'Crime of vengeance': Saskatchewan RCMP say witnesses key to solving brutal slaying

Mounties suspected Tiki Laverdiere was dead before her burned, bludgeoned body was found wrapped in a carpet under rocks in a Saskatchewan pond in the summer of 2019.

She was a 25-year-old mother of two.

Her death launched five years of investigation and prosecutions, revealing a story of suspicion, drugs, booze and revenge, climaxing in one long night of torture.

Ten people were eventually convicted, with the final cases recently wrapped in court, freeing up documents that had been under a publication ban.

The savagery of the crime helped clear the path for investigators, said Supt. Joshua Graham, head of the Saskatchewan RCMP major crimes unit.

"When you have something like this, something so brutal, people became very self-interested as they were looking at life in jail and very serious ramifications," Graham said.

“I think that's just the brutal nature of this ... people were a little more forthcoming with what they knew.”

North Battleford is a city of nearly 14,000 in northwest Saskatchewan, not far from the Alberta boundary. It was where Laverdiere spent her last days in April 2019.

Court documents reveal how the killing was shaped by events three weeks earlier, in or around Edmonton, when Laverdiere's friend Tristen Cook-Buckle was killed.

His family was told he was beaten, stabbed and shot in the head before his body and the vehicle he was in were set on fire.

The death was devastating for his mother, Nicole Cook. Together, she and Laverdiere travelled from Edmonton to Thunderchild First Nation near North Battleford for the funeral.

By then suspicions were forming. What did Laverdiere know? Did she have something to do with killing Cook-Buckle?

The documents say one person who wanted answers was Soaring Eagle Whitstone, a relative who was also the head – formal title, "Queen" – of a street gang.

Whitstone considered Cook-Buckle one of her grandchildren.

Whitstone told his mother that Laverdiere was involved in the killing and had “messed with the wrong family," say the documents.

Three nights later, at the home of one of Cook’s relatives in North Battleford, after days of drinking and drug use, Whitstone took action. The documents detail what happened, and what witnesses heard.

“All right my soldiers,” Whitstone said, and gang members moved in, punching Laverdiere so hard in the face her nose split.

As the blows came down, Cook yelled that Laverdiere knew more than she was telling.

The group left the home and went to Whitstone’s place, marching their bloodied, shoeless victim with them.

“Hostage in the house!” Whitstone yelled as they hauled Laverdiere inside, tied her to a chair and continued to beat her.

Laverdiere was ordered to write down what she knew about Cook-Buckle's death. The note was never found.

The documents say the beating continued until neighbours complained about the noise.

Laverdiere was then taken to a third and final house, hustled down to the basement, tied, gagged and beaten with fists and a metal pipe for hours.

Cook jumped up and down on her torso. The music was cranked up to drown out her cries and screams.

A flammable substance was poured onto Laverdiere's head and lit ablaze.

“My son burned,” Cook told Laverdiere. “Now you can burn.”

“It burns,” Laverdiere cried. “Please put it out.”

The fire was extinguished. Smoke and a foul odour filled the basement.

Whitstone said Laverdiere sounded like a ”dying dog," say the documents.

She then told others to finish Laverdiere.

A knife was held out, and someone in the group cut Laverdiere’s neck.

Her body was wrapped in carpet and plastic, put it in the back of a stolen truck, under a pile of garbage, and driven to the pond.

Before leaving, one gang member levelled a sawed-off rifle at Laverdiere’s head and fired — echoing Cook-Buckle’s final moment.

When the group returned, Whitstone congratulated them on a job well done.

After two weeks, Laverdiere’s mother reported her missing.

Police grew suspicious when Cook went on social media to help look for Laverdiere. Cook posted a picture of them together, arm in arm. In the photo, Laverdiere is wearing a black sweatshirt.

A month later, on July 11, 2019, Laverdiere's body was found in the pond, wearing the same black sweatshirt.

Police needed dental records to identify her. Her ribs were smashed. There were puncture wounds, a wire twisted around her forearms, packing tape around her lower legs. Her hair and scalp were burned.

A necklace with a heart-shaped pendant was stuck to her head. The documents say Laverdiere had purchased the pendant to go with a matching one she gave Cook at the funeral.

Cook eventually pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was given a life sentence with no possibility of parole for 10 years.

Whitstone was convicted of first-degree murder and automatically sentenced to life in prison with no parole eligibility for 25 years.

There were other convictions for gang members involved to varying degrees.

Laverdiere’s family have said they will never have true closure.

"Her two sons will never again get to feel the embrace of their mother’s arms around them. She won’t be there for them when they need her most,” the family said in a statement provided through the RCMP.

“They will never hear her tell them how much she loves them.”

Cook-Buckle’s killing has not been solved.

Graham said Mounties believe Laverdiere had no new information about his death, and they won't ever know what she wrote in that note as she was being tortured.

“Based on what people had told us during interviews, there was no confession or new information that related to who killed him,” Graham said.

Drugs, the officer said, were a theme through the tragedy.

"I think it's a combination of drugs, those suspicions and just the violent nature of the people (involved),” he said.

"This really was a crime of vengeance."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 25, 2024.

Jeremy Simes, The Canadian Press