Published on Saturday, 15 December 2012 23:59 Written by Conal Pierse
The four men charged with first-degree murder in the homicides are described by police as members of the White Boy Posse, a gang of white supremacists with known drug ties.
The three homicides took place in September and October.
Kyle Darren Halbauer, 22, and Randy James Wayne O’Hagan, 22, were both charged with first-degree murder for the deaths of Bryan Gower, whose body was found on a rural road near Kitscoty, Alta, and Lorry Santos, who was shot and killed when she opened her door in what police believe is a case of mistaken identity. Joshua Petrin, 29, is also charged with murder for Santos’s death.
Additionally, O’Hagan and Nikolas Jon Nowytzkyj, 32, were charged with first-degree murder and offering an indignity to a body for the death and beheading of Robert John Roth Sr.
Police will no longer comment on the gang, citing ongoing investigations.
But while recent brutality has brought the gang increased notoriety, they have been operating in Alberta for close to eight years, said Ottawa sociologist and gangs expert Mark Totten.
“What’s really tipping the scale here is the apparent beheading of one of the victims — a very gruesome murder — and the murder of a mother,” Totten said. “When we see crimes like this, our reaction is ‘Oh my god, this gang is everywhere, they’re taking over cities,’ and it’s just not true.”
He said the loosely organized street gang has ties to the Hells Angels, and funds its activities through cocaine trafficking. But while other gangs take pains to reduce their visibility, Totten said the Posse loudly advertises with Nazi imagery and elaborate tattoos.
“They’re white supremacists and they make no bones about that,” he said. “They’re also really good at making money.”
The gang first came to light in Edmonton in 2004 after five members were kidnapped and assaulted by rival gang the Crazy Dragon Killers.
Then in 2007, White Boy member William Roy King was charged in the death of fellow gang member Martin William Kent, who was run over and killed while trying to stop King from stealing his car. King later plead guilty to criminal negligence causing death and was sentenced to three and a half years.
The gang was targeted in 2008 by an undercover police operation code-named Project Goliath. The sting resulted in the arrest of 17 gang members, with warrants issued for five others. At the time, police claimed to have dealt a crippling blow to the Posse, who they described in court documents as dial-a-dopers operating in rural Alberta.
However, of those initial arrests, three received prison sentences, ranging from 40 days to three years, two received fines, and charges were stayed or withdrawn in eight instances, according to court records.
The gang has since spread and now operates in Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories, said police.
Edmonton criminologist Bill Pitt said the gang has carved out a niche in smaller communities where larger gangs don’t operate. He said a lack of law enforcement resources and a preponderance of people with extreme white-ring views makes rural Alberta ideal for white supremacist organizations.
“It’s always been a good place to hide and to fly under the radar, and if you keep your head down, it’s a good place to do business,” Pitt said. “These guys did not keep their heads down.”
Totten interviewed members of the White Boy Posse for his book Nasty, Brutish, and Short: The lives of gang members in Canada. He said they come from impoverished backgrounds and experienced regular violence and abuse. He said racist attitudes were also first learned at home and later manipulated by gang leaders.
“The white supremacist ideology really fills a void in their lives,” he said. “[It’s] very structured, very rigid, and has a strong sense of belonging.”