Editor’s Note: Back in 1997 – 21-years ago – I wrote this for another media outlet, where I worked as an investigative reporter. Roger Bell was convicted and sent to Springhill Institution for nine years after planting pipe bombs in Charlottetown and Halifax between 1988 to 1997.
The first bomb was planted in PEI 30-years ago this week.
I wrote this article in Jan. 1997 after he was originally charged with planting the pipe bombs, including at Point Pleasant Park in Halifax:
TRAGEDY STALKED BOMB SUSPECT’S YOUNG LIFE
By Andrew Macdonald
Charlottetown bomb suspect, Roger Bell, shares many similarities with America’s alleged Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.
Highly intelligent, he was a studious young man from a respectable middle-class background, capable of a brilliant career in teaching.
But he dropped out at an early age, living alone and shunning personal contact to a degree that people thought him weird.
But does that make him a bomber?
Police, who staked out his Charlottetown apartment from a neighbouring funeral home, believe so.
They have charged the 52-year-old former chemistry teacher with a rash of PEI pipe bombings which injured one man and which potentially could have caused widespread devastation.
His arrest, shortly before Christmas 1996, has prompted renewed interest in the unsolved pipe bomb explosion that occurred in Point Pleasant Park in 1995 and in bombing threats made at the time of the G-7 world leaders assembly in Halifax.
The G-7 threats were made by someone calling himself Loki-7, taking the same identity of the Scandinavian god of destruction and hell as that allegedly used by someone who sent bomb threat messages to the PEI media.
SERIOUS YOUNG MAN
Bell grew up at Murray Harbour, a PEI settlement famed for the wonder of its natural surroundings and the strength of its moonshine.
He was educated in Halifax, graduating in the top of the 1968 chemistry class at Dalhousie. Class photos show him as a fair-haired, serious young man.
He was bright, but he does not seem to have particularly stood out.
While he was in his class, Dr. Tom Forrest, who in 1997 was still teaching at Dal, can’t recall him.
“There are those in the class of 67-68 that I can still remember, but he isn’t one of them,” he told me.
Bell’s family, some of whom still live at Murray Harbour, were devastated by the news of his arrest. But somehow they weren’t surprised, one telling me his mother, Sarah, now dead, had been concerned about her son’s reclusive nature.
“She always worried about Roger. Thank goodness she is not here to fret about him even more,” a family friend said.
His uncle, Hollis Bell, who hasn’t had any contact with Roger in five years, is adamant about one thing: His anti-social behaviour and the charges he faces “had nothing to do with his upbringing, I can tell you that much.”
Roger got his interest in science from the encouragement he received from his father, Roy, a blacksmith. He prompted Roger’s ferocious reading habits, his love of classical music, his interest in mechanical pursuits such as building kits and model airplanes, and his abiding interest in photography.
One of Roger’s earliest photographs still adorns the family home, where Hollis and his brother Aubrey now live.
It’s a shot showing Hollis atop Mount Washington, in New Hampshire.
Many in Murray Harbour now seem ill-at-ease discussing Bell and the charges he faces. Faye Fraser, who in 1997 was both postmistress and chair of the village council, spoke for many when she said: “I don’t want to talk about it and I don’t think anyone else does.”
But privately, many are asking what might have happened to cause one of their fellow Islanders to be in such a predicament.
Roger’s young life was filled with tragedy. His younger brother, Tommy, whom he was very close to, died in a car crash at the age of 16. “He took the death quite hard,” Hollis told me.
And there were other tragic events, most notably the 1980 road accident in which his mother died instantly when her car was sliced in half in a collision with a truck.
His father survived the crash, but he died heartbroken two years later.
Roger was never an outgoing person. But it was at about this time that colleagues at Bluefield High School in Charlottetown, where he was teaching science, noticed he was withdrawing even further into his shell.
While he was regarded as a good communicator in the classroom, Bell was never one for small talk with other teachers. He set up boundaries limiting his conversation.
But prior to his parents’ death, he would intelligently discuss philosophy, politics and the stock market.
But that ended after he suffered yet another setback, the breakup of his ten-year marriage to Brenda Mills. A Summerside girl, she left him.
What prompted this isn’t known. But some speculate she may have finally tired of his weekly ritual of returning to his boyhood home. They had no children.
Following that, without explanation, he quit the teaching job he had held for 14 years and never worked again.
How he supported himself financially isn’t known. But he is believed to have inherited a substantial amount from his father which he invested.
He has lived at the same Champion Court apartment in Charlottetown for 12 of those 14 years, never missing his $400 monthly rent.
“He is one of the better tenants in the building. He never caused any problems, and never complained,” super Elton Poole said, admitting that, like others in the building, he found some aspects of the man rather odd.
“When I went to collect rent from him he would jar his door slightly, leaving a crack and handing me the cheque without ever saying a word.”
Hassle Acorn, an ex-cabbie who shared an apartment on the same floor as the bombing suspect, found him equally uncommunicative.
“He never chatted to anyone, never.
“I held the door open for him when I first moved in here because he was carrying a 10-speed bike up the stairwell. He never said as much as thanks. I figured at the time he was a mute.”
Other tenants told me Bell spent considerable time tinkering with his older-model two-door Volkswagen.
And he had a penchant for flying gas engine model airplanes.
Those sitting in on his first court appearance tell me he seemed articulate and lucid in his bantering with the prosecution.
He has complained about what he has described as the Gestapo nature of his arrest and has asked the court for financial help to hire a private detective to assist with his case.
Bell has so far declined legal assistance, saying he will conduct his own defence.
*Among his classmates at Dal, former Savage Health minister Bernie Boudreau, retired lawyer and judge, now NS Lieutenant Governor Art LeBlanc and former NS Chief Justice Joe Kennedy.
(Roger Bell would later go on to tell the Parole Board his motive for the bombs was his “revenge against society”).