For cottage owners at Takla Lake in northern British Columbia, the calm of their vacation retreat-
already troubled by a series of breakins—was shattered on Aug. 21. A shooting incident left one man dead and saw a member of the small summertime community charged last week with second-degree murder. The confrontation between two men and three cottagers trying to make a citizen’s arrest grew out of the very isolation that drew the 11 cottage owners to that part of the lake: the western arm of the Y-shaped lake can be reached only by boat or plane. Fort St. James, 121 air kilometres to the southeast, is the closest town.
Fort St. James also has the closest RCMP detachment. It was to that station that Mark Doyle, a 27-year-old carpenter, went in mid-August to report four break-ins that had occurred on Takla Lake while the cottage owners were gathered together playing a game of horseshoes. “My son said the situation was getting desperate up there,” said John Doyle, who also has a cabin on the lake. “There were women staying alone in some of the cottages while their husbands were away. He told police about the break-ins, but they said there wasn’t much they could do. They said they might be able to make it up to Takla Lake in 10 days or so.”
The RCMP were forced to go to Takla Lake only five days later, however. Three police arrived by air SV2 hours after the shooting was reported by radio telephone at 10:40 a.m. The cottagers had good reason to be alarmed that morning. Three more cabins had been entered, and food, alcohol and knives were missing. Ed and Esther Stremecki had returned from dinner at another cabin only the night before to find their cottage had been invaded— while Mrs. Stremecki’s parents were asleep upstairs.
Doyle remembers being awakened that Saturday morning by his son, asking if he could borrow his boat. Mark Doyle and Esther Stremecki then cruised the shorefront, looking for empty liquor bottles that they hoped might lead them to the burglars. When they noticed an open door in a cabin they knew was supposed to be unoccupied, Doyle reported, they beached the boat and he crept up to the cabin for a closer look. Through the open door he saw several of the stolen items. Then he withdrew quietly to the boat, and he and Mrs. Stremecki returned to her cab-
in. While she was trying to reach the police on the radio telephone, Mark Doyle returned to the cabin. With him went Robert Swanson, a native of Castro Valley, Calif, (near San Francisco), and Ed Stremecki. Stremecki took along a .303-calibre rifle because the cottagers feared the burglars were armed with knives.
They approached quietly, then burst into the cabin and informed Maurice Bernard, 18, of Barrhead, Alta., and another man that they were under citizen’s arrest. The cottage owners had been relying on Sec. 449 of the federal Criminal Code, which allows anyone to make a citizen’s arrest if he finds
someone committing an indictable offence or if there are reasonable and probable grounds for believing that a criminal offence has taken place.
Precisely what happened next is in dispute. But, at some point, a shot was fired, and Bernard was hit in the chest and died instantly. The next day Doyle was charged with second-degree murder and was held in jail in Prince George pending a bail hearing this week before a B.C. Supreme Court judge—the only judge who can decide bail in such a serious case. Paul Pakenham, the lawyer representing Doyle, said his client will plead not guilty.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.