It's a question that's always asked -- but rarely answered -- every time there is a violent gun crime in Winnipeg. How did the weapon find its way into the wrong hands?
For police and justice officials investigating a recent double homicide, the search for clues took them somewhere they never expected, the Free Press has learned.
A Glock nine-millimetre pistol used to kill two men in the inner city once belonged to a veteran New York Police Department officer, who was allowed to keep his firearm upon retirement when he moved to Florida.
Then, for reasons not entirely clear, the ex-cop decided to sell his gun at a local trade show. From there, it snaked its way north through the United States, was smuggled across the Canadian border and into the possession of a dangerous Winnipeg criminal looking to settle a score.
The consequences were deadly.
'Our gun laws here are far more stringent. What we do on our side of the border is a lot different'
Darren Joey Swampy, 19, and Lee Brady Spence, 22, were gunned down on Feb. 5, 2011. Their killer, Randy Murray Williams, 29, pleaded guilty last year to two counts of second-degree murder and was given life in prison with no chance of parole for at least 12 years.
The surprising background of the murder weapon has shed light on a rarely known policy in the United States that allows police officers to keep their weapons after calling it a career, with no restrictions on what they can ultimately do with them.
"Most people will keep their firearms. That's the way it's done here. Obviously, our gun laws down here are much different than in Canada," Det. Martin Speechley, a member of the NYPD media relations office, said in a recent interview.
"Once they leave their purview with the NYPD, it has nothing to do with us."
The retired officer declined repeated requests to be interviewed.
"Obviously, (the pistol) got into nefarious hands. But how could that possibly have anything to do with us?" asked Speechley. He said the Winnipeg case is the first one he's ever heard of where a former officer's firearm was used in another crime.
Const. John Hurley, a Winnipeg member of the National Weapons Enforcement Support Team, said officers worked extensively hard to track the gun once it surfaced locally following the fatal double-shooting.
They believe the NYPD officer retired around 2008 after a lengthy career and took the gun with him on his move south. Within a year or two, he sold the Glock. His reason for parting with it isn't known.
"They have lots of flea markets, gun shows, that sort of thing," said Hurley. "Lots of times, these types of guns get bought and then float around, become a precious commodity. In this case, it became a true criminal gun. It would have been smuggled at some point into Canada."
Who smuggled it, when and how are still mysteries. But police don't believe the gun was used in any other crime, either in the U.S. or Canada, prior to the Winnipeg attack.
Superintendent Gord Perrier, of the Winnipeg Police Service's criminal investigation bureau, said police officers in Canada used to have a similar option to take their guns with them upon retiring. But that policy changed several years ago, making the firearms property of the police service.
"Our gun laws here are far more stringent. What we do on our side of the border is a lot different," he said.
Still, police are concerned the handgun landed on Canadian soil. And Perrier said probably no one feels worse than the original owner of the gun, given what later occurred.
"There's not a cop on Earth who wouldn't be upset about that," he said.
Williams, the convicted killer, never told investigators how he got the gun. Hurley said it's possible it had only surfaced on the streets days before the killing.
Lawyers said Williams had been in a fight with a man outside a Ross Avenue house party. He was kicked out and hatched a plan to return -- this time armed -- to seek revenge. As he walked down the street, an angry Williams spotted Swampy and Lee near Ellen Street and Elgin Avenue. He believed they were in a group that included the man he'd been fighting with at the party.
"Where's my guy?" Williams asked. While standing in the middle of the group, Williams pulled out the gun and began shooting "indiscriminately," Crown attorney Brian Bell told court at the sentencing hearing.
Swampy was shot in the chest and collapsed. Spence was also struck and then shot seven more times by Williams while he was on the ground.
In all, 15 shots were fired. Williams was arrested hours later, and the gun was recovered in May 2011 as police continued their investigation.
—with files from James Turner