This is part of my ongoing series on Canadian Mass Murders.
Human depravity and greed are a dangerous combination. When combined with drug abuse, a knife and a .22 calibre pistol they are lethal, as this case proves.
On May 7, 1992, three young men robbed a Sydney River, Nova Scotia, McDonald’s restaurant in the belief they would make off with $80,000.
Instead they found only $2,000 and murdered three innocent people: Jimmy Fagan, 27, Donna Warren, 22, and Neil Burroughs Jr., 29. They left Arlene MacNeil, 20, for dead. She survived but was permanently disabled.
The ringleader of this trio of deadly morons was then-18-year-old Derek Anthony Wood but he wasn’t the brightest bulb in the pack.
Wood propped open a basement door to the restaurant with his backpack so the three could enter after the restaurant closed. He forgot to take the backpack with him after he and his fellow murderers killed three and disabled another. His stupidity made it easy for police to identify him and track him down.
He also attempted to claim he was outside having a smoke when he heard gun shots. Locked outside, he called police, he said, to report the crimes in progress. His attempted ruse held up for all of 8 seconds.
All three young men claimed repeatedly they never intended to kill anyone that night. The execution-style shootings of all four victims suggests they were less than truthful, to be polite.
At about 1 a.m., May 7, 1992 taxi drivers discovered a bloody and tragic scene at McDonald’s Restaurant, Sydney River.
James Fagan, a night cleaner, was found lying face down in a pool of blood at the back door. He was shot in the head at close range only moments after arriving by taxi early for work. He died later that day in hospital.
Police and ambulances arrived a short time later and discovered three other victims.
Donna Warren, the night manager, shot twice in the head at close range in her main floor office containing the safe. The safe was opened using its combination and Donna Warren was the only staff member on site who knew the combination.
A little over $2,000.00 was stolen, as well as some other personal property.
Neil Burroughs, also a night cleaner, was found in the kitchen area of the main floor. He was shot three times in the head. One shot was a contact wound. The two others were from close range. His throat was cut so severely he would have died from that wound alone and he also suffered many other wounds.
Arleen MacNeil was found in the basement near the door at the foot of the stairs. She was shot in the head at close range. She has survived, but suffered permanent mental and physical disability until her death in 2018.
Justice J.A. Mathews, writing in dissent of the Nova Scotia Court of Appeals ruling in R. v. Muise, wrote:
7. There was nothing at the scene to suggest that the victims could or did fight back. All evidence supports the conclusion of execution-like killings. These victims did not have a chance.
8. An extensive police investigation and numerous court proceedings have conclusively determined that these egregious crimes were committed by three men acting together at the scene in furtherance of a planned robbery. These men are:
9. Darren Richard Muise (age 18 years at that time), the appellant herein, convicted of second degree murder of Neil Burroughs and robbery;
10. Freeman Daniel MacNeil (age 23 years), convicted of the first degree murder of Neil Burroughs, the second degree murder of James Fagan, the unlawful confinement of Donna Warren and robbery; and
11. Derek Anthony Wood (age 18 years), convicted of the first degree murders of Neil Burroughs and Donna Warren, the attempted murder of Arleen MacNeil, the unlawful confinement of Donna Warren, and robbery.
Derek Anthony Wood received two life sentences, one for the first-degree murders of Donna Warren and Neil Burroughs Jr., and a second for the attempted murder of Arlene MacNeil. He was also sentenced to two 10-year terms for unlawful confinement and armed robbery.
His application for day parole was rejected on April 8, 2015, stating:
“Given your … moderate to high risk for reoffending, the length of your incarceration, your violent institutional behaviour, your current segregation status, the special handling requirements in your case and your lack of engagement in addressing your risk factors, the board concluded that your release from a maximum security institution to a halfway house was not realistic or viable at this time.”
Wood was eligible for full parole in 2017, according to the Cape Breton Post, but it is unlikely he will ever be released.
Darren Muise was sentenced to 20 years before he was eligible for parole.
Freeman Daniel MacNeil was granted temporary unescorted absences from prison once a month in November, 2019, as a leadup to day parole this year. He was first granted escorted day passes in 2016.