DAUPHIN – A Manitoba murder suspect gave a series of chilling confessions during a "Mr. Big" police sting operation that cracked a cold case mystery.
Extensive details of the high-profile investigation became public for the first time Wednesday morning as a three-day sentencing hearing for the convicted killer got underway.
Christopher Shewchuk, 32, has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for the March 1, 2003, fatal shooting death of Derek Kembel, 25. He was arrested in 2011 after RCMP officers posing as members of a shady criminal organization gained his trust and got him to reveal his dark secret.
"I (expletive) blasted him with a shotgun. I put a bullet right through him. Right through his (expletive) chest," Shewchuk said in his first admission of guilt, which was captured on audio and played in court Wednesday.
Shewchuk them calmly described how he fired a second shot "right through his skull," then burned Kembel’s body and ensured the scene just outside Dauphin was clear.
"I made sure there were no bones, no teeth, nothing," he said. "There’ll be no pieces of the body ever found."
The undercover police agent he was speaking to was playing the role of a Quebec-based "hit man" who convinced Shewchuk to confess during a January 2011 social trip to Montreal. The 30-minute conversation happened in a car in the parking lot outside a bar. The police agent repeatedly questioned whether Shewchuk was being truthful, warning him not to exaggerate or lie. This is important because police must ensure they’re not offering "inducements" to gain a confession.
"You don’t have to say s—t like this to impress me," the so-called hit man told Shewchuk. But he swore he was telling the truth, even offering to take a lie detector test.
The undercover police officer questioned whether Shewchuk had any regrets about what he’d done.
‘"When you go to bed at night do you think about what you did? Do you feel bad?" he asked.
"I feel worse when I shoot a (expletive) deer," Shewchuk replied.
A second confession, which was captured on videotape in Winnipeg in February 2011, will be played in court Wednesday afternoon. It came just as Shewchuk thought he was about to meet "Mr. Big," the leader of the fictional organization. Shewchuk was led to believe his new friends could make all his problems disappear.
"A picture truly is worth a thousand words," said Crown attorney Carla Dewar.
Shewchuk is facing an automatic life sentence. The only issue left to decide is parole eligibility. The mandatory minimum is 10, and the Crown has indicated they will seek to have it raised to 15 years.
Kembel had vanished without a trace, leaving plenty of speculation about what happened to him. Shewchuk was considered a "person of interest" by police but denied any involvement.
With no solid evidence – and no body – the trail went cold and the case remained unsolved.
However, RCMP decided to take another crack at solving it in late 2010 when they began a lengthy "Mr. Big" sting. An undercover officer first approached Shewchuk in a Dauphin bar, asking him to help track down a person who’d "wronged" the group. It was the start of a beautiful relationship, court heard Wednesday.
The operation lasted four months and included 58 different scenarios in which they gained Shewchuk’s trust with the hopes of getting him to confess to Kembel’s killing.
"Each scenario has an objective. Many of which are to promote trust and enhance credibility of the organization," Dewar said Wednesday.
Shewchuk was initially asked to help with small jobs such as picking up and delivering bags which he believed contained illegal product such as drugs and weapons. He was paid for his work and repeatedly asked for bigger and better challenges – at one point saying he’d be happy to kill for the group if needed.
"I’ll get the job done no matter," Shewchuk told an undercover agent in another recording played in court Wednesday.
During the sting, police learned Shewchuk had broken up with his girlfriend, whom he saw flirting with Kembel hours before the murder as they socialized together at a bar. Kembel accepted the woman’s invitation to go back to her apartment to continue drinking – only to arrive to find Shewchuk was there.
Shewchuk was quite angry with Kembel, whom he didn’t previously know. After the woman fell asleep, Shewchuk offered Kembel a ride home, drove him to a secluded area and shot him with a shotgun he carried in his truck after an exchange of words.
Kembel's body was taken to Shewchuk's family farm and burned before Shewchuk scattered his remains in a nearby field.
Shewchuk eventually told the undercover officers he killed Kembel and even took them to where he burned the victim's body and scattered the remains. The murder weapon was also recovered.
Shewchuk was always considered a suspect because he was the last person to seek Kembel. But he claimed his truck had broken down, and Kembel simply got out and walked away while he fixed it, never to be seen again. Suspicions arose when Shewchuk then left town for a few days, then returned with a brand new interior of his truck.
Kembel’s family packed the courtroom Wednesday and are expected to give victim impact statements.
"He was very close to his family. It was unfathomable to them he wouldn’t contact them if alive," Dewar told court. "They never gave up hope of finding out what happened. Fortunately, neither did the RCMP."