Reviewed by Wendy Hawkin
One thing stands between fiction and non-fiction. Reality. As a novelist, I’ve written stories about killers and their victims but those characters live only in my imagination. The killers and victims in Warren’s books are real and that raises the stakes considerably. These are not simply characters, but traumatized people whose lives and futures were snuffed out and whose surviving families must live on with that knowledge.
These are people who Warren personally interviews and that impresses me. I know it takes sympathy and understanding to talk with victims affected by crime. Alan Warren jokes that his autism allows him to be poker-faced and unemotional in meetings with killers and the victims’ surviving family and friends, but his altruism and compassion shine through in what he chooses to reveal in his books, what he chooses to omit, and how he approaches each word.
Murder Times Six: the True Story of the Wells Gray Park Murders is a book about “justice.” The question Warren continues to return to is this: should David Shearing, confessed murderer of six, be allowed parole? Shearing has applied for parole before and can do so again in 2021. Warren asks: “Do we want people who commit such violent crimes, like murder and rape, out in free society? Would you want him living next door to you?” This book presents the case against Shearing. Why should he be allowed to live a “normal” life with the wife he married while incarcerated when his victims’ lives were snuffed out for one selfish reason? Shearing wanted two young girls he’d noticed in the bush and become obsessed with. This is a “story of a family trying to live and enjoy their lives.” It’s not a story intended to glamorize David Shearing. You will not find graphic details here. This is a book that honours the victims and survivors.
In August 1982, three generations of a Kelowna family went camping at Wells Gray Provincial Park in British Columbia — Bob and Jackie Johnson and their daughters, thirteen-year-old Janet and eleven-year-old Karen, along with Jackie’s parents George and Edith Bentley. None of them ever returned. Many people know that their charred bodies were discovered later — the remains of four adults piled into the back seat and the two young girls (sisters) in the trunk.
Forty years later, Warren interviewed David Shearing at Bowden Institution, a medium-security prison in Alberta. He also interviewed Shearing’s wife, Heather. One thing I appreciate about Warren’s book is the detailed research he’s done into subjects such as hybristophilia: an intense love and sexual attraction for a man who’s committed heinous crimes. This “potentially lethal disorder” is more common than we think and there are several prison dating sites that enable it. Warren also explains the Canadian prison and parole system and discusses pedophilia and cutting-edge “treatments” as this topic relates to Shearing’s motives for murdering this family.
The book is divided into three parts. First, the story of the family, their excitement about going camping together, their disappearance and gruesome discovery, and finally Shearing. Next, police interviews with Shearing, his changing stories and confession, subsequent trial, and incarceration. And finally, tributes to the family and victim impact statements that will break your heart.
Warren documents a long list of references — everything from parole hearing reports to the genetic predisposition of humans to kill each other — but what makes this book are the personal words and touches along with Warren’s own insights into Shearing and the people he destroyed. The city of Kelowna continues to mourn the loss of this family — three generations gone because one man wanted two young girls who’d not even set foot in high school. He wanted them and he took them.
Alan R. Warren is a host and producer of NBC news talk radio show House of Mystery which reviews True Crime, History, Science, Religion, and Paranormal Mysteries. He is also the best-selling author of several True Crime books and can be found at www.alanrwarren.com
In an age where murder is sensationalized through television drama, the reality of a real cold-blooded “murder times six” by a ruthless and selfish killer, begs to be heard and acknowledged. Warren does important work and I applaud his dedication to sensitively bring justice to the victims of violent crimes.
Murder Times Six is published by Evening Sky Publishing.
W. L. Hawkin writes the Hollystone Mysteries — bluehavenpress.com