At age 29, following nearly two years in custody for a string of Toronto-area bank robberies, Brett Ryan walked free of prison bearing a glowing parole report and a new-found affection for the family he is now accused of slaughtering.
He was a model inmate with a bright future ahead of him, according to documents released by the Parole Board of Canada on Tuesday: no history of violence, no major mental illness, strong family support, low risk to reoffend.
Six years and four months later, Toronto police charged Mr. Ryan, 35, with three counts of first-degree murder for the lurid midday slayings of his mother and two brothers at the family’s Scarborough bungalow last Thursday. This week, police disclosed that Ms. Ryan died by strangulation, while the two men died by crossbow arrow.
Brett Ryan was no longer under parole board supervision at the time of last week’s slayings, but the documents help illuminate his illicit past, including problems with debt and depression that he “incurred as a result of leading a lifestyle in support of [an] intimate relationship.”
Mr. Ryan appeared on the board’s radar in 2010. A judge had sentenced him to three years and nine months in prison for his turn as the Fake Beard Bandit, the costumed thief behind a spate of Toronto-area bank robberies in 2007 and ’08. In April, 2010, the board granted him day parole.
A report accompanying the decision tells the story of an unlikely criminal who fell into debt and resorted to crime in a misguided attempt at solvency. He was depressed at the time of the offences, the report notes, as a result of poor university grades and the unsustainable sums of money he was pouring into intimate relationships.
“You told the board that you had invested everything in your two previous relationships and were let down on both occasions,” the decision states. “You fell into a depression that you failed to recognize and instead of seeking help, you started to rob banks to pay your debt and maintain your lifestyle.”
He conducted his robberies using elaborate disguises that included medical bandages, a limp, fake business documents and a costume beard. The take rarely topped $3,000 a robbery, but totalled roughly $28,000 over time.
Mr. Ryan told the board it was a “relief” when police finally nabbed him in June, 2009, during his 14th robbery.
During his time in federal custody, Mr. Ryan sat for seven sessions with a psychologist, who noted that he was making emotional inroads with immediate family members.
“You told the board that for the first time in several years, you are now actually communicating with close members of your family and that you have spent significant time re-establishing these relationships since your incarceration,” the document states.
Psychiatric notes on the report indicate Mr. Ryan showed no signs of substance abuse, personality disorder, antisocial behaviour, psychopathic tendencies or any other mental illness that might raise his chances of reoffending.
While the parole board raised concerns over Mr. Ryan’s lingering credit-card debt, he cleared his debts through bankruptcy. From there, he planned to relaunch a home-renovation business and work toward a university biophysics degree.
On day parole, Mr. Ryan took up part-time restaurant work and university courses, according to a November, 2010, report accompanying the decision to grant full parole. At the time, the board expressed few concerns about Mr. Ryan, stipulating just two special conditions: inform a parole officer of any changes to financial status and relationship status.
“This series of crimes appears to be an aberration,” the document states. “You report that you had no intention of hurting anyone.”
It’s unclear what path Mr. Ryan took following his full release. At the time of his arrest, he was just three weeks away from marrying a woman he had met in 2013, according to a wedding website for the couple.
In another development on Tuesday, a judge lifted the publication ban preventing media outlets from naming the victims: Susan Ryan, 66, Christopher Ryan, 42, and Alexander Ryan, 29.
In a condolence note posted on Twitter, Toronto Transit Commission spokesman Brad Ross said the agency would lower its flags in memory of Christopher Ryan, a station collector with 12 years of service. “On behalf of the entire TTC family,” he wrote, “we offer our deepest condolences to Mr. Ryan’s family, friends and colleagues.”Report Typo/Error