Canada’s Most Wanted
In co-operation with the RCMP and other police agencies, Reader's Digest launches a manhunt for this country's most heinous criminals
Wilfred "Butch" Elder
IN THE middle of the night on Wednesday, February 11, 1998, Julie Simmons* awoke to a pounding on her door. Simmons, a 25-year-old single mother, lived in a quiet residential area in Merritt, a town of about 8,000 in British Columbia's southern interior.
When she opened the door, Simmons was greeted by her friend and neighbour from across the street, 24-year-old John Balsam.* With Balsam was a big, rough-looking man with long dark hair and a mustache. Balsam introduced the man as Butch. The two were in a partying mood.
Balsam and Butch had beer with them, and after a few drinks in the living room, they suggested that the three of them go out somewhere. But Simmons's two-year-old son was sleeping upstairs, so she asked the men to leave. Balsam did, but Butch was adamant about staying a little longer.
Simmons was soon uncomfortable. The burly, tattooed man seemed edgy and preoccupied, and watched her like a snake. After about 20 minutes of chugging beer and making small talk, Butch moved next to Simmons on the couch and began to paw her.
"Could you please go?" Simmons demanded, trying to fend him off. But the big man was relentless; soon he had a hand about her throat and was ripping her clothes off.
Butch sexually assaulted Simmons, then threatened that he would kill her if she told anyone. But Simmons phoned the police immediately after he left, and the Merritt RCMP responded within minutes. Butch was nowhere to be found.
A few days later another woman, who had heard of the incident, told Merritt RCMP that she, too, had been sexually assaulted by Butch the previous month.
Butch's real name is Wilfred Ernest Elder. He acquired the nickname Butch in his native Saskatchewan and was known by that name while with the Hells Angels in Vancouver.
Elder was born on the Little Quill Reserve (formerly Nut Lake Reserve). He is fair complexioned, with Caucasian features. He has spent a total of 17 years in prison for sexual assaults and other violent offences across Canada, including attempted kidnapping in Calgary in 1978.
An unconfirmed sighting of Elder was reported in North Battleford, Sask., in July 1999. Authorities say he may have changed his appearance by cutting his hair and shaving. He has an ex-wife and a son in Kelowna, B.C.
Elder likes to fraternize with members of biker gangs and to drink in strip clubs, in which he has frequently worked as a bouncer. He fancies himself a native artist and likes to proselytize on First Nations' rights. He may be in Vancouver, Kelowna, Kamloops, B.C., or North Battleford; he has family, friends and former associates in most of those places.
Elder assaults women he barely knows by catching them alone and then choking them or holding a knife to their throat. He usually threatens them with death should they go to the police. The man is dangerous and if seen should be reported to your local police.
James Charles Kopp
IT WAS 7:10 a.m., breakfast time for Dr. Garson Romalis, a 57-year-old Vancouver obstetrician. On this chilly and dreary Tuesday, November 8, 1994, Romalis surveyed the gloom through the sliding glass patio doors that opened onto his backyard. As his wife and eldest daughter slept upstairs, he sat at the kitchen table, waiting for his toast to pop up.
Suddenly he heard a boom and shattering glass, then found himself on the floor, his left leg numb. There was another shot, and a hole appeared in the back of the chair he had just been sitting in.
In a daze, Romalis reached down to find his leg warm and wet and covered in blood. There was a hole the size of a grapefruit in his thigh. He knew the bullet had severed his femoral artery: If he didn't staunch the blood flow, he'd bleed to death in minutes.
Frantically, Romalis shoved his fists into the massive hole in his thigh. When that failed to stop the bleeding, he applied a tourniquet using the belt from his bathrobe, then hauled himself across the floor to the protection of the nearest hall.
Hearing his wife moving upstairs, he yelled: "Don't come down — I've been shot! Dial 9-1-1!"
Over the next several weeks in hospital, Romalis nearly died of blood loss and infection. Today he is still trying to rebuild the muscles in his left leg through therapy and exercise. The Romalis family moved a year after the incident.
In the five years since, on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border, four more obstetrician-gynecologists have been shot in their homes. The second victim was Dr. Hugh Short, shot through a window at his home near Hamilton on the night of November 10, 1995. The round shattered his elbow.
On the night of October 28, 1997, a doctor was ambushed at his home in Rochester, N.Y. The doctor escaped the incident with minor injuries. Two weeks later Dr. Jack Fainman of Winnipeg was shot and wounded in the shoulder at home.
Law-enforcement agencies warned doctors in the gynecological field — particularly those working at public clinics where abortions might be performed — to be on the alert.
Finally, around 10 p.m. on October 23, 1998, in Amherst, N.Y., Dr. Barnett Slepian was shot dead as he stood by his kitchen table surrounded by his wife and four children. Police discovered a high-powered rifle buried in a wooded lot behind the Slepian home.
Residents reported seeing an unfamiliar black Chevrolet around the time of the attack. On December 18, 1998, less than two months after the murder of Slepian, police found an abandoned black Chevy Cavalier at Newark International Airport in New Jersey. It had Vermont plates and was registered to a 44-year-old, James Charles Kopp. Abundant forensic evidence has linked Kopp with the impounded gun. He has not been seen in New Jersey since 1998.
To date, Kopp has been charged in the state of New York with the murder of Slepian, and in Canada with attempted murder for the shooting of Short. A zealous antiabortionist, he has a lengthy criminal record for disturbing the peace, resisting arrest and trespassing.
Holding a masters degree in marine biology from California State University, Fullerton, he nevertheless subsists on odd jobs such as working construction. A devout Catholic, Kopp is known to attend church regularly, if not daily. He is reported to have taken vows of poverty and celibacy. In antiabortion circles, his fanatical zeal has earned him the nickname Atomic Dog.
Kopp is considered armed and dangerous. He is unremarkable looking, and those who have met him say that he has a gentle demeanour. He could be spotted in churches, showing up for mass over a period of weeks, then vanishing. He uses many aliases — since the Slepian killing he has used the name Clyde Swenson — or he may introduce himself simply as Jim.
IN THE early hours of April 22, 1995, at a rented reception hall in the St. Henri quarter of Montreal, a raucous, crowded birthday party was in progress. Throngs of young people, most of them members of the quarter's Jamaican community, danced and swayed to blaring reggae music.
As a pair of uninvited guests stealthily made their way through the crowd, two young revellers, Nicholas Rodriguez and Miguel Millings, headed for the exit. They recognized the intruders as associates of a local gang that supplied drugs to dealers in neighbourhood schools. Police suspect the young men had had words prior to the party, perhaps over drug-dealing territory. No sooner had the two made it out to the sidewalk than one of the party crashers, 18-year-old Desta Barnes, followed them and opened fire. His accomplice, 18-year-old Kushi "K-G" Samuels, blocked the door and fired bullets into the crowd. Samuels then turned his attention to Millings and Rodriguez. In the end, 26-year-old Rodriguez was killed, 20-year-old Millings was left paralyzed for life from the waist down, and a 19-year-old bystander, Asher Manget, was wounded in the hand and knee.
Most of the shell casings at the scene were 6.35-mm, used in automatic weapons. There were also casings from a 9-mm Luger pistol. The evidence pointed to a gangland hit.
The shooters disappeared and police issued a nationwide alert for the two young murderers that witnesses identified as being natives of Jamaica and gang members. Samuels has not been seen since the night of the shooting. Desta Barnes, his partner in the brutal crime, was found dead in Miami almost a year later, his body riddled with bullets.
Samuels is thought to be in Montreal, Miami or Jamaica. He is considered armed and extremely dangerous.
PHOTOS: (TOP) COURTESY RCMP; (MIDDLE) COURTESY FBI/DEA; (BOTTOM) COURTESY MUC POLICE
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.