Jordan: Today’s story is about a police investigation that you won’t believe is real. Why am I so confident when I say that? Because in this story, reality is almost impossible to grasp, even for the people involved. It’s a story about a decades old murder. But the ending, if you can call it an ending, came just a few years ago. It’s a story about police using a tactic that is so unusual around the world that it’s known as the Canadian Technique. It’s a story about what happens when you are living in an alternate reality created just for you and you don’t know it. And that is just part one of this special two part episode. It gets even darker from there. I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings. This is The Big Story. Michael Lista is a contributing editor at Toronto life and the author of one of the strangest stories we’ve read yet this young year. Hi Michael.
Jordan: Why don’t you start by telling us how, and I guess also when and where, Beverly Smith died.
Michael: Sure. So about two weeks before Christmas in 1972, Beverly Smith, uh, was a 22 year old young mother. She was married. Uh, she lived in, um, a little, uh, brick farmhouse in a village called Raglan, Ontario, which is, um, just a little bit North of Oshawa. And on the 9th of December that year, she waved goodbye to her husband for the last time. He worked, his name was Doug, and he worked at the GM plant in Oshawa. And she went about her day. She sat down at her kitchen table to write some, some Christmas cards and she talked to some of her family. And then sometime that evening, someone went into her home, apparently there was no forced entry, so it’s likely that she knew the person and shot her in the back of her head with a 22 caliber bullet.
Jordan: Tell me about her body being discovered and the investigation that followed.
Michael: Sure. So Doug Smith, her husband, um, Beverly’s husband called in on his break at the plant and you know, he called home and the phone just kept ringing and, um, that alarmed him. So he called across the street to two of his neighbors with whom he was friendly. A man named Allen Dale Smith, no relation to Beverley. And his wife Linda. And, you know, sort of said, I’m concerned that I’m, Beverly isn’t picking up the phone can, can you, can someone run a run across the street, and see what’s going on. So Linda, uh, went across the street, saw Beverly laying on the ground, and, you know, said to Doug, you need to come home right now. They called, um, they called the, um, the authorities. Alan Smith, he sort of worked, um, a little bit for the humane society, and he had a truck that he used for work and he, he actually brought the truck across the street into, um, Beverly and Doug’s driveway to help illuminate for the authorities where to go. And in a sort of colossal case of bad timing. It just so happened to be the, um, the Durham regional police, which was just recently formed. It was their first murder investigation and it was, it was on the night of their first annual Christmas party. So the officers arrive. Doug later said that he could smell some booze on the officer’s breath, and they began their investigation. They knew that Doug would deal a little bit of pot on the side. And he had about, um, about a half dozen ounces of weed, um, which, you know, he later admitted to the authorities, were stolen. So the motive in this case, they think was that someone came to steal that six or seven ounces of weed, shot Beverly in the process, and they started trolling around for anyone they, they knew might, um, have a motive. They looked at his, uh, supplier. They looked at some of his, um, his clients. Um, and you know, they opened up some wiretaps. Nothing really came of it. And so, you know, that that year, the case went cold for the first time.
Jordan: How long did it stay cold?
Michael: Uh, it was, it was sort of, it was reopened a number of times over the decades, um, once I believe in the 80s, and, you know, they would reinterview people and you know, nothing would really come of it. And then in the, in the 2000s, there was suddenly a, a break in the case. What had happened was that, um, so Beverly Smith had a twin sister named Barbara, identical twins. They looked so similar that even their mother could only tell them apart by a little freckle on the tip of Beverly’s nose. And Barbara, you know, as you can imagine her, her grief, her and her family’s grief was, um, you know, was immeasurable. And she sort of stuck on the police’s case to make sure that, that the investigation would be cold, but would not be forgotten. And so she went to the, you know, the, the head of major crimes at the Durham regional police one day and said, you know, I’m losing my hope. Um, I need you to hold onto it for me. And she passed the inspector a little stone with the word hope engraved on it, and, um, the inspector kept it by his desk, and it was not long after that that there was a break in the case. So they interviewed an old friend of Alan Dale Smith’s, um, who said that on the day of the murder, he had asked Alan if he could score him pot. And Alan said, yeah, I can get it from my neighbor. And the day after the murder, Alan called this guy back and said, Hey, I’ve got your pot for you. And he also said that, um, Alan had a 22 caliber rifle, which we know was used in the, in the murder. And so the police all of a sudden are like, Hmm. That helpful neighbour who, you know, helped shine the light for us so many years ago is all of a sudden an interesting suspect. And so they interviewed Alan’s, um, Alan’s ex now, ex wife Linda. Linda admitted that Alan could have left her sight very briefly on the night of the murder, said that she heard this bang, which she thought was a car backfiring, but could have been a rifle. And so later that year, they charged Alan Dale Smith with, um, with the second degree murder of, of his neighbour, Beverly.
Jordan: And that’s it, right? The story’s over now. There’s a happy ending. Nothing else weird happened.
Michael: No, absolutely not. So when, so when they arrested Alan, he said he had nothing to do with it. And when they put them in the jail, you know, still an innocent man at this, at this point, they put an undercover officer with him posing as another prisoner, to try to elicit a confession. And the Alan refused. And so, um, what happened was that the police knew that Alan had since, um, the murder of Beverly Smith all those years ago, all those decades ago, Alan had had a, um, incredibly difficult life. And he had a long history of mental illness and psychiatric care. You know, so for example, he was uh, an alcoholic who, you know, drank every day, smoked weed, you know, whenever he could get it, took pills and coke if he could find it. But, you know, most of all, he was, he, he– I should say, he also, he heard voices. He had, he had trouble sort of, um, uh, telling the difference between reality and, um, and fiction. And, you know, he once said that he had one of these voices that would haunt him. He had imprisoned it in a jail in Scarborough and ran away from it. He was diagnosed with mood disorders and you know, had a very tenuous grip on reality. But more than anything, what he really wanted more than anything was a friend. He was incredibly lonely. And what he really wanted was someone to go fishing with. He loved fishing, but you know, he said he had no one to do it with. And so the prosecutors and the– and Alan’s defence came to an agreement that if they were allowed to go over Alan’s psychiatric records from all those decades, go through it, and there was no confession by Alan, then they would withdraw the murder charge. And so it’s a huge gamble for a defendant, right? To do that. I mean, you know, can you remember everything you’ve said in the course of, you know, 35 years with your health professional? I can’t. But Alan said, go ahead. And so they did. So, um, a warrant was issued for, uh, the police to be able to look at these records. They were to remain sealed until the judge approved it all. But, uh, on the way on the plane ride back, um, from Calgary, um, where they collected some of these records, the police just opened up the records anyway, and just started going through it, and they turned every page and they saw his loneliness and they saw his, his, um, his inability to distinguish reality from fiction, his wanting to go fishing, but they never found a confession. So they withdrew the murder charge. But now they were sitting on this gold mine of someone else’s imagination, this person that they still thought, you know, could be involved in this murder. And so they decided to weaponize his psychiatric records to do this incredibly controversial type of police investigation called a ‘Mr. Big.’
Jordan: And this is where the story gets even further off the rails. So why don’t you first explain sort of the concept of a Mr. Big investigation, and then I’ll get you to describe this specific instance.
Michael: Sure. So a Mr. Big investigation is sometimes, I’ve heard, been referred to as the ‘Canadian Investigation’ because it’s illegal and in a lot of other countries. And the first, Mr. Big that we know of, it wasn’t called a Mr. Big happened in 1901. But the modern form of it arose in RCMP investigations mostly in British Columbia in the 1990s. And what it is, it’s, it’s for police investigations where there isn’t good forensic evidence. And what they really want to seal the case with someone that they know is probably guilty, is a confession. And so, uh, mr big is sort of a play, sort of like performance art, where the audience and the subject is the sort of unsuspecting mind of, of this person they think is a killer. And so it takes essentially two main actors. One is the best friend and the other is Mr. Big. The best friend is an undercover officer who introduces himself to the subject, ingratiates himself to him, um, makes the subject trust him, and then starts including the, um, the subject in increasingly serious crimes. They’re all make-believe crimes, of course, because they all involve this cast of other undercover officers. The whole time the sessions are recorded as far as we can tell, so there’s some sort of body pack that the officers were to sort of, um, to sort of record everything that’s happening. And then there’s this whole other cast of officers, supporting actors who are sort of invigilating these, these scenes of these make-believe scenes. And then finally, the best friend will introduce the subject to Mr. Big, who presents himself as like the head of a crime family or a drug syndicate or something like that. And essentially forces him to do something that requires, um, the subject to confess to the worst thing he’s ever done, which is the crime they’re trying to charge you for.
Jordan: Okay, well now tell me specifically what they did in Alan’s case, cause I can only imagine that it helps this plan if you have folders and folders full of, uh, psychiatric reports on the target of this kind of sting.
Michael: Yeah. I mean, if you’re trying to warp the reality of someone enough to try and get them to confess, it helps not only to know as much about them as you can, but to know that they already have this predisposition to mistaking fact for fiction and fiction for fact. So what they did with Alan was that looking at the sum total of his, of his sort of mental misery, they decided, Oh, there’s a, there’s a play that, that we can engineer here. And it started with a fishing contest. One day, um some helpful stranger knocked on the door and, uh, you know, in exchange for answering some survey questions would enter him into this sweepstakes for an all expenses paid ice fishing trip up North. Would you be interested in that, Alan? And Alan thought, Oh my God. Yeah, I would love to go fishing. That would be great. And a little bit later, he gets a phone call and lo and behold, by his, by, by some streak of luck, he wins. He’s the lucky winner. And the call is actually placed from the Durham regional police office. And at one point they have to hang up the phone because officer so-and-so is being paged over the loudspeaker and they almost give the plot away in the first scene. And so Alan wins. And one day a van comes to pick him. And, um, I think there are four or five other lucky winners. All undercover officers. The van is driven by an undercover officer and they all go and they fish. And Alan, uh, this one guy strikes up a conversation with Alan. He’s a carpet cleaner who’s just moved, actually, wow, into, into Alan’s neighborhood. And they have this wonderful conversation. Um, they get out onto the ice. This, uh, nice carpet cleaner, his name is, um, under publication ban, so we call him Skinner in the story, he’s downing beers. Alan has quit drinking at this point, and he’s smoking joints and they’re fishing. And they’re having–
Jordan: It’s just what he wanted.
Michael: And they’re having fun. And Alan, you know, ends up giving Skinner his phone number after and says, you know, like, call me.
Jordan: And he does?
Michael: And he does. And you know, they, they strike up what, I mean, you can only describe as this sort of rather lopsided love story. Skinner and Alan become the best of friends. They see each other or talk on the phone every day. They grab coffee, they drive around in Skinner’s truck, and they fish. And it seems to Alan that he, he’s getting what he’s always wanted. It’s like the universe had read his mind and answered his prayer. And you know, Allen goes so far as to to say, love ya, you know, into Skinner’s body pack, um, you know, when they, when they part ways. It’s a kind of beautiful story of like, of like, you know that most improbable thing, which is like a male friendship later in your life, you know?
Jordan: Except it’s completely fake.
Michael: It’s all fake. And so what happens is that Skinner starts the Mr. Big in earnest. He tries to sort of elicit a confession from Alan without using Mr. Big himself. He tells his own made up story about this illegal thing that he did where he, this girl he liked was involved in a car accident many decades ago. She was the driver. She was drunk. Her passenger died. And Skinner, in an active sort of criminal gallantry, he pulls the dead passenger into the girl’s driver’s seat, so the girl will get away with it. And you know, sort of asks like, Alan, have you ever done something bad like that? And in fact drives Alan past Beverly Smith’s old house. And Alan, he just says nothing. He’ll only offer his sympathy to Skinner for having to, you know, had to do that so many years ago. And so now it’s going to realizes, alright, we’re going to have to dial up the pressure. And he starts including Alan in sort of these low level crimes. Um, which again are not, they’re not real. They’re drug deals where, you know, Skinner hands some drugs to another undercover officer. But Alan is sort of implicated in it, Alan believes it’s real. And then finally, um, they do this for a number of months, and then finally, you know, it’s time to bring in Mr. Big. And Mr. Big, we’re told, you know, we don’t, again, his name is also under publication ban. So we just call him Mr. Big. The only physical description that we have of him, which didn’t make it into the piece but is true from our reporting, is that he had really nice teeth. And he’s, he introduces himself as, as like the sort of, you know, the big shot, the guy in charge, right? It’s sort of led to believe that he’s like the head of some sort of, you know, criminal syndicate.
Jordan: The guy Skinner’s been doing these quote unquote drug deals for.
Michael: That’s right. Like, Skinner’s sort of like, you know, boss. Um, you know, he’s a carpet cleaner, but he’s also clearly doing all this other stuff. And he answers to Mr. Big. And Mr. Big sort of boasts that he has a big marijuana grow up, that he blew $10,000 bucks on dinner in Toronto recently. You know, he’s the head honcho. And he, uh, after one of their early meetings, he hires Skinner and Alan to sort of watch, watch each other’s backs as Skinner goes into a strip club and, and, uh, does like these fake drug deals for Mr. Big. And, um, you know, they even, they even buy Alan lap dance there. Um, that, which is like the, essentially the only real thing that’s happened to Allen in this whole, this whole, um, this whole charade. And then things, things sort of, uh, come to, uh, come to a very peculiar head when Alan thinks he and Skinner are going fishing, but Skinner tells them, no, no, no. We got to do this other thing first and takes Alan to meet Mr. Big, and what they’re going to do is they’re going to sell 40 pounds of marijuana. 40 pounds. That’s like, it’s like 10 garbage bags worth of weed, to some idiot, right? And then they’re going to steal it back. And Alan is like, Oh, all right. And so they go, they do the drug deal, and then they follow this guy who’s, again, another undercover officer back to the Comfort Inn, where he’s staying. And then Mr. Big hands, Skinner, a sawed-off shotgun. Right? And says, all right, let’s do it. And so Skinner runs in into this guy’s room with the shotgun, points it at him with his finger on the trigger, makes them get on the ground, and then Alan is told, 30 seconds, you know, after, after I run in with the shotgun, you come in and grab the weed and we’ll get out of here, go to Mr. Big, give it to him, and then if we do it right, Mr. Big is going to reward us by letting us, we’ll all go fishing at his cottage. Using the same incentive that they know will work on Alan. And so he does it. You know, Skinner runs in with the shotgun. Alan runs in 30 seconds after him, grabs the pot, they get it to Mr. Big, and then Alan goes home to get some rest before going up to fish at Mr. Big’s cottage.
Jordan: It all worked out perfectly.
Michael: Of course. Absolutely. As you can probably tell with this story, you know. Um, no. Uh, so what happened is that, uh, is that at about one o’clock in the morning, Skinner knocks on Alan’s window and he’s like, come on, we got to get up. Alan thinks he’s just, you know, they’re getting up extra early, um, for this fishing trip. But no, he, Skinner drives Alan to go meet Mr. Big and they meet in this like industrial lot. And as they pull up, they can see Mr. Big is covered in blood. And in the back of, of his, um, of his vehicle is this body wrapped in a tarp and covered in blood. And Mr. Big says it’s the guy from last night, the guy we sold the drugs to and stole from. You know we’ve got, we’ve got a problem here, and you guys are going to be the ones who are going to clean this up. And Alan starts to panic. Little does he know, the dead body is not a dead body? It’s a mannequin. It’s like a, it’s like a big, like weighted Ken doll. Right? And the blood is from a sheep. But Alan is meant to think that Mr. Big has now murdered someone. So this guy isn’t just the head of a crime family that, you know, this guy that he’s sort of working for now, but he’s a killer. And Mr. Big says, you and your best friend Skinner over there, you guys go, you get rid of the bloody boots that the guy was wearing and you dispose of his body, smash up his cell phone. And if you don’t screw this up, we’ll still go up to my cottage and go fishing. And so Alan starts to panic, you know, as they’re driving with this body in the truck, you know, Alan is thinking to himself like, what do I do? Like, do I just, do I leave my best friend now? Do I jump out of the moving car? Like I, I don’t–
Jordan: Yeah, he’s an accessory to murder in his mind.
Michael: Right. But like, now he’s sort of torn because like, Mr. Big now knows that he knows, right? If he killed this guy, why wouldn’t he kill me? Right? And he thinks maybe I’ll jump out of the car right now and just get myself out of all of this, right? But he doesn’t know where he is. He doesn’t have a cell phone, right? He doesn’t want to leave his best friend. And so he helps dispose of the body, smashes up the cell phone. They come to this sort of precipice with the body and kick it over the edge into oblivion. They bury the shoes. And Alan, meanwhile is like having what looks to us like a, like a panic attack. You know, he, he says, get me out of here. He, he, um, he says he, he feels like he’s going to throw up. Finally they arrive at Mr. Big’s cottage and, um, Alan is, you know, he’s been up for almost two days straight now and he goes to lay down and while he’s sleeping, um, Skinner and Mr. Big go and meet on the road outside of the cottage with a bunch of the other undercover team and they decide together, no one is leaving this cottage until Alan confesses to Beverly Smith’s murder.
Jordan: That’s Michael Lista, a contributing editor at Toronto Life. He’ll be back tomorrow to wrap this up. And that was The Big Story, part one at least. You can find us at thebigstorypodcast.ca. You can find us on Twitter at @thebigstoryFPN or at @frequencypods. You can write to us either on Twitter or from our website, can tell us what you think. You can tell us what you like, what you don’t like, and of course you can rate us and review us. Five stars only, please. Wherever you get podcasts, on Apple, on Google, on Stitcher, on Spotify. You pick, you listen, we’re always free. Thanks for listening. I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings. We’ll talk tomorrow with the conclusion.
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