In August 1982, Bob Johnson, 44, and Jackie Johnson, 41, and their daughters Janet, 13, and Karen went on a two-week camping trip with Jackie's parents, George Bentley, 66, and Edith Bentley, 59. Sadly it was the last family vacation they were ever to go on, cut short by a sadistic, brutal killer obsessed with young girls. A sad and depressing story of outdoor adventure gone wrong, bad luck and a mission by two Royal Canadian Mounted Police detectives to find the perpetrator of these awful crimes.
The group travelled to the remote Wells Gray Provincial Park. a wilderness park located in east-central British Columbia, Canada, around 300 miles (478 km) to the northeast of Vancouver. It covers 5,250 square kilometres (1.3 million acres) and is British Columbia's fourth largest park, after Tatshenshini, Spatsizi and Tweedsmuir. Before the arrival of Europeans, the Wells Gray area was a valued hunting ground to the Secwepemc (Shuswap), Tsilhqot'in (Chilcotin) and Canim Lake aboriginal groups.
They pitched camp at a secluded area near the old Bear Creek prison site with the Bentleys arriving with a truck and camper van with a boat on top.
On August 16, Bob failed to return to work at Gorman Brothers Lumber in Westbank which was very unusual for the 25-year employee. The group was reported missing on August 23, 1982.
On September 13th, a mushroom picker reported finding a burned-out car near Battle Mountain Road in a clearing off a mountainside logging road with the driver's side door open, thirteen aerial miles from Bear Creek and north of the town of Clearwater. On September 13, that was similar to the car that the Johnsons were driving.
Police found a pile of burnt bones on the back seat which were later identified as that of four adults and in the trunk were the remains of two girls. The charred remains were that of the Bentley's and Johnson's. Because of the location of the vehicle, it was quickly assumed that a local was responsible for the murders.
Forensic investigation of the bone fragments found that they had been shot with a .22 calibre gun. Locals had seen the family camped at Bear Creek and a search of the area found six spent .22 calibre ammunition shells. The Bentley’s 1981 Ford truck and camper and their camping gear, boat and motor and other possessions were missing. Some beer caps of the brand known to be drunk by Bob Johnson were also found as well as full bottles cooling in a nearby stream. Two sticks with sharp ends, probably used by the two girls to roast marshmallows were also at the site.
A Canadian wide manhunt was launched with some leads throwing investigators seriously off the scent. For example, two scruffy French-Canadian men were seen driving in a scamper van east towards Quebec but it turned out this was an unrelated vehicle. Many hours were wasted on these "wild goose" chases as the public phoned in thousands of sitings which all needed to be investigated.
But then on October 18, 1983, fourteen months after the murders with the trail running cold for the perpetrator, the Bentley's camper truck was finally located by two forestry workers, near Bear Creek, on an old logging road near Trophy Mountain. The spot was only 15 miles from the murder site and 20 miles from where the Johnsons' car was located. It had been burned using an accelerant and was well hidden on the side of different mountain from where the car and bodies were found. It looked like there had been an attempt to drive it into a gorge but logs had blocked its path. The location confirmed a local was most likely involved as outsiders would have been unlikely to find the isolated spot.
David William Shearing who lived locally was identified by someone who told police that, over a year earlier, Shearing had enquired about how to re-register a Ford pickup and repair a hole in its door. Shearing lived three miles from the site of the murders and the police had never released the information about the bullet hole.
The RCMP found Shearing in Tumbler Ridge, north of Kamloops, where he was to appear in court in a few days on a possession of stolen property charge of a significant amount of tools. He was taken into custody for questioning.
Despite his reputation and criminal record, Shearing came from a respectable family. His father, since deceased, had once been a prison guard and his brother was a sheriff. Shearing had graduated from high school and had successfully completed a heavy mechanic's course.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police detectives, Sergeant Mike Eastham and Constable Ken Liebel were convinced David Shearing was guilty from the beginning and tried to get his confidence. Eventually, they got him to confess to the crimes by getting him to relax and defer appointing a lawyer.
Initially, he was led to believe the arrest was related to a hit and run incident which he quickly confessed to before the detectives confronted him with the Bennett-Johnson case. Quickly, Shearing accidentally admitted to Eastham that he had heard the murders were committed at Bear Creek which was not information released to the public. After effort and persuasion, Eastham managed to convince Shearing to confess to the six murders and he eventually agreed to re-enact the murders and even to turn over the murdered family’s possessions. Crucially he handed the police a .22 calibre Remington pump-action rifle, which was forensically matched as the murder weapon.
Shearing initially stated in his confession that he shot the four adults as they sat around their campfire, then shot the girls as they slept in the tent, saying he only wanted to rob them. He told the RCMP that he loaded the bodies into their car, drove it by night to the mountainside, and set it on fire using five gallons of gasoline. He said he cleaned the campsite, then took the truck/camper back to his nearby property, only to burn it later when he discovered how difficult it was to re-register.
David Shearing pleaded guilty to six counts of murder on April 16, 1984, and was given a life sentence with no possibility of parole for twenty-five years. This was the maximum possible penalty for second degree murder and the first time in Canadian history that it had been handed out.
Following Shearing’s conviction, Mike Eastham re-interviewed him and got the disturbing truth behind the killings - paedophilia. He lusted over the young girls and was determined to sexually abuse them even if it meant killing the parents and grandparents.
He said he saw the family when they set up camp and spent several days spying on them, with a fantasy to have sex with Janet and Karen. At dusk on August 10, 1982, walked into the campsite with his rifle and shot Bob Johnson, then Jackie and then George and Edith in cold blood.
The two girls were already in their tent, ready for bed. Shearing said he looked in, told them a dangerous biker gang was around and their parents had run for help. While they stayed in the tent, he said, he loaded the bodies of their parents and grandparents into the back seat of the family car and covered the bodies with a blanket. Then he crawled into the tent with the girls.
Shearing told Eastham he kept the girls alive for nearly a week, staying with them both at his ranch and at a small fishing cabin on the Clearwater River whilst repeatedly raping them.
They left the cabin after they were nearly discovered. A prison guard was supervising prisoners from a local jail who were fishing on the river. He came to the door of the cabin to tell Shearing not to be alarmed. But Shearing hid the girls behind the door and told them to stay quiet. The guard noticed nothing unusual.
The next day, Shearing said he took the girls back to his ranch and on August 16th, one at a time, he took each girl for a walk in the woods, told her to turn around so he could urinate, then shot each sister in the back of the head. He took the bodies back to the Johnson family car, which he’d hidden and put them in the trunk. He drove the car to a secluded spot and burnt it.
To double-check the story, Eastham found the prison guard. He remembered the meeting exactly as Shearing had described it. Then, RCMP Constable Ken Leibel hiked through the bush to the fishing cabin. Shearing told Leibel he carved his initials on the wall there. Leibel found them next to a second set, JJ, for 13-year-old Janet Johnson.
In his ten-minute summation at Shearing's trail, Supreme Court Justice Harry McKay described the crime as “a cold-blooded and senseless execution of six defenceless and innocent people...a slaughter that devastated three generations in a single bound. What a tragedy. What a waste, and for what?”
In September 2008, David Shearing was up for parole. The National Parole Board ruled that he still had violent sexual fantasies, hadn't completed sex offender treatment and was not ready for freedom. His second application, in 2012, was also rejected when a petition with 13,258 signatures was presented to the National Parole Board. Shearing then applied again in 2014, then withdrew the request a month before the hearing. In the meantime, online and paper petitions got 15,258 signatures urging the parole board not to release him. He now goes by his mother's maiden name, Ennis and is married to a woman he met whilst in prison.
Further reading and viewing
The Seventh Shadow : The Wilderness Manhunt for a Brutal Mass Murderer by Michael Eastham and Ian McLeod (1999, Paperback)
The Wells Gray Gunman https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=unFwrrYLZH8
The Detectives The Wells Gray Gunman S1 E1 (Canada only)https://watch.cbc.ca/the-detectives/season-1/episode-1/38e815a-00d94f07a15