The coroner's inquest examining the murders of three eastern Ontario women is highlighting gaps in the criminal justice system's knowledge about the interactions between one of the victims and her killer in the months before her death.
On Sept. 22, 2015, Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk and Nathalie Warmerdam were all murdered in and around Renfrew County by the same man who had a known history of violence against women.
Unlike Kuzyk and Warmerdam, Culleton "wasn't on the radar" for local police, according to one of the lawyers participating in the inquest.
Inquest jurors, who are hearing from experts and first-hand witnesses, are being tasked with recommending changes to policies and protocols to better protect and support survivors of intimate partner violence in rural communities in the future.
During the inquest, jurors have heard testimony from one of Kuzyk's sisters and Warmerdam's daughter, the latter of whom has also cross-examined witnesses. The inquest has not heard from any family or friends of Culleton, a retired government worker from Ottawa who owned a cottage just outside the Renfrew County border.
"The inquest team reached out to Carol Culleton's family on multiple occasions but did not receive a response," a spokesperson for the office of the chief coroner said via email.
'Please stop,' she texted
A retired OPP inspector has provided the inquest a summary of police evidence in the case. He described how the convicted murderer, Basil Borutski, made unrequited advances toward Culleton, repaired her cottage without invitation, and ignored her pleas to "Please stop."
After leaving voicemails calling her "Evil One," erecting threatening signs and destroying her property, Borutski strangled her to death with a television cable cord.
The two had met in the past, but Borutski stalked her in the summer of 2015, just months before her death, the inspector testified.
That falls within the same period that Borutski — who had previously been convicted of intimate partner violence against Warmerdam and Kuzyk — was deemed a high risk to reoffend while out on probation conditions he continually defied without reprimand.
It's also when contact between probation officers and Borutski's two known victims dropped off, the inquest has heard.
"[Carol Culleton] wasn't subject to a protection order. She hadn't brought charges against him. But we know that he'd moved on to [her as] another target," said Kirsten Mercer, a lawyer representing End Violence Against Women Renfrew County.
"It would seem to me that if this high-risk offender ... had moved on to a new woman, it would have been good to have someone keeping an eye on him who might have been able to intervene."
Under cross-examination by Mercer, Killaloe OPP Det. Const. Stacey Solman said police had no involvement with Borutski from his release from jail on Dec. 29, 2014 — after his conviction for brutally beating Kuzyk — to the day of the murders.
While everybody at the detachment was aware of the killer and his history, "we weren't even aware of her at all," Solman said pf Culleton.
If concerns about Culleton had been reported regarding Borutski, Solman said she would have gone to the cottage to investigate.
"In particular to Mr. Borutski ... there [were] other neighbours that knew information that nobody provided to us," Solman said, adding people could make reports anonymously.
The inquest has heard other testimony highlighting the barriers that might prevent survivors or witnesses from reporting abuses, testifying in court or seeking out support — including a fear of getting entangled in a police investigation that might trigger unwanted consequences.
The cost of saying something
Deborah Kasdorff, a former director of Ontario's Victim/Witness Assistance Program — which aids survivors once their abusers have gone through the court system — testified earlier this week that Warmerdam was reluctant to serve Borutski with a peace bond.
The terms of his probation, which were tied to his conviction for threatening Warmerdam's son, were going to expire when Kasdorff and Warmerdam discussed the pros and cons of a bond, even without Warmerdam having to testify against him at a hearing to obtain it, Kasdorff said.
"Nathalie felt like he had left her alone and she didn't want to start things up again [and] serve him with a document and engage him in another court process that potentially could make things worse," Kasdorff said.
According to a summary of threats collected by a psychologist who reviewed the killer's case, Warmerdam's sister told police he had threatened to kill his ex-partner "if they ever put him in jail."
Melanie Randall, a professor of law at Western University in London, Ont., and an expert in sex discrimination and legal theory, testified Thursday that research has shown women's hesitancy to engage in the legal system.
"Some women have said ... the cost of engaging in the system is not worth the potential payout," said Randall.
"So we need to look into the barriers to women's ongoing engagement and participation in domestic violence and recognize systematic adequacy."
Solman stressed the need to properly inform victims about the potential implications of filling out a domestic violence form. When that risk is not fully understood, "it often leads to an angry victim," she said.
"If they disclose something that may result in charges, and as a woman living in a rural community, I may feel like there's a greater risk to me if I disclose something or go before the courts that's going to make my situation worse."