But if an accident had occurred, why had the victims – who included three healthy teenagers – not tried to escape? The lock was not deep: The roof of the Nissan was less than 18 inches from the water's surface.
As it moved forward, at an estimated 8 km/h, the same hand that put the car in gear also switched off the ignition, police concluded. Why? Because the running lights might attract attention from nearby houses and boats.
As an accident scenario, it almost defied belief. And neither did the location itself make much sense. A car could only reach the lock by navigating around a big rock outcropping, necessitating two U-turns, and the opening was so narrow there were just inches of clearance on each side of the car.
All this in the dead of night, with no street lights anywhere.
None of these key details supported the killers' cover story that the Nissan must have ended up in the water because the four women had taken it for a late-night spin, got lost in the darkness and had somehow driven in.
The murderers’ ineptitude, however, went far beyond buying the wrong car and putting it in the wrong place.
On his father's laptop computer Hamed Shafia had done numerous Google searches that in hindsight seem incredible: How to commit murder? Does a person in a Canadian prison have control over their real estate holdings? There were also numerous inquiries involving bodies of water. Police found them all.
Nothing would have been easier than to get rid of the laptop, but the killers chose to keep it.
They also made numerous incriminating statements into the bugging devices the police concealed in their car and their house – even as they wondered aloud if anyone might be listening.
Nor did they factor in cellphone technology. The network of towers off which cellphone calls “ping” allows authorities to retrace with great accuracy where a user was, and when.
And as the Shafia family journeyed that week from Montreal to Niagara Falls and back, their phones were in constant use for calls and text messages.
Particularly incriminating was a call to Hamed's phone, a couple of days before the murders, showing that while the others remained in Niagara Falls he was lurking near Kingston on what police swiftly concluded was a reconnaissance mission.
Then there was the defendants' bizarre behaviour at the Kingston East Motel on the night the women were murdered. At around 2 a.m, while the third killer, Mr. Shafia’s wife Tooba Mohammad Yahya, waited with the soon-to-die victims near the lock, her husband and son took the three other Shafia children to the motel.
But when they checked in, motel manager Robert Miller told the trial, they didn't seem to know how many people would be staying in the two rooms they wanted. At first they said six. But after a brief discussion in Dari they said it would be nine. In the end, they settled for six.
A few minutes later Mr. Miller watched the Lexus disappear into the night, up Hwy. 15 in the direction of the locks. He didn't see it return. Mr. Miller recalled that when the party of six checked out the next day, Mr. Shafia was anxious to get a discount.
The penny-pinching – the motel bill, the cheap car, keeping the laptop – speaks volumes about Mr. Shafia.
Like his spoiled son Hamed, he was used to having his way, which is undoubtedly why he and his wife decided to testify at their trial, an unusual move for murder defendants.
THE FOUR VERSIONS
The jurors were clearly skeptical of their testimony. Nor did they seem swayed by the trial evidence of the Shafias' other teen-aged son, who tried to buttress his parents' alibi by confidently testifying that at the motel he had witnessed his sister Zainab, one of the four murdered women, ask for the keys to the Nissan so she and the three others could go for a late-night drive – a story police doubted from almost the outset.
As for problems within the dysfunctional Shafia household – a major component of the trial evidence, extensively described by Montreal teachers and social workers – the son assured the jury there really hadn't been any.