Victoria Avenue, also known as Regional Road #24, stretches through the epicentre of Niagara region, starting from the north shore of Lake Ontario, including through Vineland and spread among endless views of surrounding farms and fields.
An area known for its quaintness and peaceful country like tranquility, it can quickly transform into a dimly lit stretch of highway at night, amid a minimal local population.
“The investigation into the unsolved homicide of Nadine Gurczenski remains open & the Niagara Regional Police Service is committed to continuing this investigation in order to identify the person or persons responsible.”
Detective Sergeant Jackie MOORE – Niagara Police Cold Case Unit
On Saturday May 9, 1999, a woman’s body was found along this very stretch of road in Vineland, in a ditch beside Regional Road # 24, just near 8th Avenue.
“May 8th, 2019 will mark the 20th anniversary of this homicide. This composite drawing was created 20 years ago and an individuals physical descriptors change during a 20 year time span.”
It was a regular summer day on August 27, 1992, in a normally quiet, serene area of Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada.
At 9:08am that fateful day, a friend stopped by the Perry residence, finding Frank Perry deceased in his bed. Foul play was immediately suspected. Police were called, and a criminal investigation ensued.
“The investigation into the unsolved homicide of Mr. Frank Perry remains open & the Niagara Regional Police Service is committed to continuing this investigation in order to identify the person or people responsible.”
“I just walked in and they opened fire. Bullets shattered the glass.”
It was just a regular day on April 21st, 2004. A mother of three parked her car and walked into a local sandwich shop. She would never walk again. Louise Russo, the innocent bystander, had been caught in the middle of a botched underworld hit involving the Mafia and the Hells Angels.
Story by Stephen G. Metelsky
My exclusive story and interviews with Louise Russo and the two lead detectives who worked the California Sandwiches Shooting case appeared in the December 2018 issue of Canada’s Blue Line magazine.
Stephen G. Metelsky, M.A. is a College Professor, Criminologist and Freelance Crime Writer/Journalist who has over 20 years experience as a Police (ret.) Sergeant.
Stephen is an Organized Crime Expert & Media Consultant on True & Organized Crime (CBC, the Hamilton Spectator, Canadian Press, Global News, Blue Line magazine, Global News Radio, Charles Adler Tonight, Niagara Falls Review, St Catharines Standard, AM680, 980News & 900 CHML).
Stephen is a contributing columnist with Blue Line magazine and has covered true crime stories for various newspapers affiliated with Metroland Media Group & Postmedia Network Inc.
Stephen teaches at Mohawk College in the school of Community, Justice & Liberal Studies Program & is the Chair of the Program Advisory Committee for all Justice related programs.
An exclusive interview with agent Paul DERRY & police handler Shane HALLIDAY
By: Stephen G. Metelsky
“I had the gun. I drove to the murder. I threw away the gun. I knew where it was buried. I knew where all the evidence was,” says Paul Derry, upon the realization he had been directly involved in an underworld contract – a contract to murder at the behest of the Hells Angels motorcycle club.
It was October 3rd, 2000, in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. The gun in question had just been used to murder Sean Simmons, gunned down right in the lobby of his building on Trinity Avenue. The hit had been ordered by the Hells Angels motorcycle club and Paul Derry was at the epicenter of the homicide.
“When the homicide happened, I was the case manager in the major crime office and he (Derry) showed up one day. He wanted to talk to somebody. I spoke to him and felt this guy is telling me the truth and I think we can use him,” says retired Sergeant Shane Halliday – Derry’s eventual police agent handler.
“There is prison, life in prison, death or witness protection. None of those are really good, unless you change your life,” says Derry, finding himself in a precarious position with limited options. His final decision – wear a wire to incriminate affiliates and members of the Hells Angels responsible for the murder of Simmons.
“We went from there and got in touch with the Crown Attorney. We got immunity agreements done up and started working him,” adds Halliday. The 34-year retired police veteran added: “Then we got him (Derry) all set up and started working him on the guys that were in custody, and the guys that weren’t in custody yet. I’ll give him kudos to wear a wire, I wouldn’t. I mean the people he was dealing with.”
Cooperating witnesses in the underworld, commonly referred to as ‘rats’ – the highest form of betrayal against gangsters who preach loyalty. The punishment for crossing over and helping authorities is typically a death sentence, particularly if caught wired for sound in the company of Hells Angels members. This was the choice Paul Derry made. He had no regrets.
“It’s a terrible title in the underworld. I’m quite proud of it. I guess it depends on who you are. I don’t mind being one of the more notorious rats in the country. I wear it proudly. What I did was a good thing,” says Paul Derry.
Derry’s eventual pathway into the witness protection program encountered some dicey moments during the agent operation into the Hells Angels murder investigation. “Paul was going into a pool establishment (the ‘Corner Pocket’) where all the Hells Angels hung out. I mean he was in there by himself. There were no police inside. He was wearing a wire.Anything could have happened inside. By the time we would have gone in he would have been done,” says Halliday, adding that Derry’s life and security were his number one priority throughout the entire agent operation – concluding with the conviction of the Hells Angels president and three ‘hang-around’ members of the club – all for first-degree murder.
“Security is the number one thing when it comes down to it. You’re not going to risk someone’s life, I mean they are risking their life with what they’re doing, but you don’t want to put them in any worse position just to get the case made, it’s not worth it. We had a couple incidents, if I had been Paul, I would have walked away,” says Halliday, referencing an incident during the operation when someone entered Derry’s unattended residence and lined bullets up on his window ledge.
After the case, Paul Derry entered the witness protection program, changed his name and disappeared.
In August 2018 Paul Derry spoke exclusively with Stephen G. Metelsky from UnderworldStories.com
Below are excerpts from that interview:
Q: Back in 2000 you were involved in a Hells Angels contract killing on the East Coast of Canada, that resulted with you cooperating with authorities. What did that cooperation entail?
Paul DERRY: Well, I started out with the Halifax Regional Police when they arrested me. I was wearing a wire for 90 days. Leading up to that, getting the safe houses ready, getting wired up, continuing to meet and signing up the ‘letter of agreement’ and then doing 90 days on the wire.
Q: Were you an informant or an agent at that stage?
Paul DERRY: I was doing informant work with the Halifax RCMP, feeding them information, up until Sean got killed, and when he got killed Halifax Regional began investigating and found out about my work with the RCMP. I was arrested and signed an immunity agreement with Halifax Regional.
Q: What is the difference between being an informant versus an agent?
Paul DERRY: Being an informant you are working on your own and everything you do is on your own. You are coded and working for a police force, in the sense that when you get information you share it and you have a coded number and you can give it safely. You are covered under informant privilege and likely won’t ever have to testify in court, as opposed to an agent where you are going to be directed by the police. Everything you do is directed by the police. You will be required to testify at the end, if needed. But a very fine line though.
Q: What was your official status or relationship to/with the Hells Angels back in 2000?
Paul DERRY: I wasn’t one of them. I don’t know what level they call them now. I was close enough that I was dealing directly selling keys of cocaine to a full patch (Hells Angels member).
Q: A lot of facets of organized criminal groups tend to work together now more than ever to maximize profits. From your experience how did the different types of bikers work with other organized crime groups?
Paul DERRY: If I can use the analogy of hockey to discuss the relationship with the Italians. The Italians own, and the Hells Angels manage and run it, and then you have the puppet clubs doing the work – they would be the farm teams. They are all inter-related. It’s a pyramid structure, who is at the top and how it’s structured all the way down.
Q: If you could go back Paul, would you do anything differently in your past life?
Paul DERRY: Yes, if I could change anything, I wish I understood it wasn’t a game back then. The entire time I worked as an informant from 15. I started at such a young age, I always saw it as a kind of game. It wasn’t until Sean Simmons was killed when I was 38 that I woke up and realized this wasn’t a game, that it had dire consequences. Even though I had seen people die all around me and I’ve been a part of murders and deaths and tortures and all the stuff that goes on with the blood and guts in that world. I had still seen it as a game up until then. So, if I was going to change anything, it would be to not see it as a game, maybe not drink so much and take the job serious. But, then I can say that I don’t know how effective I would have been, I don’t know.
Q: Organized and true crime sells in the media, whether on the news, movies, television or the internet. Because you lived the real life of an organized criminal, what is the difference between reality versus media portrayals of organized crime?
Paul DERRY: I think in the media, depending on which type of media, but media in general, like movies and stuff, they always want to make (pause) – nobody sees the door shut. I’ll tell you what I told my youngest brother. Nobody sees me cry when that cell door shuts. Nobody sees the pain and fear when I’m sitting there with a shotgun with a mattress up against the door, wondering if someone is kicking it in tonight. You can’t, you don’t put that across in the media in the real way that it happens. You make that sound exciting, but it’s not exciting, it’s scary as hell. There is nothing exciting about it. People dying around you hurts. Having people or knowing a hit team might come through your door any minute to kill you is scary. Knowing that you’re walking into a meeting, people patting you down and everybody has guns, knowing someone could pull a gun out and shoot you at any minute is scary. It’s not exciting. It’s the pain and misery that’s in that world. We glorify that excitement, those fears which we turn to excitement and glorify in the media, but I don’t think we show the pain and the misery of the entirety in that world, like the meth addictions and the things women and men give up being a part of that world, their own souls. They’ll do anything. I’m not sure how graphic you want me to get. Some of the most disgusting and vile things that I’ve seen, I have seen in that world, never mind the internet. We can say people are doing it at their own free will, but often they’ve been coerced, extorted, or groomed.
Q: If you were speaking to a classroom full of high school students what would be your best advice to them?
Paul DERRY: Don’t be lured by money that doesn’t exist. You’re going die early if you follow that road. It’s way more fun not being a criminal. There is even more money to be made in the pro-social world. Most people are going into it to get, I think to find a sense of identity, to find something they are missing in their home. Look for a good role model in and around the community, because there are a lot of them waiting around to help. If things suck at home, don’t worry about it, find someone who will help you in your community. That’s what I would say to the community too. You know, we fail as a community because we allow kids to grow up with no parent(s) to guide them, no way of, or how to prepare for this world. It’s our failures. They’re not going into gangs because everything is hunky-dory. They are going into the gangs because they are missing something.
Q: Are you fearful of anything today?
Paul DERRY: Am I fearful? I would never want my children to see me killed. I’m fearful for the society we are leaving behind for my children, just fearful for my children about the potential society we are leaving for them. But yes, I do have fears as I am human. My concerns are what I mentioned, family, society, etcetera. But yes, I fear like everyone – I just choose to not look at them as they are obstacles.
Q: Can you explain the inner workings of a biker gang and why it is so difficult for police to investigate and infiltrate them?
Paul DERRY: I don’t think its hard. I was asked this question at a source handling course once. I said the reason the police aren’t winning is because they don’t have the money. They don’t have the resources. I don’t think it’s hard to get in. I just don’t think they have the money and the resources to do the operations that they need. You must be serious about the problem and I don’t believe that society is serious about the problem. I think there are lots of good officers that are serious about the problem. And, if they had the resources and the money, they have the informants, and they have the people, and they could get in, but they are out cashed. The bad guys have more money. The bad guys don’t play within the rules and the bad guys have all kinds of money. The good guys must play within certain rules and they don’t have any money. When we stop paying for people’s cars getting scratched, because that’s what we do, we tickle the tax payers’ ears. So, whoever is paying the most taxes, it’s their problems, their little bubble in their little neighbourhood. That’s why we see opioids getting a lot of attention now, because guess what, it’s hitting the tax payers’ families now. Well, it’s only a matter of time before opioids and meth and those kinds of things hit you, so now we’ll start paying attention to it. But it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Greed will not allow people to put their money towards it.
Q: There are very few options to get out of organized crime. From your experience, what are the options getting out of life in organized crime?
Paul DERRY: There is prison, life in prison, death or witness protection. I mean, none of those are good, unless you change your life. Obviously for anybody to leave that life behind there are very few options. Witness protection is probably the best way out for them, but only if they are going to change their entire life. Witness protection is going to suck if you want to try to keep on living as a criminal or you don’t want to break any habits or any of the things you struggled with before. Any of the demons you had before hand.
Q: How many times have you been to jail?
Paul DERRY: My largest sentence was 7 years I did, a few bits before that, I think 18 months, 11 months, 3 months and 1 year.
Q: You briefly alluded to no one being there to see you shed a tear when the jail door is shut and how the media portrayals of organized crime don’t properly capture the reality of it. What is the reality of prison?
Paul DERRY: I think it is a dichotomy for me – I loved prison and I hated prison. Loved the experience, but I love it from where I’m at now. I would not trade going back from where I am now. Only so that I can say things like this now to people, that it is a horrific place to be. It’s depressing. It’s violent, it’s sad. People screaming out in the middle of the night in pain. From internal pain, you know, the emotional pain. You hear it all through the night, it wakes you up. I hear, you know lifers, people that know they’re never getting out. People that are not mentally fit to be in a prison that should be in a psychiatric hospital. The depression and suicides. I never worried as much about the fears, nothing played more on my mind than the suicides. I remember walking the yard and wondering when am I going to snap? Like I was walking the yard with this guy yesterday and he hanged himself last night and he was perfectly normal yesterday. So, when is my mind going to snap? Like he’s only got 8 years in and I’m in my 3rd year, do I snap at the same 8? The degradation. I mean if there’s one thing I have hammered home with my children is you never want to experience the degradation of strip searches and a lot of those kind of things. It’s a sad place to exist. I used to read a lot of crime books when I was young and they all glorify crime as they typically do. It was the one thing I didn’t want to do in my books. I remember when I got my 7 years, I remember walking through, and I thought I aspired to be a criminal and here I am. I aspired to be like all these people that wrote all those books and here I am doing time with them. And I thought wow this is what I aspired to be in life – that’s sad. It’s just a waste of life.
Q: What were the results of your cooperation with the police as an agent after the Hells Angels contract murder?
Paul DERRY: I did a lot of informant work. The result is I ended up in witness protection. Got an immunity agreement. Here I am. I got kicked out in 2009, so I’ve been out of witness protection for 9 years. Here is a thing I will always say to my children. I say it to them often. I will not let the fear of a few control the many. The few should never control the many and I should never have to walk in fear for having done the right thing. So, I don’t care if they kill me, I’m not going to change my life for doing something that I believed was right. If I didn’t believe it was right, I wouldn’t have done it. In all the crimes, and they can go back through my record, anyone can. I never ratted to get out of trouble. Even in this murder, if you look, I mean I wasn’t in trouble, I had all the information. I didn’t need to rat to get out of trouble. All the things I did I did because I wanted to do them. If I wanted to stay in the criminal world I would have stayed in the criminal world. I was done. That murder really took a toll on me. You know, like I said I woke up and realized it wasn’t a game. It wasn’t because I got caught. I didn’t get caught for anything. I told the police for 3 weeks leading up to the murder that it was going to happen. So, there’s no getting caught. I had the gun. I drove to the murder. I threw away the gun. I knew where I buried it. I knew where all the evidence was. I knew what when I was being interrogated what they had and what they didn’t have. I could have just sat it out like a typical criminal would for the year, do my time on remand and walked out and continued with my life. But I just, it was at the end when Sean got killed, it was, like I said a wake-up call. This wasn’t a game, and it was time to stop.
Q: You mentioned the word ‘rat.’ Are you comfortable with that title? And what are the ramifications of having that title in the underworld?
Paul DERRY: It’s a terrible title in the underworld. I’m quite proud of it. I guess it depends on who you are. I laugh all the time. I don’t mind being one of the more notorious rats in the country, I wear it proudly. What I did was a good thing. Listen, I’m not happy that I had to watch Stevie go to jail, to prison for life, or Wayne, these people were close to me. Not so much Neil. I don’t care about him. I didn’t care much for him. It’s never nice or easy to break bread with somebody and become their friend or having been their friend for years and years and then having to watch them suffer in any way and know that you’re the cause of it. Reconciling where you’re the cause of it and when they’re the cause of their own demise can sometimes get blurred out of guilt and you know, emotional things you go through. I have dreams about them all the time. It’s a strange way to live, I can tell you that.
Q: Any feelings of guilt for putting them in prison?
Paul DERRY: Guilt, not so much. Loss, I think, more with someone like Wayne, who was married to my cousin. He was part of my family. I grew up around him. You know, sometimes I dream that the relationship is restored and then I wake up and realize it’s never going to happen. Things like that. I think typical things that any human would go through if they are close to somebody.
Q: What would you say to people who think you should be in prison with those people too?
Paul DERRY: If they want to say that, I think I should be in prison with the rest of them because of all the things I never got caught for, not because of anything to do with that murder. Listen, I was a career criminal. I committed crimes all my life. If you added them all up, sure, I should be in prison the rest of my life. But should I be in prison for that crime? No.
Q: What is your life mission now?
Paul DERRY: I have a few different things I’ve set my heart on. One of them is educating the public on organized crime and how much it truly affects society and kicking the apathetic who live in their bubbles, who are not just ignorant, but they know and just don’t want to do anything about it. That includes the politicians, the police force, the treasury boards and all the people in the control of the funds that stop it from getting done.
Q: What’s next for Paul Derry?
Paul DERRY: I am hopefully putting together an online course on source handling and that will likely be the end of my source handling stuff. I’m leaning more towards organized crime and the effects of human trafficking. I’m also working on a documentary on my entire life, and all the work I did all together. There are many cases that I think are sad. The Hells Angels one is the big one and everyone pays attention to it. And I get that, I understand society’s way of thinking that way. But you know there are murders I’ve worked on, and home invasions, where they were much sadder. I think that (these other cases) would make a bigger impact on society and I would like to see them come out.
(End of Interview)
In 2006 Sergeant Shane Halliday retired from the job.
In 2009 Paul Derry got kicked out of the witness protection program after 9 years.
Accused Steven Gareau has been in jail since 2000. To date, he has been through two trials – both convictions being overturned.
In 2017 Dean Kelsie, the Hells Angels hitman who shot Sean Simmons, won a new trial for his first-degree murder conviction. Two new trials will occur in the fall of 2018.
These are the known facts to date about this case.
As for Paul Derry’s current identity and whereabouts – unknown.
You can see more of Paul Derry’s story on the OUTLAW BIKERS episode: “Contract from Hell” on NETFLIX. An upcoming book & documentary about Derry’s story is soon to be released.
Stephen G. Metelsky, M.A. is a freelance crime writer/journalist, criminologist and college professor, with over 20 years experience as a police (ret.) sergeant. Stephen is a contributing columnist with Blue Line magazine and has covered true crime stories for various newspapers affiliated with Metroland Media Group & Postmedia Network Inc.
For more information, visit Stephen G. Metelsky on:
Originally Published: Blue Line magazine – June/July 2008 edition
Navigating a robotic mouth through a maze of dots in ‘Pac-man,’ a 1980’s video game, is a far cry from realistically decapitating someone in ‘Postal 2,’ a popular 2003 game. This violent trend continues to thrive, as do the game makers. Profits ballooned from $3.2 billion in 1995 to $7 billion in 2003. (1)
Considering the average child spends some four to eight hours a day using electronic media, (1) its safe to assume many have access to violent video games. Research on video game violence has revealed a significant relationship between exposure and aggressive behaviour in society. (2)
As violent video games have increased, so have highly publicized violent incidents involving youths with strong affiliations to them. The Columbine high school shooting in 1999, for example, involved two students obsessed with the video game ‘Doom’ – so realistic that the U.S. military licensed it to train soldiers how to shoot and kill in an effective manner. (3) The students rehearsed by playing it incessantly. Some researchers argue that this repeated exposure to depictions of graphic violence can contribute to desensitization. (3)
Compared with other media, research into video game violence is sparse, yet “many of the underlying psychological processes identified in the TV-movie literature also apply to video games.” (2) Many are concerned about how video games and mass media validate violence on a daily basis. There is vicarious agreement among scientists that media depictions of violence substantially effect children, primarily by increasing aggressive and violent behaviour. (4)
Opinions vary on the causal connection linking aggressive behaviours with exposure to violent media forums. The entertainment industry argues that there is absolutely no relationship between violent media and aggressive behaviour(s), (5) and that violence perpetuated within the media is simply a societal reflection of what occurs in everyday life. (5)
“If you cut the wires of all TV sets today, there would still be no less violence on the streets in two years,” argued Motion Picture Association of America president Jack Valenti. (6) This is simply an unsubstantiated opinion not supported by scientific research. Scientists have presented some clear and convincing behavioural evidence supporting the causal relationship between media violence and aggressive behaviour(s).
Sales of violent video games have skyrocketed over the past few years. If they cause violence, why aren’t youths who have just played them committing more murders, the entertainment industry would like to argue.
“Media violence exposure is not a necessary and sufficient cause of violence…not everyone who watches violent media becomes aggressive and not everyone who is aggressive watches violent media” (5) – but there is scientific evidence indicating that violent media does have an affect on violent behaviour.
“At this time, well over 1,000 studies point overwhelmingly to a causal connection between media violence and aggressive behaviour in some children,” six professional/medical organizations noted in a 2000 joint statement. (7) Two critical implications can be derived from this.
First, there is valid and reliable scientific evidence from some of the most reputable U.S. professional agencies indicating a causal relationship between viewing media violence and the onset of aggressive behaviour(s). Second, the joint statement refers to “some” children being affected, not “all,” but given the amount of violent media available, that “some” could be a resounding and significant number.
Probably the most damaging aspect of youth overexposure to violent media is that the repeated depictions of violent behaviour become engrained as learned behaviour. Learning theories predict that violent video game play can influence behaviour through reinforcement, practice and observational learning. (8) Social learning theory (9) explains violence at the individual level as aggression vicariously learned through observation. (9)
Bushman and Huesmann define observational learning as the process “through which behavioural scripts, world schemas and normative beliefs become encoded in a child’s mind simply as a consequence of the child observing others. Observational learning is a powerful extension of imitation in which logical induction and abstraction are used to encode complex representations.” (10)
Their research indicates children are susceptible to violence in both the short and long term after observing it depicted in the media. Emphasis is also placed on extra parameters to ensure protection for children against prolonged and/or repeated exposure to violent media. (10)
Consider the following factual scenario. There are hundreds of thousands of young children across the world who daily play, unsupervised, violent video games, including ‘Grand Theft Auto’,’ which encourages auto theft, car jacking, armed robbery, assault with a weapon, drug use and prostitution. Another game of choice may be ’25 to Life,’ where the user picks a weapon and then proceeds to hunt down and kill police officers.
Behavioural scientists argue that repeat exposure to violent media can lead to a process of desensitization, whereby children develop “normative beliefs that aggression is appropriate.” (10) This overexposure to observing media violence can create emotional desensitization towards violence in society. (7)
There is no doubt that children exposed to repeat images of violence in the mass media may suffer dangerous lifelong consequences. (11)
Addicted to several forms of violent media – including musical lyrics, television, movies and most prominently, video games, especially ‘Doom’ – the Columbine killers superimposed the faces of students and teachers who had wronged them in the past onto the faces of the victims depicted in the game. They played it to the point of intense obsession, constantly rehearsing shooting their victims.
Research has shown youth learn behaviours, attain knowledge and have their value systems molded via exposure to violence in the media. (12) It’s difficult to speculate the exact role violent media played in the tragic Columbine scenario, as both killers ended their lives, but it undoubtedly played a significant role.
Repeated exposure to emotionally stimulating media can significantly reduce emotional reactions to violence occurring in the real world. Furthermore, based on this desensitization process, youth can then “think about and plan proactive aggressive acts without experiencing negative affect.” (10) This is exactly what the Columbine killers set out to do, planning in a premeditated manner to shoot and kill innocent students and teachers as an outlet for their internalized aggression and frustrations towards students who didn’t make them feel a part of the school. They nonchalantly killed 13 people and wounded 24 others before killing themselves. It’s very difficult to determine if violent media played a role in this massacre.
How do researchers account for youth exposed to similar forms of violent media who are non-aggressive? Research indicates computer games can contribute to violent behaviour at certain times, as they may “trigger aggression in certain people already predisposed to violence.” (13)
“There are a lot of kids that are angrier than they were 10 or 15 years ago,” notes Dr. Robert Butterworth, a trauma psychologist in an Arts & Entertainment documentary. “Stress of the family, a lot more broken homes, kids that don’t know any other reaction when they are frustrated than to strike out in a violent way. They don’t have anything else in their arsenal of responses. Add that to these violent images that will grow and fester to the point where you may have a full blown fantasy mixed in with violence and we’ve seen the tragic results.” (14)
Ironically this documentary aired two months prior to the Columbine shooting. The essence of the statement serves as a template for what transpired – youth who become engaged in criminality have to accept the consequences of their violent actions and take the full brunt of responsibility, in lieu of deflecting blame elsewhere.
Researchers must continue exploring the behavioural evidence linking exposure to media violence with real world violence. Violent media did not essentially create the violence at Columbine high school but it definitely contributed to the events. As Butterworth suggests: “you take a youngster who has the predisposition. You put them in an environment where the media shows these things (violence) and its like a triggering effect. The media doesn’t create, it triggers these people with the disposition.”
Joireman et al. (2003) and Anderson and Bushman (2002; 2001) define aggression as “a behaviour intended to cause immediate harm to another individual when it is understood that the target is motivated to avoid such harm.” (15)
It would be difficult to understand the innate behaviours of both Columbine killers, but it’s safe to assume they were both extremely frustrated with different facets of their life, including relationships with peers and teachers, school performance, etc. They were also addicted to violence depicted in various media forums. Based on the behavioural evidence, it would appear that the combination of high levels of frustration and an aggressive predisposition created a ticking time bomb waiting to be triggered. According to the Frustration-Aggression hypothesis, Dollard et al. (1939) proposed: “people who are frustrated, thwarted, annoyed or threatened will behave aggressively, since aggression is a natural, almost automatic response to frustrating circumstances. Moreover, people who exhibit aggressive behaviour are frustrated, thwarted, annoyed or threatened.” (16)
This psychosocial approach details the inverse relationship between frustration and aggression and is a relevant theory to explain the killers’ violent behaviours in terms of the motivating precursors to the shooting.
A second relevant psychosocial theory is ‘Displaced Aggression.’ Denson et al. (2006) theorize that this process occurs when a person is somehow provoked but unwilling (or unable) to act against the person who initiated the provocation. (17) The Columbine victims were not the source of the initial provocations of their killers. The retaliation involved innocent bystanders who had absolutely no involvement or previous conflicts with them and hence was an act of displaced aggression. (17)
A specific aspect of this psychosocial theory details how these frustrated people will intently focus on their anger and set out to plan a retaliatory attack. (17) This sub-theme specifically outlines the sequence of events that unfolded from the onset of the original sources of provocation to the aftermath, which involved extreme aggression displaced amongst victims with no connection to the initial sources of conflict(s).
Art sometimes imitates life in inappropriate ways. A few years following Columbine, the video game ‘Super Columbine Massacre’ was developed. (18) The user could assume the role of the ‘shooter’ and role play through different scenarios, using various weapons to kill teachers and students. Glorified violence (contained within various forums of media) clearly perpetuates and/or encourages copycat crime(s).
Consider this statement from Lieberman on the A&E documentary. “Each generation has been exposed to more and more media, so in a sense each new generation is more vulnerable to the psychological impact of media and to engaging in copycat crime.” There were several documented copycat incidents resulting from Columbine, including the 2006 Dawson College shooting by a crazed gunman obsessed with violent video games, including ‘Super Columbine Massacre’ and ‘Postal 2.’
The young Montreal gunman strolled into a local college equipped with an assault weapon and long dark trench coat (similar to the Columbine shooters) and, like them, killed himself. The aftermath of this tragedy revealed his dark obsession with death and violence. He had created an online profile on the vampires.com website which provided a detailed insight into his demented mind.
The killer indicated that he hated jocks, preppies and all people in authority. “Work sucks, school sucks, life sucks, what else can I say? Life is a video game, you’ve got to die sometime,” Kimveer Gill stated. (19) The frustration-aggression hypothesis again applies, as it is obvious that there was a high level of aggressive predispositions in his behavioural repertoire. These pent up frustrations eventually surfaced in a violent and aggressive response. (16)
The killers frustration levels ae captured in other online postings, made under the username ‘fatality666,’ including this one: “I am not a people person. I have met a handful of people in my life who are decent but I find the majority to be worthless. It’s not only the bullies fault, but the principal’s fault for turning a blind eye. It’s also the fault of the police. Anger and hatred simmers within me.” (20)
Gill’s words echo the sentiments highlighted in the theory of displaced aggression. He experienced a life of frustration resulting from various sources of provocation. Adhering to the psychosocial theory, he was intently focused on his anger and planned to seek retaliation. (17) His victims were not connected to him or his original sources of frustration. Furthermore, he never attended Dawson College, nor did he have any other affiliations with the school, a hallmark trait of displaced aggression.
Finally, it is difficult again to pinpoint the exact role violent video games played in this tragedy, but the research has shown that repeated exposure to depictions of graphic violence can contribute to desensitization. (3)
The video games containing the most violence have subsequently been given an ‘M’ rating for mature. Less violent games are rated ‘T’ for teen. The M rated games contain blood and profanity and depict severe injuries and death to human and non-human characters. (21) They are not to be sold to minors, yet consumers are overwhelmingly youth under the legal age of purchase, which varies by region.
In May, 2003, Washington became the first U.S. state to officially ban the sale of realistic ‘cop-killer’ video games to children under 17. (13) The idea of allocating specific ratings to prohibit minors from buying these games is only one way to control how youth access violent media. Parents must proactively play a role, and this is not emphasized enough.
It is one thing to put societal restraints on violent media content labels and warnings, but parents have the ultimate control in limiting or eliminating violent content in their children’s viewing habits. As Bushman and Huesmann suggest, they need to be aware of the consequences of viewing media with repeated violence and protect their children from it. (10)
Health care professionals, primarily child and adolescent psychiatrists, are now being encouraged to include a ‘media history’ in medical evaluations of children, incorporating it as a possible risk factor in a clinical diagnosis. (12) The starting point still revolves around the home environment.
“The more that you are exposed to parents who are loving and affectionate and who will spend a lot of time with you (attention),” Lieberman suggests, “the more you can fight against these ideas and images you see on the screen.”
Limiting children’s exposure to violent media, combined with positive family exposure, can be a preventative measure against negative media influences.
The behavioural research has clearly shown that there is a causal relationship between media depictions of violence and an increase in aggressive behaviour(s) in youths. Given the recent emergence of more sophisticated violent video games, including the recent release of the latest Grand Theft Auto game, it is vital that researchers add to the minimal research and continue exploring the dynamic relationship between video games and violence.
Recent tragic events have supported the hypothesis that violent video games are desensitizing and causing youths to become increasingly more violent.
Written by: Stephen Metelsky (Pseudonym: Stephen G. Boyle)
CRIME FLASHBACK Column – Niagara This Week, 2012
The sociopath has no regard for the adverse consequences of their own behaviour. The narcissistic sociopath has a unique ability to blend in seamlessly amongst their family, friends and co-workers. They can assimilate themselves in different types of social settings, typically without raising any suspicions about their true inner identity.
The sociopath has an innate ability to separate their secret criminal tendencies from the normative images they project during the course of their public social lives, truly reminiscent of the ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ persona. This was excruciatingly evident with Colonel Russell Williams, the commander of CFB Trenton, Canada’s largest air force base. During the day, Williams projected the aura of legitimacy as the high ranking commander in charge of 3,000 people. In 2005 Williams even piloted a plane that carried Queen Elizabeth II. However, when Williams was not commanding the base, he was prowling by night, searching for his next potential victim.
Williams did not become a killer overnight. His progression to killing entailed a methodical escalation initially involving various acts of voyeurism. Once these acts became mundane, William’s deviant behaviour escalated to the point where he was breaking into the homes of women he had been covertly stalking. Most of these break-ins occurred overnight, sometimes with the victims inside their homes. Initially, William’s intent was to break in to steal women’s clothing and take photographs in order to satisfy a twisted and escalating sexual obsession. This obsession spiraled out of control as William’s began committing riskier crimes to curtail his insatiable and demented obsession.
The deviant escalation of a predator’s method of operation, is quite common amongst serial offenders. Serial predators initially commit petty crimes that are minor in nature, such as mischief or voyeurism. The tedium of committing particular offences eventually involves an escalation to riskier more violent crimes. The boredom propels the offender
to take more risks as their levels of deviance and confidence thrive. Another commonality amongst these serial predators is the acquisition of a trophy. A trophy represents a tangible item the predator takes from a particular victim so they can relive the crime incessantly until the urge to strike again surfaces. The serial predator will photograph or videotape their crimes. This profile fit the modus operandi of Colonel Williams. It is almost a carbon copy of what transpired with killer Paul Bernardo. Ironically, Williams and Bernardo have been linked to the University of Toronto where both had studied economics during the mid-1980’s at the Scarborough campus. However, there is no evidence to suggest a criminal linkage between them.
After breaking into the homes of various women and assaulting them, William’s violent behaviour escalated to murder. He committed the most heinous act on two separate occasions. One of the victims was a corporal from the CFB Trenton air force base where Williams reigned supreme. The split diabolic persona of Williams enabled a segue from his midnight murderous ways to his daytime responsibilities as a husband and commander without raising suspicion. However, his secretive world was to become unraveled through forensic evidence collected at one of the murder scenes.
In February 2010, police began an intense investigation after the murder of Jessica Lloyd. Early on during the investigation police located and retrieved a valuable piece of forensic evidence from the murder scene. A distinct set of tire tread marks was detected by crime scene investigators. The tread marks were measured, photographed and catalogued as evidence. On February 4, 2010 police had set up a proactive roadside checkpoint, patiently and methodically checking vehicles as they strolled down the snow covered roads. Williams came to a complete stop in his SUV, unfazed this would represent the catalyst to his unraveling murderous double life. Police were immediately intrigued by the tread patterns on the tires of Williams’ SUV, again a very distinct set of treads that left an even more distinct impression on the surface it traveled on.
The tread pattern appeared to be very similar to the pattern located at the scene of the Lloyd homicide. The roadside query led to the identity of Williams. The Ontario Provincial Police arranged for Williams to be interviewed a few days later.
Most predators eventually slip up and leave valuable forensic evidence behind at a particular crime scene. When Williams showed up for his interview with the Ontario Provincial Police on Feb. 7, 2010 he brazenly wore the same rugged pair of boots that had left distinct footwear impressions at the Lloyd homicide scene. The footwear impressions were detected entering and leaving the crime scene ending where the distinct tire tread impressions began. Williams appeared confident as he vehemently and casually denied any association to the two homicide victims. During the interview he even consented to a comparison of his boots with the footwear impressions located at the Lloyd crime scene. They were an exact match. When Williams was confronted with
the damning forensic evidence his legitimate world imploded as the dark secrets of his double life spilled outward. Williams requested a map to pinpoint where he had concealed one of his victims, initializing a startling confession.
Williams was charged with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of sexual assault and forcible confinement and 82 break-ins. In October of 2010 Williams pled guilty to all charges. His punishment: an automatic life sentence in prison with no possibility of parole for at least 25 years.
UPDATE: The “Killer Colonel” was initially imprisoned in Kingston, Ontario. Williams has been transferred and is now incarcerated in a maximum security prison in Quebec, Canada.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Stephen G. Metelsky, M.A. is a freelance crime writer/journalist, criminologist, organized crime expert (CBC, Hamilton Spectator, Niagara Falls Review, St. Catharines Standard, Global News, AM 680, 980 News, 900 CHML, Newstalk 1010 & Blue Line magazine) & college professor, with over 20 years as a police (ret.) sergeant.
Stephen is a contributing columnist with Blue Line magazine and has covered true crime stories for various newspapers affiliated with Metroland Media Group & Postmedia Network Inc.