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The Seventh Shot: How a Sudbury pawn shop led to the arrest of a cop turned murderer

Author Ann Burke’s new book, ‘The Seventh Shot’, explores the case against Ronald  West, a former Toronto police officer convicted of raping and murdering two young mothers in the early 1970s

 A new true crime book, The Seventh Shot, about two brutal sexual assault-murders in rural communities in York Region north of Toronto in the spring of 1970, is a chilling tale about a ruthless criminal, the innocent lives he destroyed, and the dedicated police officers who solved the case.

Ronald West, the man who was convicted of raping and killing two young mothers, escaped justice for 30 years. The first break in the case came in June 1995. West, a former Toronto police officer, who had moved to Blind River in 1988, used his own identification to sell stolen jewelry in a Sudbury pawn shop, and was captured on the store's security camera.

Author Ann Burke writes West is also a suspect in two other brutal murders at a Blind River roadside park in 1991, murders that remain unsolved.

Burke, a freelance journalist who worked as a Walden Observer reporter and now lives in Innisfil, unravels a compelling story about West's criminal past. She became interested in West when she learned her former schoolmate at Centre Dufferin High School was charged with the 1970 murders.

Helen Ferguson and Doreen Moorby, coincidentally both nurses, were killed in their homes by West 13 days apart in May 1970. The murders happened during the day when their husbands were at work. In both cases, there were children home at the time.

Both women were shot with a 22-calibre handgun, one seven times. Their children were left unharmed.

Ontario Provincial Police suspected the murderer could be a cop. Although DNA forensics were not used in Canada until 1987, officers who investigated the murders noted, “West took a lot of precautions to not leave any trace of himself," Burke said when I spoke to her for a Let's Talk Books session on Facebook hosted by the Greater Sudbury Library last December. 

West resigned from the police service in 1972 and went into "ghost mode" for several decades. He surfaced in 1988 living with his two sons in Blind River. Neighbours and friends thought he was involved in mining, believing he owned a diamond mine near Wawa and a gold mine in Timmins.

During his time in Blind River, West committed a series of robberies that led to his arrest and an eight-year prison sentence. 

After West's gun permit for a 22-calibre revolver purchased in 1969 was found hidden in the wall of his former residence, police officers got DNA evidence to connect West to the deaths of Ferguson and Moorby – women he did not know and apparently chose at random. 

While in prison, West hinted to police that there was more to his story. Burke believes he may have been involved in numerous unsolved murders that occurred north of Toronto around 1971 and 1972, as well as the Blind River roadside park murders in 1991.

Convicted in 2001, West is serving two concurrent life sentences for second-degree murder in prison. Since 2011, he has been eligible, but has never applied for, parole. 

The Seventh Shot is a frightening story about a dangerous man who may have used his police training to avoid being caught.

Published by Sudbury publishing house Latitude 46, The Seventh Shot can be purchased from Indigo Books online for $20.

More information about the author is available on her website.

Vicki Gilhula is a Sudbury freelance writer.