A Cumberland man who killed his estranged wife and three children and then blew up his house -- killing himself -- had been ordered to stay away from his spouse two months ago.
"She was living in fear," said Lorraine Saucier of her sister, Francine Mailly, who died Sunday night with her three children, Jessica, 12, Brandon, 9, and Kevin, 6.
Ms. Saucier said she knew something terrible had happened the second police knocked on her door at 2 a.m. yesterday.
"As soon as I saw the police I knew something had happened to her or the kids," she said. "Either her or the kids would be dead."
A note outlining Francois Mailly's plan to kill his family was found inside a red van parked outside what remained of his bungalow at 2315 Dunning Rd. following the fatal fire Sunday night, police said.
Alongside the note was a picture of his three children. Police also discovered a badly damaged .22-calibre gun sitting inside the front door.
"The note stated his intentions to kill his family and his reasons to do that," said Ottawa police Chief Vince Bevan last night, adding the Children's Aid Society had a file on the family and police had a history of contacts with them dating back to April 2002.
Police would not reveal the exact contents of the note because it contains personal information that is pertinent to the investigation.
Ms. Saucier said her sister left Mr. Mailly, 40, on Sept. 30 after 19 years of marriage, but spent much of October at the Dunning Road house.
She said her 37-year-old sister blamed the split on Mr. Mailly's attitude toward the children.
"Francine is not here anymore because they split up. It's because of the kids they split up," she said, explaining how Mr. Mailly often felt the children were in the way of his relationship with Francine.
"The kids were in his way," said Ms. Saucier, adding that Jessica and Brandon were "afraid" to visit his house. "This had been going on for years. She couldn't take it any more," she said.
Ms. Saucier said Mr. Mailly even went so far as to tell his daughter she was the reason her parents split up.
"She was a little princess and she was just like her mother," said Ms. Saucier.
She said Ms. Mailly's family firmly believes Mr. Mailly really wanted to kill his wife and children and then escape before the deadly fire but made a mistake.
But Mr. Mailly's relatives painted a different portrait of him, saying they couldn't understand what could make him kill the family he loved so much.
"I would have never figured my brother for doing something like this," said Shawn Mailly last night.
"It's a surprise to my whole family. He loved his family, wanted his kids with him. I guess he could not bear the fact of having somebody else raise his kids," he said.
Earlier yesterday, investigators with a cadaver dog sifting through the ashes of the charred and flattened house discovered the remains of a woman and a young male child at about 4 p.m. They expect to find remains of the two other children within the rubble. They are Ottawa's second, third, fourth and fifth homicide victims of the year.
Chief Bevan said Ms. Mailly called police as recently as February "indicating she had some fear for the children's safety" following a separation from her husband last year.
That led to a confrontation at Ms. Mailly's brother's house in Embrun on Feb. 4. It was that incident that resulted in Mr. Mailly being ordered not to have any contact with his wife after he threatened to kill her brother, Marc Lanois. The Canada Post letter carrier was charged by Russell OPP with uttering death threats after showing up at his brother-in-law's house at about 9 p.m. demanding to see his wife, who had been temporarily staying there with the children.
When Mr. Lanois told him to leave and threatened to call police, Mr. Mailly told him he would be "dead" if he closed the door. He then stood outside on the front step and pounded on the door for several seconds before leaving.
Police officers arrested him 17 minutes later, sitting in his car just down the street from Mr. Lanois' house.
In addition to the condition he stay away from his wife and her residence, the court also ordered Mr. Mailly to not visit his brother-in-law's house and prohibited him from possessing firearms.
But in court last Wednesday, Chief Bevan said Ms. Mailly -- who had temporarily moved back in with her husband around March 10 -- asked for a variance in the conditions. It was not granted.
Chief Bevan said an interview with police at that time gave no indication that her life -- or the lives of her children -- were in danger.
"The information she shared with police officers did not indicate any threat to her safety," said Chief Bevan. Within the week leading up to the killings, the couple again broke off the relationship, he said.
Ms. Saucier said contrary to what Chief Bevan said, her sister didn't want to move back in with her husband and was planning to file for divorce this week.
The family is planning a press conference today to talk further about the homicides.
The couple had a long history with police, Chief Bevan said.
Police first had contact with the couple in April 2002 when they investigated complaints of threats and harassing phone calls. They investigated Mr. Mailly again in May 2003 in relation to a complaint from a co-worker of Ms. Mailly. Then, in 2005, Ms. Mailly contacted police to report she was separating from her husband.
Mr. Mailly's estranged wife was most recently living in an Orleans townhouse, and was last seen Sunday afternoon at her former five-bedroom house in Ottawa's rural east end when she returned to pick up the children after a day with their father.
Chief Bevan said Ms. Mailly dropped the children off at the house at about 1 p.m. and spent the day with her family. She was supposed to return at about 9 p.m. to pick up the children.
"There was no sign that anything was amiss," he said.
But shortly after 9 p.m., neighbours reported hearing two explosions and looked outside to discover Mr. Mailly's house a raging inferno. Moments after the first explosion, Mr. Mailly, his body ablaze, stumbled out of the house and collapsed in the front yard where he died.
Neighbours said Ms. Mailly's car was parked in the driveway, her purse still locked inside. Others reported seeing the children playing in the yard in the hours before the blaze, which police said had been started with an accelerant.
While police couldn't confirm the exact cause, Chief Bevan said gasoline being spread throughout the house could have resulted in a similar explosion followed by intense fire.
Friends and neighbours at the Teal Street townhouse Ms. Mailly's shared with her children said yesterday the couple had an acrimonious breakup, although the children still visited their father regularly.
Next-door neighbours Debbie Reid and her 25-year-old daughter, Sarah, said Ms. Mailly began renting the unit in October, but dropped in only sporadically until about a month ago, when it seemed she and her children moved in permanently. "She told me that her husband would find her, so she would have to leave and go somewhere else," said the elder Ms. Reid.
Last week, Sarah Reid said she would keep an eye on her neighbour's place, after Ms. Mailly told her that her estranged husband had been harassing her and had broken into her house. Through the wall they share with the next unit, the Reids could hear the Mailly children running through the house and playing, but they never heard fighting or saw police visit the home.
However, another neighbour, Cindy MacAuley, who did not know the Maillys, said police visited the home in early February, jumping over the back fence to gain access to the house. Chief Bevan said police were called to the house after receiving a complaint from Ms. Mailly and found suspicious footprints around the house.
Debbie Reid said Ms. Mailly had been saving up for long time to get her own place.
"When she moved back in, she said she just wanted to have a normal life, get on with her life," said Debbie Reid.
She last saw 12-year-old Jessica on Friday, when she noticed the little girl giving some of her stuffed animals to some smaller children across the parking lot from their white-and yellow-sided row houses, not far from Place d'Orleans shopping centre. The porch light and inside hallway light at 147 Teal Cres. were switched on yesterday, and several bags of garbage were piled outside the patio doors in the small, fenced-in backyard.
When Ms. Mailly and her husband separated, friends Shaun and Lisa Fletcher helped her find housing in their complex, and she and her children ate dinner at the Fletcher home the night they moved in.
Mrs. Fletcher, who became friends with Ms. Mailly when she began working in the mail room at NRC and trained her for the job before transferring to another department, last saw her friend on Wednesday when they made plans to take their children shopping over the weekend.
Ms. Mailly's car was parked in front of her house as recently as yesterday afternoon, Ms. Fletcher said, but she never heard from her and become concerned.
Mr. Mailly's next-door neighbour and brother-in-law, Serge Payant, said the children often visited his farm to feed the horses carrots and apples and scatter feed for his chickens. He said children fed the animals on Saturday and Kevin, the youngest, drove a small ATV around the farm before the tragedy unfolded.
"For a couple of months nothing went well between Francine and her husband so she rented a house in Orleans. Sometimes she would spend the weekend here and go back home," he said.
"The kids played outside my house with the little ATV and a bicycle on Saturday. They were very nice kids so sometimes I would make them doughnuts. One time the girl asked her dad to buy some carrots so she could come here and feed my two horses," said Mr. Payant. "Sometimes Francine would come with the kids to play with the chickens because she liked animals too."
Mr. Payant said the heat of the blaze was so intense that no one could get closer than six metres from the house. Glass splinters from the blast landed in his yard about 30 metres away.
He described how the explosion was like a "bomb" that shook his house. By the time his wife and other neighbours came outside, the roof was on fire and windows and doors had been blown out.
Ms. Fletcher said the Mailly boys usually joined in the popular road hockey games at the rowhousing complex, and she thought all three children were enrolled in taekwondo classes. They were bused to nearby Ecole elementaire catholique des Pionniers.
Lionel Gibson, the head instructor at Tae Eun Lee Orleans taekwondo, where the two eldest children were students for about a year and a half, said losing the children is like losing a member of his extended family.
"These are very good kids," he said.
They had stopped training a few months go, but before they did, Brandon had earned a green belt and his elder sister was an orange belt.
Brandon was really into it, Mr. Gibson said.
"He pushed harder than everyone else," Mr. Gibson said. "The oldest sister had the talent. Technique came easy to her. It was just all there. She was gifted as far as martial arts goes."
It was also a sombre day at the Canada Post Ottawa mail processing plant where Mr. Mailly worked. As workers pulled into the loading dock at 1424 Caledon Place to prepare for their next run, they reflected on their co-worker, known to them as Frank.
"He was a good guy, he was a hard worker and a family man too, he talked about his kids a lot," said co-worker Tony Sullivan.
According to his co-workers, Mr. Mailly was a full-time employee at the plant who filled in for workers who were on holiday or sick leave, meaning everyone at the plant got to know him.
Co-workers said they didn't know about his marital problems until yesterday, and that he had recently taken a few days off to stay at home and take care of the children.
Mr. Sullivan said that the floor supervisors in the processing plant had gathered the workers in the morning. "We had a moment of silence; it's sad," said Mr. Sullivan, fighting back tears. "He was a family guy with small kids."
Mr. Sullivan said Mr. Mailly had been an assistant coach for his son's hockey team and was very involved with his children, even naming an auto body shop that he ran after his two sons, Brandon & Kevin Auto Restoration.
Chief Bevan said he met with the regional coroner for Eastern Ontario, Dr. Andrew McCallum, yesterday but it was too early to decide whether there will be an inquest.
However, the case will be considered by the provincial Domestic Violence Review Committee, which reviews all intimate partner and ex-partner homicides.