When Dean Roberts’s twin 13month-old sons, David and Josiah, were murdered along with their mother, Susan, in July, 1994, Roberts’s hometown of Cranbrook, B.C., rallied to his side. Concerned neighbors delivered gifts of food, arranged to pick up out-of-town relatives for the funeral and helped to remove Roberts’s furniture from his town house, which had been torched during the crime. Mourners packed the sweltering Cranbrook Christian Centre for a revival-style memorial, swaying with uplifted arms and singing hymns as Pastor Alex Campbell strummed his guitar. Then, as Roberts’s sole surviving son, three-year-old Jonathan, sat on his father’s knee in the front pew, Campbell read out a letter that Roberts had written to his 24-year-old wife. “I love you Sue, my darling, my life,” wrote the construction worker. “If there was any way to know what was going to happen, I would have forced you out, and taken your place instead.” Three months after he penned that note, residents in Cranbrook, a tightly knit community of 17,000 in south-central British Columbia, reacted with shock and dismay as police charged Roberts with three counts of first-degree murder related to the death of his wife and sons.
Following his arrest, many of Roberts’s family and friends continued to support him. After his initial court appearance, Susan Roberts’s mother, Joyce Hall, and Susan’s brothers, Rick and Doug Redmond, stood on a corner outside the Cranbrook courthouse, blowing kisses and gesturing support as a sheriff’s van carried Roberts back to prison. Roberts’s father, Ron Mielke, told reporters that the accused man was “so mild he won’t even let you step on a caterpillar.” But as Roberts’s first-degree murder trial opened last week in Nelson, B.C., 100 km west of Cranbrook, Crown prosecutor Scott Van Alstine painted a much darker portrait of the 26-year-old defendant, who has pleaded not guilty to all three murder charges. In his opening address to the jury, Van Alstine quoted extensively from taperecorded conversations that he said took place between Roberts and undercover officers in September, 1994. On tape, said
Van Alstine, Roberts spoke of how he despised his wife and what he called the family’s “Little House on the Prairies life.” He also boasted of how he strangled his wife and tried to kill all three of their children. “[The killing] was like being stoned,” he said, “above and beyond any kind of drug.” According to Van Alstine, Roberts told the officers—who posed as organized crime figures—that he had taken out a $200,000 insurance policy on his wife’s life one month before the killings. Then, late on the evening of July 18,1994, after cleaning up the supper dishes, he gave Susan a back rub on the couple’s bed and, as Roberts recalled, “in
the process of giving her the massage, I manoeuvred a rope underneath her neck and double knotted it and put my knee into the back of her head.” After strangling his wife, Roberts told the officers, he went down the hall to where the twins were sleeping. Roberts said he strangled Josiah, but left David in his crib as he set the house aflame. He said that he thought the fire would kill the remaining two children. In fact, David died from smoke inhalation but neighbors managed to rescue Jonathan.
Van Alstine said the tapes—which the jury will hear in their entirety later in the trial— also show Roberts discussing the prospect of murdering his parents and surviving son. Only then, Roberts explains, could he “start a new life somewhere else.”
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.