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Dennis Oland on board the Aloma, the family boat.
Dennis Oland on board the Aloma, the family boat.

Oland's son comes under scrutiny in murder investigation Add to ...

The death of Dick Oland was initially suspicious, then declared a homicide and took a grisly turn with a report that he was killed with an axe. On Thursday, the case veered toward the unthinkable, as police searched the home of the victim's only son.

The search of Dennis Oland's house came six days after he was questioned "extensively" by police, according to his uncle Derek Oland, in a case that has captivated the Saint John area, where the Olands are a hugely influential family.

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Connie Oland, the widow of the victim, and her son Dennis gave videotaped interviews to police the day Dick Oland was found, Derek Oland said, a difficult experience that left them feeling "bruised." He said he was told this by the people involved, none of whom has spoken publicly since the death, and that other immediate family might have talked to police as well.

The time gap between the interviews and the search warrant being executed on Dennis Oland's property could raise questions about the quality of any evidence seized - an issue Saint John police refused to discuss.

Dick Oland, 69, was found dead last Thursday morning in the office of his investment company in Saint John's historic downtown. The police here have been unusually tightlipped about the case. They have refused to confirm or deny the report, carried by the Toronto Star, that Mr. Oland was bludgeoned to death with an axe.

At least 20 police descended Thursday on the home of Dennis Oland, a sprawling property named Seven Acres in a posh part of Rothesay, a bedroom community of Saint John. His property is a short walk from both his parents' house and the imposing white church where his father's funeral was held.

Dennis Oland read a passage from scripture at his father's funeral Tuesday. Other than that, along with his mother and two sisters, he has avoided public attention and not spoken to the media since his father's violent death.

Saint John Police Sergeant Glenn Hayward, who handles media relations, was at the scene while the warrant was being executed. He said he could not talk about which parts of Dennis Oland's property were being searched or what was being sought. He referred all questions to Chief Bill Reid, who has been turning down every interview request.

A neighbour of Dennis Oland said that the uncertainty surrounding the case was weighing on her.

"It's just unbelievable," said Peggy Steele, who lives across the street. "I'm absolutely shocked. And sick - sick is the word.… Everything's so secretive, you don't know what's happening."

Dennis Oland, in his early 40s, is an investment dealer interested in provincial politics. He was educated in New Brunswick and worked in Toronto before returning to the Saint John area in 1994. He is married and has three children.

In the past he had been quoted saying that he didn't get to spend much time with his father growing up. But when the family was seeking "adventures" on their boat, Dick Oland "never let us down."

The Olands have been synonymous with brewing since the days of Confederation.

Dick Oland left Moosehead Breweries Ltd. 30 years ago, however, after a succession battle with his older brother Derek, and their relationship was acknowledged to be difficult for a long time. Derek Oland said Thursday that, in recent years, they would meet for lunch on occasion.

The younger brother played an active role in boosting the Saint John area, serving as president of the 1985 Canada Games and president of the New Brunswick Museum in the 1990s, during a time of revitalization. His influence was felt all over the city.

The stature of the Olands has brought enormous attention to the case, leading to wild gossip and shining the unwelcome glare of publicity on their private pain.

"The rumour mill doesn't help you with the grief side of it at all," Derek Oland said in an interview before it was known that his nephew's house was being searched. "The matter's now in the hands of the authorities and I have every confidence they will get to the bottom of it. Hopefully sooner than later. Further [public]speculation is pointless."

Derek Oland agreed to talk at his property outside of Saint John. He lives in the opposite direction of Rothesay, where a number of Olands have homes within walking distance, but said that the family has been spending a lot of time together since the homicide.

"The circumstances of his passing are still in everybody's mind as a terrible tragedy," he said. "You wake up in the morning and it's just 'what did happen last week?' And then it sinks in."

The ghastly nature of the last week had helped bring the family together, he said. Reached later, he offered no comment on the search of his nephew's house.



With reports from Anna Mehler Paperny, Tu Thanh Ha and Jill Mahoney in Toronto

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