Douglas Garland charged with murder of Nathan O'Brien, Kathy and Alvin Liknes

Douglas Garland has been charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Calgary residents Kathy and Alvin Liknes, as well as second-degree murder in the death of the couple's five-year-old grandson, Nathan O'Brien.

Calgary police say evidence indicates 3 family members are dead, but bodies have not been found

Douglas Garland arrives handcuffed at the Calgary arrest processing centre. 0:34

Douglas Garland has been charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Calgary residents Kathy and Alvin Liknes, as well as second-degree murder in the death of the couple's five-year-old grandson, Nathan O'Brien.

The charges come a day after police announced that the search for the family had become a triple murder investigation. Police believe there is enough evidence to say the three are dead, but their bodies have not been recovered.

Garland was arrested early Monday in a field near his home property and escorted to a Calgary police station late Monday night.

He was out on bail on an unrelated charge of identity theft laid last week and police say he broke the conditions of his release by being in the field at night.

Nathan O'Brien, centre, and his grandparents, Kathy and Alvin Liknes, have not been seen since June 29. Their disappearance is now a homicide investigation. (Calgary Police Service)

He had been considered a "person of interest" by police up until he was charged in the murders of Nathan and the Likneses. 

The 54-year-old hung his head and said nothing to the cameras on his way into the Calgary arrest processing unit.

Criminal history

He was arrested early Monday morning near the Airdrie acreage that has been at the centre of the investigation. The acreage belongs to his parents and was the site of police investigation in 1992 that led to charges of drug trafficking and possession of stolen property after Garland was caught making amphetamines

A document from the Tax Court of Canada indicates Garland was later discovered living under the stolen identity of a 14-year-old car crash victim from Cardston, Alta.

Garland is expected to appear in court on Wednesday.

It's been previously reported that Garland has connections to the Liknes family. His sister, Patti Garland, is in a common-law relationship with Alvin Liknes's son.

CBC News has learned that Garland and Alvin Liknes were also involved in a patent dispute and that there was "bad blood" between them because of business dealings that had gone sour. 

Court records also show that both Alvin and Kathy Liknes had declared bankruptcy in the past — Alvin in 1994 and Kathy just two years ago. According to records, Alvin Liknes was also involved in several civil lawsuits in the 1980s and early 1990s.

'Extraordinary search efforts'

Nathan and his grandparents went missing more than two weeks ago from a home in the southwest Calgary community of Parkhill.

They disappeared after an estate sale at the property, which belonged to Kathy and Alvin Liknes. Police said there was evidence​ a violent crime had occurred there.

The couple had recently bought a house in Edmonton and were selling some of their things before they made the move. They had also been planning to spend some time in Mexico. 

The offence date listed on charges against Garland is June 30 — the day the three family members were reported missing by Nathan's mother, Jennifer O'Brien.

There has been a massive round-the-clock search for the trio involving more than 200 police officers. Police have also followed up on more than 900 tips from the public.

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      "There's already been extraordinary search efforts as large as I've seen in this country in a long time," said retired homicide investigator Dave Perry on Monday.

      "And now that the bodies haven't been recovered, I think that the search is going to expand and who knows where it's going to take them."

      A group of Airdrie residents joined the search efforts at 6 p.m. MT on Tuesday.

      Organizers say a couple of local mothers wanted to do something to help, hoping to find clues that could lead to the remains of Nathan and his grandparents, and it just spread from there.

      "We just feel helpless, we want to do something," said Laura Cameron, one of the organizers of the civilian search. "We've had an overwhelming number of people joining us and supporting us."

      The searchers are sharing their maps with the Calgary Police Service and say there are a few areas they plan to target.

      Cameron says they have been advised by police to be careful not to tamper with evidence and so are not sharing their search plans publicly so as to keep rogue searchers from potentially damaging clues.

      She says the community is having a difficult time believing the three family members are dead.

      "Because there weren't bodies that were found, I still just couldn't believe that [Nathan] could be dead.... We just want to keep looking until something tells us to stop looking."

      No bodies a challenge for case

      Calgary defence lawyer Balfour Der said murder cases where police have laid charges without locating the bodies are rare, but it does happen.

      "It's obviously going to be a case which is based on circumstantial evidence and that's a totally acceptable way to prove a case," he said.

      "The problem with circumstantial evidence is that you need enough of the pieces of the puzzle to be able to show the picture. And there can't be any large holes in it."

      Calgary police continue to ask for the public's help. The search for evidence will continue this week at the Spyhill Landfill in Calgary where investigators are still sifting through mounds of garbage.

      Police will also continue to search an acreage in Airdrie, located north of the city. Rural property owners, including oil companies and businesses, are still being asked to search their properties for anything suspicious.

      Before Garland's arrest Monday was announced, the Amber Alert issued when the family disappeared ended. 

      "However, the bodies of the three victims have not been found and investigators continue to ask people to come forward with any information they may have," said Calgary police in a release.

      Anyone with information is asked to contact police at 403-266-1234, by email at or through Crime Stoppers.

      Community heartbroken over news

      The announcement of the murder charges has been difficult to accept for neighbours and friends.

      A makeshift memorial has started in front of the Liknes home in the southwest Calgary community of Parkhill. (Devin Heroux/CBC)

      At Saint Michael Catholic Community church, where Nathan was baptized and his parents attended, the news was devastating.

      "My first reaction was tears. I was very sad. I almost cried. But I said, 'The Lord knows better,'" said Rev. Julian Studden. 

      He agrees that finding words under this circumstance is not easy.

      "Just be present for them. We cannot say any words. Our presence speaks louder, and more effectively and more solidly to them." 

      He hasn't spoken to the family since the announcement, but hopes to meet with them Tuesday.

      Family holds out hope they're alive

      Katt Boulet lives down the street from the Liknes home where the family was last seen. She was one of the people who dropped off flowers and a card at a makeshift memorial in front of the home late Monday. 

      "I just can't imagine how the O'Briens are holding up these days," she says of Nathan's parents and family. "There's not much else we can do except send our love, our strength, our support."

      In an email to The Canadian Press, Teena Prevost, the sister-in-law of Kathy Liknes, said her family is still holding out hope they're alive.

      "The Crown prosecutor believes there's sufficient evidence to justify the charges, but for the family members knowing that's the conclusion to police, that doesn't help them in terms of their grieving process," said Alberta Health Services forensic psychologist Patrick Baillie.

      He said what stands out in this case is the amount of support family members have received.

      "People with young children feel an identity, people with grandparents feel an identity, people who have ever had children sleep over feel an identity and so there's that emotional connection that's made it all the more powerful for people," said Baillie.

      A prayer vigil took place in Calgary Tuesday night to remember the family, and organizers released green balloons to "fill the sky with love and prayers."