A man found shot dead in a burnt-out vehicle on a logging road near Squamish in 2017 is now believed to be a U.S. man who started neo-Nazi groups and owed millions of dollars as an internet spammer.
The Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT) says the victim of the homicide has been identified as 38-year-old Davis Wolfgang Hawke, a U.S. resident.
On June 14, 2017, human remains were found inside a burnt-out 2000 red GMC Yukon XL, on the Cheekye Forest Road. An autopsy later determined the victim, known as Jesse James, a climber from the Squamish area, had died of a gunshot wound.
Police are working off the premise that Hawke is the same man who made headlines in the U.S. decades ago, first as a young man who started a pair of neo-Nazi groups and later as a spammer that was successfully sued by web portal provider AOL for US$12.8 million.
In 2006, AOL won a court order to search for gold and other valuables believed to be buried at the Massachusetts’ homes of Hawke’s family.
“This case has been shrouded in mystery,” IHIT spokesman Cpl. Frank Jang told a news conference in Squamish.
Jang said they were looking into all the background information on Hawke — which they hadn’t substantiated — and whether it provided a basis for a motive.
“There are a lot of questions,” he said, including how and when Hawke came to Canada.
Shortly after the AOL court win in 2005, missing-person posters went up for Hawke, who was last reported seen in the U.S. on March 1, 2006, in Laramie, Wyo. The photos in the missing-person posters look similar to a photo supplied by IHIT of Hawke.
Jang said the remains from the burnt vehicle were identified using DNA samples compared with information on missing-person databases in the U.S.
A Rolling Stone magazine profile of Hawke in 1999 told the story of the rise and fall of a “campus Nazi” in a college in South Carolina. Hawke had visions of becoming the Hitler leader of the U.S. but folded his online operations after he failed to get any supporters for a “big” neo-Nazi speech and rally in Washington, D.C., in August 1999. When Hawke realized no neo-Nazi sympathizers were going to attend the rally, he was a no-show for the march for which police had spent US$1-million-plus to deploy 1,450 officers.
According to the Rolling Stone article, Hawke, who was born to well-off Jewish parents and grew up in a suburb of Boston, had changed his name from Andrew Britt Greenbaum when he turned 18. His mother, who was distraught at her son’s involvement in the neo-Nazi movement, was quoted as wishing her son would be killed because of his views.
In 2006, The Associated Press reported that AOL had won a US$12.8- million judgment against Hawke in 2005 in U.S. District Court in Virginia but had been unable to contact him to collect any of the money he was ordered to pay. AOL accused Hawke of violating U.S. and Virginia anti-spam laws by sending massive amounts of unwanted emails to its subscribers. It won its case in a default judgment against Hawke, who didn’t show up in court.
The AP article outlined that at the height of Hawke’s internet activities, experts believe he and his partners earned more than US$600,000 each month — much of it in cash — by sending unwanted sales pitches over the internet for loans, pornography, jewelry and prescription drugs.
In the Squamish area, Hawkes was known as Jesse James and was involved in the climbing community.
On Facebook posts, the story of his true identity was already being shared Thursday. One man who is part of the Squamish climbing community posted that many likely met James over the years and that the RCMP had figured out his identity three years after his body was found.
“Truth is stranger than fiction,” said the climber.
Another person noted that they were once going to take photos of James climbing but that he had said they couldn’t take photos of his face. James, who had in recent years set up a couple of websites, including one on nutrition and another on climbing, almost always had his back to the camera when photos or videos were taken of him.
On one of the websites, James described himself as a pro Canadian rock climber, philosopher, futurist, vegan, nutrition researcher and author of the 2016 book Psychology of Seduction. He also said he had a doctorate in physics from Stanford.
— With files from Tiffany Crawford