Killer of B.C. family denied first request for parole

A man who admitted killing six members of a British Columbia family has been denied his first request for parole since he was jailed more than 25 years ago.

6 members of family shot, car torched in 1982

A man who admitted killing six members of a British Columbia family has been denied his first request for parole since he was jailed more than 25 years ago.

David Ennis is shown in a 1983 file photo. The National Parole Board denied his request for parole on Wednesday. (The Canadian Press)
The ruling comes after a hearing at Bowden Institution, a medium-security prison in central Alberta where David Ennis has been serving his sentence.

After about an hour of deliberations, the National Parole Board denied him both day and full parole, but did not immediately give any reasons for the decisions.

Day parolees are in the community during the day, but are required to return to a community facility like a halfway house overnight.

Those who have been granted full parole can spend the rest of their sentence at home under supervision. 

Ennis told the board he was sorry for the damage he caused and asked to be granted parole because he wanted to make a positive contribution to society.

Ennis slumped and bowed his head when the decision was announced. His wife, whom he married while in prison about 15 years ago, was at his side, and they appeared to be holding hands.

He is eligible to re-apply for parole in two years.

Ennis should never be let out of jail: RCMP investigator

Ennis, who previously went by the name David Shearing, was convicted of second-degree murder in the shooting deaths of two girls, their parents and grandparents.

British Columbia residents George and Edith Bentley, their daughter Jackie Johnson, son-in-law Bob and grandchildren Janet, 13, and Karen, 11, were last known to be camping in Wells Gray Park in the B.C. Interior in August 1982 before police launched a massive search for the family when they did not return home.

Police found the charred remains of the family's car on the side of a mountain about a month later. The family's bodies were inside.

"That has stuck with me all these years," said Michael Eastham, a now retired RCMP sergeant who was on the scene when the bodies were found. "I still have nightmares over that. We opened up the car and the back seat was full of bodies and the corpses in the trunk of the two little girls."

He said he believed Ennis should never be let out of jail.

The 18-month investigation garnered thousands of tips from the public. The break finally came when someone told police that a local man named David Shearing had asked about how to re-register a truck that had a bullet hole in its side.

Shearing, who has since adopted his mother's maiden name of Ennis, was arrested in Tumbler Ridge, B.C., in November 1983 and after hours of interrogation admitted to shooting the family, putting their bodies in the car and setting it ablaze.

He was sentenced in April 1984 to life with no chance of parole for 25 years.

At the time he told the judge he didn't know why he committed the murders. But after being sentenced he told Eastham that he had killed the adults with a .22-calibre rifle to get to the young girls.

In the conversation, which Eastham later documented in the 1999 book Seventh Shadow, Ennis said he kept the girls alive for several days and sexually assaulted them before separately shooting each of them in the back of the head. Those allegations have never been proven in court.

Seeking day parole

Officials were legally required to review the possibility of releasing Ennis on full parole but he had also separately requested day parole.

Investigators found the burnt remains of the victims' vehicle north of Clearwater, B.C. ((Gerry Kahrmann/Canadian Press))
Wednesday's hearing reviewed both options at the medium-security Bowden Institution in Innisfail, Alta., where Ennis is incarcerated. It is the first time he is eligible for parole, having now been behind bars almost 25 years since his November 1983 arrest.

At the hearing, Ennis had the opportunity to present his case on why he should be given parole.

Many people who knew the Johnsons and the Bentleys planned to attend the hearing, according to the Canadian Press. They had the opportunity to read victim-impact statements, while others sent in statements ahead of the hearing.

Before the hearing, Bob Johnson's older brother Art Johnson said he hopes Ennis is not granted parole.

"It's very, very tense waiting to see what's happening," Johnson said. "I just hope he don't get out. Twenty-five years is not enough for what he did — not anywhere near enough."

Johnson had said he won't be attending the parole hearing because he can't stand to relive the deaths of his family members or to see Ennis in person.

Almost 9,500 signatures have been collected on a petition urging the National Parole Board to keep Ennis behind bars.

Among those who have signed is Tamara Arishenkoff, who was in Janet Johnson's Grade 7 class in Westbank, B.C. The deaths rattled the close-knit community, she said.

"To have classmates that you knew and just saw and had your class picture taken with … It's just something that a 13-year-old mind … [finds] difficult to comprehend," Arishenkoff said.

With files from the Canadian Press