Investigation Discovery’s ‘A Time to Kill: Death of a Lady’s Man’ narrates how the investigators solved the brutal murder of 72-year-old Bruce Firman inside the garage of his residence in St. Catharines, Ontario, in November 2001. The detectives relied on old-school police work to catch the perpetrators but were not ready for the twist that awaited them at the end. If you’re interested in finding out more about the case, including the killers’ identities and current whereabouts, we’ve got you covered. Let’s begin then, shall we?
How Did Bruce Firman Die?
Bruce Firman was a successful real estate agent who had retired to the quaint town of St. Catharines in Ontario, Canada. He lived in a bungalow on Northend Tecumseh Street for several years with his common-law wife, Margaret Benesch. Elizabeth had a daughter named Elizabeth Gatenby from a prior marriage, while Bruce also had a son from his previous nuptials. According to the show, Bruce spent his leisure gardening, working in his woodshop, or cycling around town in the evenings.
On November 27, 2001, Margaret and Elizabeth returned from dinner at a restaurant in Niagara Falls around 8:45 pm to find 72-year-old Bruce’s body in the garage amidst a pool of blood. The mother-daughter duo ran across the street to a neighbor’s place to call the police. The officers of the Niagara Regional Police Department arrived at the scene to find Bruce had been hit in the head with a pipe wrench. The murder weapon, with blood and hair, lay beside the body.
The medical examiner confirmed the obvious – the cause of death was blunt-force trauma to the head. According to reports, the police found no fingerprints on the wrench but located a fresh shoe print outside in the mud. The partial shoe impression was located on the back patio of the garage. The officers initially thought it might be a home invasion gone wrong but found no indications of a break-in anywhere inside the residence except for the garage. The lack of evidence indicated the perpetrators did not even enter the home, except for the garage.
Who Killed Bruce Firman?
The investigators interviewed Margaret and Elizabeth to learn Elizabeth lived in Trail, British Columbia, with her partner, Jack Lich. She was the executive director of a youth counseling center in Trail, providing services like crisis intervention, substance abuse counseling, treatment for sexually abused youth, and advice on various youth issues. She had been visiting her mother for the past five days. They had gone with her to Niagra falls at around 3:30 pm. They watched the light festival, did some shopping, and had dinner before returning five hours later.
The police questioned Bruce’s biological son, who lived a few hours away, to learn more about the victim. They were taken aback when the son, Don Firman, told the officers how Bruce and Margaret had a broken marriage. He told the detectives his father was in the middle of a legal battle over the property with Margaret, and the couple had been separated for the last couple of years. He also claimed Bruce had told him if anything ever happened to him, it was Margaret’s doing.
According to the show, Margaret was a retired healthcare worker and met Bruce in the early 1990s. Her husband had recently died, and she was charmed by the former real estate agent. Bruce convinced her to sell her home and shift to St. Catharines, where she used her savings to buy the bungalow. She claimed Bruce helped her with handiwork and manipulated her to include his name in the house deed. She told the police the initial years were fine until they began experiencing marital issues.
The troubles went to the point where they decided to file for divorce and go on separate paths. As per law, Bruce was entitled to half the property, but Margaret did not want him to have it. The legal battle became so bitter that Bruce began living in the basement while Margaret stayed on the first floor. They had even stopped talking even when they met each other in the morning in the house. According to the show, Margaret had even allegedly hurled an ashtray toward Bruce during a bitter argument.
With her mother being the prime suspect in the homicide investigation, the police also questioned Elizabeth, who accidentally provided them with their first lead. She mentioned a 19-year-old guy named Dell, whom she had met during her bus ride to St. Catharines. The investigators checked the surveillance footage of the bus terminal to find the individual and Elizabeth getting into her rental car. Confronted with the evidence, she confessed to the police she had driven him to a hotel and paid for his stay.
The police found similar food containers inside the hotel room as in Bruce and Margaret’s home. They also learned the man had been staying with another male at the hotel and had recently checked out. They examined Elizabeth’s rental car to find fingerprints that belonged to a 17-year-old Tommy Nicol of Kimberly, British Columbia. He stayed close to Elizabeth’s home and admitted to the murder after the police confronted him with his fingerprint evidence.
Where are Byron Gatenby, Tommy Nicol, and Elizabeth Gatenby Now?
Tommy Nicol told the officers he had an accomplice named Byron “Dell” Gatenby who helped him commit the murder. The twist came when the investigators learned Byron was Elizabeth’s biological son. Under intense interrogation, Byron broke down and admitted his mother had orchestrated the hit. According to the show, Elizabeth Gatenby paid the duo $400 and arranged for an outing with Margaret so that they could commit the crime.
With Byron and Tommy’s testimony, Elizabeth, then 42, was also arrested and charged with the murder. In March 2004, Tommy pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to six years in jail – the highest a youth offender can receive in Canada. Byron pleaded guilty in September 2004 to the lesser charge of conspiracy to murder after agreeing to cooperate as a witness for the Crown.
He was also sentenced to six years in prison. Elizabeth was found guilty of first-degree murder on May 17, 2006, and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum of 25 years without parole. The police also arrested a fourth individual named Christopher Dilling, then 25, of Whistler, in May 2004 on charges of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. However, his precise involvement in the crime was not released. Elizabeth, in her late 50s, continues to serve her sentence in some prison in Ontario.