Surrounded by large yellow fields of fragrant canola and patches of swaying green wheat, the faded sign at the end of Range Road 291 reads “Rural Crime Watch Area.”
To long-time residents, the sign always seemed out of place on this farming road in southern Alberta, at the edge of the quiet bedroom community of Airdrie. Everyone on Range Road 291 knows each other and helps each other. This is an area ruled by tradition and hard work, where neighbours share coffee over well-worn kitchen tables. Descendants of the five families that first settled the area a century ago still meet at Christmas annually.
Near the edge of the road, where asphalt gives way to gravel that continues to the horizon, Archie and Doreen Garland have owned a large acreage for more than 40 years. A tree-lined lane runs to their home from the road, with rusted and sagging barbed wire strung across the front of their property. This has been home to their family for decades.
However, to neighbours who know everything about each other, the couple’s son was always an enigma.
Douglas Garland, 54, was considered quiet, a loner. He was never seen at the bank, at local bars or shopping at the supermarket. Where most locals would honk and wave as they drove past, Doug would stare straight ahead through the steering wheel of his green Ford F-150.
“They’re great neighbours, everyone likes them,” says Jim Nevada, a retired chuckwagon racer who lives nearby. “But no one can tell you anything about Doug except his parents. There is a big blank at the end of the road and no one can fill it, not even the neighbours.”
Life on Range Road 291 changed forever at 1:30 a.m. on July 14. The quiet street was awash with flashing lights that night as neighbours said Mr. Garland crossed two open fields and was arrested on the porch of the home behind his family’s property.
Two RCMP cars now sit at the end of the Garlands’ laneway and could be there for weeks. Every slough, ditch, field and corral in the immediate area has been picked through as police search for the bodies of five-year-old Nathan O’Brien and his grandparents, Alvin and Kathryn Liknes.
Calgary police charged Mr. Garland with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder the day after his arrest. Investigators believe the reclusive man is responsible for an act of violence on a sleepy street a half hour to the south in Calgary.
Over the last weekend of June, hundreds streamed through the front door of the blue-grey clapboard house at 123 38A Avenue in Calgary – the Liknes home. One of the many vehicles to park near the house, police would later reveal, belonged to Mr. Garland, whose sister, Patti, was in a common-law relationship with Alvin and Kathryn Liknes’s son Allen.
Why he may have visited the Liknes home around the end of June remains a mystery and the subject of theories in Calgary and the town of Airdrie.
Over the weekend before they disappeared, the Liknes’s held an estate sale that had been publicized online. More than 200 people walked through their home and bought much of what they owned. The grandparents were moving to Edmonton and wanted to downsize.
The Liknes home is in Parkhill, a small enclave of only a few streets tucked between one of southwest Calgary’s main arterial roads, the Macleod Trail, and the Elbow River. The area is a mix of homes only a few minutes from downtown. At one end of short 38A Avenue, bare-chested locals cut the grass in front of their tract housing in mid-July, leaving the fresh smell hanging over the area. Only a short walk to the west, an ultra-modern mansion with an imposing security system sits by the river.
Tracy, who preferred to withhold her last name, was a local resident who stopped by the Liknes’s estate sale, leaving Friday evening with her eye on a set of dressers. Her boyfriend returned the next morning to haggle over the price.
“I spoke with [Ms. Liknes], she seemed happy, telling us about how they were going to move and take a trip somewhere,” she said.
According to the woman, Mr. Liknes wasn’t very visible during the sale. When her boyfriend returned the next morning, he also spoke only with Ms. Liknes.