LONDON, Ont. – An Ontario farm couple fell back on lessons learned from TV’s “CSI” when they discovered four abandoned vehicles near their property containing the eight victims of an alleged internal cleansing of the Bandidos outlaw motorcycle gang.
“My husband and I watch `CSI,’ so we decided we weren’t going to touch anything,” Mary Steele testified Thursday at the trial of six men facing first-degree murder charges in Ontario’s largest-ever mass slaying.
Steele recounted for the court how a typically quiet spring Saturday morning in April 2006 unfolded like a plot line from the crime drama in their southwestern Ontario community of Shedden.
Before she could read the morning paper, a squadron of police vehicles descended to investigate.
The eight victims, who all had ties to the Bandidos, had each been shot at least twice. One man was grazed or struck by nine bullets.
Steele, a retired dairy farmer whose property abuts the crime scene, told court she and her husband were having breakfast when they got a call from a neighbour. They were told a number of cars were near the end of their driveway and that they had “better take a look.”
The couple tiptoed around the first vehicle they came across and took a peek inside.
Steele could see something in the back of the car, but it was covered by a blanket and couldn’t be identified. She saw two other vehicles down the road — a tow truck with a car hitched to it — but they had frost on the windows and she couldn’t see inside.
The couple returned home and called police.
With their interest still piqued, Steele said “curiosity got the best of us” and they went back to discover yet another vehicle.
“Things seem a little strange,” she recalled telling a dispatcher after making a second 911 call.
“Our first thought was the cars were stolen,” she testified, adding she began to get nervous that there could be people in the vehicles who may have passed out after drinking.
The first officer on the scene, provincial police Const. Karl Johnston, told court he too initially didn’t assume foul play and thought the vehicles might have been parked haphazardly overnight by drunk drivers.
After running the first vehicle’s licence plates, he was notified that the owner was known to associate with a man wanted by police. Johnston said it was considered a high-risk vehicle and it posed a concern.
“I looked inside the driver’s side and observed a male in the rear passenger seat slumped over,” he said, adding that he could see the man had injuries to his face, which had been splattered with blood.
Walking around the vehicle, he noticed its rear hatch was slightly open and found a heavy-set man laying in the fetal position.
Johnston called for backup.
Paramedic Lee Restorick testified about the “dynamic” call he received, which seemed to evolve by the minute.
First, he was told there was one victim at the site who was unconscious. A second call indicated there were two possible victims, one who was bloodied. Five minutes later, another victim was added to the list.
And that was what police found in just the first of four vehicles.
“Constantly opening vehicle after vehicle and finding people, it’s kind of shocking,” he said of his unsettling day on the job.
Restorick said the victims were all cold to the touch and appeared to have been dead for some time.
From Steele’s vantage point at the edge of the road, she could hear what the officers were saying and saw one of the first victims police found, the large man in the trunk.
“I could see a form,” she said. “In retrospect, knowing what I know now it was one (victim).”
Later in the day, court heard more testimony of the CSI variety as a provincial police forensic officer ran through the various injuries each victim suffered.
Const. Ross Stuart described how the vehicles were towed to an indoor compound to have the bodies removed and examined before they were sent to Toronto for autopsies.
Justice Thomas Heeney, who apologized to the jury for being subjected to a second day of gruesome visual evidence, had to call a brief break as Stuart detailed the injuries of the youngest of the victims, 28-year-old George Kriarakis, whose distraught mother was in the courtroom.
She sobbed as photos of his various tattoos were shown to court and cried inconsolably as Stuart began describing the seven gunshot wounds he died from, including four to the head.
She repeatedly cried out, “Oh God, why, my son?” before being helped out of the courtroom.
Frank Salerno, 43, had bullet wounds through the bridge of his nose, his right ear, right middle finger and right thigh. He also had a bullet graze his right hand and three more grazed his right leg.
Luis Raposo, 41, had been shot in the neck and chest, had part of his right middle finger amputated and had a sizable open wound on his right upper arm.
Of the victims — the others were George Jessome, 52, John Muscedere, 48, Paul Sinopoli, 30, Jamie Flanz, 37, and Michael Trotta, 31 — Flanz was the only one whose body wasn’t identified by fingerprints.
Court has heard he did not have a criminal record, and a photo of his bloodied body was identified by family.