This is part of my ongoing series on Canadian Mass Murders.
On July 6, 1972, William Bernard Lepine aka William McConnell, an escapee from the Riverview Provincial Mental Hospital in Coquitlam, was recaptured after a high-speed car chase down British Columbia’s Highway 3.
It was his third escape from the facility since he was first committed earlier that year.
He was taken to hospital in Creston, BC, after his vehicle crashed with minor cuts.
His destination was the Dr. Endicott Home for the retarded, where Lepine had at one time been employed.
Lepine’s mission, according to former staff members at the Home, was to save the children from nuclear war, which he believed was imminent. How he would save the children or where he would take them to keep them safe remains a mystery locked inside the madman’s mind.
After his release from hospital in Creston, Lepine was returned to Riverview Provincial Mental Hospital.
On July 30, 1972, William Lepine escaped from Riverview a fourth time, and an arrest warrant was issued for the escaped psychiatric patient.
While he was free, William Lepine murdered six people in the Kettle Valley and the Kootenays:
- Willard Lee Potter – 18 – of Oliver, BC
- Charles Christopher Wright – 71 – of Oliver, BC
- Phyllis Clarke – 61 – of Penticton, BC
- Herbert Evan Thomas – 57 – of Rock Creek, BC
- Nellie Thomas – 56 – of Rock Creek, BC
- Thomas John Pozney – 24 – of Nakusp, BC
The bodies of Willard Potter and Charles Wright were recovered on the Kettle Valley Road near the Damfino Creek campsite after they disappeared from the Oliver-area orchard where they worked on August 28, 1972.
Phyllis Clark was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital in Trail, BC. Three others, including Phyllis Clark’s husband, were wounded during the killing spree.
Herbert and Nellie Thomas were found dead in near Edgewood, BC, and Thomas Pozney was found shot to death while fishing on Arrow Lake.
Roughly 25 RCMP members took part in the manhunt after the first bodies were discovered, and they followed a trail that led over 150 miles from the Kettle Valley to Galena Bay, on Upper Arrow Lake.
There, RCMP members captured the killer, who had a .22 calibre pistol and a .30 calibre rifle in his possession.
Where and how William Lepine obtained the guns he used to murder six innocent people is unknown.
Initially remanded to the Riverview Hospital on a 30-day evaluation, on September 3, 1972, William Bernard Lepine was committed to the psychiatric facility until fit to stand trial on the authority of a provincial cabinet Order in Council.
In an article titled “The menace of madness” published in The Province on September 30, 1972, reporter Tony Eberts described what Lepine told fellow workers at the Dr. Endicott Home for the retarded before he was fired from the institution.
Last July, William Lepine had a mission: To somehow save 30 retarded children in an interior B.C. institution from the nuclear war he believed was coming.
Today he is in the maximum-security section of Riverview Provincial Mental Hospital, charged with murdering six persons – one of them a 16-year-old youth.
The question of why may be locked forever in a world of madness. But there is also the question of whether the deadly rampage could have been prevented.
According to a police officer involved in the case, Lepine escaped from Riverview four times during the summer [of 1972].
According to hospital spokesmen, he escaped three times, on the last occasion breaking away from two staff members, leaping a six-foot-high wire fence and crossing a busy highway.
Dr. F.G. Tucker, deputy minister of mental health services, ordered an inquiry into the Lepine case, conducted by members of his department in Victoria. He said the “internal” inquiry was as far as he could go as deputy minister; because of the provincial election there was no minister functioning at the time.
The committee’s report has been submitted to Tucker, who told The Provice that Dennis Cocke, newly-appointed health minister in the Barret government, has seen it.
It will not be made public, Tucker said.
Outrage at the murders by an escaped mental patient sparked calls for greater security at institutions like Riverview Provincial Mental Hospital. Those calls went unheeded.
In July 2012, Riverview was closed. Plans to replace obsolete buildings were never implemented.
Today, Riverview is used primarily as a location studio for Vancouver-based film and television productions.