Nova Scotia

'I feared him': Retired RCMP officer speaks out on death of John Tillmann

Brian Carter says he and his family are breathing a sigh of relief now that John Mark Tillmann is dead. Carter, a retired RCMP constable, was also a neighbour of the man who had a documented hatred of police, was anti-feminist and a white supremacist.

Brian Carter reveals how Tillmann intimidated and frightened his family

Brian Carter is a retired RCMP constable and an expert marksman. But even he was afraid of his neighbour, John Tillmann. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

One of John Mark Tillmann's countless victims, a retired RCMP constable, is sharing his story for the first time now that he no longer has to be afraid of the man who he said was a "very dangerous and violent person" — particularly towards women, Jews and minorities, and police.

According to a Nova Scotia death certificate Tillmann, 57, died Dec. 23 in Musquodoboit Harbour, N.S.

"I feared him and I have no qualms telling you that because there are people you should fear," Brian Carter, who was a constable at the Lower Sackville detachment, said in a recent interview in his home in Fall River.

Tillmann was arrested six years ago after he stole an estimated 10,000 pieces of art, antiquities, letters and books from museums, stores, libraries and homes across Atlantic Canada. 

John Mark Tillmann appeared in a documentary on The Fifth Estate in 2016. (CBC)

He was sentenced to eight years in prison on 40 charges that included theft, fraud and obstruction of justice. He served three years before being granted full parole in 2016. 

Carter disputes the often-repeated narrative that Tillmann was a prolific thief with a penchant for art and antiquities. Now that Tillmann is dead, Carter is breaking his silence so the other side is known — the abusive, threatening and dangerous side.

"He was a violent individual who stole things to survive, that's who he was," said Carter. 

"Once he was caught with all these thefts he was just this notorious thief but he's far more than a notorious thief."

Men were neighbours

Carter would know. Not only is he a retired RCMP constable, he was also Tillmann's neighbour at Miller Lake.

Carter said Tillmann was menacing and he and his family were constantly looking over their shoulder.

Tillmann's headstone at a cemetery in Elderbank, N.S. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

He said Tillmann vandalized his property and destroyed a water ski slalom course he set up for a competition on the lake. 

But the intimidation escalated beyond vandalism. He said Tillmann "stalked me a lot."

He said he caught him sitting in his canoe among the lake weeds, watching him late at night. 

"I'd shine my light and I'd find him sitting in there looking at what's going on in my house," said Carter. "It's unsettling."
 
There was another time Carter was on the water and caught Tillmann following him. Carter shone his light at him and Tillmann's "boat comes straight toward me, and aggressively toward me."

The incidents happened at night, making them harder to prove, Carter said.

He reported only the vandalism to the water ski course to police. No charges were laid because identification at night would be difficult to prove.

'He hated police, for sure'

He also had extra reasons to fear him because Tillmann loathed police, as noted in a parole board document.

"He hated police, for sure," said Carter. "That's how I mentally dealt with him."

So Carter, already vigilant by training as a police marksman, managed his fear by staying vigilant. He invested several thousand dollars on surveillance cameras for his property to protect his family.

"I have them covering every corner of the house inside and up the driveway."

It wasn't just threatening encounters that led to Carter to take extra precautions. There was also shop talk about Tillmann.

Talk in the detachment would include Tillmann's attempted murder charge against his own mother. She died of natural causes before it went to trial.

When he retired as a police officer and took a job heading security at Mount Saint Vincent University, once again, Tillmann's name came up.

He learned about threats against female professors, and the theft of a valuable book from the school's collection — Charles Darwin's On The Origins of Species. Tillmann stole the book, which was later auctioned off by Sotheby's.

Carter was registered with the parole board as a victim of Tillmann and permitted to attend parole hearings. He requested a condition that Tillmann stay away from him and his family to ensure their safety.

He also learned that Tillmann had conditions imposed on internet use out of concern that he would abuse women.

Some of the historical artifacts stolen by John Mark Tillmann are displayed at a press conference in 2013. (The Canadian Press)

He said he was one of only two people who attended a hearing, he believes, because so many were scared of him.

The call notifying him of Tillmann's death, he said, was like a Christmas present. He doubted it at first, suspecting Tillmann had faked his own death.

When he was convinced of Tillmann's death, it was a huge relief for his family, who he said has been terrorized for years.

"His death solved that problem," Carter said.

Carter said the public should remember Tillmann was an avowed admirer of Adolf Hitler, and intimidated his neighbours.

"We should always have the facts, the truth about someone," said Carter. "Without the truth, people will just believe that he wasn't a bad guy. He was a bad guy."

About the Author

Elizabeth Chiu is a reporter in Nova Scotia and hosts Atlantic Tonight on Saturdays at 7 p.m., 7:30 p.m. in Newfoundland. If you have a story idea for her, contact her at elizabeth.chiu@cbc.ca.

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