Homicide victim's friends worried before her death, trial hears

Homicide victim Carol Culleton's boyfriend and close friends were worried for her because of her handyman's strange behaviour leading up to her death, court heard Wednesday, and testimony from one of them sparked accused triple murderer Basil Borutski to speak and participate briefly at his trial for the first time.

Accused Basil Borutski reacts in court for 1st time since trial began earlier this month

Basil Borutski, 60, is charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the September 2015 deaths of Nathalie Warmerdam, Anastasia Kuzyk and Carol Culleton. (Sketch by Laurie Foster-MacLeod)

Homicide victim Carol Culleton's boyfriend and close friends were worried for her because of her handyman's strange behaviour leading up to her death, court heard Wednesday, and testimony from one of them sparked accused triple murderer Basil Borutski to speak and participate briefly at his trial for the first time.

The bodies of Culleton, 66, Anastasia Kuzyk, 36, and Nathalie Warmerdam, 48, were found at three separate locations in and around the community of Wilno, Ont., on Sept. 22, 2015.

Borutski, who turned 60 Tuesday, faces three counts of first-degree murder and is representing himself. The court entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf due to his refusal to enter a plea.

Ron Ethier, a real estate agent, told Crown attorney Julie Scott Wednesday that he was a friend of Culleton and her late husband, the latter of whom he worked with, starting around 2002 and 2003.

After Culleton's partner died of cancer, Ethier continued his friendship with Culleton and helped fix up her cottage as she was preparing to sell it.

As Ethier's testimony was just getting underway, Borutski tapped loudly several times on the glass of his prisoner's box and pointed at a pencil near lawyer James Foord, the amicus curiae who's been appointed to ensure Borutski gets a fair trial.

It was the first time Borutski showed any interest in the proceedings.

Foord passed Borutski a pencil, then Borutski put on a pair of glasses and started writing notes on paper, something he also hadn't done previously.

'He's back again'

Ethier testified that about a month before Culleton's death, during a conversation about whether anyone else was helping out at the cottage, she told him that a man named Basil had texted her.

Culleton told Ethier she'd met Basil at a tavern years ago, that she later "lost track of him for a couple of years," and that he offered to do some landscaping and cleaning up, Ethier told court.

He testified that the weekend of Sept. 12, 2015, he went to the cottage with Culleton to work and that Basil was doing work Culleton didn't ask for or want.

When Ethier asked Basil why, and mentioned that the realtor who was coming wouldn't be able to take photos of the unfinished work, Basil replied it would increase the property value and wasn't costing Culleton anything, Ethier told court.

Basil left later that day in the car he'd arrived in, and about two to three hours later he came back to the cottage by boat as a storm was coming in.

"He's back again," Ethier recalled Culleton saying, adding that she'd remarked before about Basil often showing up unannounced, and that she felt like the cottage wasn't hers anymore.

Carol Culleton, 66, had retired just days before her killing. (Facebook)

'He didn't want to go'

"We said, 'You better get going,' because he'd come from the marina. It was really thundering," Ethier told court.

Basil left in the boat just as it was turning dark, but returned on foot around 10 p.m., he said. Basil told Culleton and Ethier that his boat had broken down and that a neighbour drove him back to the cottage.

Ethier testified he offered to drive Basil home but that "he didn't want to go." Basil asked for permission to stay the night and Culleton said he could stay in a trailer on the property.

Ethier also testified about the night Culleton sat on a man named Jim's knee. He said it angered Basil, and that he tore up some flowers he'd planted. Ethier also mentioned the day Basil showed up at her house in North Gower unannounced.

"I said, 'Carol, you've got a stalker. He's stalking you,'" Ethier told court.

Culleton asks Basil to leave

On Sept. 21, the day before Culleton's death, Ethier spoke to Culleton and texted with her several times. She mentioned that Basil had returned to the cottage, that the power was off, and that when Basil went to look at the electrical box the power came back on.

When they spoke by phone later that day, Culleton told Ethier she'd made it "really, really clear to him [Basil] that she didn't want him to come back," and that Basil was collecting his things and "was really upset," Ethier told court.

Ethier also testified that Basil texted her something about how "bad karma was going to happen to her or follow her, why are you doing this to me, stuff like that."

Ethier said he told her to call the police and that Culleton said she would go into the cottage, lock the doors, and that if anything happened she'd call 911.

When Scott finished asking Ethier questions, Borutski again tapped on the glass, pointed to Foord, and spoke with him briefly. Foord then addressed the court, saying this "significant issue" should be dealt with without the jury or Ethier in the room.

Borutski again unresponsive

When the jury and Ethier returned, Ontario Superior Court Justice Robert Maranger asked Borutski whether he had any questions to ask. Borutski did not respond. Foord then asked Ethier a few questions in cross examination.

Court later heard from James "Jim" Kelly, the man Ethier and others testified Culleton sat on in front of her handyman, Basil.

Kelly had been friends with Culleton for a few years when, before the Labour Day weekend in 2015, she invited him to her cottage to see Borutski, whom Kelly testified he was friends with from 2002 to 2004.

He eventually accepted, and they chatted and drank on Culleton's porch and "just had a very nice evening," Kelly testified. Borutski was sitting between Culleton and Kelly, but eventually she moved her chair next to Kelly.

"A few minutes later she sat down on my leg," and a few minutes after that she excused herself from the porch," Kelly told court. "[Borutski] followed her in, and they had a bit of an argument.

"She was aggravated, he was trying to get her to lie down. He was just trying to make her go in and lie down and she didn't want to," he told court.

Kelly said he "didn't want to get involved in the argument" and decided it was time for him to leave. Borutski came out to say goodbye a few minutes later.

Borutski talks about Culleton, other 2 victims

Kelly testified that several days later he later saw Culleton at a bar, and that she told him Borutski had lost his temper the night they were all together, "tore her garden all to heck," and that she was worried about what his intentions were.

Then, about seven to 10 days after the night they had all drank together, Borutski showed up unannounced at Kelly's home.

"One of the first things he asked was if I wanted a relationship with Carol. I said no," Kelly testified, adding that he was already in a relationship.

Then Borutski talked about several women, the first of whom Kelly had dated in the early 2000s, and who Basil dated sometime afterward.

Borutski also "spoke briefly about Nathalie," and then spent "most of the evening talking about Anastasia Kuzyk," Kelly testified.

Borutski told Kelly he was doing work for Kuzyk as well, that he "thought of her more as a daughter," and that Borutski was "confused" and didn't know what Kuzyk was looking for or expected of him in a relationship, Kelly told court.

Borutski also mentioned Culleton asking him to stop doing work at her cottage, and that he didn't understand why.

Culleton's boyfriend testifies

Robin Craig was the last witness to be called Wednesday. He told court he started dating Culleton in the spring of 2014 and continued seeing her until her death, with the exception of a break they took that started the first week of August and ended the week she retired, just days before her death.

Craig told court that Culleton told him a man was doing some work at her cottage, and that she'd been in a relationship with him about two years earlier.

They referred to him in texts sarcastically as "BF," which stands for boyfriend, and Craig testified he couldn't remember the man's name.

Culleton told Craig the man "started showing up when she wasn't there," and that the last weekend she was alive, "she had asked him to stop going up to visit" and also told Craig about the time the man showed up at her house in North Gower unannounced.

She asked him how he knew her address, and the man told her it was on a Christmas card sent earlier, Craig testified.

Craig and Culleton spent the night of Sept. 18 together, as well as the 19th, he testified. The man texted Culleton multiple times over the weekend, and Craig told court he told her she should keep a record and call the police, but that Culleton "didn't do anything that I know of.

They woke up at Culleton's home in North Gower on Sunday and Craig prepared to leave for home, he testified. Culleton had been planning on doing some work in her basement but eventually decided she didn't want to be there alone.

'She didn't trust the guy'

"She didn't trust the guy that was bothering her on the phone all weekend," Craig told court. "She said something to the effect of, I don't feel comfortable being here alone in case he shows up."

They drove to his house in Pakenham, Ont., and on Monday morning he left early for work as Culleton continued to sleep. 

Crown attorney Jeffery Richardson then read a series of texts between Culleton and Craig. Later that Monday morning, she said she woke up, and Craig told her to enjoy the day and get the cottage up for sale. That evening, she texted: "He's here talking. Yikes. Tell you later."

"Get rid of him," Craig responds. "I am," she replies.

"Hope you didn't let him in," he writes. "All good, call you later," she responds.

"You're kidding me. You said you knew better, the guy is dangerous," he replied.

'Said everything would be fine'

The couple spoke by phone about an hour and a half later, Craig testified.

Culleton told him the man had gotten mad and left, and Craig told her she should get in the car and come home. But Culleton "believed there would be no problem with her staying" and that she had an appointment with a real estate agent at the cottage the next morning, Craig told court.

"I said, at least go to the neighbours and let them know what's going on," Craig testified. "She didn't really reply, she just said everything would be fine. I told her I didn't want to read about her in the paper, and to come home."

They said goodbye, and later that night she texted to say goodnight and "all OK here."

The next morning, Culleton texted Craig: "Good morning, it's warm in bed. LOL," and he replied with another "LOL."

Then, at 12:11 p.m. that day, after hearing about the killings, Craig texted Culleton: "your BF on a killing spree."

There was no reply, and later that afternoon there was no reply when he texted her to say hello.

Under cross examination by Foord, Craig told court Culleton was happy with a lot of the work the man had done around the cottage, that the man hadn't threatened Culleton, and that in Craig's previous statements to police and the court, he never mentioned that Culleton decided to leave her house and go to Pakenham with Craig the Sunday before she died because she was scared of the man.

"Yeah, that's probably not in there," Craig replied. "They didn't ask me why she left the house."

Craig also told court he was "really upset" and had a "heated conversation" with Culleton about her refusal to call police and keep a record of the texts she was getting from the man.

The trial resumes Thursday.