EXCLUSIVE: Portapique 911 calls reveal what RCMP knew from the start
by Paul Palango
In a 25-minute span on April 18, 2020, near the beginning of Gabriel Wortman’s murderous rampage in which he killed 22 people, three people called 911 for help. One was a desperate Jamie Blair, who had less than two minutes left in her life. Another was her 12-year-old son, who calmly and heroically, tried to tell the operator what was happening. The third was from Andrew MacDonald who, along with his wife, Katie, was ambushed by Wortman.
All three said the shooter lived in the neighbourhood. One called the shooter “Gabe”. Another said he was a denturist.
All three told the 911 operators that the shooter was driving a police car.
The RCMP has said from the outset that it didn’t know that Wortman was driving a marked cruiser until told so by his common-law wife Lisa Banfield, who purportedly had emerged from a night of hiding in the nearby woods.
The information is contained in 911 audio tapes provided to Frank Magazine by a confidential informant we are calling True Blue.
The time-stamped tapes are heart-wrenching and disturbing to hear but each one contains valuable information about what the RCMP knew at the time and strongly suggests that the force has been attempting to cover up that fact for reasons that are currently unknown.
Frank has decided to both report on the tapes and publish them online because it deems that the content contained in them to be in the public interest.
We acknowledge that the recordings are graphic. We encourage anyone who is squeamish not to listen to the tape.
Of the three 911 calls we obtained, two of them were provided to us in pieces. Digital audio software allowed us to put the pieces together.
The first call to 911 appears to have been placed at 10:01 p.m., as the RCMP admitted, but it wasn’t from the children. It was from 40-year-old Jamie Blair (JB) just before Wortman came upon her and murdered her. The call was time-stamped at 22:01:13.
Jamie Blair (family handout)
JAMIE BLAIR’S CALL TO 911
911: 911. What is your emergency?
Jamie Blair: (inaudible) my neighbour (inaudible) been shot.
911: I'm sorry I can't make out what you are saying.
JB: my neighbour is (inaudible) fucked up, I think he just shot my husband.
911: You think your husband’s been shot?
911: Okay. Do you have a home phone or land line to that location, where are you?
JB: I don’t.
911: What is your civic address?
JB: 123 Orchard Beach Drive in Portapique.
911: 123 Orchard Beach, is your husband injured?
JB: I don't know, he is laying on the deck, I don't know what the fuck is going on, there is a police car in the fucking driveway.
911: There’s police cars in the driveway?
JB: There (inaudible) police car, but he drives...he a denturist and he drives..those police cars….
911: I'm sorry, did you say there were police car in your driveway?
JB: There is an RCM (inaudible) labeled RCMP (inaudible) if it’s a police car or if it’s not a police car.
911: Listen, you’re at 123 Orchard Beach Drive in Portapique, Colchester County?
911: You called from 902 (phone number)?
911: Is your husband injured?
JB: I don’t know.
911: Can you see him?
JB: He is lying face down on the deck.
911: Okay. Has he moved?
JB: I went back out to check on him and the man was coming back up on the deck with a big gun.
911: Okay, stay on the line and we’re going to the police don't hang up.
JB: (inaudible) anywhere?
RCMP: RCMP, Bonjour. Hello, can you see your husband from where you are?
The tape cuts off at this point. We do not know what is on the RCMP part of the tape.
It was around this point that Wortman returned to the house, found Blair and shot her numerous times in the face.
After he killed her, Wortman fired a number of shots at Blair’s children who were hiding behind a locked bedroom door. One of those bullets narrowly missed one of the boys. According to a source close to the family, Wortman yelled at the boys, words to this effect: “She should have died the first time.”
In the aftermath, bullet holes could be found around the house, through various windows and walls, in the soffit outside and in a garage door. Wortman pulled some burning logs out of the fireplace and placed them on the floor in a feeble attempt to burn down the house and possibly incinerate Jamie Blair. According to another source, in a bizarre move, Wortman placed hot dog or hamburger buns on a stove and tried to ignite them, before he left the scene. The Blair children came out of hiding to find their mother killed -- horribly mutilated and unrecognizable.
They put the logs back into the fireplace and then went outside where their father was lying dead face down on the porch. Their family dog, Zoey, a nine-year-old miniature pinscher, had also been shot, but would survive after being rushed to a veterinarian in Truro hours later.
One of the boys dug into their dead-father’s pants pocket and pulled out his cell phone, before they both gingerly made their way over to the McCully property, through a path in a patch of woods to the south. During this period, it has been previously reported, it appears that Wortman circled by the house twice, but didn’t see the boys.
McCully ushered the children into the basement with her daughter and son and then went to check what was happening. It was then that she likely came across Wortman, who shot her in the head on her front lawn.
The next call to 911 was logged in at 10:16:30. It was from Jamie Blair's 12-year-old son. He and Lisa McCully’s 12-year-old daughter were in the basement. Their younger brothers had left the house and gone outside.
The boy took charge of the situation. In a clear and composed tone of voice, he heroically attempted to explain the gravity of the situation to a male 911 operator who couldn’t seem to focus on the situation or the possible perils facing the four children.
JAMIE BLAIR’S ELDEST SON CALLS 911
JAMIE BLAIR'S SON: Um, there is a crazy man, and he is burning down his own garage, he came over to our house, killed both our parents, and is burning down our house!
911: Ma'am where are you at right now do you know the address?
JBS: Yes, we are at our neighbour’s house in, in between... we are at … what's your address?
LISA MCCULLY'S DAUGHTER: (inaudible) 1-2…
911: Are you in Portapique?
JBS: Yes, Portapique! (inaudible)
911: K, Miss, miss, miss, I understand we’ve already got calls in for this area, you say there is a fire there now?
JBS: Yes, there is a huge fire.
911: Do you know which house you are at there in Portapique?
JBS: Um, 135 Orchard Beach Road…
911: 135 Orchard Beach Road?
JBS: Orchard Beach Drive. Do you know where Portapique Beach Drive is?
JBS: I mean Portapique Beach Drive is?
JBS: (inaudible) And then you take a left on the first one.
911: Okay. Is that where the fire is?
911: Yes? Okay, just stay on the phone for me okay?
JBS: Yes, that's where we are and ….
JBS: The fire is right across
911: The fire is across the street?
911: So at 136?
JBS: Yes, wait, 135 Orchard Beach Drive.
911: That's where you are at, right now?
911: OK where is the fire at? Is it across the street?
LMD: Yes, it’s right across the street from us.
JBS: Yes, our house, my and my little brother’s house is 123 Orchard Beach Drive, right beside it.
911: 123, OK. And the fire is at 123?
JBS: He came in, he shot my father ten times. My mom was calling (911) and he came in and he killed her.
911: Okay. And where is she at? Is she still in the house?
JBS: She's dead. In her room.
911: In her room. Okay.
JBS: And she is burning. (inaudible) is on fire.
911: Okay, where is the guy who did this?
JBS: We don't know. He pulled out of the driveway and left.
911: Did you see what kind of vehicle?
JBS: It was a police car, I couldn't find, uh, I couldn’t find the license.
911: Okay. Did you see anything else about the vehicle. You said it was a police car?
JBS: Yes, it was.
911: It was?
JBS: Like a police car.
911: Ok, alright, so we’ve got police are on the way for the other part of this I'm going to put you in contact with fire. Okay we have 135 Orchard Beach Drive in Portapique.
JBS: Oh, and they shot our dog, and half of our dog is missing
911: Ok, 135 Orchard Beach Drive in Portapique, Colchester County. Right?
911: Okay. Do you have a cellphone number or a number we can get you?
JBS: No. Alex, what’s your phone number?
LMD: We don’t have one.
JBS: We don't have one. Her mom went over there, and she hasn't came back.
JBS: We don't know where our little brothers are they went outside, I guess.
911: Okay, alright, you don't have a phone number or anything?
JBS: No, we don't.
911: Okay, alright, just stay on the phone for me okay, I'm going to put you through to fire for a second. Okay?
FIRE DISPATCHER: Operator.
911: It's 911 Truro for Bass River fire. Alright, so we got a fire across the street from 135 Orchard Beach Drive in Portapique.
JBS: Yes! and it is huge!
911: Miss, Miss, just let me talk to her for a second, okay?
JBS: It’s a sir.
BASS RIVER FIRE: 135 Orchard Beach Drive and where?
911: In Portapique, in Colchester County. She doesn't have a callback number, uhhh there was an incident there with a shooting and everything involved so there are police and ambulance going there as well but the house was also lit on fire.
JBS: And there are more bullets (inaudible, crosstalk)
911: Miss, Miss, just one moment please!
BASS RIVER FIRE: Is it secure there for fire to go ahead?
911: Not at this point, we are still getting all the other resources together.
BASS RIVER FIRE: Once it's secure, we can send fire over.
911: Okay. Perfect. Will do. Bye. Hi ma'am, Miss, you still there?
JBS: Sir, it's a sir.
911: Okay. Just one second. Okay? I'm going to put you through to fire..er to police. One second. Okay?
RCMP: Hello, RCMP.
Once again, the tape cuts off here. We do not know what is on the RCMP part of the tape.
Afterward the RCMP said it rushed to the scene, scoured the area for Wortman and went door to door evacuating people. That didn’t happen on Orchard Beach Drive and vicinity, where 11 of the 13 people murdered at Portapique Beach that night were shot. Nobody was evacuated. The RCMP told McCully’s family that the children were on the phone for two hours with RCMP members and support staff before they were rescued. In fact, previous communications tapes obtained by Frank showed that the children were left in the house for three hours before being rescued.
The RCMP also told the McCully family that the children were safe because the RCMP had members hidden around the house protecting them at all times. It was the same line that the force used with Nathan Staples who was on Wortman’s purported hit list, as well as at least one other person, who asked not to be identified. There is no proof that the RCMP actually did such a protective maneuver, but the McCully family, for one, continues to believe that they did.
Back to that Saturday night in Portapique. About four and a half minutes after Jack Blair was transferred over to the RCMP, another 911 call came in.
Andrew and Katie MacDonald had a cottage at the intersection of Portapique Beach Road and Orchard Beach Drive. They had noticed the raging fire burning at Wortman’s warehouse/man den at 136 Orchard Beach Drive and decided to check it out. As they drove toward the blaze, they were on the phone with 911. They then noticed that there was also a fire burning in the kitchen of Frank and Dawn Gulenchyn’s house. They saw a police car parked in the driveway of the Gulenchyn’s. They passed the Gulenchyn house, turned around and were heading back to it, still talking on 911. As they approached the house, the RCMP cruiser approached them door-to-door. Here is the transcript, some of which is barely decipherable. AM is Andrew and KM is Katie MacDonald. The call was logged at 10:25:31 p.m.
ANDREW MACDONALD’S CALL TO 911
911: 911, what is your emergency?
AM: Hi, I am calling from Portapique, there’s a house on fire down the road from our house. I just didn’t know if someone called already?
911: Yup, so you can see the house on fire?
911: What's the address?
AM: It’s...I don't know the exact address but it's on Orchard Beach Road.
911: Okay, yeah we’ve got a few calls there, so Orchard Beach Road in Portapique, Colchester County?
911: (operator repeats the caller’s phone number and he replies with an affirmative) … and you see the house on fire?
AM: Yeah, we just drove down the road to check it out. But yeah, it’s like a big garage. it's one of our neighbours, so, he is probably not there.
911: Okay, just one moment I'm just gonna connect you to fire to make sure, okay, just one moment.
911: (calls fire department) 911 Truro calling for a fire call for Bass River Fire, you got the call there. We believe it's 123 Orchard Beach Road?
KM: Oh my God…
911: …yeah, it should be close to that area, Orchard Beach Drive in Colchester County?
AM: There's another house on fire here.
911: (to fire department) He’s on the road there and he can see. You see two houses on fire?
AM: Yeah, we just drove by another house, and their whole kitchen is on fire…
KM: What the fuck?
AM: …there is a police officer in the driveway.
FIRE DISPATCH: RCMP are you aware of the situation that is going on -- on that road?
911: Yeah, he's saying there are two houses now on fire so...just thought we would update you there.
FIRE DISPATCH: Ok.
911: And he’s at (phone number). Are the two houses beside each other sir?
AM: No, they are down the road…
911: Down the road from each other?
AM: Yeah. And there’s a police officer parked at this driveway, so I don't know what... like he is coming around I don't know if he is going to talk to me or what?
911: Is it safe for him to be on that road right now?
AM: Hi … Hi.
KM: Oh God (screaming) oh God!
(Sound of vehicle accelerating)
AM: I’ve been shot. I’ve been shot.
911: Fire, are you aware there are possibly a second fire?
KM: What the fuck is happening?
AM: It’s my neighbor Gabe, he just shot me in the arm.
KM: Please help us …. 911!!!
The tape we were provided ends here.
The MacDonalds raced up Orchard Beach Drive and then came into contact with the first RCMP officer on the scene, Constable Stuart Beselt. They relayed to him what had happened and, as previously reported, Beselt apparently radioed his dispatcher the information about Wortman being dressed as a police officer and driving an RCMP car.
The 911 tapes do not tell the whole story, obviously, because we haven’t yet seen the RCMP side of the story. That being said, one senior police officer who heard the tapes says the conduct of the 911 operators was, at best, questionable.
“They are staying calm and controlled, so calm and controlled that they aren’t listening to the situation,” said the veteran cop.
“You can see them checking off a list entirely unaware that some children are trapped in a basement and that a demonic killer is not that far away from them. He could come back at any time. By the time the kids called, they already knew that people had been murdered next door. There’s no sense of urgency.”
The tapes strongly suggest that the RCMP has, from the outset, been playing games with the families, the public and, likely, the courts and governments. From Jamie Blair’s call at 10:01, the RCMP appeared to do everything it could to downplay any information about Wortman, his police uniform and his RCMP lookalike cruiser.
For example, it didn’t issue its first Tweet about the incident until a full one hour and 31 minutes after Jamie Blair’s call – at 11:32 p.m:
#RCMPNS is responding to a firearms complaint in the #Portapique area. (Portapique Beach Rd, Bay Shore Rd and Five Houses Rd.) The public is asked to avoid the area and stay in their homes with doors locked at this time.
The next morning the RCMP stated that it first learned that Wortman had a replica police car after his underdressed common-law wife, Lisa Banfield, emerged after 8 ½ hours or so in the woods told them so.
At 8:54 a.m. – almost 11 hours after Jamie Blair’s description was given to them, supported by the other two 911 calls – the RCMP issued this Tweet:
51-year-old Gabriel Wortman is the suspect in our active shooter investigation in #Portapique. There are several victims. He is considered armed & dangerous. If you see him, call 911. DO NOT approach. He’s described as a white man, bald, 6”2-6’3 with green eyes.
The RCMP, once again, forgot to mention that Wortman was dressed as a Mountie and driving a vehicle that looked exactly like a RCMP cruiser.
It wasn’t until 10:17 a.m. – a full 12 hours after Blair’s first call – that the RCMP admitted how Wortman was dressed and what vehicle he was driving:
#Colchester: Gabriel Wortman may be driving what appears to be an RCMP vehicle & may be wearing an RCMP uniform. There’s 1 difference btwn (sic) his car and our RCMP vehicles: the car #. The suspect’s car is 28B11, behind rear passenger window. If you see 28B11 call 911 immediately.
Still there was no public alert, no roadblocks and three more people would end up dying – RCMP Constable Heidi Stevenson, Good Samaritan Joey Webber and Wortman’s fellow denturist Gina Goulet, with whom he had had an affair.
One would think that all this would be the subject of the upcoming Mass Casualty Commission’s work, but the insider who supplied us with these tapes is skeptical about what the Commission will accomplish.
True Blue said that part of their motivation for coming forward is their personal frustration with the stonewalling by the RCMP, not only in this matter, but also in other cases in Nova Scotia in the past.
Finally, the 911 calls strike at the heart of the RCMP’s contention that it only knew about Wortman and the police car from Lisa Banfield.
That’s patently false, and raises serious questions about the nature of the force’s relationship with Banfield, whom the force has called a “victim” from the first week.
Now that we know a little bit about what really happened that night without the interference, deflection and deceptions of the RCMP clouding the issue, one can only wonder what more there is to know.
Finally, there is this. Over the past 14 months the RCMP have played games with the timeline, comically so in the first few days. It had problems nailing down when the first call had come in. At one point it was 10:15. At another it was 10:01. They even said, in so many words, that the children in the basement had made the first call at 10:01. They allowed the timing of Jack Blair’s call to be conflated with Jamie Blair’s first call – effectively making her and her tragic story disappear.
The use of conflation is an old RCMP trick to hide evidence. It’s something that we will see again in our next story.