Man gunned down in London, Ont., home invasion linked to Liberian war crimes
It's believed Bill Horace, 44, served as a rebel commander for Charles Taylor, a convicted war criminal
Evidence suggests the man who was gunned down in a London, Ontario home invasion early Sunday morning was a Liberian rebel commander who served under Charles Taylor, the country's former president and a convicted war criminal.
On Monday, the London Police Service identified the man shot to death Sunday as Bill Horace, 44, of Toronto.
Homicide investigators said he was killed in what's been described as a planned attack, where four masked men stormed a home at 232 Pochard Lane, a pink-bricked split-level home nestled in a leafy subdivision in London's Gore Road and Clarke Road area.
Four different neighbours told CBC News the Horace they knew matched a photo of a rebel commander published in FrontPage Africa, a Liberian daily newspaper based in the country's capital of Monrovia.
The neighbours, none of whom would agree to a recorded interview, also described Horace's final moments after he had been fatally shot, where he stumbled door to door covered in his own blood looking for help, before he collapsed on a nearby lawn.
Horace found by first responders sprawled on a lawn
Police confirmed the first officers on the scene found Horace sprawled in front of a neighbour's home with lacerations and at least one gunshot wound.
London Police Detective-Superintendent Chris Newton said a pathologist's report released Monday confirmed Horace was fatally shot.
"There was a post-mortem was conducted today and the cause of death was deemed a homicide by at least one gunshot wound," he said, noting Horace likely died in an altercation that began inside the home and then spilled out onto the yard and onto a neighbouring property.
Neighbours said the family who lived in the home where Horace was attacked moved into the neighbourhood approximately two years ago, and while Horace made regular visits, none knew whether he actually lived there.
Police declined to say who owned the home or how much time Horace spent there.
"The victim is connected to this home. Part of our investigation is trying to determine how much time or the extent of the connection to his home," Newton said. "We are not going to comment on who owns the home at this time."
Newton said police are also investigating Horace's ties to the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), a rebel army led by Charles Taylor from 1986 to 1996. The former African warlord became president of Liberia in 1997 and was convicted in The Hague as an international war criminal in 2012.
Taylor is currently serving a 50-year sentence for the NPFL's crimes during the war, which includes torture, murder, rape, the use of child soldiers, the mutilation of thousands of civilians, and forced labour to mine diamonds used to pay for guns and ammunition during the war.
Newton said while investigators are aware of the parallels, the priority for police is finding Horace's killers.
"We have become aware quite soon after the investigation began about possible association between the victim and the National Patriotic Front of Liberia. At this time, we cannot confirm or deny that Bill Horace is one or the same."
Many believed Bill Horace was already dead
The reason may lie in the fact that the Bill Horace accused of war crimes in Liberia had seemingly vanished before the war came to an end.
"He had disappeared and fallen off the map around 1994," said Michael Petrou, an Ottawa-based journalist and historian. "A lot of people assumed he was dead."
Petrou first reported on the possibility an accused war criminal might be living in Canada in 2010 for Maclean's magazine. His year-long investigation drew on a number of sources, including statements from Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, talking to eyewitnesses and a Liberian researcher.
During that investigation, Petrou said he managed to piece together where Horace went, including stops in a refugee camp in Ivory Coast, before finally coming to Canada in the early 2000s where he claimed asylum as a refugee.
Petrou said the immigration process for Horace was still unresolved at the time of his death and that Horace may have also been under investigation by the federal department of justice for possible war crimes.
"It doesn't appear to have borne any fruit or perhaps was not pursued to the extent it might have been," he said. "Often in cases like this, it's easier to deport somebody for immigration violations than it is to actually convict them for war crimes."
Ian McLeod, a spokesman for Canada's Attorney General declined to comment on whether Horace was the subject of an active investigation through this country's war crimes program, writing in an email that the justice department does not comment unless a case is made public through the courts.
Petrou said as of January 2020, Horace's application for permanent residency in Canada was still undetermined, a decade after Petrou's extensive report on Horace's possible involvement in alleged atrocities committed during the Liberian civil war.
"There are many people that would have liked to have seen him brought to justice," he said. "Getting gunned down is not justice. A legal process is justice."
Had Horace lived, Petrou isn't sure he would have ever gone on trial for his alleged crimes.
"I'm confident a legal case could have been built against Bill Horace. The fact that he was still living freely, a decade after the evidence I had compiled was made publicly available, I think is troubling, and I think suggests that even if another 10 years went by, he might still be here."