Justin Blades and Pookiel McCabe were getting ready for a night out in downtown Halifax—drinking, smoking dope, and listening to music. In the summer of 2015, they had no idea their fun was about to turn to fear, a fear that would dramatically change their lives and forcing McCabe to flee the province and sending Blades into hiding for more than a year.
The young men stumbled onto a gory murder scene across the hall. The killer was one of their best friends, their fear based on their belief that he was working for the Hell’s Angels.
“I felt like my life was in danger,” Blades would tell a jury nearly two years later.
William Sandeson was about to start medical school at Dalhousie University when he lured fellow Dal student Taylor Samson to his South End Halifax apartment. Samson was going to sell him 20 pounds of marijuana for $40,000.
Instead Sandeson shot 22-year-old Samson in the back of the head and cleaned up the scene. Police haven’t found Samson’s body but there was enough physical evidence for a jury to convict Sandeson of first-degree murder, sentencing him to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.
Blades and McCabe would eventually tell police they saw a man bleeding from his head, slouched over on a chair in Sandeson’s apartment with “pints and pints of blood,” bloody money, and drugs all over the place. But for 14 months they maintained they saw nothing.
Gossip and rumours erupted in Halifax as armchair criminologists set about cracking the case. People assumed there was no way Sandeson had acted alone, talking to online forums, insisting he must have been connected to organized crime.
“I also have a hard time believing that a university student would be able to… make a body disappear so completely that no trace of it has ever been found,” mused one anonymous commenter.
“This is why I think there was someone else in on it,” declared another. “Maybe he owes money or a favour to the guy or guys above him.” It went on, and on.
Police quickly rejected those theories. “I can tell you right now that if you’re concerned about the Hell’s Angels that he has no connection to the Hell’s Angels,” Cpl. Jody Allison told Justin Blades when he explained why he didn’t tell the truth the first time.
“I want to believe you,” Blades says in that October 2016 interview.
“I can tell you that whatever he was telling people, or whatever people believe, I can tell you that is not the case,” Allison told him. “There is no connection. If there was they would have come after his family for the money and all that. They could have got him in jail if they wanted to.”
“Yeah,” is all Blades offers.
“I’m not saying that some of the stuff that he didn’t buy somehow made it to them,” Allison goes on, “or some of the money didn’t, but I can tell you right now that the stuff he had, you can get from people that have no affiliation to the Hell’s Angels right here in this city.”
“Just basically people are growing in their basements,” says Blades.
“Right,” agrees Allison. “They wouldn’t deal with him anyway, you know what I mean.”
“I just heard… they needed someone smart like Will, like it just made so much sense when you looked at it,” Blades says.
Counters Allison: “They usually look for dummies.”
Stephen Schneider has been researching organized crime in Canada since the late 1980s. He teaches it at Saint Mary’s University and has written three books on the subject, including Iced: The Story of Organized Crime in Canada. He says historically it was true that the Hell’s Angels weren’t necessarily looking for intelligence but says times have changed.
“They wanted people to kind of fit their stereotype, big, tough-looking, intimidating, but increasingly they are looking for smart people because they’re moving away from the kind of knuckle-dragging, biker group and they’re now more of a sophisticated well-oiled criminal machine,” he explains.
Still, Schneider points out there are no full-patch Hell’s Angels members in Nova Scotia, and there haven’t been since the chapter shut down in 2003. He acknowledges they are in the process of converting an affiliate club and there could be members here before the end of the year.
It seems many of the rumours that William Sandeson was involved with organized crime came from Sandeson himself. Blades told police Sandeson had told him a story about going to Montreal to do a deal with the Hell’s Angels.
“I can tell you that they wouldn’t be dealing with him,” Allison says. “I can guarantee they would not.”
Schneider doesn’t buy Sandeson’s story either. “If he was dealing with the Hell’s Angels, he wouldn’t have gone necessarily to Montreal,” says Schneider. “He would have gone to Ontario because Halifax and Nova Scotia was being controlled by the Gatekeepers [an affiliate club] out of London, Ontario.” He adds that the Angels are well represented in Quebec but deal mostly in hash and cocaine there.
Schneider also says the Angels have distanced themselves from street level trafficking to focus on more profitable angles.
“They tend to be more just involved with financing of grow ops, things like that, and most of the marijuana trafficking that the Hells Angels do is exported to the United States. They don’t do a lot of trafficking in Canada, because they get bigger money in the U.S., double what they would make here.”
The gossip also seems to have grown from the average citizen’s understanding of drug deals.
“A patched Hell’s Angel member’s not going to deal in 20 pounds of weed,” Cpl. Allison tells Justin Blades back in the fall of 2016, “not even a hundred pounds of weed. If you’re bringing in maybe 50 keys of coke, they wouldn’t even touch it themselves.”
“It’s not worth it for them?” Blades asks.
“It’s not worth it for them,” Allison confirms. “Plus they don’t want to go to jail.”
Schneider agrees. “The Hell’s Angels, when they do deal in pot, deal in tons, not pounds,” he says. “If you had 20 pounds of heroin or fentanyl or cocaine, then yeah, that’s huge, but not marijuana.”
Schneider says the Angels have learned from the past and would now have three to four intermediaries between them and a street-level dealer. “They would be so far removed that generally speaking I can’t see any full-patch member of the Hell’s Angels in Quebec or Ontario having a relationship with this guy,” he says. “There is nothing that we have found in any part of this investigation that would lead us to think that there’s anybody from the Hell’s Angels or any other criminal organization that’s interested in him,” Allison told Blades.
Halifax Regional Police declined to explain further, citing William Sandeson’s plans to appeal his conviction. At press time, no date was set for the appeal. He’s currently serving a life sentence.