1 year after triple killing, grief weighs heavily on Wilno victims' friends, family

Family and friends of the three women killed one year ago in a spree of domestic violence near Wilno, Ont., are struggling to cope with the memory of that day. Some have moved away, while others are weighed down by guilt.

Nathalie Warmerdam, Anastasia Kuzyk, Carol Culleton murdered Sept. 22, 2015 in violent spree

Valerie Warmerdam, now studying business administration at Algonquin College, says the move to Ottawa has helped her cope with her mother's murder. (Jean Delisle, CBC )

Grief weighs on Valerie Warmerdam's slight frame like a heavy, invisible mass that even strangers can sense.

One year ago Warmerdam's mother Nathalie, 48, was shot to death in a murderous spree of domestic violence near Wilno, Ont., that also claimed the lives of Anastasia Kuzyk, 36, and Carol Culleton, 66. The accused killer, Basil Borutski, is behind bars awaiting trial, a fact that brings Warmerdam a sense of security she hasn't felt in years.

But as a balm to ease the pain of losing her mother, it's completely useless.

"There are days when I sit here and I think, my mom isn't going to be around when I have my kids. She won't be a grandmother to my kids, and that really hurts," says Warmerdam. "She was one of my best friends."

Warmerdam, 19, recently got engaged and left Renfrew County for Ottawa with her fiancé in April. She's enrolled in a business administration program at Algonquin College and started seeing a therapist just this month. Over the summer she got a dog and says training a puppy has provided welcome escape from the inevitable trigger the anniversary of her mother's death will bring.

And although she misses country living, Warmerdam has found comfort in city life.

"Here, not everyone I walk past on the street knows my entire life story."
The bodies of Anastasia Kuzyk, Nathalie Warmerdam and Carol Culleton were found at three separate locations near Wilno, Ont. The man accused of killing them has a history of domestic assault. (CBC News)

On the morning of Sept. 22, 2015, Warmerdam was in a first-period woodworking class at Opeongo High School when the school was put into "secure mode." She had no way of knowing that a shooter was on the loose, or that her mother had been killed and her brother, Adrian, was hiding in the woods near their home. But when her name was broadcast over the intercom to come to the principal's office, Warmerdam instinctively knew that her mother's ex-boyfriend, Basil Borutski, was somehow involved.

"Because he was the only thing we feared," she recalls now.

Warmerdam met Borutski in 2010 when he started coming around to her mother's farmhouse in Foymount to help with repairs. Within a few months he moved in to Nathalie Warmerdam's home. Over the course of two years, Warmerdam watched helplessly as her mother's self-esteem withered under a constant barrage of emotional abuse, and the family's fear rose like prison walls, surrounding them.

He was the only thing we feared.- Valerie Warmerdam

Warmerdam says her mother believed Borutski would kill her because that's what he threatened to do to his ex-wife, who had filed assault charges against him.

She would often hear Borutski, screaming at her older brother that he would "skin that boy" or "tan his hide." In 2012, out of fear for her son's safety, Nathalie Warmerdam called police to remove Borutski from her home and pressed charges of assault and uttering threats.

Borutski only served a few months in jail. After his release, the authorities notified Nathalie Warmerdam and gave her a panic button to press should Borutski come within 500 metres of her.

Valerie Warmerdam is unsure if her mother had time to press the alarm when Borutski stormed into their house last year, but she doesn't think it would have made a difference.

"When you're in the country the police are 20 minutes away ... the police wouldn't have come in time to stop it."

On this grim anniversary, about 30 of Carol Culleton's friends will gather to celebrate her life. They will scatter some of her ashes and share their memories of the woman who always remembered birthdays, loved puns and constantly laughed.

Culleton hung out regularly at the Swan on the Rideau restaurant in Kars. A small gold plate bearing the words "Carol's Corner" and embossed with her favorite insect — a dragon fly — has been attached to the bar, marking the corner closest to the entrance where Culleton used to hold court.

Theresa Wallace would often meet Culleton for dinner after a long week of work. Wallace and Culleton were neighbours and co-workers who retired from Agriculture Canada at the same time, just four days before Culleton was killed.

Wallace recalls Culleton rushing to leave her North Gower home on a Friday in order to get to her cottage near Barry's Bay to prepare for a visit from a real estate agent. Culleton had plans to sell her waterfront property to help pay for her retirement.

"The last thing I asked was if she thought she was safe," said Wallace.

Wallace's concern for her friend stemmed from Culleton's new handyman, a man named Basil. Initially hired to clean up her shoreline, Culleton told Wallace that he was now making unwanted repairs on her property. He was replacing the stairs and lights, jobs she didn't ask him to do, and had shown up uninvited to both her house and her cottage. Wallace worried her friend was being stalked, and has been grappling with guilt for the past year.

"You always think, should I have gone with her? ... It's been a hard, hard year."
Theresa Wallace says she's been struggling with guilt since the death of her friend Carol Culleton. Memories will sometimes trigger tears, but Wallace says her family, including her husband Neil, helps her cope. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Carol Culleton was the first woman to be killed that day, but her body was the last to be discovered. Her real estate agent found her lying on the ground. Ontario Provincial Police knew that both Nathalie Warmerdam and Anastasia Kuzyk were Borutski's ex-partners, and that both had filed assault charges against him. But they didn't know how Culleton was connected to Borutski until they talked to Wallace.

Wallace follows Borutski's court case on TV and in the newspapers. The more she learns, the more frustrated she gets.

"I get angry because he seems to be able to manipulate the whole system."

In the past decade a total of four women filed police complaints about Borutski. Charges were laid, but they were often struck. Sometimes Borutski's sentences were reduced.
Basil Borutski's trial date has been set for September 2017. Borutski, 58, is facing 3 counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Anastasia Kuzyk, Nathalie Warmerdam and Carol Culleton. (Supplied photo)

Borutski didn't sign his probation orders and wasn't reprimanded when he breached conditions. After being charged in the triple slayings, Borutski refused to get a lawyer, forcing the court to appoint an amicus curiae, a legal adviser whose job is to ensure he'll be treated fairly in court.

The murder trial has been set for next September, but only one outcome will satisfy Wallace.

"I know it's not nice, but I just want them to give him his life sentences. Three full life sentences, and make sure he never comes out."

Shortly after 9 a.m. last Sept. 22, Patricia Scott was driving down Highway 60 to her real estate office in Barry's Bay. She was just passing through Wilno when she saw a huge police presence near the town's heritage village, just a stone's throw from where her friend lived. Scott immediately panicked.

"My heart told me it had to do with Anastasia."

It was a life altering day for all our communities.Patricia Scott, friend of Anastasia Kuzyk

Anastasia Kuzyk had been shot to death in her own home, but her sister managed to escape. Eva Kuzyk told the CBC's the fifth estate that as she fled she saw the suspect wielding a gun and heard the fatal shot. 

"She was a 21st century flower child," said Scott, who first met Kuzyk eight years earlier when she was a waitress at the Wilno Tavern. After they both obtained their real estate licences the two women grew closer as they worked together buying and selling houses for clients.

Scott says her friend only saw the good in people.

"[Kuzyk] loved life and she just wanted more love and more peace. She loved horses. She was an amazing horsewoman, that was a passion she had. She was kind and good to people and always hopeful of getting that goodness and kindness back from them."

As a realtor, Scott's work often takes her close to all three crime scenes, and she knows the events of that day hang over the entire region from Pembroke to Eganville like a solemn shroud.

"I think it was a life-altering day for all our communities," says Scott.
Paticia Scott remembers her friend Anastasia Kuzyk as someone who was always giving and kind. She says life in Renfrew County has been forever changed by the murders. (Jean Delisle/CBC)


Judy Trinh

CBC Reporter

Judy Trinh is a veteran journalist with CBC's The Fifth Estate. She covers a diverse range of stories from breaking crime news to the #MeToo movement to human rights court challenges. Judy aims to be both critical and compassionate in her reporting. Follow her on Twitter @judyatrinh Email: