Roger Allan Williams, who grew up on Rupert Street, and Linda Ann Wood of Falaise Place were two of those kids. They grew into teenagers, met and fell in love. Roger and Linda were part of a group known as the Project kids. The Renfrew Heights Veterans Housing Project had been built to house soldiers who had returned from the war, and their growing broods.
Although many of the fathers suffered from war trauma, alcoholism and unemployment, the streets bordered by Rupert, Boundary Road, East 22nd Avenue and Grandview Highway, with their unfenced yards and lawns, were a children’s paradise. Kids spilled out onto the roads, riding scooters and bikes, running the place like tiny generals.
The evening of April 8, 1968, should have been like any other — kids washing up after supper, families watching TV — but a knock on the back door of Linda’s home at No. 9 Falaise Place would lead to the murder of a teenage girl, and change the lives of two families forever.
After the story faded from the headlines, nearly 40 years would pass before the killer’s long-lost brother, a stranger in another country, discovered the tale of what happened that night and began a journey that would lead to healing — and an unlikely friendship.
By all accounts, Roger Allan Williams was different from the other Project kids — introverted, gentle and lonely. Born in Edmonton in 1945, he was the product of a brief love affair between Beatrice Hernstedt and Felton Williams, an Alaska-stationed American soldier in town looking for fun. Beatrice bore Roger out of wedlock, left him with her sister and moved to Vancouver. Several years later she married another man, started a new family, moved to the Project and sent for Roger.
Roger didn’t share the carefree lives of the other Project kids. He confided to Linda that he had been abused by the aunt with whom his mother left him. He never felt accepted or truly loved. No one wanted a bastard. And now he earned his keep as a babysitter to his four half-siblings.
“He seemed like an outcast,” recalls Stan Boutilier, Roger’s childhood friend from the Project. “I felt sorry for him.”
Roger didn’t talk about his biological father, and Stan didn’t ask.
Roger found a friend and ally in Stan. “We would take off for a couple of weeks, go downtown, live with the hobos for a couple of weeks. We were in the back of a cop car one way or another a lot of the time,” says Stan, now 70.
After an all-nighter the boys would hide behind the bushes as the sun rose and Roger’s stepfather, a street cleaner, passed by on his morning rounds.
Roger had a way with people; he could get on anyone’s good side. “We worked at a warehouse once for a couple of weeks in Vancouver. I’m downstairs loading and unloading boxcars and I find him upstairs sorting Brazil nuts with the ladies,” says Stan.
Something about the gentle, lonely boy caught the eye of 16-year-old Linda Ann Wood, a caramel-haired, blue-eyed beauty two years his junior. The couple fell in love.
“Linda got along with everybody. She was a beautiful person,” says her sister Elizabeth, now 71.
There were three children in the Wood family: Elizabeth, Linda and Mickey, each two years apart. Their father, Reginald, was a school painter. Their mother, Evelyn, was crippled with Ankylosing spondylitis, an arthritic condition that bent her vertebrae until, at one point, her head almost touched her knees. “You couldn’t go near her, you couldn’t touch her because she was in pain,” recalls Elizabeth.
Elizabeth, who married young and by the age of 21 had children of her own, says she began to hear stories that Roger was possessive, and that he had started to rough Linda up if he was unhappy with her.
Although she liked Roger, Elizabeth was relieved when Linda called to say she had broken things off with him.
Three nights later, on a spring evening in 1968, Roger knocked on the back door of Linda’s house, saying he wanted to return some things. Among them was a signed photograph — “To Roger with all my love on your 21st birthday” — Linda had given him nearly two years earlier. Linda stepped into the darkened backyard. Then her mother heard the screams.
Linda’s father ran outside and chased Roger on foot. Mickey gathered Linda in his arms, carried her inside and laid her on the kitchen floor. The 17-year-old tried desperately to staunch his sister’s bleeding. There were eight stab wounds, including defensive wounds to Linda’s left hand, lacerations to her liver, kidney, lung and three to the heart.
“She was alive for 25 minutes, looking from Mickey to my mother, back and forth,” says Elizabeth. “Blood was coming out of her mouth.”
Linda’s mother, crippled by arthritis, couldn’t reach down to hold her daughter as she died.
Nineteen years later, and a world removed, in the Deep South hamlet of Hazlehurst, Ga., 14-year-old Michael Williams, his mother and sister came home from church and saw their father, Second World War veteran Felton Williams, lying on the ground in the yard.
“We were pulling into the driveway and my mom said, ‘Why is your dad lying in the backyard?’
“He blew his brains out while we were at church,” recalls Michael.
“I remember the priest came over. I was really, really upset, crying. The priest said don’t cry for your dad. He committed suicide, which is a mortal sin. He’s burning in hell right now.”
Shortly after that awful day, Michael’s mother took him and his sister to the beach while a family friend came to remove every trace of Felton Williams from the home: photographs, notes, war uniforms and medals. Unbeknownst to Michael, something else was also removed from the home — a rich, secret correspondence the disabled war veteran had kept with another son.
When the family returned from the beach, there was no shred of evidence that Michael’s father had ever existed.
Michael was devastated. Over the years he struggled to let it go and move on. But in 2013, when his mother became ill and began to slip away, she expressed her deep regret for how she had dealt with the suicide of Michael’s father.
And she told Michael his father’s secret: Felton, an Air Force officer, had been stationed in Alaska during the Second World War and left a girlfriend in Edmonton pregnant. Michael had a brother, born in Canada in 1945. The name of his father’s other child was Roger Allan Williams. Michael’s mother didn’t know much more, only that Roger had been imprisoned for murder, and that Michael’s father had secretly been in touch with Roger throughout the late 1970s.
Michael immediately began to search. He typed Roger’s name into the B.C. courts website. There he got a hit: After a three-day trial, Roger had been sentenced to life in prison for Linda’s murder. He had served 18 years behind bars — a stint that included a notorious three-day-long prison break in 1973 from Abbotsford’s Matsqui Institution — before being granted parole.
Michael began to find poems online that Roger had published in prison magazines. Roger’s poetry alluded to his despair, his depression, a longing for freedom and hope.
Michael hired a private investigator who discovered Roger had become a drifter after being paroled, bouncing in and out of Salvation Army residences. Roger had made attempts to lead a good life, held occasional jobs, working as a building super and a labourer, but struggled with drugs, alcohol and depression. He was last known to have lived in a halfway house in Victoria.
Michael, who lives and works in Nashville, Tenn., travelled to Victoria in 2014, but no one at the halfway house remembered Roger. “So I just started wandering around Victoria talking to homeless people,” says Michael.
In 2016, he found a homeless person who remembered Roger. The stranger told Michael that years before, his brother had taken a bus to Edmonton, with a plan to jump off a bridge. Michael was later able to confirm that Roger had indeed committed suicide on May 2, 2007, by jumping off the High Level Bridge in the city of his birth.
Michael, 45, was devastated to learn that the brother he so dearly wanted to know had been dead nearly a decade. “If I had known about him before then,” he says, “this story would have been different.” Slowly, by talking to people Roger had known in prison, Michael began to piece together a portrait of his lost brother.
Attempts to connect with Roger’s half-sisters were rebuffed. But then he contacted Linda Wood’s sister Elizabeth, and a door was opened.
Elizabeth says her parents had been too traumatized to ever talk about Linda’s murder. Her brother Mickey never recovered from the guilt that he felt over not being able to save her. He turned to drugs and alcohol to cope, and was committed to Riverview. “I lost my brother that night, too,” says Elizabeth.
When Michael reached out to her, she finally had someone to talk to about the sister she had lost, and all the emotions she had packed away.
After getting off the phone with Michael, Elizabeth went to a closet in her home to look for Linda’s belongings that she had packed away after the murder, including the signed photograph Linda had given to Roger as a testament to their love — a picture flecked with Linda’s blood from that fatal spring night in 1968.
Elizabeth pored over old news clippings and the photos of Linda and Roger, and spent hours on the phone with Michael. “Connecting with Michael has been so healing for me,” says Elizabeth. “I got to talk about it again.”
She told Michael that Roger had expressed deep remorse for the murder. “All Roger did through the trial was cry,” said Elizabeth. “He cried the whole time.”
Two years after his sentencing, Roger reached out to Linda’s parents. He wanted to talk to them, and to apologize.
“My mother wasn’t ready,” says Elizabeth. “It was too soon.”
But after Roger had served 18 years of his sentence, Linda’s father supported Roger’s application for parole, says Elizabeth.
“Linda was the first person (Roger) really loved, and I don’t think he wanted to lose her,” says Elizabeth. “We felt sorry for him because we knew his story. He took my sister, but I never hated him.”
Elizabeth says she was saddened when she learned, through Michael, that Roger had committed suicide. She still feels empathy toward the boy who took her sister’s life.
“I think if Roger had known he had a brother, he might not have died that way,” she says.
For Michael, who lost his father too young and never had the chance to know his brother, the process of learning about Roger’s life has helped enrich his own.
“If I had not known the whole story about Roger, I don’t think I would be a complete person,” says Michael. “Dealing with the secrets, learning the truth, talking openly has been therapeutic for me. I came close to winding up like my dad and my brother.”
Michael and Elizabeth hope to meet this summer, to take another step in their unusual journey of healing, and perhaps to write another ending to the story of Linda and Roger — an epilogue of sorts to a story of two young people who were lost, but not forgotten.