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The Globe and Mail

Oland investigation puts Saint John in eerie calm

Two weeks after Richard Oland was found dead in his Saint John office, police mounted a search of a local yacht club where he was a member, focusing on a boat believed to belong to his daughter-in-law.

Officers were at the Royal Kennebeccasis Yacht Club for at least four hours Thursday morning, and had a diver on hand to search below the docks.

John Fallon, a member, said he saw police take two wheelbarrows of bagged evidence from a 25-foot faded-green boat.

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A faded-green boat named Loki is registered in club documents to Lisa Ferguson — the same name of the current wife of Dennis Oland, Mr. Oland's son. Saint John Police would not confirm if the search was part of the investigation into the businessman's murder.

Dennis Oland's property, in the northeast suburb of Rothesay, was searched last Thursday. Police have conducted other searches in the past week, including woods behind a Rothesay baseball field, but would not confirm the searches were in connection with Mr. Oland's killing.

Police said last week that the slaying was most likely committed by someone the 69-year-old knew.

No suspects have been named and no one has been arrested in relation to the case.

The theory that Mr. Oland knew his killer has also allowed the city to settle into an eerie calm. The streets are rife with rumours, while those close to Mr. Oland and his family have kept silent.

Mayor Ivan Court said the police theory "alleviated a lot of concern" for city residents. People feel safe, he told The Globe and Mail, and their main wish is that the case is quickly resolved so the family can get closure.

Imelda Gilman, president of the Saint John Board of Trade, said members of the business advocacy group aren't concerned that a killer is wandering their streets. "A safety issue has not been raised," she said.

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"People don't have a concern for their safety at all," said Sarah Craig, chair of the networking group Fusion Saint John. "Everyone understands it's not random."

Mr. Oland left his family's Moosehead Breweries dynasty in the 1980s and dedicated his time to investing and community-building projects. He helped bring the 1985 Canada Games to Saint John, breathed new life into the New Brunswick Museum in the 1990s, and was a mentor to many in the business community.

He was found dead in his Canterbury Street office July 7.

Saint John Police declined all requests for interviews without approval of Chief Bill Reid, who is out of the city for meetings for the rest of the week.

"The potential drawback of police being close-lipped is that it does have the potential to fuel rumours and innuendo on who the viable suspect is," said Fredericton criminology professor Michael Boudreau. "That's problematic. But that's something police can't concern themselves with."

The speculation that Mr. Oland knew his attacker makes sense, Prof. Boudreau said. "The victim usually knows their perpetrator. Either it's someone close or a family member," he said of most cases.

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Jack Cunningham, a retired sergeant who spent 12 years doing forensics and four years in the major crime unit of the Saint John Police force, called Chief Reid "an excellent investigator" and said the lengthy timeline is necessary to sort through mountains of evidence.

Even if evidence identifies someone as having been in Mr. Oland's office that day, for instance, that person may have simply been there earlier on business.

Mr. Cunningham identified fingerprints that helped lead to the charging of Saint John serial killer Noel Winters in the 1980s. But he recalls a case where remains were found in a Rothesay freezer but finger-and-palm prints at the scene couldn't be identified. The case is still cold. Without a smoking gun, it's difficult to lay charges. "There've been a lot of false accusations over the years," he said.

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