British Columbia

Family, friends of B.C. murder suspect says Oscar Arfmann fought mental illness

Oscar Arfmann, the murder suspect in the shooting of Const. John Davidson, struggled with mental health since the death of his wife in 2013.

Oscar Arfmann was 'never the same' after the death of his second wife, Patricia, says Hope Arfmann

Oscar Arfmann is on trial for first degree murder in the shooting death of Abbotsford police Const. John Davidson. (CBC)

A relative of an Alberta man charged with the first-degree murder of a British Columbia police officer says the accused had been struggling since losing his wife almost five years ago.

In a statement, 65-year-old Oscar Arfmann's sister-in-law says he "was really never the same" after his wife died in April 2013.

It says Arfmann was admitted to hospital in St. Paul, a town northeast of Edmonton, in July 2015 for a mental evaluation, but he was released three days later.

Arfmann is charged in the death of Const. John Davidson in the Vancouver suburb of Abbotsford earlier this week.

Officers line the highway — here, the Brunette Avenue overpass — to pay their respects to an officer shot in the line of duty in Abbotsford. (Bill Cook)

The 53-year-old officer with 24 years on the job was critically injured while responding to a report of a possible stolen vehicle and shots fired at members of the public.

Arfmann's family says it wants to extend its deepest condolences to Davidson's family and the Abbotsford Police Department.

Arfmann remained in hospital on Tuesday. The B.C. civilian agency that investigates police actions resulting in serious harm or death has said it's believed he was shot.

The statement released by Arfmann's sister-in-law on behalf of the family says Arfmann continued to struggle with mental health issues after being released from hospital in 2015.

"Family members had tried to seek help for him, but he refused to go to the doctor," the statement said.

Emotionally abusive

Hope Arfmann said she married Oscar when she was 18, but the marriage lasted less than three years because he was emotionally abusive.

The couple lived in the small hamlet of Sunnybrook, Alta. and also on a farm near Millet, where she said he would hunt small rodents and birds.

"The birds deserted the area, the squirrels, the gophers — anybody and everybody spread the word: stay away from that area," she said.

She said their split was tense and she suffered a medical condition that caused blackouts when she felt distressed.

"I wanted to leave, and he decided to keep me from doing that," she explained. "I had been cutting up a roast at the table to make him a last lunch. And he says, 'well, you ain't going unless I let you go, and I ain't letting you go.' And that's all I heard. When my sensibility came back, there was a knife in the wall."

People pause at a makeshift memorial for Abbotsford Police Const. John Davidson on Tuesday Nov. 7, 2017. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

However, she said the incident had been enough to bring about a change of mind on his part. She said in no time at all, he had packed up her belongings and driven her into Edmonton.

After their split, their contact was limited, though they had a son together who she later gave up for adoption. Hope said after their divorce was made final by a Wetaskiwin court in the summer of 1975, Oscar married a woman named Patricia.

"I heard by-the-bye that they were still like honeymooners after 40 years," she said. "I was tickled pink. He married the right person the second time. For some reason, they clicked."

She said Oscar took Patricia's death hard.

"The only thing that he really loved was Patricia," she said.

A local handyman

Ashcroft resident Martin Thompson considers himself one of Arfmann's few friends. He says Arfmann was a local handyman that would go out of his way to help friends in need.

"He was just a nice normal guy. He'd do anything to help anybody," said Thompson. "All he wanted to do was be treated fair."

Thompson says he met Arfmann after the death of Patricia and that his struggles with mental health were apparent.

"He seemed to be going downhill pretty quick and then had some financial issues and the next thing, he started talking to himself. He'd apologize to you after, realize he had problems, he knew he was doing it."

Thompson was startled to see Arfmann's face on his TV screen, once news of the shooting broke.

"He always said if he was gonna go down, he would go down fighting," he said. "First thing I thought, I was saddened. It hit me like, 'holy mackeral.'"

"The signs were all there. He was going the wrong way. He needed help."

With files from Jon Hernandez, Tina Lovgreen and Gwen Dambrofsky