Keith White’s life started out in a hard way and came to a harsh end. His family is tormented with suspicions of how he died.
A handwritten letter copied and taped to utility poles in downtown St. John’s spells out their anguish over his death, but the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC) says the case is closed.
Tina Squires isn’t willing to accept that her brother died of natural causes, because the family thinks police botched the case, failing to follow up leads and ignoring allegations that White was assaulted on occasion by a supposed friend who was also a neighbour and hung out at White’s downtown St. John’s apartment.
An RNC spokesman said Friday the police received one anonymous report of an assault prior to White’s death. It was investigated and White didn’t provide any information to police.
Squires said White was likely too afraid to tell police what went on. White, 54, was found dead June 2, an abrupt end to a life that started out with a long slog in hospital.
White, according to a 1960s newspaper clipping, had a congenitally clogged windpipe and spent more than five years at the Hospital for Sick Kids in Toronto, where he was admitted in 1963 at age two. During that time he underwent 40 operations.
Throughout his life, he was as quiet and gentle as the whisper of his voice from the tube inserted in his throat, Squires said.
She said the neighbour claimed he found White dead in the apartment and police let him leave with a knapsack that could have contained evidence or items belonging to White.
That night, police branded the case non-suspicious and dismissed safety concerns in the neighbourhood before giving the case due diligence, Squires said.
She said the cause of death — a blood clot that brought on a heart attack — could have been caused by an assault injury. The officer who told them this week the case was closed lacked compassion, Squires said, and in a prior meeting referred to Squires and her sister as 1980s TV crime fighters “Cagney & Lacey,” and encouraged them to look for clues.
But Squires said even though they’ve gotten a few calls from the 20 signs they put up and gathered some information from White’s friends, the police did not pursue it.
“I sleep now with a hammer under my pillow and a knife on my nightstand. Poor Keith would not want his sisters to be put through this horrible situation,” said Squires, adding she hasn’t eaten or slept much in the weeks since White died.
White, whose health condition prevented him from working, lived on income support and sold a bit of weed on the side, but was just a “grammer,” Squires said.
It was unusual for him to leave his door open and he had a bar over it as he’d had previous home invasions. But it was open when he was found the day he died.
The family insists there was a report of White being assaulted the day before.
On Friday, Squires was planning to file a complaint with the RNC Public Complaints Commission and was also looking for legal help.
She is also seeking a peace bond against the neighbour who found White.
The family and he have had some public shouting matches and Squires has a series of text messages in which the man accused them of branding him a murderer.
Squires said she’s open to a final autopsy report on White’s death that would prove he died of natural causes, but even if the death was not caused by an assault, she wonders if he was robbed after he lay dead, arguing that White would have had a bit of cash from his weed sales and possibly some marijuana in his apartment.
She said there was a break-in at the apartment a couple of weeks after White’s death — before the family cleaned it out — and some electronics and fishing equipment went missing.
She acknowledges that the cast of characters that have come foward or who have spoken to her — with one person even alleging the neighbour put a screwdriver to White’s throat on one occasion — are sketchy and may not be trustworthy.
“We are just tormented. We got so many questions (the police) probably could have answered,” Squires said.
“We’re not sure about the natural death, but even if it was natural, there could have been a contribution to it. Or they could have robbed him while he lay dead. We would prefer it be natural causes, but the point is the way the cops treated the case. … I think there is more to it.”
She said White told his family the friendship between him and his neighbour was volatile and Squires begged him to go to the police.
“He was afraid to charge him. … It’s only two months ago he said the same thing to my sister, ‘I’m going to kill him. I’m too worried about him killing me.’”
Squires also claims the neighbour twice claimed White owed him money last year and the family paid it, hoping that he would stay away from White.
She said White once had a problem with Percocet, a prescription narcotic, but cleaned up serveral years ago through treatment and passed subsequent urine tests.