'I feared for her,' testifies friend of homicide victim in Borutski trial
Sketch by Greg Banning: The triple murder trial of Basil Borutski began in Ottawa Oct. 2. The trial is expected to continue into the New Year.
OTTAWA - Carol Culleton told a friend all about her troubles with the handyman she had met in Wilno, and as Jeff Shelp testified Friday, he saw red flags all over the man Culleton called “Basil.”
Shelp, 55, a senior analyst with the Department of National Defence and friend of Culleton’s, told court Friday she had become increasingly worried about her friendship with “Basil” or “Baz” in the months before her death.
Basil Borutski, 59, remained silent in the prisoner’s box defending himself on three counts of first degree murder in the Sept. 22, 2015 rampage that, according to the Crown’s timeline, began when Borutski beat and strangled Culleton to death inside her Combermere cottage before killing Anastasia Kuzyk, 36, and Nathalie Warmerdam, 48, with a shotgun.
The last time Shelp saw Culleton, at her retirement party four days before she was killed, she told him she was headed up to the cottage on Kamaniskeg Lake to meet with a real estate agent, as she hoped to put the property up for sale.
“I told her to not go alone. In fact, I told her many times before that she should not go up to the cottage alone, that she should have somebody with her when she’s up there at all times,” said Shelp. “I feared for her.”
Shelp had befriended Culleton over the last few years through casual get-togethers with friends at pubs in Manotick and Kemptville.
“We adopted her as one of the boys — we called her Carl,” said Shelp, describing Culleton as a “bubbly, upbeat” personality.
But her demeanour would change when she brought up the handyman.
The first of three incidents that stuck out, Shelp said, happened around the spring of 2015, when Culleton had recently returned from the cottage and said a number of flower beds “were all ripped out and the flower pots were all smashed.”
Culleton told Shelp she had met the handyman in a bar in Wilno, and he offered to do some “odd jobs” around her cottage and “he prettied up the place.”
“She explained to me that he needed something to do, he needed to keep busy, that he felt that people around were against him,” Shelp said. “And Carol said to me that she felt there was good in everybody and that it was important for her to be his friend, because he felt alienated to the community.”
Culleton believed Basil was the one who smashed the flower pots, Shelp testified, and “she didn’t know what to make of the situation.”
“I said to her I thought this was a red flag,” he said.
Weeks later, Culleton told Shelp of another troubling incident from her weekend at the cottage, when she invited several people from the Wilno area, including the handyman, back to the cottage to play cards over drinks.
Culleton said “Basil” got up and stormed out when she sat playfully on another man’s knee.
Shelp told her it sounded like jealousy, and asked if there was any romantic relationship between her and Basil. She answered no, Shelp said.
“At no time,” said Shelp. “In fact quite the opposite. She was very emphatic that there was (no relationship.) She told me that she would talk to him and make sure he understood … they were just friends and that’s what she wanted the relationship to be.”
At that time, and until her death, Culleton was dating a friend of Shelp’s named Rocky, he said.
About a month later, Culleton arrived home from work to find Basil standing in the driveway of her North Gower home.
“This shook her terribly. She was very distraught; she had not at that time told him where she lived,” Shelp said. “So that really shook her up.”
Shelp said Culleton appeared frantic after the incident when their group met for regular Tuesday night drinks.
“She was pacing up and down instead of sitting at the bar, she was very quiet and you could see the look on her face. … You could hear it in her voice that she was scared.
“I suggested very strongly that she call the police. I do not know if she ever called the police.”
Days before she was killed, Shelp told Culleton she “shouldn’t be alone up there” at her cottage. “I said that many times since that incident at her house.”
Court heard when Culleton arrived at her cottage to prepare it for the real estate appraisal just before her death, she was greeted by a number of signs handwritten in black marker on pieces of wood placed deliberately around the property.
When police recovered Culleton’s digital camera later from the homicide scene, they found photographs of each of those signs, 20 in all, most containing well-wishes for her retirement. Some were addressed to “Jiggy,” a nickname Borutski had for Culleton, as he acknowledged in a police interrogation the day after the killings.
The last time Shelp saw his friend, he recalled seeing a number of texts or emails on her phone.
“She told me she was getting a lot of these from Basil and that she was talking to him about trying to make some distance between her and him,” he said.
Under cross-examination from amicus curiae James Foord, Shelp referred back to his May 2017 statement to police, when he told police Culleton didn’t believe “Basil” posed a danger.
“He will not hurt me,” she told him. “I am his only friend.”