‘In the way’: B.C. man who murdered a family of six campers in 1982 denied parole

By Bill Graveland

BOWDEN, ALBERTA – A man convicted of the mass murder of a family nearly 40 years ago revealed chilling details of his crime Wednesday as the Parole Board of Canada once again rejected his request to get out of prison.

David Shearing, who now goes by the name David Ennis, shot and killed George and Edith Bentley; their daughter, Jackie; and her husband Bob Johnson, while the family was on a camping trip in 1982 near Wells Gray Provincial Park, about 120 kilometres north of Kamloops, B.C.

He kept the Johnsons’ daughters – Janet, 13, and Karen, 11 – alive for almost a week and sexually assaulted them before taking them into the woods, one at a time, and killing them. He then loaded the bodies into a car and set it on fire.

Ennis, now 62, pleaded guilty in 1984 to six counts of second-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.

He told the two-member parole panel Wednesday that he had sexual fantasies, including rape and murder, from when he was in his mid-teens. When he saw the family’s vehicles parked near the campground he began stalking them.

Ennis said the only one he was interested in was Janet. He killed the adults because they were in the way.

“I saw them as just a means to an end. I saw the four adults basically as being in the way of what I wanted at the time,” said Ennis at the federal Bowden Institution in central Alberta.

“It was just Janet as far as what I was thinking and Karen just happened to be there.”

Ennis also admitted to hitting and killing a teenager before the murders. He said getting away with it made it easier to escalate his behaviour.

A parole board member asked Ennis what he did to the girls when he had them captive, noting that all forensic evidence had been destroyed in the fire and there were no other witnesses.

“When I saw the effects of that violence in real life … Janet was crying, as was Karen. Those things stopped me from escalating to more violence,” Ennis said.

“It did stop me from using the violence for sexual gratification,” he claimed.

The parole board heard nine emotional victim impact statements demanding the board reject his application. They said he is the same monster that he was in 1982.

Jessica Lehman, who said she was related to the victims, said the storyline is like the plot of a horror movie.

“It’s more than a horror movie now,” she said, calling Ennis a “monster in the woods.”

“We fear for our lives. We fear he will kill again. He used it to destroy my family. He doesn’t deserve a second chance.”

Another cousin, who didn’t give his name, said the family is still suffering after Ennis went on his “murderous rampage”.

“His death is the only means to us moving on.”

Tammy Arishenkoff, who launched a change.org petition that has more than 100,000 signatures urging the board to refuse parole, was a friend of Janet’s.

“Six people died because he wanted them dead. He is still the same, sick, brutal, callous, remorseless monster that he was in 1982,” she said. “He showed no mercy for my friend.”

Ennis apologized to the families. He said he better understands their pain and has powerful feelings of shame and regret.

“I do apologize to all, especially to the victims, for the impact that it has had on them,” said Ennis. He added that he has lived with “powerful feelings of shame and regret”.

The board was told that Ennis has been attending sex offender programs and works in the prison chapel. He is taking a one-year course at the Prairie Bible College.

But the board rejected his parole application, saying Ennis still has deviant sexual fantasies.

“There are overwhelming negative aspects in your case. The gravity and severity of your offending, it’s of the utmost level. It was very violent and it devastated so many people,” the board said.

“When we look at your assessed risks, together with your diagnosis of sexual sadism which largely remains unchanged … the most appropriate place for you to make gains is in the safety and security of the institution.”

Ennis previously applied for parole in 2008 and 2012. He applied again in 2014 but withdrew his request a month before the hearing was to take place.