Finding justice for victims of individuals found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder
“Dorle, you’re supposed to be dead.”
Stephen Lowry had left Vancouver physician Dorle Kneifel limp and lifeless in the bedroom after bashing her repeatedly about the head with a clock radio, then suffocating her with his hand.
During the attack, when the slight Kneifel realized that her struggles against the tall, lean young athlete—a tenant in her Dunbar home—were futile, she had played dead, even during the ensuing sexual assault. Lowry then left the bedroom. Kneifel waited, trying to quiet the pounding of her heart and the desperate inhalation of air into her lungs.
The world outside was waking up to the muted gold of an April Sunday morning.
Unravelling herself from the twist of bed sheets, Kneifel picked herself up off the bedroom floor, pulled down the black T-shirt she used as nightgown, and peeked out the door. At the same time, Lowry, who had exited the house, returned through the front entrance.
The timing was straight out of a Hollywood thriller. Except this was real-life horror.
Then Lowry uttered his chilling words.
Kneifel sprinted out of the bedroom and into the kitchen, then spun left into the dining room before Lowry caught her. “I’m not a screamer, but I made the conscious decision to scream,” Kneifel says today during an interview in that same dining room.
Lowry snatched a potted plant from a side table and smashed it over Kneifel’s head. The pair fell to the floor. Lowry, a 24-year-old former national junior cross-country ski team member, straddled the 48-year-old Kneifel. He grabbed a rock on the side table that was part of a display of treasured mementos brought to Vancouver from Kneifel’s wilderness property in northern British Columbia. “It was a good-sized rock,” Kneifel says, opening her hand, palm up, and spreading her fingers wide to show the stone’s heft. As the rock repeatedly slammed into her skull, Kneifel, unable to protect herself, “waited to have the experience of what the ultimate exiting is like”.
Kneifel pauses, a slight tremor in her voice. “I recollect being bashed over and over again, and I know I am weeping and I know that I am just waiting for my skull to collapse. Time slows down. I knew it was a beautiful sunny morning. I could smell blood and dirt and I knew I was dying.”
Michael Potter, another tenant who slept in a downstairs bedroom, opened his eyes, unsure what had awoken him. Hearing thumping from upstairs, Potter got up to investigate, curious more than anything. He saw Lowry sitting on something on the dining-room hardwood floor, swinging what he thought was his fist.
“Stephen, what are you doing?” Potter demanded.
“I’m going to kill her; she was going to kill us,” Lowry said.
“I’m going to kill you next,” Lowry then told Potter.
At this point, Kneifel says, she was “beyond speech”. Then Lowry’s “weight was lifted and there was a moment when I knew I could run”.
Potter, a 5-5 Edmontonian who had moved to Vancouver to attend culinary school, had been a hockey referee and was skilled at breaking up fights between burly pugilists. He got behind Lowry, put him in a headlock, and wrenched him off Kneifel. The two men flew backwards into the living room, landing on a couch. Pinioned, Lowry struggled, then slumped in Potter’s arms.
Kneifel stumbled to her feet, fled out the front door to a neighbour’s home, and banged to be let in. When the door opened, she crawled into the living room. “I was in excruciating pain and was whimpering, ”˜Somebody please help me; please help me.’ ” The neighbour, who had known Kneifel for seven years, didn’t recognize the terrified, bloody heap on the floor.