January 18th, 2013
My uncle, David Buller, would have turned 63 this year, in August. The year before he died, David received strict instructions from his doctor. He could either give up alcohol or red meat. Without hesitation, David became a vegetarian. For David, I suspect aging would have felt like the “gate crashing ghost” that W.H. Auden writes about in his 1971 poem, Loneliness. David used the lines,
In my entry last year, I wrote about the murder, on March 3rd 2011, of Allan Lanteigne. Allan, 49, was found in his home on Ossington Ave. with ‘obvious signs of trauma’. He had worked at the University of Toronto as an accounting clerk for many years. On Friday, Nov 2nd, 2012, Allan’s former husband, Demitry Papasotiriou was charged with murder in the first degree. In a recent development, a second suspect, Mladen Ivesic, was arrested in Greece on Tuesday, January 8th, 2013 and is being extradited to Canada on first-degree murder charges. The possibility of a lengthy trial lies ahead.
In his remarks at the press conference on Nov 2nd, Allan’s brother in law, Don Sterritt, describes the feeling of elation that comes with “being at this stage of the process.” Don reflects on how this feeling is complicated by the reality of Allan’s loss: “Even with that elation you have the realization that Allan is dead and that elbows its way into your thoughts pretty quickly.”
This sense of a painful reality ‘elbowing its way in’ to crowd the more hopeful thoughts is one that I have come to know very well. In 2011, my family and I wondered if the murders of Allan Lanteigne and David might be connected, and after many years of silence, this curiosity prompted us to renew contact with the detectives who worked on David’s case thirteen years ago. Now, we check in with the detectives every year, on Jan 18th.
This annual ritual gives us something to do. We need that. For many years, figuring out what to do next was all I could bear to think about. More recently, I have been trying to shift into another register. It is one thing to think about David’s case, and quite another to try to hold my memories of David—like Auden’s gate crashing ghosts—in mind.
The colour that comes to mind when I think of him is ochre. David once said to me that he thought a painting needed a bit of ochre. I had never heard of that colour before, but when he showed it to me, I could see that it was somewhere between brown and yellow – difficult to place, but close to the earth. Another time, he said that he liked a lamp because it had an interesting ‘patina’. David had the vocabulary of an artist. No one used words like that where I came from. Not yet.
He taught me how people greet one another in Paris. Bisous. One kiss on each cheek. It became a ritual between us because David had lived in Paris for awhile and because, at fourteen, kissing my uncle felt unbearably awkward. He knew how to handle the hellos and the goodbyes. The last time, standing next to the Greyhound bus, we spoke about the coming year—2001. David was in good spirits, smiling, looking forward to things. He said that he wasn’t seeing anybody, and that felt ok. He was planning to spend New Year’s Eve with friends.
I never know what to wish for in that moment of blowing out the candles. It always comes so suddenly and, with no time to think it over, it passes. If only I could make that wish now. Just one more conversation with him.
Notes On An Anniversary, 2012
Each New Year brings another difficult anniversary. On Jan 18th 2001, my uncle David Buller was stabbed repeatedly in his office at 1 Spadina Ave. in Toronto. David’s body was discovered by a caretaker the following morning. Eleven years later, we still do not know who killed him.
I have expended a great deal of psychic energy trying not to think about how David died. I have wondered whether, in his last moments on earth, he was in pain or felt afraid. Of course, I do not want to think about these possibilities but still, thoughts come to mind. I also do not want to think about where the perpetrator is now, or who else, besides the person who killed David, might know what happened to him. But I do wonder about these things, especially at this time of year. Just getting through another anniversary feels like a monumental task, but in 2012, while feeling the weight of another year passing, I also feel motivated to take stock and reflect on the status of the case.
I should begin by saying that the past year did not bring about any ‘big breakthroughs’ in the case. If I have learned anything from the experience of losing a relative to a violent, unsolved crime, it is that one should not wait around for big breakthroughs. While still hoping for some grand revelation, I am learning to pay attention to the significance of smaller events. For instance, last year, in honour of the 10th anniversary of David's death, my family and the Visual Studies Department at the U of Toronto held a small memorial gathering at 1 Spadina Ave. (password: Karyn)
David’s friends, current and former students, and colleagues were in attendance. Following a few remarks and thank-you's, the conversation turned to the question that investigative journalist and crime reporter James Dubro later referred to as, "the elephant in the room": Why is this case still unsolved? Several of those present at the memorial were at the U of T in 2001 when David was killed; a few former students had been interviewed by the police. These former students, now graduated and moving on with their lives and careers, recalled vividly what a frightening time this was for everyone and wondered what had happened to the many suspicions and theories that circulated in hushed tones at the time - had they been followed up? What do we know?
I am not the only person who has held on to this question and tried to take stock of the status of David’s case this year. Following the Jan 18th, 2011 memorial gathering at the U of Toronto, James Dubro wrote a short article for Xtra!, in which he gathers together information about unsolved murders involving members of Toronto’s queer community. Convincing newspaper editors to dedicate column space to decades-old murders is not easy work, and I am deeply grateful to James for keeping these unsolved cases active in the minds of Toronto’s LGBTQ communities and the wider public. James also self-published an unedited version of the article on Scribd.
Bolstered by the demonstration of interest and support from David’s community at the 10-year anniversary mark, my family began talking once again about the status of the case. We poured over our archive of notes on the evidence, reviewed the timeline of the murder, revisited our roster of possible suspects, and made lists of unanswered questions. These conversations are never easy for us. Not knowing what happened to David represents a tear in our understanding of the world, in our sense of what feels right and just. When my family tries to talk about the case it feels, for me, like we are staring into an abyss, trying to see beyond the terrible fact of the murder, urgently hoping we might bring something – some small but significant detail – into focus. Of course, our efforts to find that small but significant detail are always haunted by the possibility that there is nothing there. In 2011, we tried, once again, to take the side of hopefulness.
Galvanized by the memorial event at the U of Toronto in early 2011, our return to the evidence in David’s case was further prompted by a shocking event: the news of the murder on March 3rd, 2011, of 49-year-old U of Toronto accountant and gay man, Allan Lanteigne, in his home on Ossington Ave.
We wondered if the murders of Allan and David might be connected. So, after a long period of being out of touch, we contacted the Toronto Homicide Unit. The detectives who were in charge of David 's case in 2001—Mark Saunders and Ken Taylor—have been promoted and moved on to other positions, but after a few email exchanges and attempts to persuade them to talk with us again, in May 2011, Taylor and Saunders agreed to meet. We learned that a possible connection between the two cases had also occurred to the police, but a comparison between David’s case and Lantaigne’s proved inconclusive. The police now believe that the two cases are unrelated. I am unable to say much more here about what we talked about in the meeting, but I will say that the police have remained in contact with us. They have not—and we have not—exhausted all efforts in trying to solve this case.
Many times over the years I have wondered if there is any point to all of this: the difficult conversations, the pouring over of the evidence, the times when we feel able to push and advocate, the times when we simply can't bear to think about David’s murder at all. This process takes an emotional toll on all of us. We have joked that if David could see us, he would tell us to let it rest and get on with our lives. Eleven years later, I can say that not letting this case rest has become part of what it means for me to get on with my life, even though I know that the case might never be solved. Coming to this realization has required me to expand my internal capacity both for reality, and for hope. Sometimes, this feels like trying to stretch an emotional muscle to its breaking point.
One person whom I suspect understands this internal ‘stretching’ process
better than most is Canadian investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker
David Ridgen. This year, through a nudge from a very dear friend (thank-you,
Carolynne Hew), I came across Ridgen’s work on cold case investigations. A few
years ago, Ridgen directed the CBC Television program, Canadian Cold Case. In
this series, Ridgen investigates, with a deep sensitivity combined with
considerable nerve, three unsolved murders – Sharin’ Morningstar Keenan
(1983), Kathryn-Mary Herbert (1975), and Wayne Greavette (1996). Friends and
family members of the three victims are still searching for answers and
grieving these terrible losses. The funding for Canadian Cold Case has since
been cut, but the CBC website provides access to the films and some fascinating, interactive
Today, Ridgen is doing important work on Civil Rights Era cold cases in the Southern US. One specific case that he has been working concerns the murders of Henry H. Dee and Charles E. Moore, two 19-year-old black men whose bodies were found during the massive 1964 search in Mississippi for three missing civil rights workers. Thomas Moore, brother of Charles E. Moore, has been Ridgen’s investigative partner in this case.
In 2007, based on the Dee and Moore murders, Ridgen made the film,
Mississippi Cold Case. The documentary
film and investigation into the case by Ridgen and Moore played a central role
in the successful prosecution of James Ford Seale on two counts of kidnapping
and one count of conspiracy to kidnap two persons. Ridgen has since
become a founder of The Civil Rights Cold Case Project, a coalition of
investigative journalists who work on civil rights era cold cases at the Center
for Investigative Reporting in Berkeley, California.
Ridgen, in his 2011 article, “It Takes a Hard Driving Team to Uncover the Truth of a Cold Case" describes the emotional fortitude and tenacity required of people who investigate cold cases:
“Successful prosecutions of civil rights era cold cases are tackled as a team, as journalists, family survivors, and legal authorities unearth past crimes and push them in the direction of a just resolution. Yet the investigative process that leads to the courtroom can be for long stretches a solitary and exhausting effort that feels as cold and bleak as the case itself. At such moments, advancing the case requires the precision and subtlety of a battering ram.”
Recently, I have begun to pay closer attention to stories of individuals and communities coming together and refusing to let a ‘cold’ case rest. Here is one more story. Last week, while visiting my mother in Collingwood, ON, I read an article in the Toronto Star about the murder, in 2000, of Jaswinder ‘Jassi’ Sidhu. This case went unsolved for 11 years, until pressure from the South Asian community in Vancouver resulted in further investigation by the RCMP and the arrest of Singh's mother and uncle, and several perpetrators in India, where the murder was committed. I noted, in particular, that during the 11 year period following the murder of Jassi Singh, the now retired principal of Singh's former high school, Jim Longridge, kept up a steady campaign of letter writing to the RCMP and federal and provincial politicians to demand that the case be further investigated, with particular attention paid to the role that Jassi’s family members played in her murder. A website and petition demanding that charges be laid in Sidhu’s murder received 7,000 signatures and the book, Justice for Jassi (2010), by co-authors Fabian Dawson, Jupinderjit Singh and Harbinder Singh Sewak provided new evidence in the case.
Every cold case has a particular set of circumstances, cast of characters, collection of theories and/or suspects, secrets, and tight knot of unknowability. One thing that I have noticed about the cold cases that I have been researching and reading about is that when they are solved—and this does happen from time to time—it is often the result of close scrutiny and steady pressure from family members, friends, community members, even former high school principals.
There is always more to be done.
I am surprised to find myself writing these words, but there they are
on the page in front of me. Up until recently, I didn’t really believe that
there was more to be done, even though my family and I have done many things over
the years to try and keep David’s case in the public eye and on the radar of
the media and the Toronto police. I was angry—I still am. I wanted the grand
revelation—I still do. But on the 11th anniversary of David’s
murder, my thoughts are moving in a different direction. I know that we may
never find out why David was killed and who is responsible for his murder. I
also believe that David’s case may one day be solved. If this happens, it will not be because we waited for that magical moment of revelation. If
David’s case is solved, it will be because his family and friends, and the
police, and everyone else who knew David and/or felt touched by his case had
the emotional and moral courage to go back to the details and look again,
now with the benefit of time and distance, and ask the question, what do we
Jan 18, 2012, Chicago