After years of gossip and rumours, Oland charges may finally lead to answers

News that Saint John police had this week charged Dennis Oland with second-degree murder in the death of his father, Saint John businessman Richard Oland, was both shocking and completely unsurprising.

Shocking because it has taken more than two years for investigators to lay charges in the case. Unsurprising because Dennis Oland has long been seen as the only target of the police investigation.

In a press conference shortly before, Saint John Police Chief Bill Reid offered the first glimpse of what police believe happened leading up to the morning of July 7, 2011, when Richard Oland’s body was found in his office in Uptown Saint John. Oland, 69, died from “repeated blows,” Reid said. (Rumours have suggested he was killed by an axe or a drywall hammer.) Investigators were not charging Dennis, 45, with first-degree murder, since that charge requires proof of “planning and deliberation.” Police “were in no hurry to make a mistake,” Reid said, addressing the years-long delay in laying charges. “It’s very complicated. Unlike most serious crimes, we had very little evidence in terms of witnesses, people directing us.”

Unsealed court records and few interviews that his friends and family have granted to the media have portrayed Dennis Oland as a good-natured son who was both deeply in debt to, and often in conflict with, his hard-driving father. He did not follow his father into business and instead worked as an investment dealer with the local office of CIBC Wood Gundy. (At the time of the murder the company said he was on leave and his name no longer appears among the company’s Saint John advisors.) Court records allege blood splatter on a coat taken from Dennis Oland’s home matched his father and had been dry-cleaned a day after as the murder. “Until I went over to his office, it was a very typical day,” he allegedly told police about the day of the murder.

Despite living for years under a cloud of suspicion for the past two years, Dennis Oland has hardly gone underground. A year ago, his wife Lisa opened a trendy vintage designer consignment boutique on Germain Street, among the most charming blocks of Saint John’s gentrifying uptown core. Dennis has featured prominently in the new business, Exchange on Germain. In June, he appeared alongside his wife at a Saint John Heritage Development Board meeting to explain the boutique’s plans to erect signage on the century-old building. That same month, the boutique’s Facebook site featured a picture of Lisa and a smiling Dennis, looking dapper in a black suit and red handkerchief, on their way to the Live Life Awards, which celebrate the best retail shops in Uptown Saint John. The caption read: “We can’t wait to see all the photos on social media this morning of all the fun that was had” and included a gushing comment from his aunt, Richard Oland’s sister, Lisa Oland Bustin.

Shortly after Dennis Oland’s arrest on Tuesday, his family, including uncle and Moosehead Brewery head Derek Oland, issued a statement unequivocally proclaiming Dennis’ innocence: “We believe our nephew and cousin Dennis is, in fact, innocent and we will support him and his family members through the course of whatever legal actions unfold.” It was the first definitive statement from the family since Richard Oland’s murder in July 2011.

The Oland clan showed up en masse on Wednesday for Dennis Oland’s first court appearance, saying nothing to the media. He didn’t enter a plea and has been remanded in custody until November 19. But given that his next court date is to set a date for a preliminary inquiry — a hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence to go to trial — the case is unlikely to be settled quickly or quietly.

That will be a good thing in a city that, having subsisted for years on rumours and gossip and waning confidence in the tight-lipped local police, may finally get some answers.

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