Sometime during the evening of October 23rd 2013, homeless man Harley Lawrence settled into a sleeping bag inside a Berwick, Nova Scotia bus shelter for the night.
By 2:10 a.m. he was dead- after being doused with gasoline and burned alive.
This is the story of his last hours.
Harley was a well known figure on the streets of Nova Scotia’s Apple Capital, nestled between the North and South mountains that rise gently above the fertile and picturesque Annapolis Valley. At some point he had taken to using the bus shelter at 223 Commercial Street as a place to bed down for the night. One might think with his experience living on the street and the normally peaceful nature of the tiny rural town, he would be safe. But he wasn’t. Danger lurked the streets of Berwick that night and within hours it would claim his life.
Unbeknownst to Harley a dark storm was gathering in the form of two drug and alcohol crazed local men who were no strangers to crime and dangerous behaviour. And little did residents of Berwick know, as they slept soundly in their beds, that these two men would literally ignite the flames of one of the most horrific murder cases in this province’s history.
Daniel Wayne Surette and Kyle David Fredericks had spent the day drinking and doing drugs at the run-down residence of Daniel’s mother, Becky Surette. In fact, witnesses and those who knew them well said that’s how they spent most of their days. Becky Surette’s home appears to have been a local hang-out for friends and acquaintances of her son who regularly gathered there to satisfy their drug and alcohol habits- and even to purchase drugs- including hard drugs of both the prescription and street variety.
26-year-old Surette and 25-year-old Fredericks have been friends since childhood and, by all accounts, one was rarely ever seen without the other. That night was no different as the pair left the Surette home and proceeded to walk in the rain toward their fate- and that of an unwary innocent victim.
Details are sketchy as to when the dangerous duo left the house but security-camera video obtained and analysed by RCMP shows two men, later identified as Surette and Frederick’s, walking south on Commercial Street at around 1:50 a.m. The following is the sequence of events-laid out by investigators and witnesses- ending in the murder of Harley Lawrence.
1:50 a.m. – police-obtained video shows two men walking north on Commercial Street. At the same time Berwick couple, James Harvey and Shannon Taylor arrive at the Petro-Canada station on Commercial St. to roll and bag newspapers under the sheltered canopy for their delivery route. They see two individuals come around a corner onto Commercial St. and proceed south toward their location. Both witnesses see one of the men carrying container they described as resembling a ‘white windshield-washer jug”. Harvey notes that the men were walking very close together and that it was unusual to see anyone on the street at that time of night. He jokingly says to Taylor, “It looks like a drug deal is going down.” At some point they notice the pair cross the street and continue north toward the Irving station directly across from the Petro Canada. This is backed up by surveillance video.
1:57 a.m. – security-cameras at the Irving station record two individuals entering the property. One later identified as Frederick’s proceeds to gas pumps with white jug while the other, identified as Surette, enters the Irving/Needs convenience store and pays $10 cash for gas. Above-counter cameras record individual paying for the fuel and Irving night-shift employee, Tyler Hanson, identifies the man as a person he knew as Daniel Surette. Surette reportedly tells Hanson, “My truck ran out of gas and I’m having a shitty night.” Fredericks is not identified at that time by either Hanson or on video because he is on the far side of the pumps out of view.
Between 2:00 a.m. and 2:10 a.m.- the two men leave the Irving station and proceed north on Commercial St. in the direction they came from. Police-obtained video is able to follow their route. Hanson and Taylor observe the men leave but don’t pay much attention to them. Within minutes Shannon Taylor is ready to start her deliveries and pulls out onto Commercial St. heading south. Before she goes too far she recalls seeing a “strange glow” that, at first, might be from a lighted business sign. Video from a camera at a Berwick business also records this bright-orange glow and shows it as coming from the direction of the bus shelter, just off-camera. Her partner Hanson remains at the Petro-Canada station with his car finishing up his delivery preparations. Just as he is ready and pulling out he receives a mobile text from Taylor saying to “come quick” because, “the bus shelter is on fire”. Both Hanson and Taylor testified that they had seen Lawrence sleeping in the bus shelter when they drove by earlier. Taylor, the first person on the scene, observes the bus shelter fully engulfed in flames. She calls 911.
2:10 a.m. – Hanson arrives at scene to find what he says is a “considerable fire” and that the back wall of the structure had collapsed -the glass shattering – from the intense heat. Taylor snaps pictures with her cell phone.The two men are nowhere in sight.
Within minutes First-Responders arrive to deal with the blaze. A mere 20 minutes have passed.
And Harley Lawrence, is dead.
Next installments in NSCrimeJournal’s coverage of the Harley Lawrence murder:
All That Remains: initial investigation, crime-scene analysis, forensic autopsy and Persons of Interest.
The Smoke Clears: RCMP Major Crime Unit’s intensive investigation and under-cover operation- including an in-prison “Mr. Big” sting- that lead to arrests and charges of 1st degree Murder.