COVER

DEATH OF A FAMILY

April 15 2002
COVER

DEATH OF A FAMILY

April 15 2002

DEATH OF A FAMILY

COVER

BY SHARON DOYLE DRIEDGER

“We loved him. He was our brother. The guy he turned out to be at the end was a very sick guy. It’s not the guy we knew. ”

— Rosemary Bauer Oravec

“Here was a guy who pitched in for everything. John was a giving guy. This poor man was suffering immensely andpeople didn’t get it. I think our lifestyles in the West Island, in this society, put a lot of pressure on people. ”

— Linda Allison, a neighbour

“You don’t condone what he did, but I can’t run the guy down because I know the people he has helped down here. Here’s a guy who helped even kids on the street. The guy never forgot his roots. ”

— Ian Stevenson, a childhood friend

Homicide got the call around 9:30 a.m., minutes after firemen arrived at the burning house in Kirkland, an upscale suburb on Montreal’s West Island. This was no ordinary fire. The crew had discovered six corpses scattered through the two-storey home, all with bullet wounds to the head. A .22-calibre pistol lay next to two of the bodies on the kitchen floor. Fumes and an empty gasoline can suggested arson. “It looked like a mass murder with a suicide,” says Commander André Bouchard, head of the Montreal police department’s major crimes unit. The veteran cop left his office in an east end shopping mall and sped across town—“flashers all the way”—to find a “wild scene” when he finally stepped out of the cruiser. “The uniformed officers looked like they were in a daze,” says Bouchard. “People were hysterical. There

Cover

were newspapermen all over, walking on roofs to get better pictures. You like to be polite, but I had to throw people out of my scene.”

The yellow police tape went up—fast. “I blew my stack and put it back about 50 feet,” Bouchard says. But he could sympathize with the officers. The force had handled a dozen family murder-suicides that year, yet none matched, in numbers or sheer cold-bloodedness, the case that faced them last Sept. 20. The killer had apparently stretched the massacre over three days, methodically wiping out his wife, his three children and his employer, before aiming the pistol at his own head. And there was a macabre twist for the members of the Kirkland fire and police departments—among them Bouchards brother

Helen’s 75-year-old father. Carroll— everyone called him Grandpa—lived in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce but spent weekends with the family in Kirkland. Police followed up on her inquiry; shortly after 4 p.m., they discovered his murdered body in his NDG flat, bringing the death toll to seven. The same day, with chilling precision, Bauer’s suicide letters landed in the mailboxes of his brother in Burlington, Ont., Helen’s brother in Montreal, and her cousin in Hamilton.

Murder may be no less forgivable if it is a crime of passion. But the cool, crude logic of Bauer’s long confession note appalled his anguished relatives. The disclosure that he had been planning the deaths for six months punctured the memory of the easygoing, generous man they thought they’d known. To the end, he had man-

marketing man had acquired a large house with a swimming pool in Kirkland, a relatively affluent community that is home to many professional people and business executives. But Bauer had slammed up against his own limits. Middle-aged and noticeably out of shape, the once-promising jock fumbled after an injury and a disastrous career reversal. His finances spun out of control; police suspect he had amassed illegal gambling debts, possibly leading him to run up against loan sharks and hit men. Trapped, he opted to handle the situation in devastating fashion.

The tragedy, buried in the avalanche of immediate post-Sept. 11 coverage, attracted only a fraction of the attention it might otherwise have got. Perhaps the timing, too, was one of Bauer’s calculations. His own father died on Sept. 18, 1979. Rosemary Bauer Oravec wonders if her brother

Robert, a detective. They knew the murderer, John Bauer, and the victims—his wife Helen, their sons, Jonathan, 22, Wesley, 19, and Justin, 13, as well as businessman Lucio Beccherini, all well-liked, respected residents of the quiet community. “It was heart-wrenching for the guys,” says Bouchard. “No one could believe it. They play baseball—that’s how Robert knew him. ‘Nicest guy in the world,’ they said.” Karen Dorey had called 911 as soon as she saw the smoke billowing out of the house across the street. When she learned that the entire Bauer family had died, she began to worry about Elmer Carroll,

aged to go through the motions of a seemingly normal family life. Last spring, he sent Jonathan on a golf holiday to Myrtle Beach. In July, he gave Wesley a puppy on what he had decided would be his son’s last birthday. All summer, he cheered from the sidelines at Justin’s baseball games. “How could he seem so happy?” asks Steve Bauer, his brother. “He was a very good actor.”

It was a role Bauer had mastered over a lifetime: the fun-loving sports coach, the dedicated family man, the good provider. For most of his life, Bauer had been financially successful. The former teacher and

deliberately chose the same date, 22 years later, to begin his final, horrible act.

Bauer rose from decidedly modest beginnings in Griffintown, an Irish workingclass district on the southwest side of Montreal. He was the third of four children born to strict and frugal European immigrants. His father worked as a butcher at Canada Packers. His mother, who passed away in 1991, kept their flat scrupulously clean and her children smardy in line. That was in the 1950s, seemingly innocent times, when Johnny Bauer would jump onto his two-wheeler and head to

the Basin Street park to play baseball.

By 1965, Bauer’s parents had scratched together enough money to move to the more prosperous NDG area. There, Bauer attended St. Thomas Aquinas high school. He was a good student. But Rev. Sean Harty—a former Grade 8 classmate and the priest who gave the homily at his funeral—remembers him as serious and somewhat insecure in the wild spontaneity of an all-boys’ school. “He wasn’t comfortable with a situation he couldn’t predict,” says Harty, a professor of pastoral theology at Concordia University. “He would observe it, to see where this was going to go. What you would get is a kind of facade he would hide behind.” Bauer, it seems, was learning to put on a brave front—one that would ultimately harden into an impenetrable mask.

Bauer was a natural athlete whose confidence soared on the hockey rink and the baseball field. “Sports gave him licence to be demanding, controlling and loud,” says Harty. Larry O’Connor, a policeman in Brossard, on Montreal’s South Shore, remembers his lifelong friend as a rough, confident player. “But I never saw a mean streak in him, where he would fight or hurt somebody in a physical way,” he says. By his late teens, Bauer had become a respected linesman in Quebec Junior A hockey. In the early 1970s, the NHL offered him a contract to referee. Bauer opted, instead, for the financial security of teaching. “He wanted more money than they were offering,” says O’Connor.

Bauer was always a big spender. In 1968, as a student at St. Joseph Teachers College,

power, success and self-esteem. “John flaunted his money,” says Wendy Dineen, a Montreal teacher who went to college with Bauer and his wife. “He liked to be liked. And if he wanted you to like him, he would buy you stuff.”

Quick with the one-liners and a sometimes outrageous sense of humour, Bauer had a certain charisma—which he could use manipulatively. “He could size up a room pretty quickly,” says O’Connor. “He was very good at knowing how to make friends and talk to the right people.” But it was easy to ignore the lapses in a kindhearted friend. “He would go out of his way helping you,” says O’Connor. “There are not a lot of people like that. John had that bad-guy attractiveness.” Old friends and acquaintances remember him as a take-charge type. “If there was a problem, it was, ‘I’ll fix this,’ ” says Harty. “Sometimes, if you didn’t know him, you’d say, ‘This guy is an arrogant SOB.’ But it wasn’t really arrogance, it was the inverse —not always being sure about things.” College friends used to wonder where Bauer got his money. He had a part-time job at an NDG sporting goods store, but that wouldn’t have supported his splashy style. Instead, on good terms with his employer, a racehorse owner, Bauer began to hang out at the track. “John had a silver tongue,” says Steve. “He could talk anybody into anything.” He soon knew all the gamblers, the owners, the trainers—and learned when to bet on one particular horse. “Somehow somebody knew when the horse was going to win,” Steve Bauer says. “He made a fortune.”

Bauer refused to marry until he could afford to buy their first house. By July 10, 1976, he had saved enough to walk his bride down the aisle of St. Monica’s Catholic Church in NDG—where, 25 years later, their funeral and that of their children would be held.

Bauer taught for nearly a decade. But by the early 1980s, says Steve Bauer, “He got fed up with the politics in the schools. He said, ‘You couldn’t do your own thing, you had to follow what they put down.’ ” Encouraged, perhaps, by his father-in-law, who worked at Molson Inc., Bauer decided to try his hand at marketing for a brewery. He started off as a representative for Carling O’Keefe, negotiating contracts with bars, restaurants and retail stores. Two years later he joined Molson, which had earlier turned him down because he lacked experience. Then, in 1990, he switched to Labatt.

The outgoing former teacher thrived in the world of beer marketing. Bauer regularly showed up at sports banquets and charity dances, ready to promote the brewery—and play the role of beer don—by supplying free drinks and handing out trophies and prizes. “John was always there for us,” says Ian Stevenson, a childhood friend and a Montreal bartender. Not only did Bauer stock up the bar and provide gifts for fundraisers and sports functions, he would readily bend the rules for a good cause. After all, what were a few cases of beer to a brewery?

Bauer fit right into the mould of the successful, if old-fashioned, suburban dad: he was in control, the boss who handled the

The cool, crude logic of the suicide note appalled his relatives. Bauer had been planning the killings for months.

he bought a 1962 Dodge. “He was the first guy to get a car,” says O’Connor. “He was a big shot then and he loved that.” Bauer’s generosity was famous among friends. “He was very giving—even as a kid,” says Rosemary. “Panhandlers on the street—John wouldn’t give $2, he would give $10 or $20.” He insisted on paying for drinks, dinners. When Steve would try to pay his share, his brother would throw his money on the floor. Some say Bauer—who in Griffmtown grew up next door to a soup kitchen where defeated old men lined up for meals—had too easily absorbed North America’s mean lesson: money means

Bauer met his wife, Helen Carroll, at the teachers’ college in 1969. “She ran after him,” says Dineen, a bridesmaid at their wedding. “He was a bit of a hero. He had money, he was an athlete and he was very sure of himself.” But Dineen resented how her earthy, fun-loving friend changed after she started dating Bauer. “I used to yell, ‘Why don’t you come out anymore?’ ” says Dineen. “Helen was subservient, but she was happy.” O’Connor remembers how John courted Helen with gifts and attention: “He wanted Helen, so he did what needed to be done to make sure that happened.” But sister Rosemary recalls how

money and made sure his stay-at-home wife, his “little woman,” lived in style. “Whatever scars he had acquired—and I think they were deep scars—John wanted to be the No. 1 provider,” says Dineen. His favourite line at Christmas, she recalls, was, “My little woman, show everyone what I got you.” It might be a diamond, a fur coat or, one year, a new car in the driveway with a bow on it. But Helen was never a “show-off,” says Dineen, and in recent years, John’s extravagance seemed to embarrass her. “She did not want me to know what she got for Christmas or her birthday,” says Dineen. “What does that

Cover

mean? Did she know it wasn’t paid for? At the time, I thought she felt sorry for me.”

No one doubts Bauer’s devotion as a father. “John’s boys were his life,” says Steve. The former teacher would sit at the kitchen table night after night, helping his sons with their homework. He attended all their games, and took an active role as a coach, referee or manager. He spoiled them with all the latest equipment, computers and toys, pinball machines, a pool table, jukeboxes and Playstations.

But Bauer was as demanding as he was indulgent. A perfectionist, he pushed his sons to excel. “If they weren’t No. 1,” says O’Connor, “he thought they were letting the Bauer name down.” At the time of his death, Jonathan, a Little League coach, was working as a bartender, saving to move out West. Much to his father’s chagrin,

controlling ways. “Helen was by no means a doormat,” says Dineen. In fact, the Bauers’ marriage had been showing increased signs of strain. “John used to speak his mind—joking,” says Steve. “Helen used to get so mad. John just shrugged it off—‘I can say anything I want.’ ” But over the years, she learned to tune out the man she had once pursued. She often told Dineen, “I don’t listen to him.”

Bauer’s world began to spiral out of control in 1996, when he injured his leg. The gash didn’t heal and infection set in. The pain became so excruciating, Bauer could barely walk. The former jock who swore he would never get out of shape had ballooned to more than 300 pounds; doctors told him his leg wouldn’t heal unless he slimmed down and improved his circulation. Bauer then underwent a stomachstapling operation. During a lengthy, ar-

Bauer was fired after showing signs of severe depression, alcohol abuse and belligerence. If so, he never confided in friends or family. Bauer told his brother he was fed up with company politics and had asked for a retirement package. The news of his departure surprised even close friends. “His job was secure, he had a car, an allowance, the money was good,” says John Skurczak, a friend and a former client. “Leaving Labatt was the biggest mistake he ever made.” Bauer lost more than an income. He also lost a source of self-esteem—no more presenting sports trophies in Labatt’s name. “Everybody’s up in the hall, clapping, yelling and screaming because he is the man,” says Bouchard. “And all of a sudden he wasn’t the man.” Bauer had also fought with his sister Rosemary—over money. When their mother died in 1991, she left the house to her only daughter, then single and living at

Wesley, a creative arts student at Dawson College, had given up sports and taken up the guitar. “They were super nice kids,” says Dineen, Jonathan’s godmother. “They were polite, well brought up, under control.” But they weren’t quite measuring up to his lofty goals, and friends say Bauer would constantly criticize and goad the boys. “Helen was always running interference for her kids,” says O’Connor. “From what she said, they were scared of him.” While she had little independence, friends say Helen, a quiet but forthright woman, would stand up to her husband’s

duous recovery, he dropped more than 100 pounds and then faced a second round of surgery. For nearly a year, Bauer could not work. At one point, the insurance company cut off his disability payments and Helen confided to Dineen that she had to borrow money from her father.

Looking for a fresh start, Bauer applied for a transfer to Calgary with Labatt. Unsuccessful, he left the company in 1999. Eric Levesque, a manager who started at the company on the same day as Bauer, insists his former colleague made the decision to leave. But a police source indicates

home. In 1997, after her marriage, Rosemary sold the house and shared some of the proceeds with her brothers. “Steve was happy but not John,” says Rosemary. “He wrote me a nasty five-page note, telling me I hope I can sleep at night because what I was doing was not fair.” John never spoke to her again.

After he left Labatt, Bauer spent six months selling automatic weighing and packaging equipment across eastern North America. He also took a short-term job as a night manager at Spurs, a country and western bar in a tough, seedy part of

NDG. The pleasant young bartender serving up beer on a recent evening remembered Bauer as a “big teddy bear.” Bauer visited Spurs only two weeks before his death—friendly, joking as usual. The bartender says Bauer was thinking about opening his own night spot.

Bauer got a lead on his next job during a conversation at one of Justins hockey games. Beccherini, a hockey dad whose sons played in the same league as the Bauer boys, ran Spar Financial Group, a small finance company, with co-owner Alan Chaput. Steve Bauer says his brother told him Beccherini invited him to work for Spar. Chaput says his partner felt sorry for Bauer and offered him a job as a favour. But, he adds, “He had a lot of contacts, he was a good candidate for us.”

The owners of Spar, which specializes in financing leases on commercial equipment, trained Bauer as a salesperson and sent him out to drum up clients. “His job was to find out who was buying trucks and equipment, and if the bank wouldn’t finance them, for a few per cent more he would say, ‘We will,’ ” Steve recalls. Bauer bragged to his brother about his high commissions. But in fact, he faced a desperate financial situation. “He was trying to live the life he was living when he was making $80,000,” says Bouchard. “To do that he had to borrow money.”

A lot of it. Police estimate that, by the time he died, Bauer had accumulated more than $200,000 in debt, including two mortgages, several maxed-out credit cards, phone bills, an advance on his commissions at Spar, as well as private loans.

cated money-juggling act. “Pay a little bit this month on this and then, oh shit, borrow a grand to pay someone else—that’s how it went,” Bouchard says. Police also speculate that Bauer had incurred gambling debts and may have owed even more money—to the underworld. And they suspect that his eldest son, Jonathan, had lost large sums betting on games. “He didn’t pay his debts,” one investigator revealed. “Dad paid all the bills. So dad would go and borrow money.”

In June, Bauer applied for an $80,000 second mortgage—from Spar. Chaput says that while Beccherini considered it, he vetoed the idea because, among other things, Bauer did not have a solid repayment plan. After the second mortgage was turned down, Bauer stayed away from work for most of the summer, complaining about back pain. “We were calling his wife to find out what was happening,” says Chaput. “She said, ‘He’ll call you, he’ll call you.’ He never did.”

Bauer was busy—hatching a plan to collect on a $400,000 life insurance policy. Steve Bauer says one investigator told him that, only weeks before the slayings, his brother had tried to hire a hit man to shoot him and Beccherini as they walked out of a bar together. But the hit man reneged and reported the plot to the police. According to Bouchard, the plan did not include Beccherini, and Bauer only told a friend that he was planning to hire a killer. Whatever—when this came to the attention of the police, Bauer said it had all been a misunderstanding. “Why would I want to kill myself?” he asked, according to Bouchard.

Police believe that Bauer probably shot Helen first, then Justin, sometime on Tuesday morning while they were still sleeping. To fend off inquiries, he called the elementary school where Helen worked in the lunch program, explaining that she was unwell. He also phoned Justin’s school to inform them of his son’s absence. Wesley, who had classes all day Tuesday, was likely shot in the evening, after he returned from school. Police are not sure when Jonathan died. It may have happened when he arrived home after his shift ended at 3 a.m. on Wednesday.

On Wednesday morning, Bauer drove to his father-in-law’s flat in NDG. Carroll appears to have been shot from behind as he was reaching to take his coat from the closet. Bauer then called Carroll’s employer, to explain that his father-in-law would not be able to work that day because of a sore throat. Bauer had already mailed his suicide letters—police sources think this was done before the killings began.

That afternoon, he called Beccherini and Chaput, who were playing golf, and invited them over to take care of some outstanding business. The partners declined. On Thursday morning, Beccherini’s cellphone rang as he drove his son to school. It was Bauer; the boy later told police his father had a friendly conversation. John invited them both for breakfast, but Beccherini dropped his son off before heading over to the Bauer home around 8:30. Bauer killed him, then spewed gasoline around the house, lit the fire and took his own life.

Bauer’s life began to spiral out of control with his 1997 injury. Within a few short years, he was mired in debt.

“He owed money to everybody,” says Bouchard. The police investigation turned up several IOUs, including one for $ 10,000 due to a friend within a few weeks. He was also borrowing from his fatherin-law; in a note to him about a $6,300 loan, Bauer warned, “Don’t tell Helen.” In a rare moment of openness, Bauer once confided in Skurczak that Helen would be better off if he were dead because she could collect his insurance. “I could drive the car into a wall,” he told his friend. “But with my luck I would probably survive.” Bauer’s life had become a secret, compli-

No one will ever know the precise details of the massacre that began on Sept. 18. Bauer moved his victims’ bodies around the house, creating a confusing mess. Because fire and water damage destroyed much of the evidence, police had to rely on pathologists’ reports, interviews and Bauer’s own letter to reconstruct the crime. They traced messages on his fax and phone lines. They also ordered DNA tests on the saliva from the envelope and powder-burn tests to prove he fired the gun. Still, there are mystifying gaps in the gruesome scenario.

When Steve Bauer opened his brother’s letter, he thought, at first, it was another of John’s jokes. “By the time you get this note we will all be gone,” Bauer began. But a few lines into the 5 V2-page, hand-printed lener, its deadly intent was clear. Bauer described how he had planned the killings, and assured his brother that “none of them felt any pain.” He explained that he could no longer cope with the financial pressures and that Helen, too, was worried about their future. He also wrote that his children had “suffered enough” and expressed his disappointment in what he saw as

Cover

their diminishing prospects. He killed his father-in-law because, he wrote, Carroll would not have survived without the family. He would take everybody “out of their pain,” so they would be “happy together in paradise.”

For Steve Bauer, that is tantamount to no explanation at all. “Fine, commit suicide,” he says. “But why shoot everybody? Why the kids? Because you cant give them the lifestyle you had because you are in debt and cant get out?” Steve is convinced that financial pressure is too flimsy an excuse. “They could have easily declared bankruptcy,” he says. “There had to be something else that triggered it.” There are others who don’t find Bauer’s self-justification credible. “John never believed in heaven,” O’Connor says. Talk of “acts of love,” of uniting everyone in heaven, he adds, “is the last thing he writes and he is still putting on a show. That’s John—putting on a show. I don’t think any of it rings true.”

Bauer’s letter does not mention Beccherini—the only victim outside his family. Investigators think the decision to kill him may have been a “last-minute thing”—revenge after Beccherini and Chaput turned down his request for a second mortgage. Police speculate that Bauer would likely have killed Beccherini’s partner as well if he had shown up at the house. “Absolutely, I had luck—big luck,” says Chaput. “It could have been me as well, but I was driving to Quebec that day.”

It could take as long as three years to

write the final report detailing the elaborate crime, but police consider the Bauer case closed. “We are hoping we have everything,” says Bouchard, pointing to a cardboard box on his office floor, neatly packed with files and photo albums containing pictures of the crime scenes. But, the commander admits, “Our proof wasn’t cut and dried—there are some loose ends. The only thing we are sure of is that Mr. Bauer was the killer.”

Those “loose ends” are still under discussion in Bauer’s wide circle of friends and acquaintances. “Are we getting the true story?” asks one friend, tormented by seeming inconsistencies in the case. “A lot of this doesn’t make sense.” How did Bauer manage to kill five people in a busy house without arousing his victims’—or neighbours’—suspicions? How could Jonathan, presumably at home on Tuesday morning, not be aware of the killings? Why didn’t the family’s three dogs—one disappeared, the other two are in new homes—raise an alarm? Had Bauer been threatened by loan sharks? Had the family been threatened? Did the police miss something?

Such lingering doubts may be fuelled by the need to reconcile the brutality of the murders with the memory of a man once loved. Among some, there is fierce anger at Bauer. “I wouldn’t extol John as being a Mr. Good Guy who went bad,” says O’Connor. “This was a cold-blooded, multiple murder.” In fact, O’Connor, uneasy about some of his friend’s more du-

bious acquaintances and what he says was Bauer’s increasing fascination with “criminals killing somebody or breaking somebody’s legs,” had begun to distance himself from his old friend. “He was into the fast lane and the big bucks, tough guys and tough cops,” says O’Connor. “We think he had an angle—somewhere, somehow, something didn’t work out right.” Yet the sense of loyalty to Bauer is remarkable. “It’s hard to explain the feeling in the community,” says David O’Neill, a childhood friend. “Johnny always seemed to be there for people who needed something. He goes back a long way. Who the hell knows the demons that can enter our minds?”

No one who knew him can fathom what went through Bauer’s mind in those last terrible days. “What did he do? Where did he sit? Did he sleep?”—Harty the former classmate remembers pondering those questions as he prepared for the funeral. Harty the psychotherapist sees a man whose identity was based on his success as a provider, and who was unable to cope with adversity and disappointment. “A man’s man who lacked the ability to say, LI am in trouble,’ ” Harty believes. “It wasn’t an act of despair but the outcome of a long period of despair.” But not even the most elaborate psychoanalysis can explain the leap to mass murder. Says Harty, the priest: “The potential for evil in the darkness—that is the mystery of the human mind.” E3