Financial advisor Brian Malley spent months meticulously building an improvised explosive device. But just days after it detonated and killed a disabled mother of one in Innisfail, Alta., he was already on the RCMP's radar.
"He was definitely a person of interest," says Cpl. Dan Gyonyor, the lead forensic investigator into the blast that killed Victoria Shachtay instantly as she sat in her wheelchair on Nov. 25, 2011.
Some details in the case can now be revealed as Malley's final appeal was dismissed last year.
In 2007, Shachtay gave Malley $575,000 to manage — a court settlement she received following the car accident that left her paralyzed.
Malley lost most of Shachtay's money. And then he executed a deadly plan to build a bomb.
The improvised explosive device was detonated as Shachtay opened a box that was disguised as a gift but that Malley had wired to the bomb. The explosion was so powerful, it destroyed the 23-year-old's apartment and sent shrapnel rocketing outside.
Specialists at work
Afterwards, a multidisciplinary team of RCMP officers and experts had months of work ahead of them — starting with the bomb-disposal experts and the forensics and DNA specialists who combed the scene for evidence followed by the Major Crime Unit (MCU) investigators who pieced everything together.
"There were so many specialists involved, and all with a different mandate, so we had to make sure everyone was in the loop," says Gyonyor, who was on the case from start to conviction.
To begin, he says Explosive Disposal Unit (EDU) members checked the scene to make sure it was safe.
"There could have been another bomb. But the EDU guys also have to keep in mind the integrity of the scene for the forensics work that follows," says Gyonyor.
For that reason, they wore protective equipment to prevent contamination.
"We wanted to make sure when the time came, defence counsel couldn't challenge us on our work," says Sgt. Greg Baird, an RCMP explosives technician who investigated the bombing.
RCMP chemist Nigel Hearns was on the scene, too.
Hearns, who works with the trace evidence team at the RCMP's National Forensic Laboratory Services in Ottawa, brought an ION scanner to the blast site to detect things the human eye can't see and that could potentially compromise the scene.
A tent was set up and Hearns examined every person going in and out.
"We stopped one officer because we found trace amounts of explosives on their gear," says Hearns. "It's kind of like if you get motor oil on your hands. You can't just wash it off with soap and water."
All of that work was vital so officers could look for bomb fragments, such as pieces of metal from the casing, the detonator, wiring and the power source.
Hearns actually found explosives that had not ignited. Later in the lab, a colleague used a lead-based isotope technique to identify the solder Malley had used to join electronic parts together.
MCU investigators later discovered the very same solder in a garage Malley had been using — separate from his residence — that had been sub-contracted to him by a business partner.
Sgt. Kanwardeep Dehil, with the Alberta Major Crimes Division, had hundreds of officers on the case throughout the investigation.
"The discovery of all the bomb parts, gunpowder and the sheer destructive power of the explosion was breathtaking," says Dehil.
He says major crimes officers were instrumental in the discovery of fingerprint evidence.
"However we didn't determine that until it was analyzed at the lab at a later time," says Dehil.
Malley was arrested in May 2012 and convicted of first-degree murder in March 2015.
Hearns says the Innisfail case is a model for how operational teams work closely with RCMP forensic scientists. The case is also used as a teaching model at the Canadian Police College to train investigators how to work together as one multidisciplinary team.
"This case served as a defining moment wherein our current team at the laboratory became more intimately connected with operational units," says Hearns.
Baird echoes those comments.
"The work solidified the importance of having the right people involved and providing their expertise to the file."