Crime

Assumed identities

English police charge a Canadian with murder

TOM FENNELL December 16 1996
Crime

Assumed identities

English police charge a Canadian with murder

TOM FENNELL December 16 1996

Assumed identities

Crime

English police charge a Canadian with murder

The fishing trawler Malkarry was working off the southwest coast of England near the seaside resort of Torquay on July 28 when it hauled in a grisly catch—a badly decomposed body. With no identification papers to go on, police managed to trace the ownership of a Rolex wristwatch that was still attached to a wrist, and confirmed in October that the dead man was Ronald Platt, 51, a businessman from the sleepy village of Woodham Walter, 100 km northeast of London. But when officers visited his home, the jowly dark-haired man who answered the door claimed to be Platt. On Oct. 31, police returned and arrested the imposter on a charge of murdering Platt. Last week, they revealed that the mystery man is in fact Albert Johnson Walker of Paris, Ont., a financial planner facing charges in Canada after disappearing in 1990, allegedly with $3.2 million in clients’ money. And in a tale that quickly developed more twists than a murder mystery by Torquay’s famous daughter, Agatha Christie, they also identified the 21year-old woman living with Walker and two children: she is Sheena Walker, his daughter who disappeared at the same time.

Late last year, Walker told his neighbors they were going to have a baby. The pair already had a 2 V2-yearold named Emily living with them and, according to medical records, Sheena gave birth to a baby girl named Lily in January at St. Peter’s hospital in nearby Maldon.

Listed on the birth certificate as the father: Ronald Joseph Platt. That has led police to investigate whether Walker is the father of Emily and Lily. “That would be an offence of incest,” said Insp. Brian Edwards of the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary, “punishable by imprisonment of up to seven years.” As the plot thickened, the village was buzzing. “We couldn’t believe it at first,” said their next-door neighbor, Audrey

Mossman. “They appeared to be just an ordinary family. The age difference made one wonder a little bit, but they seemed awfully domestic.”

Cloaked in the dead man’s identity, Walker had quietly moved into a home that Platt had rented through an agent in 1994. Since Platt had never lived there, no one was sur-

prised when it was Walker who moved into the tidy, two-storey stucco home, known locally as the Little London Larin. Neighbors on the narrow, hedge-lined dead-end lane say the Walkers quickly blended into the community. Geraniums bloomed in boxes on the windowsills, the garden was filled with red roses, and there were often twin

The six lost years

DEC. 19,1990: Paris, Ont., businessman Albert Walker, 45, and his daughter Sheena, 15, disappear amid allegations that he stole $3.2 million from clients. JULY 28, 1996: A fishing boat catches a body in a net in the English Channel, later confirmed to be that of English businessman Ronald Platt, 51.

OCT. 31: In a British village, police arrest “David Wallis Davis,” 51, on a charge of murdering Platt, arrest and subsequently release the woman he and two children are living with, “Noel Davis,” 21, and seize large quantities of gold bullion and cash. NOV. 27: Police confirm that David Davis is Albert Walker, and Noel Davis is Sheena Walker.

Raleigh bicycles, one with a child carrier, in the driveway. Walker even opened an office in the nearby village of Brentwood under Platt’s name and advertised himself as a personal counsellor. “She stayed home and did all the cooking,” recalled Mossman. “They even had a cat.” According to another neighbor, Prank Johnson, Walker worked with three or four people in Brentwood. “He was supposed to be the boss of it,” said Johnson. “He went off to work every morning and sometimes he went away on business.”

In truth, Walker, who is now being held in Exeter jail near Torquay, was one of the most wanted men in Canada. He was sought by both the RCMP and Interpol on charges of bilking 30 Canadians out of millions of dollars. Walker founded and operated Walker Linancial Services Inc., a chain of financial planning centres based in the southwestern Ontario community of Paris. Many of his clients were well-to-do farmers, and he invested much of their money in a company beyond their reach in the Cayman Islands. Lriends say that as his company grew, so did Walker’s taste for the good life, and he became known for his expensive tastes in clothes and cars. But his business began to unravel in the mid-1980s when he allegedly started investing his clients’ money in real estate and the booming stock market, losing heavily in both. As Christmas neared in 1990, police say he took $3.2 million out of the company and flew to London with Sheena, then 15.

A massive police investigation followed, involving both the RCMP and Ontario Provincial Police, and on April 2, 1993, charges were laid against Walker in absentia—seven counts of theft, two of fraud and nine of laundering the proceeds of crime, arising from the way stolen money moved out of the country. But it could be a long time before he returns to Canada to face the charges, because first he must stand trial for murder in Britain.

Once in England, police say, Walker moved quickly to assume a new identity. They say their investigations show that Walker paid the real Platt to leave England for Canada with his girlfriend, where he was to start a new life and never come back. Unfortunately for Platt, police say, the woman he left with did not like Canada and he returned. Police suspect he told Walker that he wanted to resume his previous life, and may have tried to black-

mail him. And that, they say, may have led to a struggle aboard Walker’s 26-foot yacht, The Lady Jane, which he kept moored in Torquay. “Certainly there had been two people living in Woodham Walter with the same name [Ronald Platt],” said Insp. John Wood. “It’s fair to deduce that when a second person arrives something had to happen.”

While police so far have no witnesses to put the two men together in July, the Rolex may be a strong piece of evidence. According to the date on the watch, it stopped working on July 22. But because the watch could continue running for 30 hours without being wound, police say Platt likely died on July 21. On that day, according to phone records obtained by police, Walker called a water taxi to take him out to The Lady Jane. Later that day, he contacted the coast guard to notify them that he had put out to sea.

Evidence found in Walker’s home in Woodham Walter also suggests that something highly unusual was taking place. Police say that when they entered the house, they found Sheena stuffing a bag with gold bars worth $50,000, and thousands of dollars in cash were elsewhere in the home. They arrested Walker as he tried to hail a taxi outside the home, then found more gold and cash in his Brentwood office. After first identifying himself as Platt, Walker later gave his name as David Wallis Davis, and identified Sheena as his wife, Noel Davis. Police charged him with murder under that name on Nov. 4. But a subsequent fingerprint check with Interpol revealed his true identity.

After confirming Walker’s identity, police notified his ex-wife, Barbara Walker, who still lives in the family home in Paris with the couple’s three other children. For six years, she had fretted about the fate of her daughter, and she flew immediately to England for a reunion with Sheena. Her daughter is now living at an undisclosed address while a social service agency cares for her children. So far, Sheena, who will likely be a key witness at her father’s trial, has not been charged with any crime.

During their emotional meeting, Barbara Walker said she and her daughter did not discuss who the father was. “At this point, I’m not in a position to say,” she said. “We just don’t know.” But it doesn’t matter, she added, saying she just wants to bring Sheena and her two new grandchildren home to Canada. “Sheena talked about coming home for Christmas,” says Barbara Walker, “but that is just a dream at this point.” As the story of Albert Walker and his daughter untangled last week, it sounded more like a nightmare.

TOM FENNELL

DON MACGILLIVRAY