It is impossible not to feel an odd gratitude toward Randall Hopley, the suspect in a child abduction case that captured Canada’s imagination last week. On Sept. 6, Kienan Hebert, a blond, plump-cheeked three-year-old with seven siblings, was tucked into bed in his home in Sparwood, a coal-mining town in B.C.’s southeast corner. When the family awoke, Kienan was gone. Suspicion quickly focused on 46-year-old Hopley, a local handyman with a record of property offences and an apparent unnatural interest in children.
Hopley was described as “borderline retarded” by one of his lawyers, yet he eluded police for days. At around 3 a.m. on Sunday, the boy was somehow returned to the temporarily unoccupied Hebert home without being detected. Kienan, found dozing in an armchair, was unharmed. He played Frisbee on his lawn the next morning.
The Heberts’ house is surrounded by empty lots, and unless “goat trails” count, there is just one road into the subdivision from either direction. It would be difficult to find a domicile more suitable for surveillance, but the police had no explanation for Hopley’s feat. RCMP spokesman Cpl. Dan Moskaluk called it “chilling” at first, but later hinted, “we facilitated [Kienan’s] return.”
Speculation filled Elk Valley. Had the Hebert house been under surveillance; if so, why wasn’t Hopley caught? Did the RCMP mess up, or did they give a child abductor a safe-conduct pass? Despite a head start, Hopley was captured by canine-equipped Mounties Tuesday morning at an abandoned house just across the Alberta border. Later that day, police insisted “there was no deal made.”
Kienan’s father, a good-natured real estate salesman, got his boy back unharmed. He was in no mood to criticize, but before Hopley’s capture, was exasperated. “Hopley is [at large] for a reason: because someone didn’t do their job right,” he told the Calgary Herald. “The judges and the system failed us.”
Hopley lost his father to a mining accident at age two, and school was a struggle. In 1985, at 21, he was convicted of sexual assault and served a year and a half in prison. In 2007, after more than a dozen break-and-enter convictions, he was caught bursting into the bedroom of a child in foster care. He pleaded guilty to a B and E, avoiding unlawful confinement charges.
A search of Hopley’s residence turned up children’s underwear for bedwetters, “cut to imitate [a] G-string.” In May 2010, a family in Crowsnest Pass found Hopley occupying their cabin, with stolen children’s clothing, photos of children and sex toys. He had apparently knocked out a wall and built a room that could be locked from outside.
Hopley was arrested again by Elk Valley RCMP in May of this year for assault and violating bail. His history presents a bizarre parallel with that of James Roszko, who murdered four Mounties near Mayerthorpe, Alta., in 2005. Hopley, one of life’s natural victims, could hardly be less like the violent Roszko in personality, but like Roszko, defied inattentive courts with impunity, shrugging off endless run-ins with police in a hinterland of hills and valleys.
Hopley’s community, like Roszko’s, proved unable to protect itself; only Hopley’s own mercy and remorse saved Kienan Hebert. Liberals wonder what lies behind the political hunger for “law and order” policy: mandatory minimum sentences, “truth in sentencing,” three-strikes laws, and the like. The answer lies in the localized anarchy left behind when the law nods, whether in metropolitan neighbourhoods or small towns.