In the Preface of “The Murder of Minnie Callan” (Flanker Press) author Tom Gruchy speaks harshly of the “riff-raff” criminals he dealt with as an RCMP officer in the mid-1980s. “Punks” he calls the inept, often repeat offenders of the Whitbourne area where he served at the time. He calls them “Newfoundland’s carry-on gang”, referring to a once popular series of British comedy films featuring a troupe of bungling characters.
Gruchy makes the local hoodlums seem laughable.
I couldn’t help thinking of Donald E. Westlake’s humorous John Dortmunder novels. Dortmunder and his gang of thieves are as preposterously incompetent as the lawbreaking thugs Constable Gruchy policed.
But the nature of local crime changed on the night of March 13, 1986. Parochial crime was no longer petty; homegrown criminals were no longer relatively harmless goons.
On that March night, Guy Butt murdered 60-year-old Minnie Callan of Norman’s Cove while she was walking home.
Inexplicable savagery had raised its ruthless hand in Constable Gruchy’s bailiwick.
For more than three decades, the gruesome particulars of that murder have tormented Tom Gruchy. Now, in “The Murder of Minnie Callan”, Gruchy has let it all out, so to speak, eh b’ys?
To say Minnie Callan was brutally murdered is to state the obvious. All the same, to read that Guy Butt dragged her through the snow and threw her off a cliff hammers home both the horror of Butt’s deed and the unfathomable terror Minnie must have felt.
Just listen to Constable Gruchy: “Then I saw a body imprint in the snow, indicating it was moving, or, more accurately, was being dragged, and I followed the prints of its outstretched hands. I could see the fingermarks — no gloves — just fingers and thumbs trying to grab hold to something, anything, as the victim appeared to be face down.”
It is impossible to comprehend actions so vicious happening a short way down the road from all of us — kinda — eh b’ys?
The trail Guy Butt left in the snow literally lead the RCMP directly to his door. The police found Butt in bed with his wife, smelling of booze and still wearing his one-piece snowsuit. After a brief scuffle, the police arrested Butt and drove him to the RCMP detachment headquarters in Whitbourne.
After a series of Good Cop, Bad Cop interrogations, Butt eventually confessed to Gruchy: “I did it. I killed her. I don’t know what came over me, but I did it. I got to tell somebody.”
At the end of his trial Guy Butt was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 14 years in a federal prison.
Sentenced to 14 years but “out in seven” with “a new life in a new province”, says Tom Grouchy in his final paragraph leaving no doubt that he questions the justice of our legal system.
Hold on, there’s a bit more.
An ironic, possibly sardonic, capricious twist of Fate, I suppose it might be called.
“Fate has a say in the lives of everyone,” Gruchy states on an early page.
Guy Butt had no intention of murdering Minnie Callan. He didn’t even know her. His attack on her was a mistake.
On that “Fateful” March night, Butt waited in the dark to ambush and sexually assault a 16-year-old girl he’d seen at a friend’s house where he’d been drinking most of the day.
When Minnie approached Butt’s hiding place, bundled up in her winter’s clothes, unidentifiable inside her hooded jacket, Butt assumed she was the girl he was lurking about to grab.
He pounced — predator on prey.
At some point during the time Butt was beating and killing Minnie Callan, the girl walked past on the opposite side of the road, totally unaware that Guy Butt had had the least bit of interest in her.
B’ys, it makes you wonder if Fate plays with humans like puppets or if purblind Chance determines the way life on this planet unfolds.
“The Murder of Minnie Callan” is a horror story.
Some of Tom Gruchy’s graphic details remind me of Truman Capote’s seminal book “In Cold Blood”, an account of the murder of the Clutter family in the farming community of Holcomb, Kansas.
Capote’s book gave me the shivers half a lifetime ago. Gruchy’s book gives me the shivers today.
The most heart-wrenching line in the book comes from Butt’s confession to Tom Gruchy: “She was crying when I threw her over.”
No wonder Tom Gruchy was haunted.
Thank you for reading.
— Harold Walters lives in Dunville, Newfoundland, doing his damnedest to live Happily Ever After. Reach him at email@example.com