Cornwall Standard Freeholder

Wife charged in barn-fire death

By Frank MacEachern
Thursday, January 16, 2003
Cornwall Standard Freeholder

An Apple Hill man had veterinarian tranquilizer in him when he died in a fiery barn fire three years ago, said the Ontario Provincial Police as they charged his wife with first degree murder Wednesday.

Sarah Jane Besner, 40, was arrested late Wednes-day morning at her Apple Hill farm by the OPP and charged with first-degree murder in connection with John Besner’s death on Jan. 9, 2000.

She remains in custody and makes her first appearance in court this morning.

Sarah Besner surrendered peacefully, said Det. Insp. Jeff Bahm.

“She was arrested without incident by the two investigators (Const. George Tyo and Const. Charlene Davidson),’’ said Bahm. He doesn’t expect any other arrests.

The Besner family are relieved something had developed in the case after three years, said John’s brother Rolland.

“It’s a relief that there is something moving forward,’’ said Besner in an interview Wednesday night. “We’re anxious for the court to get going so that we can find out more details because we don’t know a whole lot right now.’’

Although the family knew almost immediately Besner had died in the fire, the OPP didn’t officially say until months later that Besner had died. DNA tests had to be completed at the Centre for Forensic Sciences in Toronto.

“The hardest part was waiting for Toronto to release the remains,’’ said Rolland Besner.

John, who was 40 at the time of his death, was a “happy-go-lucky’’ man who loved his adopted life in the country, but loved his family even more, said Rolland.

“He lived for his two children. He had the little guy (John Jr.) with him all the time.’’

Besner is survived by his parents John and Marion, his children Haley and John Jr., two teenaged children from a previous marriage who live in another Ontario city and by his older sister Colleen.

He met his wife when he worked at an Alexandria car dealership. She stepped in to the business to buy a car and they married in 1991.

John, who had grown up in Cornwall, spent years in the retail industry. But he quickly cast aside the suit and tie of city life for a farmer’s clothes as he threw himself into the couple’s equestrian business which they operated as Griffin Lane Farms.

The couple offered equestrian lessons as well as boarding horses for other horse owners.

Police said Besner’s death was consistent with a sudden intense fire with the presence of an accelerant.

Toxicology results discovered the presence of prescribed medications in addition to the tranquilizer.

“We attempted to collect every piece of evidence that we could,’’ said Bahm. He declined to say what the OPP believe to be the motive.

A neighbour said OPP investigators were regular visitors to the Apple Hill area during the last three years.

“I know the OPP has been sniffing around since it happened. They’ve talked to a lot of people,’’ said a man who didn’t wish to be identified.

The fire aroused suspicions among area residents almost from the minute it broke out, said a neighbour who said it seemed “odd’’ that Besner would die in a barn which was used primarily for storage.

Besner had been involved in another fire in 1999 as his pickup truck went up in flames after he had fallen asleep in it. Bahm said the investigators were aware of that fire, which had been investigated at the time.

© 2003  Cornwall Standard Freeholder