Nov 10, 2018

A Twisted Road to Murder

Dianne Wood 
Waterloo Record
January 17, 2008

In 1992, young Michael Sirois caught the imagination of artist Randy Penner. 14 years later, Siroiswould murder Penner and Verna Bast

KITCHENER: When the front door of Verna Bast's home swung open for the last time, warm light spilled out into the darkness of the night.

And then the darkness came in.

Michael Sirois, an angry young man carrying a knife, had hatred and murder boiling in his heart.

Sirois, who had listened to Bible stories in Bast's home as an angelic-looking boy, was out to kill.

After his rage was spent, two people lay bleeding to death in the Glasgow Street home in Kitchener where so many had found shelter and acceptance over the years.

Randy Penner, 47, the man who opened the door that night on Feb. 20, 2004, had been savagely stabbed 22 times in the head, eyes, chest, abdomen, arms and hands.

Bast, 87, a widow described by her son, Philip, as a deeply religious woman who devoted her life to helping others, died of hemorrhage and shock from three stab wounds to her head and one between her shoulders.

Yesterday, Sirois was found criminally responsible for his actions, and received a life sentence for two counts of second-degree murder.

The double killings shattered family, friends and people across North America who had known Bast for decades, since she first opened her doors to boarders and people in need.

Rev. J.O. Yeatts travelled all the way from Texas to speak at her funeral. He met Bast and her husband, Aaron, in the late 1940s when he preached in Kitchener. James Lunney, a former Kitchener chiropractor who now serves as an MP in British Columbia, flew in.

And Penner's family, including all five of his brothers, came to pay tribute to the artist who loved spending time with his nieces and nephews, teaching them how to draw or taking them on walks through the bush and pointing out wildflowers.

After his death, his mother learned Penner supported five orphaned boys in Nepal and three teenagers at Teen Challenge, a substance abuse rehabilitation farm near London, Ont.

Penner's brother, Jeff, a well-known local paralympic athlete who faithfully attended Sirois' four-week trial, said the community doesn't know what it lost.

His brother tried to help "disadvantaged people, and he's paid with his life,'' Jeff said.

Penner lived at Bast's home with another boarder, John Routley, who had been there 35 years. Penner was there for 25 years.

They were a family, held together by their strong Christian beliefs. A small group gathered with them weekly as a house church originally named Shiloh Manor.

Sirois' parents, Neil and Angie, used to come to the meetings. They brought their only child, a four-year-old son named Michael.

In a portrait Penner painted of the wide-eyed, chubby-cheeked boy in 1992, there's no sign of what he would become -- a person a psychiatrist would later describe as "a time bomb waiting to explode.''

A person, who, at his preliminary hearing, giggled while a pathologist detailed the wounds he had inflicted on Bast.

A devil worshipper who hated Christians and performed angry rituals in his room with candles, voodoo dolls and malevolent chants against people who had slighted him.

"He said he had a doll," a woman named Christa Webster testified at his preliminary hearing. "He would picture it as someone who had gone against him. He would stab it over and over."

Webster, who worked for Waterloo Region running training groups for people needing to find work, had cut Sirois from her group. He was late, argumentative and unfocused in the group. She thought he had mental health issues.

He begged her to let him back in, then started describing what he did to people who angered him, using thrusts to simulate a stabbing motion.

"He said he felt good and justified in getting vengeance against people who had done him wrong,'' she said. "He was frightening.''

She stopped walking to work and locked the door to her work area.

Sirois had a list of people in his bad books. There was the store owner who accused him of stealing. Sirois was either going to torch the store, shoot the owner or stab him, he told a girlfriend.

There was the teacher who dared suggest he get help for mental health issues.

Sirois took a knife and went to the man's house to stab him, but he wasn't home.

Then there was the doctor who admitted him to Grand River Hospital's psychiatric unit and gave him a sedative by needle.

A girlfriend was sure he would kill the doctor and made him get in her car one day when she saw him approaching the doctor's office.

Sirois, who had childhood problems with aggression, often talked about "bumping off'' or harming people who had done something to anger him.

His desire to kill grew with each perceived slight, each revisiting of a long-harboured grievance in his tormented mind.

So its final eruption into murderous rage came as no surprise to those who had seen his potential for violence long before the fatal stabbings.

Some of Sirois' blackest fantasies surrounded his parents and members of the house church.

He blamed the church for the strict way his parents raised him. He couldn't go swimming, have sleepovers or watch television.

The Christians had ruined his life, the self-described Satanist claimed bitterly.

In fact, he went to Bast's home to confront church members about these allegations 19 days before the stabbings. Routley stood up to vigorously defend the group. He said members didn't like the way Sirois was raised and had advised his parents to be more lenient.

Sirois attacked Routley and Penner, who ended up in hospital with a concussion. Jeff Penner said his brother feared Sirois would come back. But he didn't take any special precautions. He had his faith.

"He said, 'I'm afraid for my life. He's going to come back and kill us,' " Jeff said.

"I offered to let him stay at my house and Verna could, too.''

But Penner said that if his time had come, "He was ready to go," Jeff said. "His faith was so strong, he didn't fear it."

Sirois' lawyers argued that their client, who had been diagnosed a paranoid schizophrenic, was not criminally responsible for his crimes because of his mental illness.

The voices he heard, the demons he claimed to see and his strange behaviour in court -- giggling and making nonsensical remarks -- were evidence of auditory and visual hallucinations, they said. He could not have known the murders were wrong.

Psychiatrists expressed mixed opinions at a hearing on whether Sirois should be considered criminally responsible.

Some said that although he was disturbed -- possibly even psychotic -- he could still make rational choices. One suggested he was exaggerating his symptoms and was really just a narcissistic psychopath.

Others said Sirois, who claimed demonic voices had told him to kill church members, was severely deluded and psychotic. The court heard that Sirois believed killing would take him to a higher level of Satanism.

Carol Schwartz has her own beliefs. Schwartz, a member of the house church and one of the first on the scene of the murders, thinksSirois was responsible for choices he made years ago.

"Michael received a bitterness,'' she said. "He became bitter as a very young child. The grace of God that was extended to him, he rejected.

"He didn't guard his heart. It's like the bitterness and rage and anger and unforgiveness -- those just filled his heart until he was welcoming it. He opened to the dark side and said, 'Satan, come in and work through me.' "

Schwartz sees Penner and Bast as martyrs, not just murder victims.

"The spirit that was working in Michael hated the spirit that was working in them,'' she said.

Today, the house that was once a scene of horror is again a home with a loving family. Bast's son, Philip, restored it and moved in with his wife and family.

When the door opens, the light spills out. The darkness will not return. 

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