January 18th, 2016
A TRAILER for the TV episode of "To Catch a Killer" on the David Buller case is available on You Tube:
In 2001, 1 Spadina Cr. was home to the University of Toronto Fine Arts Department, and also the Eye Bank of Canada. On the day David was murdered, there was a party on the main floor of the building. The person who killed David likely passed through the party and would have been seen by many. As has been noted elsewhere, David was killed in the middle of the day, "in a building full of eyes that didn't see anything."
March 2nd, 2014
CBC Radio interview, March 2nd, 2014: CLICK HERE
"Thirteen years have gone by since police first investigated a horrific crime scene at the University of Toronto. Someone brutally murdered artist and professor David Buller in broad daylight. The killer stabbed him repeatedly in the shoulder and chest while he was working in his office, and then they shut the door and left. A cleaning lady found his body the following morning.
There have been many theories about who did it, some linked to the fact that Buller was openly gay; but the police have never found the murderer. And the family has never given up hope that they will.
Karyn Sandlos has been working hard to breathe new life into this cold case. Like her Uncle David, she is an art teacher, now an assistant professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC)."
February 17th, 2014
There is renewed interest in this story from a TV program "To Catch a Killer" where a team of civilians, specialists in different fields, takes a fresh look at unsolved murders. An episode dedicated to the David Buller case will air on Saturday, March 15th at 8:00 pm EST on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network Canada. The episode will repeat on the following Thursday, March 20th at 9:00 pm and midnight EST. For more information about the series, visit: TO CATCH A KILLER TV on Facebook.
January 18th, 2014
It has been thirteen years since the afternoon David Buller was murdered in his office in the Connaught Building at 1 Spadina Cr., University of Toronto. It is now well know that on the evening of Jan 18th, 2001, David was scheduled to teach a class. The students arrived for class as usual, but David did not. Early the next morning (Jan 19th), a member of the custodial staff found David’s body. During the week following the murder, once the police had finished collecting evidence, David’s office was dismantled and the small area at the back of the Connaught Building transformed into studio space for graduate students. Once the walls were removed and the hardwood floors refinished, there was still an outline on the floor, the faint remainder of where David’s office used to be. The Connaught Building is currently undergoing major renovations, so this trace of David is gone now.
Thirteen years into the long haul that this unsolved murder case has become, I had begun to worry that David’s story was disappearing as well. The case is now officially listed on the Toronto Police Service website under ‘Unsolved Cold Cases’; this is a very long list.
As it turns out, 2013 was an interesting year. In early spring, my family and I were approached by a TV producer to talk about a new series on cold cases—“To Catch a Killer” (TCAK). The show is based on the work of Mike Arntfield, a working police officer and University of Western Ontario professor with a PhD in digital media (a rare set of credentials, but there you have it). Arntfield is piloting a new approach to investigating cold cases in which he assembles a team of people with expertise in specific areas (e.g., forensic biology, computer science, psychology, ‘old-school’ private investigative work, media analysis, and so on). The team conducts an independent, 'open-source' investigation, with one cold case becoming the focus of each episode.
The producers were looking for stories in which there has been a significant level of involvement by friends and family of the victim in trying to keep the case in the public eye. They wanted to dedicate an episode to David’s story. At first, my family and I were apprehensive about the potential for sensationalism coming out of a reality-TV series about unsolved murder cases. We have been concerned for some time now that the police may have assumed, in the early stages of the investigation, that David's murder was a homophobic hate crime. David was openly gay, and although we understand why his sexuality became a focus of the investigation initially, we have never been satisfied with this explanation. After extensive conversation with the TCAK producers, we agreed to work with Mike Arntfield and his team. This felt like a rare opportunity to get some fresh eyes on the evidence. I am limited in terms what I can say about the episode at this point in time; however, it is scheduled air in March 2014.
During the summer of 2013, in the midst of talking with the TCAK team and with David’s case in forefront of our minds, a call came from Michael Friscolante of Maclean’s magazine. I remembered speaking with Michael thirteen years ago—he was one of the reporters who covered the murder for the National Post. Now a Senior Writer for Maclean’s, Michael was interested in writing a different kind of article about David’s case, one that would create a portrait of his life and work, and also return to the question of who might have had both the motive and the opportunity to murder him. The article, "Portrait of a Life Cut Short" (November 2013), is part of a special edition of Maclean’s entitled, "Canada’s Greatest Unsolved Mysteries."
While many of the stories in this edition focus on unsolved murders, there are also stories of high profile robberies, and even a few art heists. The Editor’s Letter describes the breadth of the issue:
“All the cases in the Maclean’s special issue are unsolved mysteries. They are not just about violent crimes; they span centuries, from the search for the wreck of the 1845 Franklin expedition, to Tom Thompson’s alleged drowning in 1917, to the search for the crooks who broke into the Montreal Museum of Fine Art in 1972 and made off with $70 million worth of masterpieces. Only one painting has ever been recovered.”
The Maclean’s issue makes for fascinating reading. While the subject matter is difficult and potentially sensational, the stories are compelling because they are thoroughly researched, and at times quite beautifully written. Many of the cases the issue brings to light are merely a detail, a shred of evidence or a whispered admission away from being solved.
In my entry on this website in 2012, I asked the question, what do we know? Back then, I thought it was a question only a few of us who knew and loved David still cared enough to wrestle with. At times, asking the question (again, and again) feels like a desolate, internal conversation. As David’s close friend Paul Casselman wrote to me this week, “We once again share the grief of David’s murder. A bunch of us set out to cross the desert… there are no landmarks.” In 2013, we found some fellow travelers: people who share something of our intense desire to bring a resolution to this case. The journalists who continue to write about David’s story in depth and the investigators on the TCAK team are bringing to the case particular kinds of expertise, combined with a willingness to open themselves up to the unknown. An investigation that has been playing out in our minds has moved back into the world. This is an important and welcome shift. And yet, each time we return to the facts of the case we open ourselves up, once again, to the strange and difficult alchemy of not knowing, knowing and needing to know.
We hope that the episode of “To Catch a Killer” and the article in Maclean’s will bring David’s life and work into focus into a new way. As Mike Friscolante writes about David, “Adored by students and respected by colleagues, the 50-yr-old artist—humble, witty and unfailingly punctual—seemed the unlikeliest of targets.” We hope also that this renewed attention to the case will stir conversation and fresh thinking about what happened in David’s office on January 18th, 2001. Any detail or hunch is potentially significant. The TCAK episode will air in March 2014. I will be posting the broadcast date on this website very soon.
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 ghost—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 particular lamp in his apartment because it had an interesting ‘patina’. David had the vocabulary of an artist.
September 23, 2000
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. 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 while taking 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.
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 African American 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, along with 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. At the same time, I 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 tough question, what do we know?
Jan 18, 2012, Chicago