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Police focus on slaying date

They say victim had upper-body injuries

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The Fernwood Avenue building where McFee lived.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

The Fernwood Avenue building where McFee lived. Photo Store

Keith George McFee was found dead in his St. Vital apartment Friday, but police are still investigating whether he died in early 2014 or late 2013.

Const. Jason Michalyshen confirmed Sunday the case is being treated as the first homicide investigation of 2014.

McFee, 69, had upper-body injuries, police said, but autopsy results are needed to determine the cause of death. An autopsy will be performed within the next few days.

The last time McFee's neighbours in a three-storey walk-up apartment building in the 200 block of Fernwood Avenue heard from him was on Dec. 26.

McFee's close friend and next-door, main-floor neighbour, Wes Smith, was trying to reach him by phone on Dec. 26 and 27, but Smith said his calls went automatically to voice mail, which was already full of messages.

"The last Jets game before Christmas, we watched it on his TV together on Dec. 23. Some of his other friends and family members had seen him on Christmas Day, and it was after that that I tried to get in contact with him... He never returned my calls," Smith said.

'Some people were saying there was a foul smell around his door and they thought it was garbage'

-- Wes Smith, one of Keith McFee's neighbours and occasional drinking buddy

Smith said he was deeply saddened when he officially heard the news of his friend's death from police on Friday.

He said he hadn't seen his friend's station wagon parked out front in its usual spot for at least a week. Rumours were going around the building about McFee's whereabouts because of a stench that had been wafting from his suite.

"Some people were saying there was a foul smell around his door and they thought it was garbage," Smith said. "If Keith was there, I know he was in the habit of taking his garbage out practically every day. So after practically a week of nobody hearing from him, that's when I started to think that maybe he'd come in contact with foul play or been murdered or something."

The building's caretakers called the fire department to investigate the apartment after McFee had not been heard from for several days.

The fire department called the police and the investigation ensued.

McFee was the former caretaker for the apartment block, a position he relinquished last summer. There was a petition going around the building at that time to keep him on as caretaker, which Smith and another neighbour, Bethany Giroux, signed.

Giroux said McFee was friendly but she didn't talk much with him other than greetings in the hall. She said she was shaken by news of his death but still feels safe living in the building.

"At first, it was eerie and we were kind of confused and concerned about what was going on, but as the days have gone on, it's just kind of settled in," Giroux said. "It's really unfortunate that something like that happened, but we can't sit around all day and sit there in fear."

McFee's family has been notified of his death, Michalyshen said.

Michalyshen told reporters Sunday this wasn't the first time police had come in contact with McFee, but he wouldn't elaborate.

Smith acknowledged McFee had a reputation for having a temper, though he had never witnessed it first-hand.

"Keith and I were in the habit of having a few beers every now and again, but we never really had any physical confrontations or anything. We yelled at each other, but that's normal when people start drinking," Smith said.

He knew his friend had been a theft victim in the past. Michalyshen said the police have not determined if a robbery was involved in the death.

Police want people who have had contact with McFee in the last few weeks to contact them. Investigators can be reached at 204-986-6508 or at Crime Stoppers at 204-786-TIPS (8477).

The annual number of homicides in Winnipeg has dropped each year for the last three years. In 2013, there were 23 murders recorded, in 2012 there were 30 and in 2011 there were 41.

"We're gathering very detailed potential evidence, so that's time-consuming," Michalyshen said of the McFee case. "When we come across a situation like this, we're speaking to as many people as possible and conducting a detailed search of the suite."

jessica.botelho-urbanski@freepress.mb.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 6, 2014 A3

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