He was one of the most feared men in Winnipeg.
As it turned out, Ray Rybachuk died as bizarrely as he lived. But when an unofficial source emailed the Free Press newsroom just after noon Sunday revealing the notorious local ex-con and bully of a businessman had reportedly died while snowmobiling two hours earlier, our source wondered if Ray was trying to play a hoax.
RCMP confirmed the death of a 42-year-old man, who was going slow when his snowmobile veered into reeds and he fell off, perhaps the victim of a heart attack. The Free Press later learned the man was Rybachuk.
I know you're only supposed to remember the good in people when they die, but like many others -- from cops to criminals -- I can't find much good in Raymond James Rybachuk.
The Sopranos' Big Pussy look-alike, as I once dubbed him, was a man feared by many and loved by few.
This was the reaction of his most recent business partner in the Royal Albert Arms Hotel, where a drink hasn't been poured since late last summer because the bar hasn't had a liquor licence since that relationship veered into reeds of a different kind.
"I will be at the MLCC this week to reactivate the liquor licence for the Royal Albert," Daren Jorgenson reported after hearing the news Sunday.
Although that wasn't Jorgenson's first reaction Sunday. This is what he texted: "I heard Ray Rybachuk had a bad accident -- sucks to be on the wrong side of KARMA."
A day later, an unapologetic Jorgenson had even more to say.
"He was a bad person and it's a good thing he's not around for me. Not just for me, but the whole city."
If that wasn't enough, Jorgenson gave him one more kick.
"He was just a nickel-and-dime guy who tried to act bigger."
There were others, though, who saw him as bigger than the bikers he had been linked to, and they weren't referring to his girth. Either way, his criminal record and bullying behaviour offer a kind of mug shot of its own. Rybachuk was a convicted cocaine trafficker and money launderer, with links to the Hells Angels, who used threats to get his way in matters that were often property-related.
Intimidation was Ray's calling card. If it took using a chainsaw to carve a hole in the roof of a strip club he co-owned to send a message to a partner, so be it.
Actually, Ray spent more time in civil court than criminal; there are dozens of civil suits on file where companies ranging from funeral chapels to demolition contractors claim Rybachuk owed them money.
But there had to be a good side to the guy. Didn't there?
I went looking Monday.
What I discovered was a man who grew up in Transcona, the youngest of several brothers and sisters by the order listed in the 1994 obituary of his 61-year-old father, a railroad pipefitter. Among his siblings was a brother a decade older, James Rybachuk Jr., who was drafted by the Bombers as a lineman in 1985 and traded to the B.C. Lions.
The father's death seems to coincide with the time Rybachuk began making headlines, getting busted in a police operation after being targeted by a police informant. According to a source, Rybachuk vowed to kill the woman, who was paid $150,000. She disappeared into the witness-protection program.
Rybachuk reportedly had several children with several women, including his widow, who's in her mid-20s.
One assumes she loved Ray.
Apparently his beautiful 28-year-old blond "fiancée", who died of cancer in 2009, adored him. Alysha Sebus is pictured in her obituary swimming with, and kissing, a dolphin. The text reads in part: "The great joys in her life were her son... and fiancé Ray."
Cynically, perhaps, I wondered if she wrote that. Or Rybachuk?
Richard Wojcik, of Wojcik's Funeral Chapel, didn't know who Rybachuk was four years ago when they met to arrange the funeral, but he remembers how he made him feel. Rybachuk sent a chill up his spine.
"I don't know why," Wojcik said. "It was just who he was. There was something about him."
There's another reason Wojcik remembers Rybachuk. He still owes the funeral chapel money for Alysha's cremation-wall niche in Transcona Cemetery.
As I was suggesting, there has to be something nice we can say about Raymond James Rybachuk. For the moment, this is the best I can do.
Rybachuk's death will allow people to belly up to the hotel's old bar, and the Royal Albert Arms to come back to life.
Anyone care to drink to that?