Thomas Gisby kept such a low profile that his name never made the news – until he was killed in Mexico, causing police to warn that a gang war that has already featured two dramatic attacks in British Columbia could explode in public again.
A bomb blast in Whistler and a shocking daylight murder in Kelowna set the backdrop for the killing of Mr. Gisby, thought to be about 50, who was shot twice in the head in a Starbucks in the Mexican resort town of Nuevo Vallarta on Friday night.
The urgency of the concern was indicated by speed with which the RCMP called a news conference on Saturday to announce that the force will "be paying particular attention" to organized crime figures associated with Mr. Gibsby, or who were his rivals. Mr. Gisby has been linked to Metro Vancouver crime groups suspected of carrying out the Kelowna killing, members of which have since become targets themselves.
"It's very unusual we speak this quickly, but its important given the heightened situation of gang violence that we've seen in British Columbia of late," RCMP Chief Superintendent Dan Malo said at the press conference.
Sergeant Duncan Pound re-emphasized those concerns in an interview on Sunday, in which he said that while Mr. Gisby didn't have a public profile, he was well known to police, who fear his murder could lead to more violence.
"A lot of people might have just read about it and not realized that that meant anything at all," Sgt. Pound said of the shooting in Mexico. "[But]police were aware of who he was and how he fit into the picture. Tom Gisby was a significant player within organized crime and … there's a potential that there'll be increased tensions and potential retaliation."
Sgt. Pound declined to discuss whether police think Mr. Gisby was tracked down and killed in Mexico.
"We wouldn't speculate on those kinds of details," he said. "I think the only light we've been able to shed … as people try and pin us down to say who he was affiliated with or who he worked with, [is that]he was a big enough player that he had his own group."
Court records show Mr. Gisby's life in crime stretches back to 1982, when he was sentenced to nine months in prison for possession of stolen property. In 1983, he got 16 months for breaking and entering, and he was fined for lesser offences in 1986, 1987 and 1988.
He quickly worked his way up from petty crime to become involved in the drug trade, and in 1988, he was arrested with three kilograms of cocaine and $100,000 in cash. Out on bail while facing a charge of trafficking, he was arrested again, this time in possession of one kilo of cocaine.
Mr. Gisby was sentenced to 36 months on two trafficking charges, although a psychologist's report stated at the time that there was a good chance he could be rehabilitated.
"Mr. Gisby would be prepared to start over," the psychologist told court.
But it appears he did not take that opportunity.
The Gisby Crime Group is not one that police have talked about publicly before.
"Maybe it's not a name that gets thrown around like some of the more traditional names that are associated with organized crime, but within the police world, he was known to … have his own connections, which allowed him to be a significant player in the drug world," Sgt. Pound said.
Chief Supt. Malo said police were aware Mr. Gisby had been in Mexico for some time and confirmed that he had been the target of a bombing attempt in Whistler in January.
In that incident, an explosion rocked a motorhome that was parked in a lot in the Callaghan Valley, near Whistler, causing minor injuries to Mr. Gisby and another man.
Mr. Gisby has also been linked to the Dhak and Duhre crime groups in Metro Vancouver, both of which became targets for apparent retaliation following a dramatic daylight shooting last August, outside the Grand Okanagan Resort, in Kelowna.
That shooting resulted in the death of one of B.C.'s most notorious gangsters, Jonathan Bacon, a member of the Red Scorpions. With Mr. Bacon in the car that was riddled with bullets were several other gang figures known to police, including Larry Amero of the Hells Angels.
After that incident, police warned that more gang violence could follow.