EXCLUSIVE: Unsealed police documents reveal previously unknown details about the death of Lindsay Buziak

Obtained in a court action by Capital Daily, the documents allow the most comprehensive picture yet of Buziak’s last days

By Zander Sherman
October 3, 2020

EXCLUSIVE: Unsealed police documents reveal previously unknown details about the death of Lindsay Buziak

Obtained in a court action by Capital Daily, the documents allow the most comprehensive picture yet of Buziak’s last days

Photo illustration by Tristan Pratt
Photo illustration by Tristan Pratt

EXCLUSIVE: Unsealed police documents reveal previously unknown details about the death of Lindsay Buziak

Obtained in a court action by Capital Daily, the documents allow the most comprehensive picture yet of Buziak’s last days

By Zander Sherman
October 3, 2020
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EXCLUSIVE: Unsealed police documents reveal previously unknown details about the death of Lindsay Buziak
Photo illustration by Tristan Pratt

In 2019, Capital Daily hired veteran journalist Zander Sherman to take a look at Vancouver Island’s most notorious unsolved case: The 2008 stabbing death of realtor Lindsay Buziak. As many remember, Buziak was a 24-year-old agent with Remax Camosun Realty who died while showing a Gordon Head home. But following a Dateline documentary in 2010 — which offered a few facts and much finger-pointing — nothing new has come to light. For the last year, Sherman and a small team of journalists have been quietly working to find out what really happened. They have interviewed dozens of people, obtained more than 1,000 emails, and petitioned the BC Supreme Court to unseal 35 applications to obtain judicial authorizations. After a recent ruling by Justice Robert Punnett, those documents were partially released to the public. The documents reveal previously unknown details of the case, including that Buziak’s online activity mysteriously dropped off in the days before her death, and that police appear to know far more about the “crime phone” used to contact Buziak than previously disclosed. Below, Sherman shares his thoughts on what the trove of new information tells us. Have tips? Send them to zander@capnews.ca

A series of professional portraits taken of Lindsay Buziak.

WARNING: This story contains graphic descriptions of violence 

Earlier this year, Capital Daily went to court seeking previously unreleased documents on the investigation into the death of Lindsay Buziak. Over a decade has passed with no arrests, and as the Saanich Police have repeatedly said, its investigation has “exhausted” various avenues of inquiry. 

In Canada, the public has the constitutional right to access court documents, except in unusual cases that meet stringent criteria. On September 11, the Saanich Police and Crown consented to release dozens of  judicial authorizations related to the case, for the first time giving a behind-the-scenes look at the search for those responsible for Buziak’s death. 

Included in the newly released material are dozens of production orders that forced ten companies such as Facebook, Bell Canada, and Rogers to turn information over, as well as a “tracking warrant” and “number recorder warrant” that gave the Saanich Police even more means to gather evidence. 

Many pages remain blacked out, and many people’s names besides Buziak’s are still redacted. However, those people’s identities as reported in this story are based on information and descriptions already in the public record. None of the details have been proven in court, but below, Capital Daily has assembled the most complete description yet of the last days of Lindsay Buziak’s life. 

Childhood photo of Lindsay Buziak released to media by family in the early days of the investigation into her death.

The plan to end Buziak’s life was put into motion with a phone call. It was the end of January, 2008, several days before the fatal showing. As has been previously reported, Buziak thought the woman on the phone had a “strong Mexican or Spanish accent.” But in the documents there’s no mention of it being fake. The woman on the phone said her husband had just been transferred to Victoria and they were in need of a million-dollar house.

The documents show that the call was met with immediate suspicion by Buziak and her boyfriend, Jason Zailo, who felt it was “too good to be true" (previous reporting has said Buziak “wasn’t apprehensive” about the eventual showing). There were also more immediate questions, like why the woman had chosen Buziak, a new real estate agent with limited experience. The woman would only say the young realtor had been “referred.” Referrals are a big part of a realtor’s business, and at minimum Buziak would need to thank the person who had allegedly recommended her. But when Buziak called around to ask her other clients, no one knew anything about it. In the documents there’s no mention of a “referral client” whom Buziak allegedly tried to contact but was away on holiday, as has been previously reported.

Buziak and Zailo at a Remax staff party.

Over the following days, there were 10 more calls between the Vancouver number and Buziak’s phone. If the “couple” provided a name, Buziak doesn’t seem to have told anyone or written it down. The nickname she assigned the number — “Million dollar” — offered no clues. 

A plan emerged to show the couple a number of listings — all of them “vacant” and “new,” as per the caller's wishes. On Friday, February 1, Buziak appears to have emailed some suggestions. At some point, according to the documents, the owners of what would come to be known as the main crime phone travelled to the Island via BC Ferries. Police believe that Buziak provided the address of the now infamous Gordon Head house, 1702 De Sousa Pl., during an approximately 10-minute call. After hanging up, according to the documents, the caller may have used MapQuest for the purpose of “familiarizing themselves with the area” and “planning escape routes.” 

At 7:15pm that evening, Shirley Zailo, the mother of Buziak’s boyfriend (and a colleague at Buziak’s Remax Camosun office), showed up at the Vic West condo where her son and Buziak lived. The documents don’t say why Shirley was at the condo, but she apparently overheard a fifteen-minute conversation between Buziak and the caller. 

According to the documents, Buziak planned to meet the caller and her husband at the Gordon Head home at 5:30pm, just after the February sun had set. The couple would be flying in from Vancouver that afternoon. 

In the time leading up to the showing, Buziak appears to have felt increasingly conflicted. The commission she would get from any sale would be substantial — likely thousands of dollars — and according to a letter allegedly from a friend, Buziak was “stressed about money.” And there was an even more pressing matter: Her friend’s bachelorette party. It was in Vancouver on that Saturday night, but the visiting couple wanted to see houses late into Saturday evening and again throughout Sunday, meaning Buziak would likely miss the gathering.

Buziak was still awake around midnight when Zailo returned home from playing hockey. In another previously unreported detail, Zailo offered — as apparently he had done before — to do the showing for Buziak (he and Buziak had met at the same real estate tutoring course in 2006, and Zailo was and is a licensed broker). As well, Zailo reminded Buziak that she had received a similar call from a woman about a month earlier, and that the client’s $900,000 budget had been almost identical. But in that case, the mysterious call had ultimately yielded a sale. There’s no indication the two calls are connected, and Zailo appears to have brought it up only to reassure Buziak.

The days leading up to the showing would also reveal an odd pattern in Buziak’s online activity. In their investigation, Saanich Police would closely examine Buziak’s Toshiba laptop, which Zailo voluntarily provided. Looking at Buziak’s digital life, the police noted that there were missing chat messages, though they were unable to determine when those files had been deleted. Facebook — still relatively new at the time — was another source of inquiry, and the Saanich Police noticed that from January 24, 2008 to February 3, 2008 — a span ranging from two weeks before Buziak’s death until one day after — “there were no messages from any of Buziak’s 700 friends …” (The messages being discussed appear to have been from Buziak’s “wall,” where friends could post messages seen by other friends). Given Buziak’s usual pattern of daily Facebook activity, investigators found this “very odd,” but it’s unclear what, if anything, they believe is responsible for the change. 

On Buziak’s list of Facebook friends, they quickly saw people who were “violent criminals and involved in the illegal distribution of drugs.” The names of those people are still heavily redacted, but the Saanich Police initially believed that Buziak’s association to them “may have played a role” in her death. The documents also mention Buziak’s four-day trip to Calgary in December, 2007. Buziak was visiting her father, but also went out with friends. As has been previously reported, at least one of those friends was involved in a major drug bust after Buziak’s death. If those details are in the documents, they are still redacted. 

A Saanich Police sketch of the woman who arranged the February 2 showing.

On February 2, the day of the showing, Buziak stopped by Remax’s Chatterton Way office, where she worked. According to a receptionist whose identity is still redacted, the visit occurred between 3pm and 4pm, when we know Buziak was having lunch with Zailo. Regardless of the correct time, the receptionist said Buziak was feeling “really weird” and “freaked out” about the showing. Buziak appears to have provided the receptionist and another coworker with the phone number for “Million dollar” to see if they could find a record with other agents in Victoria. Nothing came back. 

At Sauce, a now-closed restaurant in Downtown Victoria (the site is now occupied by J.R. Slims), Buziak is said to have eaten quickly, wanting to change before the showing. The documents say Zailo once again offered to show the house on Buziak’s behalf, but Buziak apparently declined. In typical fashion for the busy, sociable realtor, she apparently planned on attending both the showing and the Vancouver bachelorette party. 

Buziak (centre) pictured with friends outside Sauce in this image taken from her Facebook.

Around 4:30pm, Buziak likely returned to her and Zailo’s condo. While she was getting ready for the showing, Zailo went to SHC Autographx, an autoshop five minutes from Sauce. The owners had apparently hired Buziak to help sell a property, and Zailo seems to have gone there to present an offer. 

While at SHC, Buziak called Zailo to tell him she was on her way to Gordon Head. The documents also say Zailo then offered to meet her there, ostensibly to deliver the paperwork from the SHC couple — which may have required Buziak’s signature — but also to make sure she was okay. The documents say that Buziak agreed to let Zailo follow her, but still wanted to do the showing herself. As Zailo later told police, Buziak had a “very strong personality and liked to do things herself.” 

Right around the same time, the documents say Zailo got another call, which our investigation found to be from his friend Cohen Oatman. According to Oatman’s redacted statement to police, he and Zailo had plans to meet for dinner, but his cell phone battery had died and he called Zailo from a payphone in town. The two decided to go to the Gordon Head house together to wait for Buziak before presumably continuing on with their plans. Oatman drove to the SHC parking lot, left his vehicle, and got into Zailo’s 2005 Range Rover. Security footage shows them leaving SHC at 5:30pm.

According to the documents, Zailo tried to find the address using his vehicle’s navigation system, but it didn’t work, so he called Buziak to ask for directions. The visiting couple had apparently just arrived at the house and Buziak had to cut the conversation short: “Oh, I’ve got to go. They’re here.” Zailo then told her to text him the address. The text came soon after, and Zailo responded by letting Buziak know he was on his way. As has been previously reported, that last text was never opened. 

The notes kept by Lindsay Buziak after her first call from "Million dollar" (Saanich Police).

By my team’s calculations, Zailo and Oatman arrived at the house about 5:45pm. As they were turning onto the street, Zailo is said to have glimpsed a male figure through one of the house’s front door windows. Reading the documents gives the impression that the sound of Zailo’s vehicle prompted the couple to abandon their plan of leaving out the front door and instead flee out the back, as police have said they did. 

According to police, the man and woman were Caucasian. It’s unclear if there is a discrepancy between Buziak’s identification of the woman as Hispanic and descriptions of her as a 35-to-40-year-old white woman with — according to reports — shorter blond hair and a bizarrely memorable dress. As for the man, he is described as about six feet tall with possibly brown hair. He was wearing a “classy” brown jacket that probably fell below his waist, according to Zailo. 

Screenshot from a Crimestoppers re-enactment of the crime, depicting the dress and jacket of the unknown couple (Source).

Previous reporting has been vague about what happened next, saying Zailo “and a friend” found Buziak’s body, and that the two subsequent 911 calls were made by the same person. But the documents shed significant light on this critical time and contradict previous accounts. 

After pulling onto the street — a tiny cul-de-sac with only one finished house at the time — Zailo texted and called Buziak’s cell. Her black BMW was in the driveway, he noticed, but there were no other cars on the road (and police say the suspect couple left on foot). For ten minutes, Zailo and Oatman waited and watched. Again, by my team’s calculations, they got out at about 6:00pm and walked up to the house. The front door was closed and locked, which Zailo found odd (during real estate showings, the front door is customarily left open). He rang the doorbell “about ten times” with no answer.

The home's first floor pictured soon after Buziak's killing (Saanich Police).

Zailo and Oatman then walked to the back of the house. They looked for a basement entrance “but found it in darkness,” according to the documents. They returned to the front yard and peered in the windows. Buziak had unlocked the house with a lockbox — a lockable container used by realtors to store house keys — and Zailo theorized Buziak must have taken it inside the house with her, preventing anyone else from entering. Zailo noticed the “for sale” sign on the lawn, which — in the still relatively early days of cell phones — had the office number of the listing agent and not their personal cell number. It was after-hours, and Zailo called his mother to get a direct line for the house’s listing agent, who was one of Buziak’s colleagues. He then paged the agent asking for the passcode for the garage, but the documents don’t say if any response was received. 

At 6:05pm, Zailo called 911. According to a transcripted summary of the call, he explained that he and his girlfriend were both realtors, and that she was meeting a female client from out of town. He then said Buziak had asked him to “kind of follow her” because she was “kind of scared.” He had arrived at the house after Buziak, he said, and seen a man “in the door” (it had glass panels). He and his friend had tried the door but it was locked. Buziak’s car was there, and through the front door window he could see the heels she had kicked off prior to walking through the house. 

After hanging up, Zailo and Oatman walked to the side of the house, and for the first time noticed a large, almost completely enclosed patio. They peered over the fence and saw the open back door, at which point they began to panic. Zailo boosted his friend over the fence before running back around to the front door. Oatman went through the inside of the house and unlocked the front door. Zailo and Oatman then began doing a sweep of the house, Oatman covering the first floor while Zailo ran at what he has described as full speed upstairs. 

In this screenshot from video released by Saanich Police, Zailo re-enacts for an investigator the route he took upon entering the house (Source).

Buziak was in the master bedroom at the top of the stairs. As soon as Zailo found her, he appears to have summoned Oatman, who made a second call to 911 at 6:11pm. According to Oatman’s summary of the call, he said that he and Zailo had just entered the house, seen “bloody footprints” and found Buziak lying in a “pool of blood.” The documents say Zailo checked Buziak’s arm for a pulse and tried to perform CPR. Police would later say she had been attacked between 5:38 and 5:41pm, when her Blackberry made an accidental call. This is corroborated by the coroner’s report that puts her time of death at approximately 5:40pm, five minutes before Zailo and Oatman showed up. The official cause of death was determined to be blood loss due to “multiple” stab wounds.

Lindsay Buziak's body is removed from 1702 De Sousa Pl. in this screenshot from a broadcast by A Channel, now CTV (Source).

When the Saanich Police arrived, the documents show they took Zailo to the police station for an interview, checked the house to see if anyone was still inside, and began searching the area with a canine unit. The police dog deployed apparently searched along the property’s eastern and western perimeter, but not along the south, which was considered “contaminated” by the movements of police officers and first-responders (who presumably threw the dog off the scent). Inside the house, police searched for a “knife or other sharp object,” hair and fibre evidence, DNA, and “blood splatter” evidence. They don’t appear to have found a weapon, but what they were able to determine from the other evidence — including the bloody footprints — is not apparent. The property owner, who had been in the home just prior to the showing, appears to have provided fingerprint and footprint samples so they could be eliminated from suspicion. 

The view through the home's front door in this crime scene photo taken by Saanich Police. According to Zailo, he immediately ran up the stairs while Oatman searched the first floor.

According to the documents, the Saanich Police then immediately looked into the phone used to contact Buziak. It was pre-paid and had not been used to contact anyone but Buziak. The name used to register the phone was “Paulo Rodriquez,” which the Saanich Police determined to be a fake name. 

Based on cell tower information, police appear to know the area where the phone was purchased, and where the person or people who used the phone are “mostly likely from.” Saanich Police determined the name of at least one person in possession of 'fictitiously registered' pre-paid phones allegedly used to 'facilitate illegal activity in a covert manner,' though nothing in the public record indicates whether police considered this person a suspect in Buziak’s murder, or ruled him out.

In the coming weeks, Capital Daily will be back in court seeking more information, which Sherman and his team will continue to investigate. Additional reporting by Ashley Gladwish and Jon Miller.

Editor's note: The final sentence of this story was updated on Dec. 3, 2020 to better reflect what can be concluded from the documents as they relate to the police investigation into the pre-paid phones. This story was further updated on Jan. 7, 2021: A previous version described the coroner’s report as a “previously undisclosed document.” As we've recently discovered, the coroner's report was available online prior to publication of our story. 

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