Episode 109: Dennis Weppler

March 18, 2024

When a man is murdered in cold blood, a community fears that there is something sinister lurking in the shadows. Who killed Dennis Weppler?

Episode Media
Dennis Weppler (Waterloo Region Record)
Crime scene photos from Dennis Weppler’s warehouse unit (Waterloo Region Record)
Bert McCaw being wheeled out of court (Waterloo Region Record)
Episode Sources
Episode Transcript

Welcome back to Bite-Sized Crime. This week I’m bringing you an interesting case out of Canada, one that ended up taking me down a dark rabbit hole of conspiracy theories. This episode discusses sensitive topics, so listener discretion is advised.

Dennis Eugene Weppler was born in 1945 in the Canadian province of Ontario. He and his six brothers and sisters grew up in the city of Kitchener, about 100 kilometers or 60 miles west of the capital city of Toronto. In his early 20s, Dennis got married, but the couple divorced not long after. Eventually, Dennis married again, and he and his new wife had a son they named Robert. When Dennis and his second wife divorced, Robert went to live with his mother in British Columbia. Dennis stayed in Kitchener, where he bought a small house on Greenfield Avenue and settled into the life of a bachelor.

Dennis was a licensed plumber and enjoyed working with his hands, but his real love was cars. Dennis was always tinkering in his garage, and neighbors often saw him racing down the street in one of his beloved muscle cars. He joined the Motor Lords Car Club in nearby Cambridge, and eventually decided to open his own body shop. He rented a unit in an industrial warehouse building on the other side of Kitchener, about a 15-minute drive from his house, and from then on, he spent most of his time there, fixing up cars. He even got a dog to protect the property, a German Shepherd named Herc. Dennis seemed content with his life, doing the thing he loved the most.

But in the winter of 1993, everything changed, and no one was prepared for the fallout.

Around noon on Thursday, February 18th, police were called to a warehouse unit on Howard Place in Kitchener. When investigators arrived, they found a man tied up and bound with duct tape, covered in his own blood. It looked as though he had been badly beaten. Miraculously, he was still conscious, lucid enough to tell them his name: Dennis Weppler. Emergency personnel immediately rushed Dennis to Kitchener-Waterloo Hospital and into surgery.

Shortly after Dennis was taken to the hospital, his brother Lindsay – at that point unaware of what had happened – received a strange phone call. A man’s voice said, “Your brother has been tied, bound, shot in the head, and left to die.” When Lindsay asked who was calling, the man only identified himself as Scott, then hung up the phone.

Alarmed, Lindsay rushed to the hospital where he learned that his brother was in critical condition. A brain scan revealed that Dennis had indeed been shot in the head, but according to the Waterloo Region Record, police hadn’t known that piece of information until doctors mentioned it. How had the man on the phone known about it, and why had he told Lindsay in such a cryptic manner?

That wasn’t the only strange incident. When Dennis and Lindsay’s sister Sharon arrived at the hospital, she had an odd encounter with police. Sharon later described the incident to the Record, saying, “My brother said, ‘Here comes my sister now.’ The police said, ‘Hello, Brenda.’ I said, ‘I’m not Brenda.’ They said a woman was there in the afternoon, a sister from Kitchener… She stayed and looked at [Dennis] for a few minutes and left. As far as we know, the nurse let her in.”

But here’s the strange part: Sharon was the only Weppler sister who lived in Kitchener. They had a sister-in-law named Brenda – their brother Barry’s wife – but Barry and Brenda were in Florida that day and couldn’t have come to the hospital. So if this mystery woman wasn’t the real Brenda, who was she? And how had she known about Dennis’ injuries before anyone else in the family?

Unfortunately, there wasn’t time to figure it out right then. The family gathered around Dennis and stayed by his side as he took his last breaths. Sharon told the Record, “We were right there to the end. His eyes were closed. He was breathing. There were bits of blood on his hand. We touched his hands and said goodbye.”

In their grief, the family could only wonder why this terrible thing had happened. Dennis was a good brother, a kind friend. He was the type of person who shoveled snow for his neighbors. He kept to himself and didn’t bother anyone. Why would someone want him dead?

Investigators were wondering the same thing. From the moment the ambulance whisked Dennis away, Waterloo Regional Police had the industrial warehouse roped off and the street under surveillance. They canvassed the area, speaking to other business owners, anyone who may have seen someone coming or going from Dennis’ shop, anything that seemed suspicious. But everyone said the same thing – Dennis just worked on his cars all day and kept mostly to himself. He had never caused any trouble.

Two women who worked at a business across the street from Dennis’ shop told police that the only strange thing they’d noticed was that they hadn’t seen Dennis’ German Shepherd in the last few days. Herc was usually tied up outside the shop, guarding the property, but he hadn’t been there recently. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find out what happened to Herc or where he ended up – none of the reporting mentions him after the first few days – but everyone seemed to agree that Herc not being at the shop when Dennis was killed was a big red flag. Sharon described Herc as being on the vicious side, and one of the women who worked across the street told the Record, “It must have been someone who knew [Weppler] because he had that dog, and no one gets past that dog.”

On February 19th, the day after Dennis was found, two men were seen leaving one of the units in the industrial warehouse. According to the Record, the men approached a police car that was parked outside doing surveillance. We don’t know what was said, but the men were separated and questioned by officers before being taken to the police station. Later that day, police returned to the warehouse with a search warrant. Inside the men’s unit, they found an extensive marijuana-growing operation. Inspector Henry Brick told the Record that there was enough marijuana in the unit to bring in over $100,000 in annual income for the growers. The two men were arrested and charged with possession and drug trafficking, but when asked if they were connected to Dennis’ murder, Inspector Brick would only say they were looking into it. “We are going to investigate any possibility of links to the murder. We are being very cautious because if there is a connection we want to make sure we do everything properly.”

Investigators were also looking into other connections. Four days before Dennis was killed, a shop owner named Tho-Quan Van was found beaten and strangled to death in his shoe repair store just a few miles away from the warehouse. But because expensive jewelry and other goods were missing from Van’s shop, it seemed that robbery was likely the motive in his case.

In contrast, there wasn’t anything missing from Dennis Weppler’s shop, at least not that anyone could tell. Staff Sergeant Ken Carmount told the Record that the unit only contained a car and a few parts, nothing worth stealing. Investigators were still without a motive for Dennis’ murder.

Even the mystery woman at the hospital didn’t end up being a mystery after all, at least not for investigators. Although he wouldn’t go into detail, Inspector Brick told the Record that they had looked into it and come to the conclusion that it wasn’t an issue and certainly not something they were going to focus on. “We have an explanation that is satisfactory to all concerned.”

In an interview with the Record, Sharon expressed that the family was struggling to understand the whole situation. “We’re just saying ‘Why?’ right now… We don’t know why this happened. We don’t know what this involved.”

But it wouldn’t be long before an unexpected discovery put them on a path to the truth.

On February 26th, a week after Dennis was killed, police performed another search of the warehouse. This time, they uncovered a secret stash in Dennis’ unit – hundreds of cases of illegal liquor, thousands of dollars worth of cocaine, and stacks of cash hidden away, all of which had gone unnoticed during previous searches. Although it didn’t appear that anything had been taken or even disturbed during the murder, the fact that Dennis had been hiding so much contraband was enough to raise alarms. If he had been running an illegal distribution center or trafficking drugs from his shop, it was certainly a potential motive for murder. Dennis had been killed execution-style; it had clearly been a targeted attack. Had he angered someone who had then sought revenge?

The location of the warehouse – on a quiet street with other warehouses and office buildings – would make it easy for someone to come and go without anyone paying too much attention. But with that many businesses nearby, someone had to have seen something.

Investigators reached out to the local news stations and appealed to the public for help. They shared the number for the tipline and asked for anyone with information to call in. Tips began to trickle in over the next few months. One such tip seemed to be the most promising: multiple witnesses had seen a light-colored Cadillac driving in the area near the warehouse in the weeks prior to Dennis’ murder. The witnesses said that the car would drive to the end of Nelson Avenue and park, then the passenger would get out and walk down the sidewalk to a lamppost where he would stand and stare in the direction of the warehouse. From that vantage point, he would have had a clear view of Dennis’ shop. The witnesses said this happened nearly 20 times over the course of two weeks and described the man as being in his late 40s to early 50s, tall with a solid build. They also said that they hadn’t seen the car or the man since February 18th, the day Dennis was killed.

In late June, Waterloo Regional Police connected with the Ontario Provincial Police in Bracebridge, a city about 3 hours north of Kitchener. The Bracebridge police had a 13-year-old unsolved murder that they believed could be connected to Dennis Weppler’s case.

On April 21, 1980, Duke Kuhn and his wife Margaret were vacationing at Skeleton Lake when two armed men began shooting through the windows of their trailer. As Kuhn lay wounded, the men entered the trailer and told Margaret to keep her head down and she wouldn’t be hurt. Then, the men opened fire on Kuhn, striking him 12 times in the head and body. The men tied up Margaret and left her behind as they drove off in their getaway car. Margaret told police at the time that she didn’t see her husband’s killers and couldn’t identify them. But Duke Kuhn had an extensive criminal record of his own and his circle of associates was packed with individuals known for their connections to the Ontario underworld.

In a news release, Ontario Provincial Police stated that during the investigation into Dennis Weppler’s case, several names popped up that had also come up during the Kuhn investigation. Waterloo police had long suspected that two people were responsible for Dennis’ murder, and they now believed there was a strong possibility that the same people who killed Kuhn in 1980 could have killed Dennis in 1993. It was documented that Dennis and Kuhn knew each other and ran in the same circles. Staff Sergeant Carmount told the Record that they were exploring every possible link. “Is this an old settling of accounts or who knows? It is just another angle to follow.”

As the months passed, detectives from both departments followed up on every single tip that came in. Crime Stoppers offered a $1,000 reward for information about Dennis Weppler’s murder, and there was a $10,000 reward in Kuhn’s case that had gone unclaimed since 1980. Investigators felt that they were getting close, they just needed the right lead.

Over the course of the previous six months, investigators had uncovered a group of career criminals in the Kitchener area that both Dennis Weppler and Duke Kuhn were connected to. Sergeant Howie Fidler told the Record that they believed they knew who was responsible for Dennis’ murder – two suspects that they had questioned at length – but they didn’t yet have the evidence to file charges. “We are getting very close to the end of our investigation and we badly need help. Just one witness may be all we need. It’s so close yet so far.”

Finally, on September 3rd, police announced that 54-year-old Bert McCaw had been charged with first-degree murder in the death of Duke Kuhn. He was also facing charges of extortion in a case from 1983 and attempted murder for firing shots at a man in a car in 1991.

When McCaw went to trial in November of 1994, the puzzle pieces began to fall into place. McCaw and Kuhn had been part of a large-scale operation that trafficked marijuana and other illegal drugs from Florida into Canada, using Kitchener as their home base. Also part of the trafficking ring were Dennis Weppler and his brother Barry.

Barry Weppler and his friend Bill Beggs had acted as couriers for the trafficking ring, led by Bert McCaw and Duke Kuhn. McCaw and Kuhn had been friends since they were teens, but their decision to go into business together eventually turned into a power struggle fueled by greed. By 1980, it was clear that one of them was going to kill the other, it just depended on who got there first. Barry and Bill had no love for Duke Kuhn – he had threatened them on several occasions – so when McCaw asked them to help plan Kuhn’s murder, they agreed. They hired two hitmen from Ohio and paid them $11,000 to kill Kuhn at his lakeside trailer. When the job was done, the hitmen vanished, and the trafficking ring continued with McCaw at the helm.

But when Dennis was murdered, Barry knew McCaw was behind it somehow. He and Bill went to the police and agreed to testify against McCaw in exchange for immunity from prosecution. The jury believed their story, and Bert McCaw was found guilty of the murder of Duke Kuhn. He was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years.

But even with McCaw behind bars for Kuhn’s murder, investigators were still determined to get justice for Dennis Weppler. They knew McCaw was responsible for Dennis’ murder, they just needed more proof. They were also still convinced that McCaw hadn’t worked alone.

During the course of the investigation, another name kept popping up – Donald Frame, another member of the trafficking ring. Police were able to get a search warrant for Frame’s apartment in which they were specifically looking for a revolver that matched the bullet that killed Dennis. Instead, they found a small amount of marijuana and a stun gun, which was illegal in Canada. Frame was arrested on weapons charges, giving investigators more time to look into his possible connection to Dennis Weppler’s murder.

Donald Frame’s trial began in March of 1995. Sergeant Howie Fidler testified that they had been able to obtain the search warrant that led to the stun gun because they believed Frame had been present at the warehouse when Dennis was murdered. However, Fidler told the court that he didn’t think Frame had known what was going to happen. He believed McCaw was the mastermind behind the whole plot.

Then, Fidler dropped a bombshell – investigators suspected that Dennis wasn’t the original target of McCaw’s plan. They believed that McCaw had actually wanted to kill Barry Weppler, but Barry was in Florida, and Dennis was available. McCaw and Frame had gone to the warehouse on February 18th, tied Dennis up, and shot him in the head.

But Frame’s defense attorney told the court that as a part of his immunity deal, Barry Weppler had confronted Frame while wearing a wire. Barry had accused Frame of murdering his brother, and Frame had denied it – they had it all on tape. The attorney argued that investigators did not have probable cause for the search warrant that led to Frame’s arrest, and that his weapons charge should be dismissed. Ultimately the judge disagreed, and Donald Frame was sentenced to seven days in jail for possession of the stun gun. After that, he was free to go.

At this point, investigators believed they had plenty of evidence to connect Frame and McCaw to Dennis Weppler’s murder, including DNA from the crime scene, but there was one giant hurdle they couldn’t get over – there were no witnesses that could place the two men at the warehouse on February 18th. Even the witnesses who had seen the suspicious man in the light-colored Cadillac couldn’t properly identify him. But investigators continued to search for clues and build their case until finally, in the spring of 1996, they were able to charge Bert McCaw and Donald Frame with first-degree murder in the death of Dennis Weppler.

Unfortunately, it would be nearly two years before anything else happened in the case, and when it did, it was not what anyone expected.

In January of 1998, a judge ruled that the charges against McCaw and Frame would be stayed. In other words, they would not go to trial, but investigators could still bring charges in the future should new evidence arise.

Assistant Crown Attorney David Russell told the Record that he had asked for the stay of charges at the direction of the Ontario Attorney General. During pre-trial hearings, much of the evidence brought forth by the Crown was ruled inadmissible, including the DNA evidence the Crown thought they had – McCaw’s DNA on cigarette butts found by Dennis Weppler’s body. But just 10 days into the hearings, they learned that there had been a mix-up at the lab. The vials of sample DNA had been mislabeled by accident, and the DNA found on the cigarettes actually belonged to Dennis Weppler, not Bert McCaw.

With the lack of concrete evidence and the fact that Bert McCaw was so ill with a lung disease that they worried he wouldn’t survive the trial, the Crown asked to stay the charges. Dennis Weppler’s mother told the Crown Attorney that she was at peace with the decision; she didn’t want the trial to move forward and bring even more negative attention to her sons.

On January 26, 1998, Donald Frame was released from custody and walked out of court a free man. Bert McCaw, connected to oxygen and unable to walk on his own, was sent back to prison where he passed away 11 months later.

In the end, there just isn’t a satisfactory resolution to Dennis Weppler’s story. His murderers were never brought to justice, and his case went back on the shelf. The news reports moved on to other things, and so did many of the people connected to the case. Some in the community believed that anyone who got caught up in nefarious dealings deserved whatever happened to them, but Dennis Weppler wasn’t just some lowly drug trafficker; he was also a beloved brother, a father, a friend. The choices he made did not mean he deserved to be murdered in cold blood, and his mistakes did not make him less deserving of justice. I can only hope that after all these years, his family has been able to find peace in the memories they have.