New true crime book focuses on tragic story folded into Westbank's history - InfoNews

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New true crime book focuses on tragic story folded into Westbank's history

Six members of the Johnson and Bentley families from Westbank were brutally murdered at Wells Gray Provincial Park while they are on a camping trip in August of 1982. Their killer, David Ennis, has a parole hearing on Sept. 4.
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August 23, 2020 - 1:00 PM

It’s been 38 years this month since three generations of the Johnson and Bentley families gathered for a camping trip in Wells Gray Provincial Park.

George and Edith Bentley of Port Coquitlam, their daughter Jackie Johnson and her husband, Bob, of Westbank along with their two daughters, Janet, 13, and Karen, 11, made camp in the idyllic wooded setting unaware of the fact they’d caught the attention of a man whose criminal behaviours were already well-honed, despite his relative youth.

David Ennis, 23, fixated on Janet and stalked the family for at least two days, according to parole documents. Then he went to the campsite Aug. 2, 1982 and shot the four adults and kidnapped the girls.

For the better part of a week, Ennis kept both girls hostage, all the while sexually assaulting Janet. Once he was done with her, he took them into the woods, one at a time, and killed them.

He loaded all the bodies into one of the family’s vehicles and torched it in a secluded area of the park. Their charred remains were discovered on Sept. 13, 1982. It was another 14 months before investigators tracked down Ennis.

It’s a story that horrified the country when it happened and one that many West Kelowna residents grew up in the shadow of, some never able to move past. The people who loved the family, whose names are best known by some for being memorialized on the local rec centre, have continually had to relive the crime and dredge up the pain of their loss for a panel of strangers who decide the fate of Canada's prisoners. 

Last month they started to gear up for a 2021 Parole Board of Canada hearing that will determine whether Ennis will be kept in prison.

That was what really caught the attention of Alan Warren, the host of a true crime history radio show called the 'House of Mystery', heard in the NBC news talk radio network syndicated throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Next month he will release a book on the grisly chapter of Okanagan history, titled Murder Times Six - The story of the Wells Gray Park Murders.

“With all of my books, I’ve always found that it’s not always the case, but also the effects it has on society, how the justice system works and if it’s working, that draws me in,” Warren said.

With the Johnson Bentley murders, there’s ample story-telling fodder in all directions. On one side there’s Canada’s bogeyman — a man who, as Warren said, already tried to kill a police officer before he slaughtered a family over his misguided desires.

Today, Ennis has been married for 18 years, and folded into the life of a woman who has two children. He’s granted conjugal visits, has a garden and a TV. He told Warren, as he’s told the parole board before, he’s a better man now.

“They present to you what they want you to believe,” Warren said of his meeting with Ennis, where he learned of his “soft life.”

“As usual, it’s that he’s a changed person, he has a good soul, he deserves a second chance, and he’s now religious. I hate to poo-poo it, but it’s always the same story.”

Ennis moved on with his life and past the horror he wrought all those years ago, but Warren said he doesn’t get the impression that meant he was fit to be back in society, something Ennis continually applies to the Parole Board of Canada to do.

“The fact is he took six lives in a brutal, awful way and that can’t be forgotten,” he said.

Warren had a clear view of who Ennis is before he even met him, but the burden carried to this day by the loved ones of the Johnson and Bentley families caught him by surprise.

“Until you are in a case where people in your family are killed … people don’t realize how much time and stress it puts on people’s families,” he said. “In this case, the crime keeps happening over and over again. It’s tough for people to move on when they are having to write a letter, go to the parole board to keep this person in jail.”

Warren said the revictimization of those who have lost someone to a violent crime is a failure of the system.

“The parole board’s attitude is, to be successful is to rehabilitate and put people back out on the streets again,” he said, adding that in some cases that makes perfect sense. “But the problem is that you have this person who murdered six people, for the mere fact of raping two little girls, who still to this day has fantasies about having sex with children.”

Warren pointed out if you asked anyone whether that person should stay behind bars, the vast majority would say it’s a no brainer — yes. That’s simply not how it works.

“The reality of what they’re doing is out of touch with what society would want,” he said. “When I heard about the story and reached out to the family I could get, they jumped on quick, talked about what they went through and what they continued to go through... it drew me in and I wanted to get this out.”

Warren said he’s written about American, British and Canadian cases but the tragic aftermath of the Johnson and Bentley family murders is unsettling and he hopes people who read get a better understanding of what goes on with people who get put away.

“I want them to really understand how crimes like this happen in Canada and how it can really change lives,” he said. “It’s not the people who die, but the people who survive that we forget about. We focus on the killer and notoriety. But there’s so much more to this story and there are so many people who have their lives altered…. We put our victims through a lot.”

The book will be available for preorder after the September long weekend and it will be in all book stores, including Indigo and independent bookstores, Barnes and Noble, Amazon and Kobo.

It’s not Warren’s first book, but it’s one that’s weighing on him differently than others.

“I feel more responsibility because there’s so much unresolved and not finished,” he said. “I feel a tremendous responsibility to make sure it’s told right and it’s as accurately as I can get it to be helpful to the victims' families.”


To contact a reporter for this story, email Kathy Michaels or call 250-718-0428 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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