This is part of my ongoing series on Canadian Mass Murders.
This is a lengthy expose of one of Canada’s most heinous sexual deviants and mass murderers which is broken down into the following sections:
- Missing Person Report Filed
- Police Try Everything to Generate Leads
- Police Finally Catch a Break
- Murder Arrested
- A Mother’s Misguided Love
- Girls Almost Saved… Twice
- Guilty Plea
- Mass Murderer’s Real Confession
- Faint Hope Clause
- Killer Seeks Parole
On August 2, 1982, Bob and Jackie Johnson, their two daughters Janet, 13, and Karen, 11, and Jackie’s parents, George and Edith Bentley set out on a family camping trip.
It was meant to be a two-week excursion into one of British Columbia’s most spectacular locations, Wells Gray Provincial Park, near Clearwater, BC.
The Johnsons and Bentleys were last heard from on August 6th, 1982.
Instead of a world-class holiday, within days of their last contact with the world all four adults were dead. Their bodies were stuffed in the back seat of Bob Johnson’s car, and the killer tossed a blanket over them to hide the corpses from the two young girls.
Janet and Karen Johnson became the prisoners of a sexual sadist who repeatedly raped them for almost a week.
The children nearly survived their ordeal, too, but their pedophile captor evaded detection when a prison guard came to the door of the remote fishing cabin where Shearing held the two young girls.
The guard suspected nothing as he told Shearing he was there with a group of prisoners fishing.
Shearing moved the girls to his family farm the next day, and then, on August 16, 1982, he walked Karen, the younger daughter, into the woods and killed her.
He repeated the process with Janet, the older daughter, on August 17, 1982.
Both girls were shot once in the back of the head.
The killer then drove Bob Johnson’s vehicle, the bodies of the adults stuffed in the back seat and the bodies of the two girls stuffed in the trunk, to a remote area and set the vehicle on fire.
An accelerant in powder form was stolen from a local sawmill in 1982, shortly before the murderers. When mixed with gasoline, forms a thick gel that, when ignited, generates intense heat.
Using this stolen accelerant or something similar, the blaze burned so hot very little remained of the two families except bone fragments, dust and ash.
Despite so little physical remains, forensic science experts were able to reconstruct enough to determine four of the six victims were shot.
They were unable to identify all six, however, because the intense heat of the fire left so little behind.
Missing Person Report Filed
When Bob Johnson failed to show up for work on August 16th, his employers at Gorman Brothers Lumber in Westbank, BC, were concerned. In 20 years, Bob Johnson never missed a day for any reason, so this was highly unlikely behaviour.
Still, it took another week for Johnson’s boss at Gorman Brothers to report the family missing to Kelowna RCMP on August 23, 1982.
To their credit, the RCMP took the report seriously and jumped into the search with everything they had.
Police focused their search on Wells Gray Park since that was the known destination of the family.
Despite a massive search with all the resources the RCMP could spare, including tracking dogs and helicopters, they came up empty.
On September 13, 1982, five weeks after the family was last heard from, a mushroom picker reported a burned-out car at the bottom of a ravine near Battle Mountain Road, about a mile from the entrance to Wells Gray Provincial Park.
When RCMP members arrived and investigated the scene, they discovered the incinerated bodies of four adults. All were shot in the head with a .22 caliber weapon.
In the trunk they discovered the cremated remains of two little girls.
The search continued for the Bentley’s camper but, again, Polce came up empty.
What they did find was the location where the murders took place. Investigators located the crime scene in an area called the Old Bear Creek Prison site, approximately 20kms from where they found the burned-out vehicle.
Police Try Everything to Generate Leads
In April 1983, a television re-enactment of the killings was filmed on the site of the murders, then aired across Canada. Police hoped the re-enactment would spark a memory but, despite being flooded with calls, no solid leads came of the effort.
Police created an exact replica of the Bentley’ 1981 Ford camper down to the last detail, including the aluminium boat strapped to the roof. In May 1983 they drove the camper from British Columbia to Quebec, again in the hopes someone would see it and remember a vital clue.
In advance of the camper’s arrival at each town or city, police held press conferences to publicize the camper’s arrival and keep the case in the public’s eye. Over 1,300 alleged sightings were investigated.
All turned out to be false.
The RCMP posted a $7,500 reward, printed 10,000 posters and sent them to police detachments and post offices across North America.
A year elapsed.
Despite their best efforts, investigators were no closer to finding the mass murderer.
The summer of 1983 was a booming year for tourism in British Columbia. Campsites were filled to capacity across the province on the Canada Day long weekend.
All except one.
In Wells Gray Provincial Park, where the murders of the Johnson and Bentley families took place, only 18 of 105 campsites were used. It was the worst year on record for tourism in the beautiful park.
Police Finally Catch A Break
On October 18, 1983, 14 months after the murders, two forestry workers stumbled across the Bentley’s missing camper. The burned-out remains of the vehicle was found on an abandoned logging road on Trophy Mountain, just a few kilometres from the murder site.
Police lifted the wreck out with a helicopter and transported it to the RCMP Crime Lab in Vancouver. The wreck yielded no clues, the RCMP told the media.
The location of the wreck, however, gave police a clue.
The abandoned logging road, hidden in a maze of old deactivated logging roads on Trophy Mountain, was not easy to access. The only people likely to know of its existence were people familiar with the area – local residents.
The RCMP started over in Clearwater. They went door to door in the small community and questioned everyone in town a second time.
On November 19, 1983, David William Shearing was arrested in Dawson Creek and charged with the murders of the Johnson and Bentley families.
Ironically, Shearing was one of the first people interviewed by RCMP members after the investigation began. The interview took place in the back yard of the Shearing family farmhouse, just two kilometres from the murder scene.
At the time of the interview, the murder weapon, Shearing’s .22 calibre rifle, hung on the wall of the family home.
When police were questioned why they didn’t seize the firearm and test it to see if casings fired from it matched those found at the scene, Inspector Vic Edwards cited basic civil rights.
“I don’t have any right to go into your house and examine your guns. The same as I didn’t have any right to go into Mr. Shearing’s house,” he said.
Inspector Edwards said that, at the time of the interview, “We had no reason to suspect him.”
The clue leading to the killer’s arrest came from the RCMP’s second round of questioning in Clearwater, in which 30 RCMP members went door to door through the community.
One resident recalled the fact David Shearing asked him, over a year prior, how to re-register a Ford pickup. Shearing also asked how to fix a bullet hole in the truck’s door panel.
This bullet hole in the door panel was a clue withheld from the media after crime scene techs combed the burned wreck for clues at the RCMP’s Vancouver crime lab.
Media hounded the RCMP for information about the case and about the killer. Eventually, Kamloops RCMP Staff Sgt. David Bryce issued a statement, shutting down all further questions.
“Police are being asked by the news media to provide further information and to confirm topics presented to them. The disclosure of matters at this time which may have evidentiary value later would not only be improper, but may influence Mr. Shearing’s entitlement to a fair trial.
“It is our opinion that it would not be in the interests of justice to release any further information. Therefore, police will not comment further on any aspect of this investigation.”
Crown counsel Robert Hunter also refused to speak to the media.
“I will not confirm any evidence,” he said.
RCMP also learned through Shearing’s closest friend, Ross Coburn, that he was with David Shearing when Shearing ran over drunk lying on a Wells Gray Park road in 1980, killing him. The accident was reported to police, nor was anyone ever charged in that death.
A Mother’s Misguided Love
As is typical in these heinous cases, David Shearing’s mother expressed shock at the news of her son’s arrest for murdering six innocent people.
“I hope it’s a bad mistake or a bad dream. He’s always been such a good boy,” Rose Shearing said, sounding like the mother of every mass murderer in history.
“He’s always worked hard and he always saw that I had everything.”
Perhaps, but it’s how he provided for his mother that’s a far greater concern.
David Shearing couldn’t hold a steady job. He drifted from one small town to another across British Columbia doing odd jobs. He was little more than a classic petty criminal -until the day he stumbled across the Johnson family and their two young daughters.
Greg Shearing, David’s brother, was stunned at the revelation his brother was accused of murdering six people in cold blood.
“I have a lot of questions I’d like to ask police, too,” Greg Shearing said. “I have a hard time believing all this and I can’t say anything right now because it wouldn’t be fair to Dave.”
William Shearing, David’s father, died from cancer on March 19, 1982, about six months before the murders.
On January 19, 1984, David William Shearing waived his right to a preliminary hearing.
Shearing’s trial was originally scheduled to begin on March 5, 1984, but this date was cancelled after he waived his preliminary hearing.
His trial would now begin on April 16, 1984.
Then, in a shocking turn of events, the day his trial was set to begin, David William Shearing pled guilty to six counts of second-degree murder for the 1982 slayings of the Johnson and Bentley families.
As part of the guilty plea, Shearing was required to describe what happened. He gave his written statement to Crown prosecutor Robert Hunter, who read the statement into the court record.
“I walked out of the bush from behind the camper and started shooting. I put the bodies in the car, four in the back seat and the two little ones in the trunk. I poured gasoline… it just went ‘Whoomph!’ I stood back and watched it burn.”
Shearing claimed he killed the two girls minutes after killing their parents and grandparents.
“I went to the tent. I knelt down, and I shot the other two,” his confession stated.
It was a lie, but police wouldn’t know that until later.
At the time of his confession in court, police had little choice but to accept the killer’s version of events because they had no evidence to prove otherwise.
“What we have, very simply, is a cold-blooded and senseless execution of six defenceless and innocent victims for no apparent reason,” Supreme Court Justice Harry McKay said.
“The sentence I impose, in conjunction with such matters as protection of the public and specific deterrence, must have proper regard for public opinion and must express, in clear terms, the revulsion felt by the great majority of our citizens for this senseless and vicious mass killing.”
“This case is at the upper range of culpability,” Justice McKay continued.
“The victims were unknown to the prisoner. They did not, in any way, provoke him. He knew they were camped at the site and carefully scouted the situation. He went home and returned either that night or the next with a loaded .22 rifle. Why? We do not really know, but it seems it was to rob and kill.”
“There are no ameliorating or mitigating factors. The enormity of the crimes demand the maximum sentence.”
On April 17, 1984, Justice Harry McKay sentenced David William Shearing to six concurrent terms of life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.
This is the maximum possible penalty for second degree murder and the first time in Canadian history the sentence was ever handed out.
Many Letters to the Editor at the time wondered why the six life sentences were concurrent, when other heinous mass murderers, like Clifford Olsen, were sentenced to consecutive life sentences, ensuring they would never be set free.
No adequate rationalization was ever given.
David Shearing did not appeal his sentence.
Mass Murderer’s Real Confession
“You know why I’m here, David,” said RCMP Sgt. Michael Eastham, lead investigator on the case.
“I think you sexually abused those girls before you killed them. You told me some time ago that you would consider telling me the rest of the story after you were sentenced. Well, I’m here to collect, David, and I’m not taking no for an answer.”
After pleading guilty to the murders, which included his false confession to the court, David Shearing finally told Sgt. Eastham what really happened.
The two young girls are what attracted Shearing to the families. He crawled into the tent with the girls, told them a biker gang was in the area causing trouble. He was going to help their parents, who had run to get help.
He then shot and killed all four adults, stuffed them in the back seat of Johnson’s car, then returned and sexually assaulted 11-year-old Karen and 13-year-old Janet.
Shearing said kept the girls at his home and at a small fishing cabin on the Clearwater River.
He told Eastham he kept the two girls alive for six days, sexually abusing and torturing both girls before finally killing them.
On August 16th, he walked Karen into the woods and shot her in the back of the head.
The following day he walked Janet into the woods and shot her in the back of the head as well, before disposing of all six bodies.
DyingWords.net describes David William Shearing this way.
“Shearing was a pedophile and fixated on the little girls. He’d spotted the family the moment they set up camp and spent several days spying on them from a hillside, fantasizing about having sex with the kids. At dusk on (or about) August 10, 1982, Shearing crept through the shadows into the campsite with his rifle and opened fire, ambushing the adults who surrounded the fire. He captured the girls and took them to his property where he kept them alive for a week, repeatedly raping the children.”
Girls Almost Saved
What nobody realized at the time was David William Shearing was almost caught while Janet and Karen Johnson were still alive.
While holding the girls at a Clearwater River fishing cabin, a prison guard came to the door.
Shearing hid the girls behind the door and ordered them to be quiet. Unfortunately, they complied.
The guard told Shearing not to be alarmed by the presence of prisoners on the riverbank. They were out on a day pass to go fishing, the guard said, and he didn’t want anyone to be concerned.
The next day, after the prison guard and his convicts were gone, Shearing moved the girls to his family farm.
Sgt. Eastham double-checked the killer’s story. He found the prison guard, who confirmed the story Shearing told Eastham.
RCMP Const. Ken Leibel, Eastham’s partner, went back to the secluded fishing cabin Shearing described, and found two sets of initials carved into a tree – Shearing’s initials and “J.J.” for Janet Johnson, the eldest daughter.
“That’s how close everyone was to them,” Constable Leibel said in an interview 25 years after the murders.
But for a cruel act of fate, those two precious little girls would be alive today.
Faint Hope Clause
The Criminal Code contains a section that gives those sentenced to life in prison the “faint hope” of early parole after serving 15 years in prison.
In 1999, David William Shearing met that requirement.
While he did not apply for parole as then-retired RCMP Sgt. Michael Eastham feared, Eastham wanted to ensure the public never forgets the six people he so brutally murdered in August 1982.
“If people don’t pay attention, he’s going to get out,” he said.
To keep the world from forgetting, Eastham wrote a book about the case. The Seventh Shadow is not for the faint of heart, as the author goes into great detail about all aspects of the case.
“He’s never shown one indication of remorse. He’s one of the big guys in the big house because he’s a murderer and he’s having a good time there,” said Eastham.
Killer Seeks Parole
In September 2008, David William Shearing applied for parole.
Clearwater residents were horrified at the possibility of his release. When they heard a petition was being circulated in Westbank and Kelowna by the families of the victims, they asked for it to be sent to Clearwater as well.
The petition containing 9,370 signatures was sent to the Parole Board in August, 2008, urging them to deny the application.
At David Shearing’s September 2008 parole hearing, the National Parole Board denied parole to the killer, citing the killer’s ongoing violent sexual fantasies and his failure to complete a sex offender treatment program as reasons why.
His 2012 parole application was denied as well.
In 2014, David William Shearing, now known as David Ennis, applied for parole again. Over 15,000 people signed online and paper petitions demanding parole be denied.
A month before his parole hearing, David Ennis withdrew his application.
In 1995 he married a woman from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Heather Ennis claims her husband deserves a second chance.
“I have seen so much change in this man since we met (in 1993),” Heather Ennis said. “I know the man’s heart is in the right place and I’m just here to back him up.”
That Heather views this heinous pedophile and mass murderer as a man whose “heart is in the right place” and appropriate choice for a husband simply boggles the mind.
David William Shearing aka David Ennis remains incarcerated at Bowden Institution, south of Red Deer, Alberta.
Gerry Hildebrandt says
Thanks Christopher for re telling this horrible story of the Johnson and Bentley family lest we forget this tradegy and their legacy.
The senseless loss of life by a demon protected today by our so called Charter of Rights , How crazy is it that this man is allowed to marry while in PRISON for killing six innocent people, the judicial system is almost as sick as the perpetrator, time for some reform in this nation.
Let the Johnson and Bentley names somehow help create the reform we need.
Christopher di Armani says
Thanks Gerry. It’s so easy for most of us to forget these horrific tragedies. The families of the victims don’t have that luxury, and part of my goal with this series is to help the rest of us remember the victims and, hopefully, learn something that can help us fix the broken parts of our justice system.