The Killing of Kindness – The Elizabeth Lafantaisie Murder Investigation – Part III – “Revelations”
Sunday, February 27, 2011
We started work at 7:00 am with the usual team briefing.
By this time investigators had seized an abundance of video footage that had to be reviewed. This footage came from:
- The Osborne Village Inn
- 77 University Cres
- 1048 Main St – Parole Office
- Winnipeg Transit – transit bus camera footage from various locations
- Canad Inns Hotel
- Several Car Wash Locations
- Reviewing car wash video
- Canvassing neighbourhood to solidify date when vehicle was dumped
- Investigate card access to 77 University Cres
- Investigate card access to 100 Adamar Rd
- Attempt to define time of the murder
- Continue efforts to include / exclude high-risk sex offender Luigi Deangelis
- Prepare documents to facilitate production orders and search warrants
At 5:00 pm, I learned Elizabeth’s body was still frozen and not suitable for autopsy. Oddly enough, the fact her body was frozen was good news. Freezing happens to be about the best possible way to preserve microscopic evidence like DNA. The kind of evidence that could provide the “coup de grace” in a case like this.
At 7:05 pm, the CSI investigators called and provided information that would take the case in a completely different direction. They’d lifted a palm print found on one of the documents from Elizabeth’s purse that had been found at the bottom of a stairwell at 77 University Cres.
The offender’s name was Thomas Anthony Brine (25), a “known” criminal offender with two (2) outstanding arrest warrants and an additional DNA warrant. He was also flagged for interview regarding two unrelated incidents, a robbery and a theft investigation.
After reviewing Brines criminal record it was apparent he fell into the category of habitual property offender with a number of recent convictions and an impressive rap sheet that included the following convictions:
- Theft Under $5,000 x 4
- Theft Over $5,000 x 5
- Breach of Court Orders x 2
- Theft Under $5,000 x 5
- Theft Over $5,000
- Escape Lawful Custody
- Dangerous Operation of Motor Vehicle
- Possess Stolen Vehicle Break, Enter
- Breach of Court Orders x 3
- Posses Stolen Goods x 2
Brine was pending on a number of criminal charges:
- Possess Stolen Goods x 2
- Assault Causing Bodily Harm x 3
(The pending assault charges represent the first time Brine had been charged with a violent crime.)
Brine was a prolific property offender who had been sued by Manitoba Public Insurance (MPI) on two previous occasions for causing nearly $60,000 damage to vehicles he’d stolen.
Police experience and logic dictates offenders like Brine rarely make the leap from petty thefts to sexually motivated homicides of elderly women.
The fact Brine was a habitual property offender was only one of the reasons I had a luke warm feeling about him. Other reasons included the fact CSI officers reported finding what appeared to be glove impressions on the victim’s vehicle. If Brine was the suspect and he was wearing gloves, how would he have left fingerprints on a document at the crime scene?
I also had to consider the fact 77 University Cres was a location plagued by petty thefts, including thefts from motor vehicles and stolen vehicles, all crimes that fit Brines criminal profile or modus operandi.
A highly probable scenario I had to consider was the fact Brine could have been nothing more than a criminal opportunist who happened upon the victim’s purse after the crime had been committed. As a habitual criminal, it would extremely unusual if he didn’t rifle through a purse he found dumped in a parking garage.
His prints on the document could be very easily explained.
We intended to give Brine that opportunity the next business day.
At 9:00 pm, we retired from duty.
Monday, February 28, 2011
Shift start 7:00 a.m.
The day started with the usual briefing with all key personnel.
Sgt Puhach advised approximately 1,143 apartments had been canvassed at 100 Adamar Rd and 77 University Cres with limited results. These efforts were continuing.
When it came to task delegation I pulled two teams of Detectives and assigned them to put the hunt on for Thomas Brine. It was important to find him and close off this aspect of the investigation.
I also assigned a team of investigators the critical task of coordinating and reviewing hours of videotape that had been seized from locations of interest, car washes and transit buses. Detectives Kostiuk & Reid were still tied up with their continuing efforts to include or exclude Luigi Deangelis.
Once the shift briefing and task assignments were concluded that eerie silence befell upon the homicide office once again.
The Homicide Unit is one of the few squads in the Public Safety Building that has a door that can be closed to afford unit members privacy.
Once the Detectives left the office and closed that door I was alone with my thoughts. Aside from the constant interruptions from phone calls, it was time I cherished. It was time that gave me the ability to search for clarity, to review reports and files to ensure the investigation was on track. Thinking time to avoid tunnel vision and catch the loose ends that can sink a murder case.
It was time for organization, time to identify tasks, time to create to do lists. It was time to build a bulletproof case. It was my time, and I treasured every second of it.
At 2:10 pm, my serenity was shattered when surveillance teams reported they’d observed Thomas Brine enter his girlfriends’ residence. It was go time, time for Detectives to get on the paper work. Time to prepare a feeney warrant to enter the girlfriends’ residence to facilitate Brine’s arrest.
It’s the paperwork that can really bog a murder investigation down. Paperwork has become the most tedious part of homicide investigation and gets more cumbersome every year. Police Officers will tell you, the only constant in law enforcement is change.
Changes in process and legal requirements often translate to increased obligations for law enforcement – these changes often result in more paper work.
Warrant applications can take anything from a couple of hours to a couple of days or longer, depending on the complexity of the case.
Before the dwelling house entry warrant could be obtained, Brine did us a big favor and stuck his head out of the rabbit hole. Once he left the sanctity of his girlfriend’s residence we owned him.
At 7:50 pm, he was taken into custody after he left the residence in a vehicle with a number of people who were not related to the investigation. The task of interviewing Brine was assigned to Detective Sergeant Wes Rommel and his partner, Detective William “Bill” Kehler.
Rommel was an experienced police officer, one who I’d watched continually grow over the course of the last two years I spent as his supervisor. He was a hungry, driven, intelligent, thoughtful investigator with sharp skills in the fine art of suspect interrogation. His partner, “Grumpy Bill,” as he was affectionately called, was a salty, grizzled veteran who also knew his way around an interview room.
Brine was arrested on the strength of his arrest warrants and conveyed to the Public Safety Building where he was placed in an interview room that was wired for video and audio recording. He was read his rights regarding his charges and was properly cautioned regarding the fact he was identified as a suspect in the Elizabeth Lafantaisie murder investigation.
I had every expectation this would be a relatively quick interview. A murder accusation and a quick explanation given by a property offender telling us how he found a purse, rifled through it and went on his way. That was a logical explanation and one we could have easily accepted.
The problem for Brine was we had no intention of making it that easy for him.
We weren’t going to feed him the explanation. No, that was something he would have to come up with on his own. We had no intention of spelling out the evidence for him. We weren’t about to tell him we had his prints on a piece of paper that was found at the bottom of a stairwell.
We were going to confront him by telling him we had his prints in a murder investigation and let his imagination run wild.
If he was innocent the explanation should come quite easily.
If he was guilty he would figure he was in deep shit and probably show the tell-tale signs.
Rommel did not disappoint.
In an artful interrogation he took Brine on a roller coaster ride that would end at the Provincial Remand Center. It was a slow grind, an incremental interview that kept building in anticipation and intensity. Brine was playing a game of cat and mouse, trying to explain everything away.
When confronted with the fingerprint evidence Brine immediately assumed he left his fingerprints in Elizabeth’s car. As the gears turned in his loosely wired head, Brine found himself trying to sell an incredulous story about an innocent man who jumped in a car with the keys in the ignition and a deceased murder victim in the trunk.
“I never killed that lady man. I fucking told you man, stop playing games with me. I told you guys man, I had have no fucking idea, no idea. No switch went off in my mind man,” Brine stressed.
“Well what the fuck happened then?,” Rommel pressed.
“I’m not a fucking psychic, how the fuck am I supposed to know man. What I know is I jumped in that fucking car running, some fucking idiot left that car running man. Like I do every fucking day, I will tell you every single car, every single fucking car I ever broke into in my whole entire fucking life and go down for them but I am not fucking going to jail for a murder that I never did,” Brine stated emphatically.
Rommel’s’ patience was remarkable.
He let Brine tell his lame duck story and continued to confront him with the facts pointing to his guilt.
In response, Brine maintained his innocence and remained intent on playing the cat and mouse game. The thing he didn’t realize was he was sinking himself deeper and deeper with every exchange.
Skilled interrogators (cats) love a good game of cat and mouse while murder suspects (mice) rarely have the insight necessary to recognize the role they’re play in the game.
I sat in stunned silence as I watched the interrogation.
The tension in the video monitor room was palpable.
I could feel the hair on the back of my neck literally stand up as I came to the realization we’d found our killer.
Instead of explaining away a set of innocuous fingerprints on a piece of paper, Brine was telling a fantastic story that could only have been told by someone who witnessed or participated in the murder of Elizabeth Lafantaisie.
It was a stunning turn of events.
After the interrogation was complete the case against Brine became stronger.
At 6:14 am, the relentless pursuit to find video evidence of Brine at a car wash bore fruit. Detectives discovered videotaped footage of Brine in Elizabeth’s vehicle at an Osborne Street car wash a few blocks from the dump site. The recording was dated Friday, February 18, 2011.
The time stamp showed Brine entering the car wash at 5:53 pm and exiting at 6:04 pm. The car wash video was an incredibly damning piece of evidence.
The car wash video, the palm print and the suspect interrogation helped us put the major pieces of the puzzle together.
At 6:44 am, I sent a detailed report outlining the evidence to Senior Crown Attorney Mr. Brian Bell and asked him to review the investigation and authorize charges of first degree murder.
After reviewing the document Bell, an experienced diligent prosecutor, indicated he wanted to attend the Public Safety Building to meet with Rommel & Kehler to review the case and their video taped interrogation. It was clear, Bell had no intention of authorizing a first degree murder charge on a high-profile case without doing his homework.
When he arrived at the station Bell immediately went to work. He watched the interrogation video, grilled investigators and conducted his analysis.
Bell was one of those rare Crown Attorneys who demanded excellence and wasn’t afraid to let you know it. I appreciated the scrutiny he placed on the investigation, better for him to the find the soft spots than a defence attorney during the trial.
At 10:00 am, after completing his review of the evidence, Senior Crown Attorney Brian Bell authorized charges of first degree murder against Thomas Anthony Brine. With the authorization of the charge came a sense of accomplishment and calm like I’ve never experienced. The case weighed heavily on me and that weight was shed the moment Bell authorized the charges.
The success of the investigation was truly emblematic of an astonishing team effort. From the front line patrol officers, to the members of the Missing Persons Unit, to the CSI team, the Homicide Unit Detectives and every single police officer who worked the case. They all played an integral part in the investigation and were deserving of significant recognition for their tenacity and excellent work.
Later that morning the Chief of Police Keith McCaskill and the Crime Division Commander attended the Homicide Office and congratulated the investigators.
When he shook my hand the Chief expressed his appreciation for a job well done under difficult circumstances.
That kind of recognition is extremely rare for Homicide Unit Detectives and we enjoyed the moment.
The celebration was brief however, as there was still much work to be done.
At 12:14 pm, that day, Homicide Detectives executed a search warrant at Brine’s girlfriend’s residence where they recovered Elizabeth’s keyless entry car key in a backpack owned by Thomas Brine. This seizure amounted to the recovery of the “smoking gun.”
(Profilers will tell you that killers who commit sex crime murders often keep some type of “trophy” after the killing. Psychologists will tell you the “trophies” help them relive the excitement they experienced during the killing.)
Prior to calling it a day, Detectives Kostiuk & Reid excluded Luigi Deangelis as a potential suspect in the case.
These officers did a remarkable job staying focused on the task even when it became clear the investigation was moving in a different direction. If not properly excluded, the high-risk sex offender scenario could easily become a “red- herring” that could have subverted the case against Brine.
At 2:00 pm, after working a thirty-one (31) hour shift, investigators assigned to the case called it a day.
When I arrived home my house was empty. My wife and daughters were at work and my son was at school. After a mid-afternoon snack and a much-needed shower I jumped into bed and started to go through the process of decluttering my mind so I could get a few hours of desperately needed sleep.
Before I could get there I needed to have one more conversation.
It was a conversation I had to have with Elizabeth Lafantaisie.
I told Elizabeth how sorry I was she had crossed paths with her vile killer and how sorry I was that I couldn’t have been there to intervene somehow. I told her she didn’t deserve her fate and that the world can be a cruel dark place. I told her to rest in peace and that I would think of her often, and I do.
Above all else, I told her how happy I was that I was able to keep the promise I made to her.
And with that, I closed my eyes and drifted off to a deep, peaceful sleep.
To be continued…..
Written by James G Jewell – Sergeant – Winnipeg Police Service – Retired
Editor’s note – this article was originally published on the Police Insider website on February 19th, 2016.