Michael Syrnyk seemed an unlikely suspect in a dramatic hostage-taking at a downtown massage parlour in which a police officer was shot in the arm last week.
Even more improbable is that the articulate, well-read 32-year-old man -- who, until his arrest in the standoff, lived with his father in an unassuming mud-brown cottage on a quiet residential street -- now faces 50 charges for a series of violent, armed robberies in Winnipeg over the past several years.
Mr. Syrnyk, a Grade 12 graduate who has spent most of his adult life unemployed but had once entertained ideas of a career in law enforcement, was arrested May 2.
After the 12-hour standoff with police at the massage parlour, in which one officer was shot and one hostage was taken and safely released, the gun-toting Mr. Syrnyk was peacefully apprehended when he fell asleep in the early-morning hours.
Only later did Winnipeg police find they may have a much bigger quarry in their custody: A tip linked Mr. Syrnyk to a series of unsolved armed robberies dating back to 1995, including a recent dramatic armoured-car robbery in April in which shots were exchanged with a security guard in the busy parking lot of a suburban Safeway store.
Those daring, high-stakes heists were known to be the work of someone the police dubbed the Yuletide Bandit, because several occurred during the Christmas holidays.
"He wasn't even on the radar for these crimes," according to Winnipeg Police Staff Sergeant Doug Lofto, who said they were looking for a much more "seasoned criminal," capable of the meticulously planned robberies that left behind few clues for investigators.
When the police searched Mr. Syrnyk's house, storage locker and car, they found a mind-boggling cache of weapons, which included shotguns, handguns, machetes, a spear thrower and almost 2,000 rounds of ammunition. There was other gear: a police scanner, binoculars, two-way radios, bullet-proof vest and ammunition belts.
"Just the quantity of ammunition itself was enough for robberies for a long time," Staff Sgt. Lofto said.
For the people familiar with the Syrnyk family, it was a big surprise. According to an acquaintance who asked not to be named, the younger Mr. Syrnyk was a "quiet, no-eye-contact kind of guy."
Certainly, when Mr. Syrnyk sent a message through his lawyer Mike Cook, thanking the police for their professionalism during the armed stand-off, it was clear he was no garden-variety suspect.
His parents had split up but Mr. Cook said his client enjoyed "close relationships" with his family, including his younger brother Brent. He lived with his mother Virginia for years in the house in Winnipeg's St. James Village until she died of cancer last year, leaving him an inheritance. About that time, Mr. Syrnyk's father, also named Michael, moved into the basement of the house.
On a rainy day this week, the elder Mr. Syrnyk, a grocery-store butcher with pomaded hair, returned to the house to clean it up after the police raid.
Investigators had turned over tables, emptied bureau drawers, spilled garbage bags, stripped the beds, and removed almost all the nicotine-stained ceiling tiles from the basement.
The frat-boy sensibility of the Syrnyk men's existence was still evident: Ash trays overflowed, empty Kokanee beer bottles graced table tops and counters, bedsheet curtains covered the windows and empties were stacked in the kitchen where a package of Milk Bones was open, for Odie, the dog who shared pet privileges at the house with the cautious black-and-white cat staring out from behind a pair of cowboy boots on the basement stairs.
Strewn on the floor of the living room were rental videos of Real Killers, Fight Club and Run Lola Run.
Mr. Cook said his client is "highly intelligent, well read, articulate, and with a good vocabulary," with an interest in historical incidents and science fiction.
"The information that we have is that he is kind of self-taught through the media and books," Staff Sgt. Lofto said.
"He's an individual that would go to great lengths and meticulous planning."
Certainly, Staff Sgt. Lofto said, the accused is credited with a strong sense of discipline, which may have gone awry when the physically fit Mr. Syrnyk started to dabble in drugs. Police suspect he was using drugs at the time of the hostage-taking incident, and "there is other evidence" of substance abuse in his case, Staff Sgt. Lofto said.
It is this lifestyle change that they believe led to his undoing.
He faces charges for 24 robberies of banks, credit unions, a jewellery store and gun shops.
This week, a 23-year-old alleged accomplice was arrested and charged in four robberies. Police are looking for others who may have assisted with the crimes.
They are also looking at how much the elder Mr. Syrnyk knew about his son's activities, Staff Sgt. Lofto said.
"I think the father was blissfully ignorant of the what was going on. There's no intimation the dad was privy to anything," Mr. Cook said.
And the elder Mr. Syrnyk is not saying much. He silently showed his small crammed basement bedroom, with its toppled bureau drawers and the now bare mattresses.
It is adjacent to a large empty room, with red walls and a floor littered with the recently removed ceiling tiles. When asked questions, he smiled uneasily, puffed a cigarette and smoothed his neat duckbill hairdo. His son, he said, can speak for himself.