A heavy burden
A heavy burden
'You just get thrown into this turmoil,' says Donna Irwin. Her sister Lynn Kalmring was murdered by her common-law spouse in 2011. (Peter Scobie/CBC)

The Current


January 14, 2019

Eight years after she was shot to death by her spouse, Lynn Kalmring’s homicide still weighs on friends, family and the lawyer who defended her killer

This story is part of CBC's One Bullet series. Each instalment takes a close look at a shooting from somewhere in Canada — who was hurt or killed; who was held accountable; and how did the fallout impact friends, family and first responders.

For Lynn Kalmring's loved ones, the heartache that followed her death didn't end when her killer was arrested or when he was eventually found guilty. 

It didn't end when a judge sentenced 56-year-old Keith Wiens — a retired RCMP officer — to life in prison for second-degree murder, rejecting his claim that he'd killed his common-law spouse in self-defence. Nor did it end when his appeal was rejected or when the wrongful death case brought by the family in civil court was settled.

For people like Kalmring's sister, Donna Irwin, the suffering that started with a single gunshot in August 2011 in Penticton, B.C., continues.

Lynn Kalmring was killed by her common-law spouse in the couple's Penticton, B.C., home in 2011. (CBC) Lynn Kalmring was killed by her common-law spouse in the couple's Penticton, B.C., home in 2011. (CBC)

"You just get thrown into this turmoil," said Irwin. "You hear about these stories all the time on the news, and I always say, 'That poor family.'

"And then all of a sudden, we're that poor family."

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Irwin said she never liked Wiens, whom she now refers to only as "the animal." She said he was controlling, petty and a mean drunk, but Irwin said her sister was in love and wanted to be loved back.

Kalmring, 55, had been married many times, and was eager for it to happen again.

Irwin said her sister used to have a saying: "I just like being married."

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Keith Wiens is serving a life sentence for second-degree murder for killing Lynn Kalmring. (The Penticton Herald) Keith Wiens is serving a life sentence for second-degree murder for killing Lynn Kalmring. (The Penticton Herald)

The engagement ring Wiens eventually gave Kalmring would be among the items found near her body by investigators — along with a half-empty bottle of vodka, a nine-millimetre handgun and a small dog making bloody pawprints on the floor.

"Lynn paid the ultimate price being with him. I wish we could have warned her," said Irwin.

According to family members, Wiens and Kalmring had been arguing about marriage while on a family camping trip the weekend before she died. They went home early, and the argument followed.

Shortly before midnight on Monday, Aug. 16, 2011, Kalmring spoke on the phone with another sister. Kalmring, the court would later hear, was crying and said she and Wiens had been arguing about money.

Kalmring told her sister that Wiens was asleep, and that she was going to spend the night in their spare room.

Irwin later concluded that Wiens was only pretending to sleep and was, in fact, listening in on her conversation.

Roughly 20 minutes later, Wiens was on the phone himself to 911. He told the operator he'd just shot Kalmring. He would later say it was in self-defence, after she came at him with a knife.

Lynn Kalmring
Memorial buttons made by Lynn Kalmring's family after her death in 2011. (Donna Irwin)
Irwin says the whole family is still picking up the pieces after her sister's death. (Donna Irwin)
Kalmring and Wiens lived in a gated community in Penticton, B.C. (Jessica Linzey/CBC)

'Out of place'

When Cpl. Don Wrigglesworth and two other officers from RCMP Penticton responded to the call at Kalmring’s residence, the first thing they had to do was climb a wall. Kalmring and Wiens lived in a gated community, and the code that was supposed to open the gate didn't work.

Wrigglesworth said he gave his colleagues a boost, then pulled himself up and over, coming down in a quiet neighbourhood. All the houses looked the same, and nobody was around.

Map: Sandbridge gated community, Penticton, B.C.

The scene in the house, once they found it, was gruesome. Kalmring was on the floor, in the entrance to the master bedroom, and had been shot in the face. Wrigglesworth, who had once worked as a paramedic, checked for a pulse.

"As I put pressure on her neck, blood was forced out of a wound near her eye," he said. "I knew that she was obviously deceased."

RCMP Cpl. Don Wrigglesworth was one of the officers who discovered Kalmring's body. (Jessica Linzey/CBC)
RCMP Cpl. Don Wrigglesworth was one of the officers who discovered Kalmring's body. (Jessica Linzey/CBC)

He noticed the bottle of vodka, the dog — and a big kitchen knife in her hand.

Something about it didn't look right.

"Her arm was back, and it was pointing up," Wrigglesworth said. "It seemed from first impression to be almost a pose, like you'd see in a wax museum.

"It just did not seem real … that there is a person laying on the floor that appeared to have been shot in the face and they had this butcher knife and a perfect arm up, as if ready to stab down."

The terrible, surreal scene has stayed with him over the years.

"It's something I had not seen at that point, for a domestic situation,” said Wrigglesworth. “And it's something I don't want to get used to."

 

 

Anyone who has ever watched a police procedural on TV knows that, when presented with a whodunnit, homicide investigators will typically start with the victim's boyfriend or girlfriend, spouse or recent hook-up.

It's a cliché, but the statistics suggest it's an accurate one, especially if the victim is a woman. More than one-quarter (27 per cent) of police-reported violent-crime victims were assailed by an intimate partner in 2013, according to Statistics Canada, And nearly 80 per cent of them were women.

Between 2003 and 2013, 77 per cent of intimate-partner homicides were committed against a woman, according to the same study, and roughly the same percentage involved married or common-law spouses.

The most common motive for those homicides? The escalation of an argument.

'It's not enough'

After Wiens was released on bail, Kalmring's daughter, Brandy Cummings, said she went to the local police, because she felt there was a good chance she would try to kill him.

Cummings was incensed that Wiens was free to roam around town, subject to the conditions of his $50,000 bail, while living in the house where he'd shot her mother.

Brandy Cummings, Kalmring's daughter, says the counselling sessions her family received after her mother's death were 'not enough.' (Jessica Linzey/CBC) Brandy Cummings, Kalmring's daughter, says the counselling sessions her family received after her mother's death were 'not enough.' (Jessica Linzey/CBC)

She was also worried she might cross paths with him in the small town of 30,000-odd people.

"All I could think was, ‘This is so wrong,’" Cummings said. "And then I started getting worried because I thought, ‘I'm going to kill him. [If] I see him? I am not going to be able to control myself. I'm going to kill him.’

"I actually went to the police department at one point and I said, 'You guys need to do something. You need to watch me … because I'm going to drive through the house with my car.’"

Cummings realized she needed therapy after she showed up, more than once, in front of her mother’s house with no memory of how she got there.

"It was like, 'Oh my god, I need some counselling,'" Cummings said.

She, her brother and aunts had each been awarded 36 sessions of counselling, which is what was available through the province to family members of victims of violent crime.

"It's not enough. I asked for more. They said, ‘Absolutely not,’" she said.

[The] reality is, I'm damaged now.
- Brandy Cummings

 

Other family members were also suffering.

Cummings said that to this day, the aunt who had that final phone call with Kalmring can barely function. "She cries every single day, every day, because of this," Cummings said.

Doctors believe her grandmother, Kalmring's mother, slid deeper into dementia because of the stress and trauma.

According to Cummings and Irwin, Kalmring's son is now a drug addict who lost his wife, kids and business and now lives on the street.

Cummings is still struggling with the emotional fallout herself.

"My nervous system is all broken," she said, reciting her history of blackouts, anxiety, agoraphobia and sleeplessness.

She's been paying her own way through counselling and credits her current therapist for saving her life. But she admits she hasn't gone recently.

"[The] reality is, I'm damaged now. It sucks," she said.

Cummings wasn't the only one who objected to Wiens being out on bail, and the family complained publicly about his release. Before long, he was found to have violated his conditions and was locked up again.

Good news, bad news

It took two years for the case to go to trial. Even then, “there was delay after delay after delay," said Irwin.

That included relocating the proceedings 40 kilometres north to Kelowna, amid concerns the case was too well known in Penticton, as well as a lengthy adjournment because of a complication with one of the Crown's blood spatter experts. 

For defence attorney Ian McKay, the adjournment meant spending a lot of time flying back and forth between Kelowna, Edmonton and Calgary. This was partly good news, because his wife and kids were in Calgary. But much of the city was also underwater at the time, because of the extensive flooding that struck in the summer of 2013.

It all added to the already heavy burden of mounting a defence. "There was a lot on our plate,” McKay said.

Wiens’s trial was expected to go for about three weeks. Instead, it dragged on for six — long enough for another member of the defence team, who arrived as an articling student, to be called to the bar. He finished the trial as a full-blown lawyer.

Cummings remembers the defence team as "real hard players."

They painted Kalmring as a woman hysterical with fear that Wiens was going to leave her, and that she had lunged at him with the knife cops found in her hand.

Cummings broke down in tears during her own testimony, which happened to land on her birthday.

I hated those people [the defence team] like I've never hated anyone.
- Brandy Cummings

 

Meanwhile, heart palpitations landed Irwin in hospital the day Wiens testified. Another relative had a panic attack the night before.

"I hated [the defence team] all through the trial," said Cummings. "They did everything they could to shake me on the stand. They were so mean. I know it was their job, but at the time, I thought, ‘How dare you? Have some compassion.’"

"I hated those people like I've never hated anyone."

Three of Kalmring's former spouses testified she was not violent in arguments.

The jury was not persuaded by the defence’s narrative. They found Wiens guilty of second-degree murder after just six hours of deliberations.

 

 

Justice Geoff Barrow of the B.C. Supreme Court agreed with the Crown that Wiens had killed Kalmring in an alcohol-fuelled rage and then staged the scene to make it look like self-defence.

When he handed down the sentence — life with no chance of parole for 13 years — Barrow noted that Kalmring would probably not have initiated any sort of fight given that Wiens was taller, 50 pounds heavier and a 20-year veteran of the RCMP.

It was "highly unlikely she'd attack him with or without a knife," Barrow said.

He said he was "satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt" the knife had been planted.

"I do not believe his evidence, and neither did the jury."

Her sister paid the ultimate price being with Wiens, says Donna Irwin. (Peter Scobie/CBC) Her sister paid the ultimate price being with Wiens, says Donna Irwin. (Peter Scobie/CBC)

'I'm sorry'

After it was all over, McKay stopped taking homicide cases altogether, at least for a while.

The job "took a huge piece of me," said McKay. "I was emotionally done."

McKay’s father was also a lawyer who worked homicide cases. McKay said he learned at a young age about the tears and anger that come out at trial.

"I remember my dad saying it was not until you become involved in these cases when you truly feel the impact … because that family has lost a loved one. And no matter what happens in that trial, it's not going to bring [that person] back. But the emotions are so raw."

Those emotions, he said, are frequently taken out on defence lawyers. This case was no different.

When the verdict came back, McKay and his team took it hard. They slouched into the room where lawyers change in and out of their robes, and sat in silence.

» Audio transcript

It was hard, he said, because they'd put so much work into the case. They went to a liquor store down the street before heading to a nearby cabin, where they were staying.

On the street, McKay heard someone say, "Looks like it's going to be a good party."

"I look back, and it was a car with four people," he recalled. It was Kalmring's family.

He recognized the woman who had spoken — a daughter or niece, he wasn't sure — because she'd been vocal during the trial.

McKay approached the car and leaned in close. The woman looked confused, apprehensive.

"I stuck up my hand, and I said, 'I'm really sorry for your loss.' And she started crying. And I will never forget that," McKay recalled.

"She takes my hand and she said, 'I'm sorry.'"

What for, he asked.

"For the way I treated you during this," she replied.

"And I said, 'There’s no need to apologize. I get it … I have no idea what you're going through.'"

It's not entirely clear which of Kalmring’s relatives had this exchange with McKay. Cummings heard about it later and said it did a lot to soften some of her hard feelings toward the defence team.

"That was huge for me when I heard that ... I've got to give them kudos," she said.

You get through it, but you don't ever get over it.
- Donna Irwin

 

Kalmring's family probably won't have to deal with Wiens again until at least 2026, when he will be up for parole. Irwin has vowed they will be there, "to make sure he never sees the light of day."

She said she's been so busy in court for the last seven years that she hasn't really had time to properly mourn her sister.

"So, now I'm just starting to grieve and … I've had a few rough days and nights."

The whole family is still picking up the pieces, she said.

"Some people say … 'It has been seven years. You kind of need to get over it.'

"And I said, 'You don't ever get over it. You get through it, but you don't ever get over it.'"


With files from The Canadian Press

One Bullet series | Radio producers: Joan Webber, Jessica Linzey | Copy editors: Kazi Stastna, Andre Mayer, Sherry Noik | Digital lead producer: Ruby Buiza | Web Development: Rebecca Viegas | Art director & animator: Ben Shannon | Statistics/research: Olivia Pasquarelli | Videos: Sinisa Jolic, Jessica Linzey (Justin Shephard), Peter Scobie, Jessica Linzey (Donna Irwin), Sinisa Jolic, Ruby Buiza (Tom Sharkey) | Video editors: Sinisa Jolic, Phil Leung |

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