime he committed all those years ago.
“It was tough to hear some of the things he said about the girls,” she said. “He had to speak about them quite a bit and he would say some things that would lead you to think he’s a risk in certain situations.”
Moving forward, Arishenkoff said she’s more resolved to continue to lobby for changes in legislation that will cut-off the number of parole hearings the likes of Ennis get.
Every two years for the indefinite future, the family and friends of the family will have to endure the same process or Ennis will have a shot at freedom they don’t believe he deserves.
“I’m going to work with some people in Ottawa to help with whatever cause they’re fighting to get legislation changed,” she said. “And we’ll be getting ready for the next (round) of this.”
In August 1982 members of three generations of the Johnson and Bentley families—George and Edith Bentley of Port Coquitlam, their daughter Jackie Johnson and her husband, Bob, of Westbank and their two daughters, 13-year-old Janet and 11-year-old Karen—were camping in Wells Gray Provincial Park.
Ennis stalked them for at least two days before he went to the campsite and shot the four adults so that he could kidnap the two young girls.
Over the next few days Ennis kept the girls hostage and sexually assaulted Janet. He eventually killed them as well, loaded all the bodies into one of the family’s vehicles and torched it in a secluded area of the park.
Their remains were discovered on Sept. 13, 1982. It was another 14 months before investigators tracked down Ennis.
In 1984 Ennis pleaded guilty to six counts of second-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.