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A view of 52 Canterbury Street in Saint John, NB on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011. The Uptown Saint John building is the murder site of businessman Richard Oland. (Daivd Smith for The Globe and Mail/Daivd Smith for The Globe and Mail)
A view of 52 Canterbury Street in Saint John, NB on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011. The Uptown Saint John building is the murder site of businessman Richard Oland. (Daivd Smith for The Globe and Mail/Daivd Smith for The Globe and Mail)

Crime

The inscrutable murder of a magnate Add to ...

There are no cameras or electronic key cards at 52 Canterbury Street, a three-storey red-brick building in the quaint heritage district here, just off the bustling waterfront. There was one simple security rule at the office of Dick Oland, a prominent member of the Moosehead beer family dynasty: The last guy out locked the door.

But some time after 6 p.m. on Wednesday, July 6, somebody walked through the front door, climbed 23 stairs, turned right and went through the white-framed glass doors with the small gold sign that read: Far End Corporation – Mr. Oland’s headquarters for his investment firm and charity work.

The person then killed the 69-year-old businessman and walked back out onto the street.

Robert McFadden, Mr. Oland’s accountant, sailing buddy and confidante, was one of the first people to see the body when he showed up for work the next morning.

“First thing, nine o’clock in the morning, he was found in this room,” he said in his first interview since the murder, his eyes watering and his voice sometimes choking. He declined to describe the crime scene. “I don’t want to get into that,” he said, adding that police told witnesses to keep mum to prevent the case from being compromised.

Police have offered one clue: that Mr. Oland knew his murderer. “I would suggest to you that at the end of this investigation, we’ll find that the perpetrator and the victim knew each other,” Saint John Police Chief Bill Reid said at his first and only news conference on the case, four days after the body was discovered. “There was an acquaintance there.”

Beyond that, authorities and the family have erected a wall of silence around the case. Three months later, grumblings and frustration are emerging about a police investigation that has become embarrassingly long and – so far, at least – disappointingly unfruitful in such a high-profile murder.

Except for a short burst of search warrants early this summer, police have offered no word on their progress – or lack of it.

Bill Farren, a long-time Moosehead employee, city councillor and former vice-chairman of the police commission, said the public’s patience is near the breaking point. “There comes a time when, for me as a citizen and as a councillor, I will have to ask: what have you got and why don’t you have what you’re supposed to have?

“Sooner or later, someone’s going to have to say you owe the community – and the family – an explanation of what happened, what went on.”

The Premier, the lieutenant governor, three cabinet ministers, two federal senators and three local mayors attended Mr. Oland’s funeral, which police videotaped – “like a Montreal mob funeral only this was the heart of the bluebloods,” as one participant put it.

Dick Oland’s great-great-grandmother, Susannah, came from England in 1865 with a family recipe for fine-tasting dark brown ale that gave birth to a brewing dynasty worth millions. But those fortunes were also a recipe for bitter squabbles. Dick and his brother Derek fought continuously until their father finally – and somewhat untraditionally – designated Derek, the younger son, to lead Moosehead.

Effectively ousted from the company by the early 1980s, Dick Oland went into everything from trucking to investments. He helped bring the Canada Summer Games to Saint John, which earned him an Order of Canada. He was praised after his death as a determined if aggressive business leader who gave back much to his community.

All of which had many people scratching their heads when Dick Oland turned up brutally murdered in his office: Who would want him dead?

Dozens of theories circulated on the cocktail circuit. “It’s a whodunit, but nobody really knows who the suspects are,” said Paul Zed, a well-connected lawyer and former MP from Saint John. “That doesn’t happen every day – and certainly not in this genteel community of the rich and famous.”

The police have refused to say how Mr. Oland was killed. “The type of weapon would be hold-back information we would never release,” said spokesperson Sergeant Glenn Hayward. “That’s something that would only be known to the suspect.”

The Toronto Star, citing an unnamed source, reported that Mr. Oland was bludgeoned with an axe. However, Tom Oland, Dick’s cousin and one of many Olands police interrogated after the murder, said he was asked whether he owned a drywall hammer – a small construction tool with an axe-like blade.

“The only weapon they mentioned was a drywall hammer,” said Mr. Oland, speculating, “that’s what must have killed Dick.”

To date, the police have little to show for a murder that took place literally around the corner from their headquarters. A full week passed before they executed their first search warrant.

Two days after the funeral, about 20 police officers with dogs arrived at the home of Dick Oland’s son, Dennis. The estate, nestled on the shores of the Kennebecasis River in the old-money suburb of Rothesay, is a sprawling homestead known as SevenAcres inherited from his grandfather. The police arrived around noon and did not leave until after 8 p.m. – and not before they dug up the front lawn.

The next day, police turned up at a nearby sports community centre and kayak club. They asked people about the schedules and pickup times for Dennis Oland’s children who attended activities there. On July 21, police showed up at the Royal Kennebecasis Yacht Club just outside Saint John and searched the Loki, a yacht belonging to Dennis Oland’s wife, and the dark waters around the marina.

Those three searches related to Dennis Oland have been the only search warrants police have executed, at least publicly. There is nothing to suggest that the execution of these warrants has advanced the case.

Dennis is an investment dealer with CIBC Wood Gundy, but is “on leave for the moment,” said a vice-president at the bank.

By all accounts, he was, if not close, at least not antagonistic to his father, with whom he had some business dealings. “He’s a quiet guy, very sensible, pleasant and down to earth,” said a former Moosehead manager. “He doesn’t have his father’s aggressive attitude.”

He delivered one of the readings at his father’s funeral on July 12. “He was calm and collected, I could see no agitation at all,” cousin Tom Oland said.

Dennis Oland declined comment for this story, saying only “I don’t think this is a good time to talk.”

He is not the only member of the clan who is not talking.

“I have nothing to say,” Constance Oland, who was married to Mr. Oland for 46 years, said when reached by phone.

Still, the silence and the uncertainty over the slaying come at a price.

“It’s now affecting the family name and their brand,” said a business person in Saint John who knows the Olands.

The Saint John police have urged the community to be patient. “It's not something you see on CSI. This is not glamorous and or sexy,” Chief Reid said back in July. “It’s not a guessing game. We want to be able to prove this case without a shadow of a doubt.”

The lack of any news from the police after three months could be because they are close to making an arrest. “That’s the holdup,” Mr. Farren suggested. “They are looking at a couple of key pieces and they haven’t been able to connect the dots.”

But the force has scant experience handling homicides. According to Statistics Canada, there have never been more than two murders a year in Saint John for the past decade – eight in all since 2000.

“I’ve never seen the death of a prominent citizen investigated the way this one has been investigated,” said Tom Young, the city’s best known radio talk show host until he retired this spring after 40 years. “Basically, they’ve got a body killed in a certain way and nobody they can pin it on. I don’t think it will be solved.”

Back on Canterbury Street, they’ve removed the Far End company sign from the outside door of the building where Dick Oland was murdered.

Upstairs, the framed photographs of his yachting exploits are packed in a carton in the corner.

“The mystery is there,” Mr. McFadden said as he took out a picture from his sailing days with his old friend and business partner. “I don’t know if I’d say it gnaws at me, but it’s an unknown. You’d hope in this day and age that they could solve it.”

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