At first, police weren’t sure why a married mother of four was shot to death when she answered the door to her Saskatoon home early one morning in September.
Lorry Anne Santos, 33, didn’t have enemies. Loved ones said there was no reason for anyone to harm her. On Tuesday, police confirmed what her family already suspected: She was an innocent victim in a case of a mistaken address.
“We believe the house was targeted for a reason,” Saskatoon Police Chief Clive Weighill told reporters. “We didn’t know if it was a wrong address or if there was a reason for them to go to that house and, as it turns out, it was the wrong house.”
The crime, according to a joint investigation by police in Saskatchewan and Alberta, was part of the cross-border drug trade by White Boy Posse, a white supremacist street gang that has long been considered a “puppet club” of the Hells Angels.
Three men have now been charged with first-degree murder in the Sept. 12 death of Ms. Santos, and a fourth man has also been implicated in what investigators say became a two-province crime rampage that left three bodies, including one with a decapitated head, in its wake.
Ms. Santos’s husband, Ferdie, was home at the time of the attack, as were their children, ages five months to 16 years. But no one else was injured when a barrage of bullets was fired at their home after Ms. Santos answered the door.
“Lorry was not the target, nor was any other member of the family,” said Jenelyn Santos Ong, who grew up with Ms. Santos and speaks on behalf of the family. “There is nothing that can bring Lorry back, but at least now they are starting to get some answers as to why this happened.”
There are dozens of gangs operating in the Edmonton area. To make them less appealing to young people, police prefer to describe them as “criminal organizations” and are often reluctant to identify them by name. But they wanted to in this case. White Boy Posse has been on the Edmonton police list of serious threats, along with Redd Alert, Alberta Warriors, North End Jamaicans and West End Jamaicans. White Boy Posse’s reach extends through northern Alberta to the Northwest Territories. Saskatoon Police Inspector Jerome Engele, who said the gang wasn’t on his city’s radar until Ms. Santos was killed, wondered if they were “looking at setting up shop here.” Gang members have a history of arrests in Alberta with police seizing firearms, cash, cocaine and ecstasy.
That’s how Bryan Gower may have been connected to them – through his addiction to cocaine, according to his family. The 35-year-old was found shot to death on Sept. 25 in a rural area near Kitscoty, Alta., not far from the Saskatchewan boundary. He lived on the family farm in Lloydminster, Sask., with his parents, Walter and Marion Newman, who for years tried to get their son into an addiction recovery program. Lloydminster straddles the Saskatchwean-Alberta boundary.
“We tried to talk him into it, but the disease of the addiction was stronger,” Mr. Newman said.
While fiercely loyal to his friends, Mr. Gower was in and out of jail for crimes such as theft, his parents said, and he held down jobs in the oil patch off and on. But every penny went to fuel his drug habit. His father said he doesn’t think he was involved with the gang, other than as his source for drugs, and wonders now if he had a debt.
“He was with us until 11 o’clock that night here in Lloydminster,” Mr. Newman recalled. “My wife phoned his cell and said, ‘Where are you going?’ and he said, ‘I’ll be back shortly.’ That was the last we heard.”
At 5 a.m. the next day, the RCMP were called to the sounds of gunfire in a rural area, about 30 kilometres northwest of the Newmans’ farm. The medical examiner later said Mr. Gower died of gunshot wounds. Another individual, who has not been identified by police, was injured during the melee. On Sunday, police called the Newmans to say there had finally been arrests.
“There is relief,” Mr. Newman said. “My wife kept phoning [police] every day to find out if they had found out anything, so for her it’s been quite a major relief.”
RCMP Inspector Jerry Scott told reporters in Edmonton that Mr. Gower knew his alleged attackers. So did Robert Roth Sr., 54, whose headless body was found Oct. 20 in a ditch near Ranfurly, Alta., halfway between Edmonton and Lloydminster. His severed head was found in a cardboard box in a north Edmonton alley five days later.
Various reports say Mr. Roth, who lived in Lloydminster, Alta., had a cocaine addiction and that the killing and decapitation were meant to send a message to a rival gang member. The investigation is not over. “Violence like this will not be tolerated in our communities,” Insp. Scott said.
Charged with the first-degree murder of Ms. Santos are: Kyle Darren Halbauer, 22, of Lloydminster, Alta., Randy James Wayne O’Hagan, 22, of Lloydminster, Alta., and Joshua Dylan Petrin, 29, of Edmonton.
Mr. Halbauer and Mr. O’Hagan are also charged with first-degree murder in the death of Mr. Gower, and face attempted murder charges with respect to an unnamed victim. Mr. O’Hagan is charged with first-degree murder and offering an indignity to a human body in the death and decapitation of Mr. Roth, as is Nikolas Jon Nowytzkyj, 32, of Wainwright, Alta.
All four men are in custody.