This is part of my ongoing series on Canadian Mass Murders.
There is no such thing as a “simple” mass murder case.
Every one of the events chronicled in my series on Canadian Mass Murders tells a completely different story, even if the underlying cause – the utter depravity of man – is the same.
Some mass murders take on lives of their own, driven by political activists with agendas.
Others, like the 2002 murders of Shannon Cruse, her 6-year-old daughter Shaniya and her parents, Mary and Donald Cruse, are seemingly forgotten.
As I searched for news stories about the Cruse family murders, I was struck by how little information I could find. It wasn’t until I dug deep inside newspaper archives from 2002 that Shannon Cruse’s tragic story began to unfold.
Even then, the only article I could find written about this family beyond 2002 was written by an ex-cop who, for reasons eerily similar to mine, published his writeup of this tragic story on the 10th anniversary of the murders.
Hopefully, something in my exploration of this case will inspire you to remember Shannon Cruse and her family each June 14th with me.
Cruse Family History
Donald Cruse, Shannon’s father, built Wreckmaster, a world-class towing and tow-truck driver training company. His expertise made him a legend in the industry and he trained tow truck drivers around the world. Cruse also founded the Canadian Towing Society.
Shannon Cruse worked for her father as his business manager.
Mary Cruse, Don’s wife, was a retired teacher and a devout member of St. Joseph’s Church. In retirement, she volunteered at her grand-daughter’s school to teach the children how to read.
When Shannon attended a tow-truck convention in Lafayette, North Carolina, in 2000, she met Peter Kiss, a tow-truck owner from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They began dating, got engaged and, in January 2002, Shannon and her daughter moved to Milwaukee to live with Peter.
Here Shannon discovered Peter’s physically and verbally abusive nature. Shannon dealt with it as best she could until he directed his verbal abuse at her 6-year-old daughter Shaniya.
She refused to tolerate anyone abusing her child.
In April, 2002, afraid for both her safety and her daughter’s, Shannon Cruse broke off the relationship with Peter Kiss just two months after moving to Milwaukee.
She took her daughter and fled back across the border to Grimsby, Ontario, where Shannon and her daughter moved into a house down the road from her parents. Once back in the safety of her home town, she revealed to family and friends just how terrified she was of her ex-fiance.
“It was a nasty breakup,” said Virginia Danihel, a friend of Shannon’s. “She told us if we ever saw Kiss’s vehicle, a burgundy GMC Yukon, we should call the police right away.”
The Cruse Family Murders
On Friday afternoon, June 14, 2002, tow-truck driver Peter Kiss left his home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, crossed the border into Ontario with a smuggled Glock .45 calibre handgun.
Once across the border, he parked his vehicle in Niagara Falls and rented a Ford Taurus with Canadian plates, probably so his terrified ex-girlfriend wouldn’t see him coming.
Then he drove to the small town of Grimbsy, Ontario, and hunted his ex-girlfriend down.
At roughly 9:20 p.m. on Friday, June 14, 2002, two gunshots rang out.
Shannon Cruse dropped to the ground in her driveway as two .45 calibre bullets tore through her body.
Police and ambulance attendants rushed her to the hospital where they tried to resuscitate the 23-year-old woman’s life. She succumbed to her injuries was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at the hospital.
Shannon’s murder was only the beginning of the Cruse family nightmare, however.
After killing her, Shannon’s angry ex-fiance went down the road to Shannon’s parents’ home. He kicked in the door, herded Shannon’s father into the master bedroom where her mother and daughter lay in bed.
He shot and killed all three then, like these cowards almost always do, Peter Kiss killed himself minutes before Niagara Regional Police officers arrived.
When Justin Cruse, Shannon’s brother, only learned about the murders when returned home later that night. He screamed uncontrollably as his grief and anguish tore him apart.
Ken Cruse, Donald’s brother, broke down and wept while reading a prepared statement for the media.
“I’m devastated. I still haven’t come to grips with it. You never think something like this is going to strike so close to home,” he said.
A Green-Ribbon Funeral
On Saturday, June 22, 2002, four members of the Cruse family were laid to rest at St. Joseph’s Church in Grimsby, Ontario.
“Last Friday evening the tranquility of this town was shattered by the violent deaths of Don, Mary-Helen, Shannon and Shaniya Cruse,” said Reverend Hugh Gibson to a church filled with tearful mourners. “In a sense, Grimsby, lots its innocence last Friday and was touched by the unthinkable.”
Pallbearers for Donald Cruse wore grass-green overalls with the Wreckmaster’s logo, the towing company he ran. Other pallbearers and mourners wore green ribbons to honour the family.
“He wore green coveralls all the time,” said Al Valk Jr., owner of a Walden, New York towing company. “Green was his color. That’s why we’re doing the green ribbons.”
Outside the church, hundreds of tow trucks from across the region, some from as far away as Ohio and Pennsylvania, lined the streets to honour the slain family members.
“If every family was as loving and as caring as the Cruse family, the world would be a better place,” said Ron Fluke in his eulogy to his best friend, Donald Cruse.
Memory Box Created in Honour of 6-year-old Shaniya Cruse
From the National Post, Tuesday, June 18, 2002.
Shaniya Cruse’s classmates spent yesterday afternoon making a memory box in honour of the slain six-year-old.
Inside the decorated container went pictures and poems, prayers and cards, any small reminder of Shaniya’s life.
The youngster was killed on Friday night along with her mother, Shannon, and grandparents, Don and Mary Helen Cruse.
“It’s a concrete way for the children to contribute,” said Our Lady of Fatima principal Lisa Selman. “We broke the day down into reflection, prayer and memories.”
The memory box will be given to Justin Cruse, Shannon’s 20-year-old brother, who arrived at his family’s home after the killings.
Quadruple Homicide Changes to Border Security
When Peter Kiss travelled from Wisconsin to Grimsby, Ontario, with a smuggled handgun and a homicidal heart, he put a spotlight on the need for better border security.
In particular, the fact Kiss was able to smuggle a handgun across the Rainbow Bridge port of entry into Canada, despite the implementation of post-9/11 enhanced border screening procedures, left many baffled.
“Despite everything that has been said, the government has not done enough to ensure that smuggled firearms are stopped at the border,” said Ontario NDP leader Howard Hampton. “We know the largest threat of firearms in Canada is from [illegally] imported firearms.”
The Grimsby murders highlighted the fact that while customs officials will pull over people with criminal records for extra screening, restraining orders are not included in their databases.
In September, 1999, Zsuzsanna Torgyik, Peter Kiss’s ex-girlfriend, took out a restraining order against him. Court records showed Peter Kiss pushed Ms. Torgyik out of a flatbed truck, choked her, slapped her in front of her son, lifted her by her neck and threatened to take her son away.
Torguik sought and was issued a temporary restraining order against Peter Kiss in 1999, and not long afterward he met Shannon Cruse and focused his obsession on her.
His history of stalking and threatening ex-lovers is information Canada’s border guards should have been aware of, said Canadian Alliance MP John Reynolds.
“The minister himself said today that there was a mistake made. Anybody in the States who has a record or a restraining order against them should be on a computer. There should have been a second interview [of Peter Kiss]. That didn’t happen. Obviously there was a foul-up,” Reynolds said, referring to comments made by Immigration Minister Denis Coderre.
“We have got to make sure that the borders have the proper amounts of money, the proper training, to stop this [murderers from entering the country].”
While it wasn’t done in time to save the Cruse family, eventually most of Reynolds’ border security recommendations were implemented.