When Steven Zinck heard on the news that Gabriel Wortman had gone on a killing spree in Nova Scotia, he was surprised, but not that surprised.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “But I also knew what he’d done to me.”
Zinck once ran an auto body shop but fell on hard times in 2004 and needed money to hang onto his family home in Mineville, N.S.
Wortman offered to help, but it was a big mistake. Before long, Zinck was evicted from the house his father built and its contents were sold off.
“Somehow in the paperwork he got it that he owned the house,” Zinck said. “He just sucked me right in.”
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The RCMP said Tuesday there were now 22 victims, including a 17-year-old. Some were known to the killer while others were not. The killer is also dead.
“We aren’t speculating on Gabriel Wortman’s motives. Trying to answer this question is part of the investigation,” the RCMP said in a statement.
But long before he committed Canada’s worst mass shooting, interviews and records suggest that Wortman had already left a trail of victims in his wake.
Even his family suffered the impact of his dark side; an uncle with an auto-immune disease had to go to court after finding himself the target of his opportunism.
In 2010, Glynn Wortman bought a house in Portapique, Nova Scotia. Needing bridge financing until he sold his condominium in Edmonton, he turned to his brother’s son, Gabriel Wortman.
Once his Alberta condo was sold, he repaid his nephew, but the denturist refused to release the property back to him, claiming his uncle owed him money, according to court records.
Asked to remove his name from his uncle’s property, he variously claimed he was owed money, that “he was kind of busy and would get around to it,” and that he “had to consult a lawyer.”
The uncle eventually sold the house and got an order from the Nova Scotia Supreme Court in 2015 granting him all the proceeds. Glynn Wortman could not be reached for comment.
Zinck had similarly put his trust in Wortman, initially believing he was a friend. Wortman’s denturist clinic was near the auto shop where Zinck worked and they were introduced through a friend.
Wortman was “smart,” and in addition to studying denturistry, he had gone to vocational school, learning to be an electrician and carpenter, Zinck said.
At the time, Zinck’s $38,000 mortgage was up for renewal, but his income as a self-employed auto body specialist didn’t satisfy the bank.
Wortman offered to hold the mortgage and let Zinck continue to live in the house. In exchange, Zinck would pay him back, along with an additional $10,000, he said.
Then he came home and was met by sheriffs. Wortman was claiming to own the house and had obtained an order from the small claims court.
Public documents show the house was in foreclosure when it was transferred to Wortman, who became the registered owner in June 2004.
Wortman asked for the termination of Zinck’s tenancy on the grounds Zinck was preventing Wortman from conducting repairs and maintenance.
“Mr. Zinck insists he is still the owner of the property and did not sign the property over to Mr. Wortman,” according to Nova Scotia public records.
Zinck wanted to take the matter to the supreme court but couldn’t afford to, the documents note.
The government sided with Wortman, finding that Zinck was a tenant and terminating his tenancy.
But Zinck tells a different story. He said the deal they signed said that if Zinck missed three payments, the house became Wortman’s. Zinck claimed never to have missed a payment, but said he couldn’t afford to fight it.
“He knew what he was doing,” Zinck said. “It’s hard to explain, I was down and out and he stepped right in.”
Wortman emptied the house, put Zinck’s possessions into dumpsters and sold the property for a tidy profit.
“He was smiling while doing all that; he thought it was funny,” Zinck told Global News. “How could somebody do that to somebody, and basically smile while they’re doing it?”
“I didn’t lose my house, he stole my house.”
Zinck said police told him he wasn’t his only victim, that he had done the same to others. Too broke to hire a lawyer, Zinck had no choice but to move on and forget about Gabriel Wortman.
He went to Alberta and never thought about it again until police identified him as wanted for multiple murders, including the killing of RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson.
Zinck returns to Nova Scotia every year to fish for lobster but can’t bring himself to drive past the home where he grew up. “It hurts me that bad that somebody would do that.”
“And then to do this.”
A collector of police memorabilia who wrote in his high school year book that he hoped to join the RCMP, Wortman drove a fake police cruiser and wore at least part of a police uniform while committing the killings.
Criminology professor Michael Arntfield said “wannabe cops” generally fell into two categories: those who have an admiration for policing and those who use criminal impersonation to commit a crime.
“Some just want to simulate the experience,” the University of Western Ontario professor said. “They buy police cars at auction … and make it look like an actual police vehicle.
“Then on the other side of the spectrum, you’ve got opportunistic offenders. Dressing as a police officer can provide access and allows a target to let their guard down.”
The few details about his background and the attack suggest Wortman was a combination of the two, according to Arntfield.
“We see a merger here between the wannabe collector and the opportunist who was using a disguise for nefarious purposes,” Arntfield said. “How these people were targeted will remain to be seen. But again, this is without precedent on so many levels.”