This is part of my ongoing series on Canadian Mass Murders.
Everyone was having a good time at a Calgary basement suite party on July 29, 1988, until Raymond Russell Rafuse got into an argument with Donald Clarke. The cause? Rafuse made a pass at Betty Jean Schoenhalz, Clarke’s girlfriend, and he didn’t take kindly to it.
Within minutes Clarke was dead, Schoenhalz lay bleeding on the stairs, in agony, with two bullets in her back.
Rafuse only shot her, he told Schoenhalz, because she tried to run away. Then Rafuse kissed and fondled her while he cried about how sorry he was because he really liked her. She played along in the hopes he would not kill her. It worked.
When the first gunshots rang out, Russell Rafuse’s older brother Norman grabbed 14-year-old Gary Charette and dragged him outside to safety.
The distraught boy wanted to see if his mother was okay. When Russell Rafuse left the basement suite to get more bullets for his gun the boy ran back inside to find his mother. Rafuse returned, shot him, then killed his mother, Laura Charette, and Elwin Nugent as they lay sleeping in the bedroom.
Within 20 minutes, four people were dead: Donald Clarke, Elwin Nugent, Laura Charette, her 14-year-old son Gary.
All four murder victims were found with their pants undone, their throats slashed, then stuffed a cigarette butt in Donald Clarke’s left ear, a wash cloth in Elwin Nugent’s mouth and a rose into Laura Charette’s vagina.
One lucky soul, Susan Daniels, escaped unharmed after convincing the killer’s brother, Norman, she wanted to buy more beer at the convenience store. When she reached the store she called the police.
When police entered the basement suite where Russel Rafuse killed four people he was calm, co-operative and alert, Calgary Police Service Constable Bradford McNish testified.
“I asked him, ‘What are you doing here?” McNish told the court.
“He replied, ‘I’m here to party, or I’m here at the party.’”
“I was surprised at the calmness he was taking this with,” said Sgt. Lorne Ferguson, who read Rafuse his rights and placed him under arrest for murder.
McNish also testified he found a small, terrified child curled up in a fetal position under blankets in the basement where four people were killed. The child, 5-year-old Elwin Nugent Jr., suffered immense mental and emotional trauma as a result of witnessing the murder of his father.
“I have no recollection of any shooting taking place,” Rafuse testified. “As far as I know in my mind I’ve never killed anybody, I’ve never shot anybody, I’ve never stabbed anybody… [but] I accept full responsibility for everything.”
Hilda, Raymond Rafuse’s mother, said her son often blanked out as a teenager.
“I called it his dead look,” she said, adding it was usually followed by rage-filled outbursts.
When Raymond Rafuse got “the dead look” people got hurt.
“In the administration of criminal justice we see the dark side of humanity,” Crown prosecutor Peter Martin said during his closing arguments.
“Man’s inhumanity to man is limited only by his imagination. This man [Russel Rafuse] has his dark side. This man is violent. This man is just able to contain himself most of the time.
“He gave way to that dark side,” Martin said, when he shot, stabbed and defiled the bodies of four people during a drinking party. This was precision killing. He carefully executed four people. He spared his brother and a child.”
“This is a man who enjoys violence,” Justice Allen Sulatycky said. “When he drinks or uses drugs, he becomes uninhibited and his real nature emerges.”
After ruling Rafuse had the requisite intent to kill, Justice Sulatycky said the additional element required to prove first-degree murder, planning and deliberation, were only present in two of the four senseless killings.
Justice Sulatycky ruled Elwin Nugent and Laura Charette were first-degree murder. Both were killed while sleeping in a bedroom several minutes after he shot Clarke and after he returned from his neighbouring suite to get more bullets and a knife.
On Wednesday, October 25, 1989, Justice Sulatycky sentenced Raymond Russell Rafuse to life in prison with no parole for at least 25 years.
“It’s a good thing I didn’t bet,” said a smiling Russell Rafuse. “I would have lost.”
On December 1, 1992, the Alberta Court of Appeal dismissed Raymond Rafuse’s appeal of his conviction for first-degree murder of Donald Clarke and Laura Charette and his conviction for second-degree murder of Gary Charette and Elwin Nugent.
Russell Raffuse Killed Before
On September 25, 1977, the body of Virginia Alice Sjoberg was found in her Burnaby, BC, apartment.
Prior to her death, she suffered multiple bruises on her forehead, cheek, ear, back, and both legs.
Virginia Sjoberg sustained 19 stab wounds, two of which pierced her heart and killed her. The killer left the murder weapon lodged in Virginia’s right eye socket with the blade buried deep in her brain.
Raymond Russell Rafuse, then 20 years old, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder for her death.
“I got slapped one minute and the next minute I was standing there and she was on the floor dead,” he said in court.
Instead of taking responsibility for his actions, Rafuse blamed Virginia Sjoberg for mocking his inability to get an erection because he was so drunk.
On October 18, 1978, a BC Supreme Court jury sentenced Raymond Russell Rafuse to life in prison for the murder of Virginia Alice Sjoberg, who was his older brother’s girlfriend.
He appealed the 1978 decision, won a new trial, and was convicted of manslaughter in 1980. He served four years of a six-year sentence, according to the Vancouver Sun, and was paroled in December, 1984, and was still on parole when he committed the Calgary murders.
Fraser Simons, BC Regional Director for the National Parole Board, wrote to correct the Sun’s report.
“Raymond Rafuse was not on parole when he committed four murders in Calgary. He was never granted parole during his six-year manslaughter term. He completed his sentence in November, 1986 – 20 months before the Calgary murders.
“The National Parole Board is prepared to be held accountable for the rare cases where a parolee re-offends in a tragic way. This is not one of those cases.”
Lack of Memory or Lack of Remorse?
“This thing [murdering more innocent people] could happen again tomorrow. I don’t have any control. There’s no button I can push. The potential’s always there,” Rafuse said. “Why did I kill these people? It’s like I said, as far as I’m concerned I didn’t.”
Henry Sarava, Refuse’s lawyer during his trial, appeal and retrial for the 1977 murder of Virginia Alice Sjoberg, his older brother’s girlfriend, is convinced Refuse should have been sent to a mental institution, not prison.
Had the insanity plea been accepted after his first murder, Russel Rafuse would have been sent to a psychiatric institution.
“If treatment had been successful, he might well not have killed the four people in Calgary,” Sarava said.
Norman Rafuse – the Killer’s Older Brother
Norman Rafuse removed two garbage bags from the basement suite where Russel Rafuse shot and stabbed four people to death on July 29, 1989.
Evidence at Russell Rafuse’s trial said Norman watched his brother slit the throats of his victims, then cleaned up evidence at the murder scene.
When his defence attorney attempted to argue Norman Rafuse was drunk at the time, Crown prosecutor Les Grieve made a single point to refute the drunk excuse.
“His reaction is not to aid the injured or the dying, but to help his brother.”
Grieve went on to say that while he was drinking, his actions showed he had the capacity to the form intent to help his brother cover up his crimes.
On Thursday, November 16, 1989, Justice John Waite sentenced Norman Rafuse to two and a half years in prison for being an accessory after the fact to the murders committed by his brother.