Johnson-Bentley families to mark grim anniversary

Aug. 23 will mark 30 years since six members of the Johnson-Bentley family were murdered

Kelowna Capital News

Tammy Arishenkoff  is nearing a grim anniversary she’s been keeping for decades and the end of a personal journey she’s been on for months.

Aug. 23 will mark 30 years since six members of the Johnson-Bentley family were murdered, and one month until Arishenkoff will read her victim impact statement at their killer’s parole hearing.

“It’s going to be unpleasant,” she said, of going to the hearing for David William Ennis, or as he was previously known, David Shearing.

“I’ve been looking at his picture trying to get ready.”

Delving into the dark memories of that time and facing Ennis is daunting, she said, but she felt compelled to take on the task for a number of reasons.

For one, she feels like it’s her responsibility to speak for her murdered childhood friends Janet and Karen Johnson, even if it means facing down the man who killed them.

Arishenkoff also wants to support their surviving family members, who have been forced to face down Ennis and relive their pain whenever a parole hearing is held.

“Or maybe it’s because I just remember the devastation of 1982,” she said.

“It’s a moment frozen in time that none of us connected will ever forget. This man is evil and I want my friend and her family to have some peace. We can’t forget.”

At 53, Ennis has been in jail for more than half his life, yet, according to his parole records, said Arishenkoff, he hasn’t taken any meaningful efforts to facilitate his rehabilitation.

Knowing that he’s young enough to kill again, said Arishenkoff, is he should stay behind bars and the response she’s had from the community supports her.

In just a couple months, a Kelowna petition drive rounded up 8,000 signatures.

“I don’t have any idea what’s been submitted (to the parole board) from other locations from around the country,” she said.

Dozens of victim impact letters were also submitted.

“The community effort has really restored my faith in humankind,” she said.

And that knowledge is what will fuel her  when she has to read aloud how Ennis changed her life and  her community.

The Johnson-Bentley families didn’t return from their camping vacation in the Clearwater area in late August, 1982.

A few weeks later  their scorched remains were found inside the Johnsons’ burned-out car, which was hidden in a wooded area.

Police launched a massive investigation, pursuing thousands of tips. In late October 1983, forestry workers happened upon the Bentleys’ truck and camper.

Further investigation led to Shearing, whose 1984 confession described how he stalked the family in the 24 hours before the murder.

He claimed to kill the four adults as they sat around the campfire and told investigators he shot the two children moments later. In fact, the girls were kept alive and sexually tortured for some time.