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The case against Lamb

Search warrants provide clues into how homicide investigations came together and fell apart

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From left: Tanya Jane Nepinak, Carolyn Marie Sinclair and Lorna Blacksmith. Shawn Lamb, 52, has been charged with three counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of these women.

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From left: Tanya Jane Nepinak, Carolyn Marie Sinclair and Lorna Blacksmith. Shawn Lamb, 52, has been charged with three counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of these women.

Allegations of a serial killer preying on Winnipeg's missing and vulnerable aboriginal women.

A mysterious and controversial deal where police arrange to compensate a homicide suspect for information.

A murder charge quietly dropped due to a lack of available evidence.

There have been few city homicide cases drawing the public's interest as much as Shawn Cameron Lamb's. And while Lamb is now serving 20 years for manslaughter after admitting to the brutal killings of Carolyn Sinclair and Lorna Blacksmith, Winnipeg police have said little about how Lamb came to be the prime suspect.

In recent weeks, the Free Press has been in court seeking access to search-warrant documents filed early in the investigation.

They had been previously off-limits due to a non-expiring sealing order placed by the courts at the request of investigators.

This week, partially redacted versions were made available to the newspaper.

The exclusively obtained documents shed new light on how police built their case against Lamb, how a deal to compensate him to agree to talk arose and other never-before-revealed aspects of the case.

While many of the details are consistent with what Lamb ultimately admitted in court, they draw only a preliminary picture of what investigators initially found.

 

June 21, 2012

"Mr. Lamb said he was going to do another crime, and that he touched the body."

 

The Winnipeg police homicide case against Lamb began as an inquiry into a woman's claim of sexual assault.

Two sex-crimes officers were summoned to the Health Sciences Centre to probe allegations made by a 36-year-old she had been sexually assaulted in an apartment suite on Sutherland Avenue. What she ultimately said was never tested in court.

The complainant, who had suffered injuries, spoke of what happened to her the night before, after a man she knew only as "Shawn" invited her over for a drink in his suite.

"Everything was going well at first, but then Shawn began talking down to and belittling (her)," police state in a sworn affidavit. She was pinned down to the couch and reported being seriously sexually assaulted, police alleged.

The woman told officers she eventually was able to escape, leaving behind her cellphone and an article of clothing. The sex-crimes officers then ask patrol colleagues for help in finding the suspect.

The uniforms started out by asking around at 123 Sutherland Ave. The caretaker told them there was only one Shawn living in the building -- Shawn Lamb.

Police knocked on Lamb's fourth-floor door. There was no answer. They dialed the complainant's phone number and heard a phone ringing inside the suite.

Lamb answered and was told police wanted to arrest him. He said he'd call them back after making "work arrangements."

At 11:41 a.m., Lamb dialed the detectives and agreed to meet to be arrested. Nine minutes later, he was cuffed and in custody.

Nobody could have known at this point what was about to happen.

Two other sex-crimes officers interviewed Lamb on video camera, starting at 1:51 p.m. The woman's story wasn't true, Lamb said. He described the woman as "disrespectful" and said he had kicked her out after she spilled her drink and threatened to call the cops on him, even though he didn't do anything.

Hours later, toward the end of the formal interview, Lamb made an unusual request. Could he talk to the investigators about something unrelated?

At 6:05 p.m., the cameras were turned off. Lamb wanted to talk about a "body," police said. "There is a human body, and it is in the city," Lamb said, according to the police documents. He declined an offer to consult with a lawyer at this point.

"Mr. Lamb said he was going to do another crime and that he touched the body," police said. He provided directions to a back lane in the West End, where the body could be found among pallets and wooden crates behind a garage with an antique car inside. "Mr. Lamb indicated he had touched the body three months ago," police stated.

"Mr. Lamb went so far as drawing the house and garage and marked the location of the body with an "X," the documents state. He didn't know if the body was of a man or a woman as it was in a plastic bag, he said.

At 6:45 p.m., the detectives drove him to the marked location, behind a home at 797 Simcoe St. As Lamb had indicated, decomposing human remains appeared to be there. A "suspicious circumstances" call for service was entered into the police computer. "I told you I wasn't lying," Lamb is reported to have said as police drove him back to the Public Safety Building.

Soon after, forensic identification experts working the scene reported the remains "appeared to be in an advanced state of decomposition." A medical examiner confirmed the remains were human.

But whose were they? That wasn't so simple.

Clearly, circumstances had escalated in terms of seriousness for Lamb. Four homicide investigators were assigned to interview him.

They said he denied having knowledge of the body he had just led police to, or that of another found in a Notre Dame Avenue back lane in similar fashion many months earlier -- the remains of Carolyn Sinclair, 24. The mother of two had disappeared on Dec. 11, 2011, and was never seen again.

Lamb was processed and trucked over to the remand centre, held on the sexual assault charge. The allegations in that case would never be proven in court and Lamb remains innocent of them.

 

June 22

Identification unknown

 

It wouldn't be until 4 p.m. on this day that homicide investigators got preliminary results on the autopsy of the Simcoe Street remains. Medical staff at HSC determined the body belonged to a female but, due to its decomposed state, dental records would have to be used to determine her identity.

It would be concluded later the cause of the woman's death could not be determined beyond "unspecified homicidal violence."

A homicide supervisor got in touch with a colleague in the missing persons unit and was provided three names.

The officer was told the body could likely belong to either: a woman last seen at a home on Elgin Avenue on Nov. 10, 2010 (her name is redacted from the affidavit); Tanya Nepinak, who was last seen in the West End in September 2011; or Lorna Blacksmith, who was last seen Jan. 11, 2012, at a Toronto Street home.

A section of the warrant documents following this step in the investigation was blacked out on the basis it's considered "police opinion."

 

June 23: A deal with a devil?

The case took an unusual turn. Lamb picked up the phone at the remand centre and dialed a homicide investigator.

"Mr. Lamb, in his conversation with (the officer) indicated he would once again like to talk to police about something, however, did not specifically isolate what he wanted to talk about," police state.

There was a snag attached to Lamb's offer. He told the detective he knew he was going to be in custody for "some time" and "does not get much in the way of family support." He asked for the police to put $600 into his canteen fund.

The officer and his supervisor called the Crown's office to discuss the situation with a senior prosecutor, which netted the following opinion: A deal with Lamb for canteen cash could be reached as long as it was in writing and Lamb affirmed he was the one reaching out voluntarily to provide information and wasn't approached or influenced in any way by police.

As well, Lamb had to declare he was consenting to leave the remand centre to go to the police station with officers.

The third -- and apparently final -- component of the deal was crucial: "that (police) would provide the $600 free of any exchange, and that the money was being provided to Mr. Lamb without having any prior knowledge as to what he would like to discuss with police."

Lamb agreed and the arrangement was drawn up by the homicide supervisor. He was escorted to the PSB and placed on video. He declined to speak with a lawyer, was informed of his rights "and still wished to speak," the documents state.

Lamb set about confessing to the killing of Carolyn Sinclair in his apartment in December 2011. Police said he told them they were using crack cocaine, that he hit her in the head with an axe handle before dragging her into the washroom and putting her into the bathtub "to allow the body to bleed out," police state.

Lamb said he left her there for about two days, the documents say. He then described how he stole plastic and twine from a Techumseh Street construction site, wrapped and bound Sinclair and used a shopping cart to transport her body to where it was dumped near a garbage bin.

He also admitted to killing Lorna Blacksmith, 18, in this same interview, police state. Lamb said he met her at some point in January 2012 on Simcoe Street near Winnipeg Avenue and went back to his apartment to smoke crack. A fight over the drugs led to Lamb strangling her with a modem cord.

Using more stolen plastic, he wrapped up her body after tying her hands and feet together with a beige scarf. He carried her to the garage at 797 Simcoe St. -- the place he had taken police to days earlier.

With a few exceptions, details of the deaths as outlined in the affidavit are similar to what Lamb admitted to when he pleaded guilty in court on Nov. 14 to killing the two women.

 

June 24

Warrant granted, murder charges laid

 

The warrant writer affirmed he believed Lamb was telling the truth. Much of what he knew appeared to match up with finer details of the physical evidence.

"I believe that it is reasonable that the information brought forward by Mr. Lamb is truthful and that Mr. Lamb committed the murder of Mss. Sinclair and Blacksmith," he stated. "I believe that only an individual involved in the murder would be able to describe, with such accuracy, these types of details."

Armed with a search warrant, police moved in to search Lamb's Sutherland Avenue suite, describing it as "unclean."

Several items were seized, including vanilla-flavoured and other condoms from a duffle bag in a closet.

This small detail appeared important to police, as they say they found a vanilla-flavoured condom near Blacksmith's remains.

Police got their first search warrant and moved in to search the Sutherland Avenue suite.

Charges of second-degree murder were authorized. The next day, Lamb made his first court appearance.

One year, four months and 21 days later, he pleaded guilty to two counts of manslaughter for the two killings in a plea deal with the Crown and received a 20-year sentence without a chance to ask for parole for a minimum of nine years.

There's a touch of bitter irony: Lamb's confession, which brought an unexpected end to two mysterious missing and murdered women cases, ultimately became a major burden on the Crown.

If it was tossed out of court for whatever reason -- and the belief was it would be likely excluded from evidence -- prosecutors had no viable case. There were no eyewitnesses to the killings. And the only forensic evidence was a single drop of Sinclair's blood found in the bathroom of Lamb's old apartment at 822 Notre Dame Ave.

 

Postscript:

The Tanya Nepinak case

 

There's still a looming question: What about Tanya Nepinak?

Lamb was charged with her murder at the time of his arrest on the Sinclair and Blacksmith killings. But the charge was ultimately stayed in court days after he entered into the plea deal and was sent to prison. The decision to stay the charge was not connected to the plea bargain.

In a brief in-court explanation, Crown attorney Sheila Leinburd said a review of the available evidence showed no reasonable likelihood of conviction. The charge could be revived if new information emerges.

The 31-year-old's body has never been found despite a sizable police ground search in the West End after Lamb's arrest, as well as a search of a section at the Brady Road Landfill in fall 2012.

What the warrant documents suggest is Lamb clearly said things police interpreted as being related to an investigation into her death.

We just can't tell you what.

Salted throughout the materials are redactions police say relate to the Nepinak investigation.

For example: In describing the substance of Lamb's June 23, 2012, videotaped interview, there are 12 redacted paragraphs deemed to form part of the Nepinak case investigators needed to make to get judicial authorization to search Lamb's suite.

What's interesting is how the warrant materials appear to separate the Sinclair and Blacksmith cases from anything police seem to relate to Nepinak.

It also appears any comments Lamb may have made to trigger police suspicion in her death came after he confessed to the two other killings.

The Free Press is committed to challenging the Nepinak-related redactions in court. Getting the fullest picture possible is of vital public interest.

"We fought for the right to this information, not only because of the questions raised by the Crown's deal with Shawn Lamb but also because the case of murdered and missing aboriginal women has cried out for answers," said Free Press editor Paul Samyn.

"Anything the Free Press can do to shed light on how police and the Crown dealt with Shawn Lamb and the insights it will provide into the cold cases of murdered and missing women is a fight worth having," Samyn said.

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 21, 2013 A4

History

Updated on Saturday, December 21, 2013 at 5:52 AM CST: Replaces photos

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