It’s been nearly seven years since Lyle and Marie McCann were last seen in their hometown of St. Albert.
The elderly couple was en route to Abbotsford, B.C. to visit their daughter when a chance encounter with a desperate and penniless methamphetamine addict led to their untimely deaths.
On Wednesday, Travis Vader was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for seven years for killing the McCanns during a robbery gone wrong. Vader claims he is an innocent man.
What follows is a timeline of some key events in the case, compiled from media reports and testimony given both at trial and during the sentencing hearing.
July 2: The McCanns’ son Bret met with his parents at their home, had dinner and a visit, and helped them load some items into their motorhome.
July 3: Lyle and Marie McCann can be seen on surveillance footage from the St. Albert Superstore buying groceries and filling their vehicles with gas prior to a road trip to Abbotsford, B.C.
July 3: Several of Vader’s associates see him in the morning driving a Ford F-350, penniless. Later in the day they see him driving a green Hyundai Tucson SUV, with money to spend on beer and minutes for his phone.
July 3: Several phone calls are made and two text messages are sent from the McCanns’ cellphone at around 2 p.m. to Vader’s ex-girlfriend Amber Williams. She believed they came from Vader as they reference their relationship. Several more messages in the same vein come to her phone from Vader’s phone later that day.
July 4: Witness Deb Foisy saw an elderly couple that she later identified as the McCanns at the Minnow Lake Campground, southeast of Edson.
July 5: A motorhome is found burning near the Minnow Lake campground southeast of Edson. Const. Liam MacNeil found documents and a licence plate indicating the motorhome belonged to the McCanns. He had the vehicle towed.
July 5: Witness Barb Gray saw a motorhome and SUV matching the description of those belonging to the McCanns at Wolf Lake campground, which is south of Minnow Lake.
July 10: The McCanns’ daughter Trudy Holder reports the couple missing after they fail to show up in Abbotsford as planned.
July 16: Police find the McCanns’ SUV on an unoccupied rural property near Edson. RCMP say fingerprint and DNA evidence place Vader in the vehicle, although defence lawyer Brian Beresh disputed the validity of that DNA evidence. Lyle McCann’s hat was also found in the vehicle, with blood spatter and a bullet hole.
July 19: Vader is arrested on outstanding warrants on unrelated charges.
Aug. 31: Police identify Vader as a “person of interest” in the McCann case.
June 26: Police investigators resume searching for the couple in a wooded area near Lodgepole, Alta. Police don’t say what led them there.
July 20: A judge declares the couple legally dead, despite their bodies not having been recovered.
July 30: A memorial service for the couple is held at the St. Albert Catholic Church, on what would have been the couple’s 59th wedding anniversary.
Dec. 22: Vader is sentenced to 33 months in prison for a string of 2009 arsons and break-ins in Barrhead, Mayerthorpe and Whitecourt.
April 18: Vader is charged with the first-degree murder of Lyle and Marie McCann.
May 1: Vader is convicted of drug trafficking, theft, and weapons charges dating back to Barrhead in June 2010.
Oct. 19: Prior to sentencing on those charges, a judge declares a mistrial citing evidence not properly being disclosed to defence, and orders a new trial.
Feb. 7: Vader files a lawsuit against the RCMP alleging they sought to keep him in jail on false charges until they could charge him in the McCann case.
March 19: Days before he’s set to face trial on the murder charges, Crown prosecutors enter a stay of proceedings after determining police haven’t disclosed all the evidence.
April 22: Vader files a second lawsuit alleging wrongful prosecution and misconduct by police and prosecutors.
Oct. 8: Vader is found not-guilty on the drug trafficking, theft and weapons charges that he had been convicted of before a mistrial was declared May 1, 2012. He’s released from custody.
Dec. 19: Vader is again arrested and charged with the McCanns’ murder. He is released on house arrest.
June 13: Vader is arrested and charged with assaulting his common-law spouse in Barrhead.
Dec. 15: The courts release documents showing evidence against Vader includes forensic evidence, cellphone records, and a bullet hole in Lyle McCann’s hat.
Jan. 26: After a three-day hearing, Justice Denny Thomas denies an application for a judicial stay of proceedings. He said Vader came close to making the case that his trial had been unreasonably delayed, but this case required a trial and should be judged on its merits.
March 8: Vader’s trial begins at the Court of Queen’s Bench in Edmonton. He shows up late on several occasions during the trial, and Thomas ultimately orders a bail review.
April 15: Vader’s release conditions are changed, requiring him to submit to random drug tests once a week.
May 5: According to court documents, Vader tests positive for methamphetamine.
May 10: Vader is arrested for breaching his bail conditions, break and enter, theft, and possession of stolen property under $5,000. Police allege he stole copper wire from a west-Edmonton industrial park.
May 27: Defence lawyer Brian Beresh finishes presenting his evidence to court.
June 22-23: Court hears the final arguments in the case. Thomas reserves his decision until Sept. 15.
July 19: Vader fails in his attempt to get released and remains behind bars until the justice releases his verdict Sept. 15.
Sept. 15: Justice Denny Thomas finds Vader guilty of second-degree murder charges. A summary of Thomas’ decision is broadcasted live.
Sept. 16: Defence lawyers for Vader launch an appeal citing an alleged error by Thomas for his use of section 230 of the Criminal Code, which was struck down by Supreme Court in 1990. The appeal is later dropped.
Sept. 22: Defence lawyer Brian Beresh files a motion for mistrial. He asks Justice Thomas to vacate the guilty verdict and declare a mistrial after citing a section of the Criminal Code deemed unconstitutional in 1990.
Oct. 30: Justice Denny Thomas rejects the defence’s mistrial application, but admits he made an error in applying Section 230 of the Criminal Code. He downgrades the second-degree murder convictions to two counts of manslaughter.
Dec. 12: Vader’s sentencing hearing begins with victim impact statements. Bret McCann asks: “Travis Vader where are the bodies of my parents?”
Dec. 13: Vader takes the stand as part of a sentence reduction application. He testifies that his Charter rights were breached on several occasions during his arrest and pre-trial custody. The application calls for a stay of proceeding or a sentence reduction.
Dec. 13-21: The court hears witnesses in relation to the sentence reduction application. Written briefs reveal the defence is seeking two concurrent sentences of four to six years, while the Crown is asking for a life sentence for the killing of the second McCann, to be served concurrently with a sentence of 12 to 15 years for the first.
Dec. 21: Thomas adjourns the sentencing hearing until the new year.
Dec. 18: Bret McCann and St. Albert-Edmonton MP Michael Cooper call for an immediate review of the Criminal Code to eliminate “zombie laws” – sections that are no longer enforced, but have not yet been formally repealed.
Jan. 3: Crown and defence attorneys present their final arguments. Defence lawyer Nate Whitling submits the defence’s pre-trial credit calculations. He asks the court to consider time served. Thomas reserves his decision and adjourns for three weeks.
Jan. 25: Thomas rejects the Charter application and hands down a sentence of one term of life in prison with no parole eligibility for seven years. He recommends that the sentence be carried out in B.C. federal penitentiary due to threats Vader received. Vader says he is an innocent man.
Jan. 25: Bret McCann says life sentence is “huge relief” to family and vows to be at every parole board hearing to demand the location of his parents remains.
Jan. 27: Vader’s lawyer indicated he would appeal the manslaughter convictions.
With files from Doug Neuman and Michelle Ferguson.