August 31, 2006
No doubt most residents of Dufferin and Caledon will
be glued to their TV sets this Sunday evening, when CTV airs A
Friend of the Family, a two-hour original movie that's promoted
by the network as "based on a true story."
Having received a DVD of the movie along with a press
kit last week, I wasted no time in having a look at the unusual
After all, it was something I should have found
doubly interesting. Not only did the plot involve the most sensational
murder case in the area's history, but it led to a trial I had covered (somewhat
sporadically) for The Globe and Mail.
As the press release put it, the movie was "inspired
by the real-life memoir of Alison Shaw, 'A Friend of the Family: The
True Story of David Snow.' "
The main truth in the story is that Alison Shaw and
her then-husband, Darris, knew David Alexander Snow, to the point where
Darris was a business partner in a venture that involved demolishing old
buildings and selling antiques and other collectibles.
Also true is the fact Snow was close enough to the
Shaws' first child that they came to call him "uncle David."
However, much of the movie is fictitious,
particularly toward the end when Alison meets up with the serial killer
at the Shaws' new home in Vancouver.
Among the major fictions is the movie's suggestion
that the serial killings were of young women and included several in B.C.
In reality, the loner described by CTV as having been
dubbed "The Cottage Killer," was dubbed "The House Hermit" before his
identity was known, and had vanished in the fall of 1992 after
apparently taking the life of his first victim, Etobicoke shop owner
All we really know is that after Ms. Case's car was
found near Highway 10 in Caledon, David Snow went to various locations
to the north an east, holing up in empty cottages and at one point
kidnapping and robbing a Penetanguishene couple, before picking the
weekend retreat of Ian and Nancy Blackburn on Caledon's Grange Sideroad,
where he likely killed either the husband or wife. (We do know that he
didn't drive, yet their bodies were in the trunk of their car when it
was found in the driveway of their Toronto home.)
After the Blackburn killings he decided to head west,
and it was about three months later that he began kidnapping a new and
almost killed one of his three female victims, at least one of whom was
However, none of the known or suspected murder
victims was a young female who, as depicted in the movie, bore a
remarkable resemblance to Alison Shaw.
Perhaps the most bizarre aspect of the movie is that
none of the scenes was filmed in Orangeville, Caledon, or the North
Shore area of Greater Vancouver, where he kidnapped all three women and
tried to strangle two of them. In fact, all you see of Vancouver is a
perhaps 15-second clip shown of Burrard Inlet with North Vancouver in
And the only shooting in Ontario was apparently in
Dundas, which supposedly resembles either Orangeville or the fictitious
Ontario location where the Shaws and Snow had supposedly been neighbours.
However, the movie does have its good points, among
them the acting by the three lead characters, Laura Harris as Alison
Shaw, Eric Johnson as Darris Shaw and Kim Coates as David Snow, although
Coates, a star in the movie Assault on Precinct 13, doesn't
really resemble Snow, even to the point of not wearing glasses.
It's a shame, really, that no one has produced the
real "true story," which obviously is known only by Snow himself, and
presumably could be obtained by a capable writer who was prepared to
interview the deranged killer in Kingston Penitentiary or wherever else
he might be found in Canada's federal prison system.
The legal proceedings themselves were almost as
bizarre as the various criminal offences. Despite the fact his last
victim when found had a ligature around her neck, David Snow was
acquitted of a charge of attempted murder, yet was ultimately declared a
dangerous offender and sentenced to an indeterminate jail term for the
North Shore kidnappings and rapes.
Equally bizarre was the Toronto trial, which went on
for weeks because of an incomprehensible defence by Vancouver lawyer
Sheldon Goldberg, who had also represented him out west. The lawyer's
conduct led to the trial judge, Justice Eugene Ewaschuk, frequently
becoming exasperated to the point where he regularly interrupted the
cross-examination of Crown witnesses.
In the end, the Ontario Court of Appeal took the
unusual step of agreeing that the trial wasn't fair while upholding the
conviction, based on the strength of the Crown's case.
"A Friend of the Family"
Plot: After moving into a seemingly nice small town,
Alison learns that a dangerous serial killer is on the loose there. She
suspects her neighbor David, but when she shares her theory, Alison
loses support from those closest to her. As she becomes more isolated,
Alison is convinced that she's next on David's list!
Reality: This story is based on the book by Alison
Shaw about serial killer David Snow.
Her night of terror
Grandmother, 58, recounts sex attack by accused
The Toronto Sun
June 4, 1997, Wednesday
A North Vancouver grandmother says she waged "World
War III" against accused double-killer David Snow when he robbed,
stripped and choked her unconscious.
Snow, 42, an Orangeville antique dealer, has pleaded
not guilty to first-degree murder in the April 7, 1992, deaths of
realtor Ian Blackburn, 55, and his wife, Nancy, 49, a nurse.
Dalia Gelineau, 58, who asked court to lift a
publication ban on her name and photo, yesterday testified a gun-toting
Snow forced her to the ground behind a restaurant as she closed up about
3:20 a.m. July 12, 1992 and beat her.
Court heard Snow was apprehended at the scene of the
attack on Gelineau, who had alerted security guards when she failed to
disarm her restaurant's security system.
The attack on Gelineau occurred less than 24 hours
after Snow fled from Mount Seymour Park, where the RCMP freed two women
who had been held hostage by Snow, court was told.
Gelineau is the third witness to testify that Snow
attacked them in the Vancouver area in July 1992, shortly after the
Blackburns were murdered."
'There's nothing I have - I'm a grandmother'," a
teary-eyed Gelineau recalled pleading with Snow."I'm going to f--- you
to death," she quoted Snow as saying while he stomped on her stomach as
she lay on the ground.
"Like hell you are," she snapped back at him. "This
is where my World War III started. By magic, I felt my skirt come up and
over my head and I was naked. I was fighting here like crazy and he's
trying to tear my T-shirt."
Gelineau told Crown attorney Hank Goody that Snow
punched her repeatedly and ripped off her clothing to bind her wrists
behind her back and her legs.
Gelineau said Snow stuffed her slip down her throat,
gagged her and covered her head with a bag."I was already having
difficulty breathing and then I felt something extremely sharp cutting
into my neck," Gelineau told court. "Then I was gone. I lost
consciousness."And then it was very, very calm - very, very bright and I
was feeling something warm ... I'm in Heaven," she testified.
Gelineau spent five days in hospital. When she first
saw herself in a mirror, her reaction was: "I saw a monster from another
planet. My breast bone and rib cage had separated. I was in a great deal
of pain. "Snow was arrested at the scene of the attack, Goody has told
The trial continues.
Drifter charged in couple's deaths Remains found
near Caledon may also be linked to 'house hermit'
The Globe and Mail
November 6, 1992
Almost seven months after the bodies of a Toronto
couple were found inthe trunk of their car, police have charged David
Snow, who is in a British Columbia jail, with first-degree murder in
The bodies of Ian Blackburn, 54, and his wife, Nancy,
49, were found on April 13 in their car, which was parked outside their
St. Leonard's Avenue home near Yonge Street and Lawrence Avenue. An
autopsy showed that he haddied of asphyxia and she had been strangled.
Meanwhile, the Ontario Provincial Police found human
remains yesterday near Caledon while searching for the body of Caroline
Case, who disappeared on Oct. 2, 1991, from her Bloor Street gift shop,
The Jewelled Elephant.
The remains, found near the First Line East, south of
10 Sideroad, had not been identified last night. Metro Toronto Police
said yesterday that Mr. Snow is a "good suspect" in Ms. Case's
A bloodstained Mercedes-Benz belonging to the 47-year-old
woman was found in a ditch near Caledon - not far from the farm where
police believe that the Blackburns met their killer - the day after her
family reported her missing. The search for Ms. Case was resumed because
of new information about the methods of attack Mr. Snow used, the OPP
said last month.
Metro Police also want Mr. Snow on kidnapping charges
in connection with the March 18 abduction of an elderly North York
couple, who were forced at gunpoint to drive a man from a Midland-area
cottage to downtown Toronto. They were robbed and released unharmed.
Mr. Snow, a 37-year-old drifter who spent several
years in Orangeville, was sometimes called the "house hermit" because
police investigating cottage break-ins in Caledon and other nearby areas
believed that he wastaking shelter in empty buildings.
Metro Toronto Police suspected Mr. Snow early in the
investigation of the Blackburn killings, but they were unable to locate
him. In June, police issued a Canada-wide warrant for the man they
described as a moody loner and a military buff.
He is awaiting sentencing in Victoria on charges of
sexual assault, unlawful confinement, attempted strangulation and
robbery after pleading guilty in the abduction of two B.C. women and
sexual attacks on them. He also was tried and convicted in August of
choking and sexually assaulting a 53-year-old Vancouver woman on July
Police said yesterday that Mr. Snow will be
transferred to Toronto in January to face two charges of first-degree
murder and two counts of kidnapping after he is sentenced in British
Before that sentencing, however, the court will hear
an application to have him declared a dangerous offender. If the Crown's
application is successful, Mr. Snow could receive an indefinite prison
sentence, with little chance of ever being released.
Mr. Blackburn was a partner in the real-estate firm
of Harrison and Blackburn. His wife was a public health nurse. They had
no children. Metro police believe that the car, with the bodies inside
the trunk, was driven to Toronto from the couple's Caledon farm, where
they spent most weekends.
Police think that Mr. Blackburn went to the farm
alone to prepare it for the arrival of his wife, who was not well. They
believe Mrs. Blackburn drove up the following day. A maroon Cadillac
belonging to the couple was found not far from the farm.
Briefcase had links to accused, slain pair Brother
testifies at man's murder trial
By Thomas Claridge - The Globe and Mail
February 19, 1997
At about the time Ian and Nancy Blackburn were
meeting their deaths, the older brother of their alleged killer was
examining a briefcase with links to both his brother and the Blackburns.
Called as a Crown witness at the murder trial of his
brother, David, Victor Snow, 49, testified yesterday that in March or
April of 1992, he came across the briefcase while cleaning out a closet
in an Orangeville, Ont., house once occupied by David and their mother.
Victor Snow said the black briefcase contained, among
other things, "pornographic pictures," sheets of paper with "what seemed
to be listings of ships or submarines" in his brother's handwriting, and
photographs of an octagonal barn on the Blackburns' Caledon farm.
The Ontario Court jury has heard that Mr. Blackburn,
54, and Mrs. Blackburn, 49, were last seen alive on April 7, 1992. Their
bodies were found six days later in Mrs. Blackburn's Chevrolet, parked
in the driveway of their North Toronto home.
In his opening address to the jury, Crown attorney
Hank Goody said evidence would show that after the killings, the accused
took a train to Vancouver, where he kidnapped, stripped and sexually
assaulted four young female victims.
He said he would also call witnesses to identify
pages of "hand-printed military lists" found at locations Mr. Snow was
believed to have occupied in Ontario and British Columbia.
Shown some of the proposed exhibits yesterday, Victor
Snow said that in his opinion all were in his brother's handwriting and
several were "almost identical" to the lists he had seen in the
Questioned by Mr. Goody, he said the last time he saw
his younger brother was in April of 1991, when David was winding down an
antique dealership in Orangeville.
Earlier yesterday, an Orangeville man told the jury
that in the summer of 1991 David Snow ordered ammunition for a revolver
he had been carrying in his briefcase to a job they were working on near
The witness, Kevin Desaulniers, said that when Mr.
Snow tried to purchase the bullets at a Madoc gun shop he was told none
were in stock and they would have to be ordered. Three weeks later, the
accused had returned to the shop only to be told the bullets had not
During cross-examination by defence lawyer Sheldon
Goldberg, Mr. Desaulniers conceded that he had only recently told police
about the revolver. He explained that the subject had not arisen in
earlier interviews and he offered the information on being asked whether
there was anything else he could recall about his dealings with Mr. Snow,
who had hired him to work as a labourer.
The witness also told the trial of having the
Blackburn barn pointed out to him one day as he drove Mr. Snow to the
Madoc job, which involved re-erecting a frame house that Mr. Snow and a
partner, Darris Shaw, had disassembled near Bolton, Ont., in 1990.
Mr. Desaulniers testified that he last saw Mr. Snow
in August of 1991, about a week after his employer had abandoned the
house project without notice.In the trial, presided over by Mr. Justice
Eugene Ewaschuk of the Ontario Court's General Division, Mr. Snow, 42,
has pleaded not guilty to two counts of first-degree murder.
Accused's printing familiar, trial hears Wife of
Snow's former partner called police
By Thomas Claridge - The Globe and Mail
May 22, 1997
The jury trying a former Orangeville, Ont., antique
dealer in the deaths of a Toronto couple heard yesterday that police
were put on his trail by the wife of his former business partner. Alison
Shaw, 38, of Richmond, B.C., testified that she called police on May 28,
1992, after seeing a Toronto newspaper's account of the six-week-old
investigation into the slaying of Ian Blackburn, 55, and his wife Nancy,
The story said police believed the killer was a "military
buff" who had kidnapped a Toronto couple and briefly held them hostage
while they drove him to Toronto from their cottage in the Midland area.
Mrs. Shaw said it was an accompanying illustration,
showing a sample of handwritten military lists, that led her to advise
police that David Alexander Snow must somehow be involved.
She explained that as an artist she was interested in
calligraphy and had become familiar with Mr. Snow's unusual hand
printing from financial entries made when he and her husband, Darris,
operated Phoenix Restorations, an unincorporated business that razed old
frame houses and reassembled them on new sites.
The Crown witness said she was also struck by the
similarity in content between the newspaper illustration and entries in
a journal she had found among items Mr. Snow had stored in a Quonset-style
warehouse in Orangeville.
Mrs. Shaw said she had come across the journal about
six weeks after Mr. Snow vanished in the fall of 1991, leaving behind
about $1,200 in unpaid rent on the warehouse. At the time, she and her
husband were preparing to vacate the warehouse.
Questioned by Crown attorney Hank Goody, the witness
described the entries in the journal as "war-related -- weaponry,
battleships, planes," accompanied by "a lot of numbers." As for the
authorship, "I recognized it immediately. . . . It appeared to be
David's."She told the trial that she saw the newspaper article while
staying with her sister and her family in Barrie and preparing to move
to B.C. When she noticed the hand printing "I knew I had seen it before.
It looked like what I had seen in this book in the Quonset hut. . . . I
concluded that it was David's."She said her call to Metropolitan Toronto
Police was returned by Constable Brendan Keenoy of the Ontario
Provincial Police detachment in Caledon, where the Blackburns had a
summer home."I told him I could identify the author of the list as David
Snow," she said, adding that she later gave two statements to police.
Under cross-examination by defence lawyer Sheldon
Goldberg, Mrs. Shaw agreed that her husband and the accused had been
close friends.Asked why she had not called police when Mr. Snow
disappeared, she replied: "I really didn't think about him because he
had done it before."Mr. Snow, 42, faces two counts of first-degree
murder in the deaths of the couple, whose bodies were found in the trunk
of Mrs. Blackburn's car in the driveway of their North Toronto home on
April 13, 1992, six days after they were last seen alive.
Hostage's days of terror
Says Snow called her 'outstanding catch'
By Sam Pazzano - The Toronto Sun
May 30, 1997
A former hostage testified yesterday that accused
double murderer David Snow pointed a handgun to her face, asking, "Do
you want me to show you what I can do to you?"
The 26-year-old woman said Snow posed as a customer
seeking a family portrait at her East Hastings Ave. photo shop in
Snow abducted her at gunpoint as she was closing her
store at 6 p.m. and marched her 8 km into a densely wooded area in North
Vancouver on the night of July 3, 1992. He kept her as his sexual toy
for eight days only half a block from a Safeway store at the Westview
Shopping Centre at the busy TransCanada Highway.
She said in her first weekend of captivity, Snow
would lift her as his hog-tied hostage "about an inch perhaps off the
ground" and drop her. Snow also molested her, she told the jury.
Snow forced to her perform sexual acts three or four
times a day and "spanked" her one day, she testified. But he never
punched her after the first night, she added.
She is the first of five witnesses from incidents
involving Snow in Vancouver in the summer of 1992.
Snow, 42, an Orangeville antique dealer, has pleaded
not guilty to first-degree murder in the April 7, 1992 deaths of Toronto
realtor Ian Blackburn, 55, and his wife, Nancy, 49, a public health
Prosecutor Hank Goody said in his opening statement
that evidence will show that Snow strangled, gagged and hog-tied Nancy
Blackburn and that Ian was also bound. The bodies of Ian and Nancy - who
was nude - were found in the trunk of her car parked in the driveway of
their St. Leonards Ave. home on April 13, 1992.
The photo store clerk said yesterday she made no
effort to fight or flee after resisting on the first night of captivity.
She said Snow punched her " so hard in the face I literally saw stars."
Later, Snow brandished three handguns - a silver one,
a black 9 mm handgun and a smaller black firearm - before his hostage,
whom he called his "outstanding catch," court heard."I want to show you,"
she quoted Snow as saying as he displayed his three stolen guns before
aiming the smallest weapon at her head. "Do you want me to show you what
I can do to you?"
Cancon, with a murderous twist
A bevy of expats came together in Calgary to film
the grim story of killer and rapist David Snow
By Dawn Walton - The Globe and Mail
September 2, 2006
Kim Coates has played opposite such Hollywood big
guns as Kevin Costner, Wesley Snipes and Bruce Willis, and grabbed roles
in American war movies including Black Hawk Down and Pearl Harbor. But
the Saskatoon-born actor, who has been based in Los Angeles since 1995,
found himself back home in Canada playing an unseemly and perhaps
forgotten homegrown murderer and rapist, David Snow. "Yes, yes, yes, yes,"
says Coates, when asked if it was the Canadian content that attracted
him to the project. "That's the selling point." Many of those on the set
of A Friend of the Family, a made-for-TV movie shot largely in Alberta,
which airs tomorrow on CTV, seem to agree with that sentiment. Some talk
about a penchant for telling homegrown stories; others are expatriates
who yearn to reacquaint themselves with their roots - even if it is a
psychological thriller based on a shocking moment in Canadian history.
Coates, whose hair was transformed into dark, mad-scientist curls for
publicity photos shot in a musty church in Calgary, said he had hoped to
insert some "ehs" into the script. But director Stuart Gillard, who was
born in Coronation, Alta., and is now a hard-working Hollywood director,
asked him to tone it down. "I really wanted to go, 'Nice to meetcha,
eh?' I really wanted to put a Canadian flavour to it," he says, but adds
that the filmmakers favoured a more Canadian-American sound.
A Friend of the Family is based on Alison Shaw's 1998
book of the same name. In it, Shaw detailed how she and her husband,
Darris, moved to Orangeville, Ont., in 1988, and soon became friends and
business partners with Snow, the town eccentric who paid more attention
to his antique dealership than his personal hygiene. Snow would later be
convicted of murdering Ian and Nancy Blackburn, a Toronto couple whose
bodies were found in the trunk of their car on April 14, 1992. Snow was
also convicted of a string of abductions and sexual assaults in British
Columbia that followed the Blackburn killings. It was Shaw who put the
police onto Snow, after recognizing his handwriting, and penchant for
military paraphernalia, in an article published in the Toronto Star in
May, 1992. "It's very much Canada," says Jon Slan, president of Slanted
Wheel Entertainment - which co-produced the movie with Calgary-based
Alberta Filmworks - when describing the reasons for his own involvement
in the movie. Slan, who has a penchant for turning Canadian books into
movies, is a voracious reader who rifles through books with an eye to
securing the rights to this country's best stories. "People watching
television movies always are interested in true stories," says Slan. "A
lot of people both in the East and West will remember - even though it
was 10, 12 years ago - David Snow as a pretty famous serial killer."
Laura Harris, who portrays Shaw, says she was either too young or too
sheltered by her parents as a 15-year-old in Crescent Beach, B.C., to
remember the Blackburn murders and the rampage that followed - but that
she was drawn to the story nonetheless, in large part for reasons
similar to those of Coates, Gillard and Slan. "I love doing Canadian
stuff, true Canadian stories. They mesmerize me more than most," says
Harris, who now lives in L.A. and has had roles in 1998's The Faculty,
the 2003 film A Mighty Wind and TV's Dead Like Me. "I'm very patriotic .
. .," she adds. "It's a chance to reconnect, even if it is about serial
SEX: M RACE: W TYPE: T MOTIVE:
MO: Killed a married couple
and two women; female victims raped.
DISPOSITION: Life term on two