How Canada’s justice system works for the survivors of murder victims will be on display when the parole hearing for the convicted killer of two families connected to West Kelowna is held next year.
Author Alan Warren said he was drawn to the story of the Johnson and Bentley family murders in Wells Gray Provincial Park in the summer of 1982 because of the residual impact the murders continue to hold on surviving family members and friends this many years later.
That impact is a reflection of David Ennis, formerly Shearing, convicted of murdering George and Edith Bentley of Port Coquitlam along with their daughter Jackie Johnson, her husband Bob and their two daughters Janet, 13, and Karen, 11, of West Kelowna.
Ennis is up for parole for a third time.
In 2008, 2012 and 2014, his parole applications were rejected. In 2016, Ennis opted to revoke his parole application just prior to his hearing. He can reapply for parole before the Parole Board of Canada every five years.
While the Johnson Bentley Aquatic Centre is named in honour of the two families, Warren said as time has passed and the city has grown, many people don’t know or recall the details behind the murders.
That background coupled with the willingness of family members and friends to speak about the tragedy and how it still affects their lives today, led Warren to write his new book, Murder Time Six: The True Story of the Wells Gray Park Murders.
Warren, who has lived in Lake Country since the ’90s, has written 15 previous books about infamous crimes, which has been a sidelight to his other career as a syndicated radio talk show host in the U.S., based out of Seattle.
The book will be published in early September and Warren anticipates it will generate a lot of interest among new and long-time Central Okanagan residents. The idea was first brought to his attention by a Kelowna hair salon owner.
What made the book a reality, he said, was the willingness of the surviving family members and friends to talk about the murders, how it changed their lives forever and how the possibility of parole for Ennis forces them to dredge up those memories in speaking out against his release.
“For many of them who have dedicated themselves to making sure this guy never gets out on parole, it’s like this all happened yesterday. There is no real closure,” he said.
Today, Ennis is incarcerated in a medium security prison. He has since changed his name, gotten married and has two kids, and has renewed his faith in God.
For the book, Warren said he had the opportunity to sit down and interview Ennis, but was left only with the impression of what Ennis wanted him to have.
“That is true of most serial killers that they share with you what they want, what they want to project.”
“He lives in a cell. Has a TV and tends to a garden. He is not living a bad life as far as prison goes, but I’m not sure you can call living in a jail cell without any counselling or rehabilitative effort on his part, which he is not mandated to do, serves for someone to be called rehabilitated.”
Warren said his personal opinion is Ennis should not be granted parole, and is willing to support any effort by the survivors next year to support that reasoning.
“I think a case like this also raises the issue of what the expectation is for the justice system in the interests of society.
“For criminals to be rehabilitated and get back into society as functioning people, that is a healthy part of having a good strong society. That sounds really good and looks good when you write it out.
“And the numbers show 70 per cent of rehabilitated criminals do fit back into society. But do we treat murderers in the same way we treat a bank robber? And is housing someone in prison as a form of punishment really adequate rehabilitation?
“(Ennis) can go 25, 30 years in prison and never hurt anyone, but get no rehabilitative treatment, not see a counsellor or take any classes. He is effectively just being housed. I think we are dropping the ball a bit in that case.”
Tammy Arishenkoff, who lives in West Kelowna, is one of the survivors who Warren interviewed for the book.
She was a classmate and childhood friend of Janet Johnson and was two years older than Karen Johnson.
As an adult, she has continued the fight to keep Ennis locked up, joined in that effort by a small group of friends and Johnson relatives.
Already, she has starting to think ahead to the parole hearing next year.
Arishenkoff hopes Warren’s book will raise public awareness about the Johnson-Bentley murders and help their efforts to keep Ennis behind bars.
“If you think of it, he killed six people and has served 25 years. That is killed six people, not robbed a bank. He should never get out. He should be serving 25 years for each person he killed,” she said.
“Four years per person he killed. That is a joke.”
Warren’s book will be available at most local bookstores and online.