Family of Metchosin man waits for answers in homicide

The family of homicide victim Martin Payne, found dead in his Metchosin home the same week two violent offenders escaped from William Head prison, says it’s waiting for answers about whether there is a connection between the two events.

On July 12, West Shore RCMP found Martin Payne, 60, dead in his house in the 1000-block of Brookview Drive, near the Galloping Goose, after receiving a call that the provincial-government employee was missing from work.

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West Shore RCMP say foul play is suspected. An autopsy was performed on Thursday.

More than 20 police investigators are working on the case. They have made “significant progress in developing leads and suspects” in Payne’s death, said West Shore RCMP, who have called the crime an “isolated incident.”

That’s as far as police will go. West Shore RCMP will not comment on whether the two men who escaped from William Head are suspects.

On July 7, William Head inmates James Busch, 42, and Zachary Armitage, 30, left the minimum-security federal prison at about 6:45 p.m., said West Shore RCMP.

At an 11 p.m. head count, Correctional Service of Canada staff found that Busch and Armitage were missing. The two were recaptured July 9 in the West Bay area of Esquimalt.

The correctional service has not responded to questions about what, if any, immediate notice — phone calls, social media, door-to-door, alarms, news releases — was given to neighbours about the prisoners’ escape.

At 6:21 a.m. on July 8, the Correctional Service posted a notice of the escape on its Facebook page.

West Shore RCMP said they received a report of the escape from the Correctional Service at 1:15 a.m. on July 8.

“We responded immediately to the area,” said Cpl. Chris Dovell.

Staff Sgt. Raj Sandhu of West Shore RCMP said marked police cars and officers, including a police dog, were dispatched.

“At the first opportunity, RCMP air services were engaged and deployed to the area,” said Sandhu.

The RCMP confirmed they recovered a stolen vehicle at Rocky Point Road and Happy Valley Road in the early hours of July 8.

“Investigators determined the vehicle was stolen from the Pedder Bay Marina,” said Dovell. “The theft of the stolen truck remains under investigation.”

Brookview Drive is two kilometres north on Happy Valley Road from the intersection with Rocky Point Road.

The RCMP issued a news release and social-media posts about the escape at 10:45 a.m. on July 8.

Asked what police did to immediately warn the public about the escape, West Shore RCMP said the Correctional Service was the lead agency.

“Correctional Service of Canada is the lead for release of information on public alerts for escaped inmates and did issue an alert,” said Sandhu. “West Shore RCMP took the additional step of issuing a media release and social-media alert of the escaped inmates and the active police search operation.”

That’s not enough for Robert Enright, who lives near William Head Institution.

Enright said at 10 a.m. on July 8, his wife was walking along Pearson College Drive, which is near William Head Road, with their dog, Roscoe. The couple had yet to hear about the two violent offenders escaping from the nearby prison the night before.

A police car passed Enright’s wife during her walk. Since there would be little other reason for them to be in the area, Enright’s wife asked the officers if they were looking for prisoners.

“My wife’s walking through the woods by herself and the cops tell her: ‘Don’t worry about anything, everything’s good, we’re just looking for two people,’ ” said Enright.

“We found out about it [later] on the Metchosin Facebook page.”

Enright wonders what the prison, police or municipality could have done to better inform residents, noting that in another recent breakout from William Head, the prisoner was caught in a neighbour’s shed.

“I’m disappointed we weren’t informed about what was going on.”

In response to Enright’s concerns, West Shore RCMP said that any time there is a public-safety concern involving escaped prisoners, the expectation is that officers will work with partners, witnesses and neighbours.

“The escape of inmates and their identity is information our officers would freely share with the community,” Sandhu said.

On the afternoon of July 9, hours before the prisoners were recaptured, Oak Bay police found a truck on Woodburn Avenue belonging to Payne.

Three days later, West Shore RCMP found Payne’s body in his home on Brookview Drive.

They asked anyone who saw suspicious activity in the Metchosin area, particularly around Brookview Drive, between the evening of July 7 and midday July 9, to contact them. Residents with security cameras were asked to review footage during that period and report suspicious activity.

Payne’s neighbours gathered Wednesday on a bridge over Bilston Creek that runs in front of their homes to honour the life of their neighbour, said Kym Hill, who lived next door to Payne.

“It was very cathartic,” said Hill, adding the neighbours pledged to look after each other better, and to keep a better eye on those who live alone.

“We respect each other’s privacy but we really care about one another.”

Hill said it bothers her and her husband that Payne could have been dead in his home for days before he was found. “It’s just heartbreaking,” she said. “We hope whoever is responsible, that justice is served.”

Hill said there is grave concern throughout the area that Busch and Armitage were too dangerous to have been at William Head and were not ready for release, as is a requirement for acceptance into the prison.

“There is a problem there that needs to be solved,” said Hill, who previously told the Times Colonist that Payne moved into the house in January 2016 with his daughter, but had been living alone for some time, and described him as a kind and quiet neighbour who mostly kept to himself. Many of the houses on the cul-de-sac are set far back from the road with long, tree-lined driveways.

Hill has said her husband heard a commotion early on July 9, but didn’t think anything of it at the time.

Payne, who is from a pioneer Goldstream family, worked at B.C. Mail Plus, a government service responsible for preparing and delivering internal government mail.

His former wife and two daughters have flown to Victoria to be with family members.

Payne travelled extensively and would often meet his daughters at locations around the world, his family said.

Payne also loved his government job, they said, calling him a gentle man. Unlike some who live in rural areas, he refused to have a firearm.

The family is imploring anyone who has information about Payne during the week of July 7, or the whereabouts of his red Ford 150 truck on July 8 and 9, to contact police.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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