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Outdoorsy family man and quiet introvert linked forever by Mayerthorpe murders

BARRHEAD, Alta. - One is an outdoorsy, athletic, unassuming man who likes nothing better than working with his hands and being with his wife and two daughters.

BARRHEAD, Alta. - One is an outdoorsy, athletic, unassuming man who likes nothing better than working with his hands and being with his wife and two daughters.

The other is his introverted, quiet comrade who spent his youth building models and reading comics.

Bound by friendship and family, Shawn Hennessey, 29, and Dennis Cheeseman, 25, will now be forever tied together by one of the worst mass murders in Canadian history.

The two men had been facing charges of first-degree murder for helping James Roszko shoot four RCMP officers in March 2005 on his property near Mayerthorpe. They pleaded guilty to manslaughter on Monday.

It was a crime that shocked the country and traumatized Mayerthorpe. After killing constables Anthony Gordon, Leo Johnston, Brock Myrol and Peter Schiemann, Roszko turned his gun on himself, taking to the grave the question of whether he had accomplices and who they might be.

There had been speculation that someone must have helped Roszko return to his farm after he fled in his truck the day before the murders. He had raced off when a bailiff tried to execute a court order and his vehicle was later found more than 20 kilometres away.

Hennessey and Cheeseman were charged in July 2007 after a lengthy RCMP investigation and were scheduled to go to trial this spring.

The charges against them were the first indication that investigators had finally determined how Roszko set up the ambush. The RCMP acknowledged that neither man was actually involved in gunning down the constables.

Hennessey was born in Calgary on May 30, 1979, and lived there for six years until his family returned to Nova Scotia. But a shortage of jobs prompted them to return to Alberta - this time to Barrhead, a small town northwest of Edmonton.

Growing up, Hennessey spent every hour he could hunting, fishing and boating with his grandfather. A family photograph shows the boy beaming as he grips a walleye almost as big as he is. He was a shy child and his mother made a point of warning her son's teachers about the boy's timidness.

"I went into his school and told his teacher not to holler at him because it would make him cry," his mother Sandy Hennessey told The Canadian Press in September.

Fascinated by boxing, the youth joined the Brotherhood Boxing Club, where he honed his skills and his muscles until he started winning bouts and awards. He was named male athlete of the year in his community.

Despite his prowess in the ring, however, he was never pushy or a show-off, said his mother.

He had jobs at a furniture shop and a hardware store. He also worked on oil rigs - a high-paying job that he gave up to work at KAL Tire in Barrhead to be close to his wife and two daughters. In his off hours he loved to ride snowmobiles and drove a car in the demolition derby.

Cheeseman's sister, Christine, met Shawn Hennessey in high school and they fell in love.

"The way he looked at me," she reminisced. "He would do anything to make me happy, not just me, people around him. If someone asked, 'Please give me a ride. It's cold out,' he would say, 'Hop in.'

"He would never hurt anybody. Ever. He is not a monster."

Cheeseman had been born in Barrhead on Jan. 18, 1984. When he was just a toddler, his father was killed by a drunk driver. Christine Hennessey played a big role in raising her brother, although she was only two years older.

During his teen years, when others would be out partying, Cheeseman was content to stay home making models and reading comic books, she said.

"He is shy. Naive. He would do anything for anybody. He was very non-judgmental."

Cheeseman dropped out of high school even though he was well-liked by his teachers. He took a job at a health foods company in Barrhead and eventually became a team leader at the plant.

When his sister started dating Shawn Hennessey, the two men became friends. They were so close that Hennessey became a father figure to Cheeseman, she said. At the wedding, Cheeseman proposed a special toast to his new brother-in-law.

"Shawn is his hero. Anything that Shawn was doing, he would do. Shawn kind of became his dad, a male figure in his life that he never had before."

Now, with their guilty pleas, the two have guaranteed that they will always be linked in the minds of Canadians.

-By Bob Weber and John Cotter in Edmonton

 
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