The secret life of a predator during two years on the run - The Buffalo News

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The secret life of a predator during two years on the run

A thump in the night toppled the house of lies that a man calling himself Ian Thor Greene had carefully constructed over the past two years.

Early in the morning of June 22, in a pale yellow, four-story fraternity house in the south end of this fishing community, 26-year-old Michael McKeigan heard a loud thumping sound from the room beneath his.

From Ian Greene's room.

In the darkened hallway outside that room, McKeigan saw Greene lying on top of a young woman, choking her with both hands.

"It was like a scene out of the movies," McKeigan said.

Greene punched the woman seven or eight times, but when he saw McKeigan standing speechless in the hallway, he grabbed her by the ankles and dragged her, screaming, back into his room.

"Help me, help me," the woman yelled. "He's trying to kill me."

"Everything's under control," Greene replied, after locking the door.

McKeigan ran for help. Armed with a master key, he and a friend opened Greene's door. The woman -- with one side of her face bruised and bloodied, wearing only a pair of panties -- bolted from the room.

It was the beginning of the end for the man friends here knew as Ian Thor Greene.

Western New Yorkers know him by another name, William Chandler Shrubsall, the valedictorian who clubbed his 300-pound mother to death with a baseball bat on his high school graduation day.

The most famous member of LaSalle High School's class of 1988 never made it back to Niagara Falls for his 10th reunion this weekend.

If he had -- and some of his friends might have expected the smooth talker to finesse his way out of jail and sneak across the border -- he could have shocked classmates with plenty of tales from his last 10 years.

The highs have been glorious. An Ivy League education at the University of Pennsylvania. A job as a financial analyst on Wall Street. And perhaps most importantly, convincing friends that he had become a normal guy again after overcoming the trauma of killing his mother.

The lows have been ignominious. Sixteen months in jail for killing his mother. A bogus suicide note in 1996 that no one -- neither his friends nor the police -- ever believed. Then slinking off to life on the lam for two years, culminating in his arrest in Halifax for four crimes against young women, including two vicious beatings.

And the lies have been outrageous. His father was killed driving to watch him play hockey in Moose Jaw,
Saskatchewan. His mother was killed in a fire after lighting a cigarette in bed in her cabin in the Yukon. And friends have laughed at the aliases the 27-year-old used while posing as a teen-ager.

Along the way, the Shrubsall saga has left some authorities embarrassed.

"He's less of a threat to the community than the average person," one doctor said in 1992.

Shrubsall may not be returning to Niagara Falls for his 25th high school reunion, either. And if he ever does cross the border, it may be in handcuffs.

His story is a Hollywood screenwriter's dream. And a valedictorian's nightmare.

On May 15, 1996, Shrubsall -- facing imminent defeat in a Niagara County courtroom in a sexual-abuse case and fearing a return to prison -- left a bogus suicide note and vanished.

By the end of the month, he had surfaced in Halifax, a city of a quarter-million people on the Atlantic Ocean with the soul of a fishing village. The clean city by the bay resembles a miniature Boston or San Francisco, but without their urban problems or suburban sprawl.

To those who knew him as Ian Thor Greene, Shrubsall was a bright, charming man of 19 who made friends easily and pursued young women relentlessly.

"He's the best con man I've ever met in my life. Ever. Or that I've seen on TV or heard about," said Troy Blair, 20, a senior at Dalhousie University and vice president of Sigma Chi fraternity, which rented a room to Shrubsall.

Not everyone was charmed.

"I found him to be very arrogant," said Lee Vardy, 20, a Sigma Chi fraternity brother. "You-just-want-to-smack-him arrogant."

Shrubsall said he was a student at Dalhousie University, an orphan born in England and raised in Toronto and the Yukon.

It sounded good.

But there was always something about Shrubsall that didn't quite click, that new friends couldn't quite put their finger on.

"He was a man of mystery," McKeigan said.

He seemed too old to be 19. He received mail under several names and never any personal letters. When he'd talk about politics, he'd cite examples from the United States, not Canada.

But no one ever suspected Ian Thor Greene was a fugitive, a troubled son who had clubbed his mother to death and who would be unmasked in Halifax as a violent sexual predator.

In Halifax, Shrubsall will be arraigned Monday on charges of:

Sexual assault and confinement of a woman last October.

Endangering the life of Tamara Donnison on Feb. 12, when police claim he attacked her with a baseball bat in the store where she worked. Since then, she has endured months of physical therapy.

"All I remember is what happened afterwards," Ms. Donnison, 24, said in a brief phone interview.

Aggravated sexual assault and robbery of a 19-year-old woman who was walking home late at night May 4.

Aggravated sexual assault, confinement and attempting to choke the woman he's accused of attacking in his room June 22.

Shrubsall kept those crimes -- and his true past -- from his new friends.

Playing the field

On both sides of the border, Shrubsall's relationships with women were complicated and contradictory.

Comments from friends in both Halifax and Niagara Falls suggest that he pursued women to feed two different appetites. He would prowl bars to pick up women for one-night stands, but he always insisted to friends that he would date only virgins.

When Shrubsall went with Sigma Chi brothers to the Palace, a bar and dance club in downtown Halifax, he brazenly approached attractive young women and asked for their phone numbers.

Often, he would take those women home with him, winning them over with charm and persistence, his friends claimed. But sometimes women gave him wrong numbers just to get rid of him.

"He was sexually aggressive," said fraternity member Jason MacDonald, 19, a junior at nearby St. Mary's University. "He had a lot of girls over."

MacDonald said Shrubsall would use baseball terms to rate the women he slept with, from a single for the least impressive to a home run for his favorites.

"He had a black book," MacDonald said, "an extremely long list of women that he rated."

However, Shrubsall told friends and even women he went out with that he was very particular about the type of women he would consider dating seriously.

"I don't use condoms because I choose my women selectively," he inexplicably told Vardy.

Yet friends in Halifax and Niagara Falls agreed that Shrubsall was solicitous and charming toward women he really cared about.

"He could be the sweetest guy," former close friend and classmate David Rick of Niagara Falls said of Shrubsall's attitude toward those women. "He'd give them anything they wanted."

But Shrubsall's apparent low self-esteem would often come out in these relationships, MacDonald said, recalling one woman Shrubsall dated before he ended the relationship.

"He broke up with her because he wasn't good enough for her," MacDonald said Shrubsall told him.

When Shrubsall broke up with one woman, he threatened to kill himself and even made a noose, McKeigan said.

Rick, his close friend from Niagara Falls, similarly remembered how upset Shrubsall became when his girlfriend broke off their engagement in 1995. Rick even suggested the psychological term "displacement," that Shrubsall may have taken out his frustrations or anger about his failed relationships when dealing with women he didn't respect.

"The ones he didn't respect, he treated like trash, like sex objects who were below him," Rick said. "He'd keep hounding them until he became frightening to them."

It will be up to psychologists to determine whether there is any connection between his violence toward women and his killing his mother back in 1988.

Still haunted

When you peel away the new identity Shrubsall forged more than 1,000 miles away, in another country, you're still left with a troubled young man who had taken a baseball bat to his domineering mother in 1988.

But Shrubsall appears to be an anomaly. Killing a parent rarely translates into a crime-filled adulthood, experts have said.

Psychologist Charles P. Ewing of Amherst, who wrote a book on children who kill and who once examined Shrubsall, refused to comment on him.

But he did talk generally about juveniles who kill a parent, rather than someone outside the family.

"They certainly are a different class of juvenile killer," he said. "They generally tend to be good kids who haven't had problems with the law, who haven't had academic, social or peer problems. Kids who kill outside the family generally are more likely to have had some serious history of violent or anti-social behavior."

Ewing doesn't know of any other juveniles who killed a parent and later turned violent against others.

"Generally, kids who (kill a parent) go through the legal system, take whatever punishment they get, and then we never hear from them again," he said. "It's not the kind of crime that lends itself to recidivism."

The wanderer

At least one mystery still surrounds this mystery man.

Exactly when, how and where did Shrubsall cross the border into Canada? And if he went to Halifax right away, did he ever return home to Niagara Falls to visit?

One date is known: He failed to appear in Niagara County court on May 15, 1996.

Authorities suspect Shrubsall left Niagara Falls the night before or early that morning and arrived in Nova Scotia as early as May 16.

Shrubsall moved into Metro Turning Point, a transitional home for homeless men in Halifax, some time in May 1996, according to Daisy Maguire, who works with residents of the home.

Ms. Maguire, who also rents out rooms in her home, allowed Shrubsall to move in the following month. But she kicked him out a year later, in June 1997, after he was arrested for soliciting an undercover officer posing as a prostitute, she said.

It's not clear whether Shrubsall, who never lacked bravado, risked crossing the border to visit friends in Niagara Falls.

The grapevine among his friends and acquaintances in the LaSalle section of Niagara Falls had him hiding out for part of the time with a former girlfriend, a young woman whom he could control.

Terry Adamec Jr., 28, a one-time classmate and former Little League baseball teammate, can back up that theory. He said he talked with Shrubsall in a Third Street bar on a Saturday night, a couple of weeks after Shrubsall failed to appear in court.

Adamec asked Shrubsall how he was doing. Not bad, Shrubsall replied, asking Adamec what he was doing.

There was no disguise. No curly-headed dark wig. Just the usual polo shirt and dress pants.

"He seemed like Bill," Adamec said. "He didn't seem distraught or angry about anything."

Shrubsall apparently felt at ease in a bar frequented by his old neighborhood crowd.

"Maybe he felt comfortable in there," Adamec said. "I don't know. Maybe he was drunk. I don't know why he'd go in there after what happened to him."

Revisionist history

Shrubsall's childhood was a tragic one -- if you believe what he told his Halifax friends.

He said he was born in London and moved with his parents to Toronto at the age of 7.

He told MacDonald that his father died while driving from Toronto to Moose Jaw to watch him play in a youth hockey game.

"Which is why, he said, he never played hockey again," MacDonald said.

Shrubsall said he and his mother moved to the Yukon, where they lived in side-by-side cabins until the fateful night when she lit a cigarette in bed and died in the ensuing fire.

He told his housemates that he lived alone in the province's wilderness until he enrolled at Dalhousie at age 17.

"I guess he was raised by wolves," McKeigan said.

Shrubsall had trouble keeping his stories straight.

"He told me his uncle was killed by the IRA in Belfast," MacDonald said.

"He told me his brother was killed in Belfast by the IRA," McKeigan added.

McKeigan laughed as he rattled off some of Shrubsall's inconsistent tales: "Brother was killed in Vancouver; brother was killed in Toronto. Father was killed in Vancouver; father was killed in Toronto.

"Everybody says this guy was smart, but he couldn't keep his stories straight at major points in his life," he said.

Frat house lie 

The Sigma Chi fraternity house in Halifax is neat and clean, with salmon-colored walls and wooden floors. The fraternity often rents rooms to nonmembers to help pay its bills. Last August, Ian Thor Greene became a tenant.

Shrubsall tried to pass himself off as a student at Dalhousie University, one of Canada's largest colleges. A university spokeswoman said Shrubsall never enrolled there.

However, fraternity brothers said he often would go to class to keep up appearances, and he told others in Halifax that he was a medical student at the college. He also spent a lot of time in psychology classes.

"He would help (fraternity members) with their homework, and they would always get 'A's'," MacDonald said.

The Sigma Chi brothers never really believed Shrubsall was 19. For one thing, he had a lot to say about the end of the Cold War, as if he had lived through those years. He also had a noticeably receding hairline.

To support himself during his two years on the run, from mid-1996 to his arrest in June, Shrubsall worked at a number of part-time jobs, including at a Wendy's restaurant, as a telemarketer selling coupon books, and as a janitor at a dockyard facility.

Shrubsall was always well dressed, in a conservative sort of way, partial to polo shirts and jeans or dress pants. He never ate a lot, never slept much and had a college student's spending habits.

"Big spender when he had the money, living off credit cards when he didn't," MacDonald said.

 Identity crisis

Friends and authorities back home in Niagara Falls laughed at the various aliases Shrubsall used during his life on the run:

Ian Thor Greene, John Thunder, Joe Thunder, Thor Greene and Ian O'Leary.

Shrubsall's a baseball nut, so Greene and O'Leary apparently are references to major-leaguers Willie Greene (or possibly Shawn Green) and Troy O'Leary.

Joe and John Thunder may be attempts to pass himself off as a Native American, which is laughable, since Shrubsall has blond hair. That might be an example of his taunting authorities, proving that with his superior intelligence he could convince people of almost anything.

The name Ian -- and Shrubsall's tale about Moose Jaw -- apparently are digs at typical Canadian names.

And Thor, the Norse god of thunder?

"He always did like the superhero Thor," Rick said.

One last touch:

Shrubsall, born on Groundhog Day in 1971, used a birth date of Oct. 31, 1978.

Ian Thor Greene was "born" on Halloween.

Campaigning for women

Politics gave Shrubsall another chance to pick up women in Halifax, friends say.

Shrubsall campaigned for a while for a Progressive Conservative candidate for the national Parliament.

He was fired by the campaign, according to McKeigan, because he would ask women for their phone numbers while campaigning door to door.

"He would say, 'Hi, I'm Ian, with the PC Party, can I come in for coffee?' " McKeigan said.

 The painful truth

William Shrubsall stitched together an identity out of tall tales, half-truths and embellishment, and his arrest in several brutal assaults forced acquaintances in Halifax and friends in Niagara County to reconsider the man they thought they knew.

"I wasn't really surprised," MacDonald said of Shrubsall's arrest. "The violence, yeah, I was surprised."

"He basically fooled everyone," Blair said. "It's just so friggin' creepy when you think about it."

Rick, his good friend in Niagara Falls, had a different view.

"I don't think he's downright evil," he said. "He's two different people at times. At one point, he was the nicest guy in the world, and he'd do anything for you. At other times, if he wanted something, he would stop at nothing to get it.

"I don't think he's a monster. I just don't think he knew when to stop."c

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