Murder in Muskoka
It’s a grim chapter in Muskoka’s history and it’s one that Deborah Vadas Levison knows all too intimately.
In 2007, Samantha Collins was murdered at her Wellington Street residence in Bracebridge, a crime for which her partner Ian Borbely was ultimately convicted.
Her remains weren’t discovered until 2010, sealed in plastic containers, inside a crate under a Wood Lake cottage. That cottage belonged to the Vadas family. Now Deborah Vadas Levison has completed a book on the crime that shook Muskoka and rocked her family to the core.
“I’ll never forget the surreal feeling when my brother called to tell me there had been a murder,” says Vadas Levison. “He said a crate had been discovered. That it had been opened. That there was a dead body inside. And that crate, with that body inside, had been hidden underneath our cottage.”
That discovery would touch off a series of events that had ramifications on many different lives, not the least of which was Vadas Levison’s.
Although she now calls Connecticut home, Vadas Levison was born and raised in the GTA and has been coming to Muskoka since she was seven years old.
She says the days that immediately followed the discovery at her family’s Wood Lake cottage were filled with panic and confusion for her family.
“We didn’t know if we’d been targeted in some way,” she says. “The sense of violation was enormous.”
Vadas Levison says the cottage was the place she loved most in the world. For her parents, it was something even more - a sanctuary and a “refuge against evil.”
“My parents survived the Holocaust and came to Canada as refugees. They thought they were immune up here in the peaceful woods, that they’d never encounter violence again,” she says.”The discovery of the crate under our cottage, with its horrifying contents, dredged up all their terrible memories of what had happened to them in the past.”
Vadas Levision says the investigation turned her family upside down.
“My brother was a suspect. Our property became a crime scene. All our tools were confiscated,” she says. “There was prolific media coverage of the murder, and some of it was pretty offensive. I had three young children I wanted to shield, and my husband and I were totally freaked out. My parents were traumatized.”
Something changed for Vadas Levison once she began to learn the story of Samantha Collins and the horrific details of her murder. She says she realized that all of the trauma her family had experienced in the wake of the crime paled in comparison to what the victim’s family must have been going through.
“I realized that I could give Samantha a voice so that she wouldn’t be just another statistic, a victim of domestic violence silenced forever,” says Vadas Levison. “The memory of this young woman deserves to be honored. And so do my parents’ stories.”
Vadas Levison has spent years working in the public relations and journalism fields. She says that she felt obligated as a writer to preserve the stories of the Collins family, as well as the story of her own family.
Vadas Levison says the book - titled The Crate: A Story of War, a Murder, and Justice - weaves together multiple genres, from true crime to memoir, and even some humour. For Muskokans, she says the book will have particular appeal, not only because they might be acquainted with the crime and some of the characters involved, but also because it’s uniquely of the area.
“It’s a bit of nostalgia, a romp through the 1970s,” she says. “The days of the giant papier-mâché trousers on Manitoba Street, blueberry pie at Sloan’s, Rombo’s pogo sticks.”
Above all, Vadas Levison says the book is a story of two ordinary families who found themselves in extraordinary circumstances.
“One thing I say in the book is that an act of violence is like a pebble dropped into a pond that can take generations to stop rippling,” she says. “Those ripples swept over all of us: the victim’s family, and the murderer’s, and over this entire community that had to deal with a ghastly crime in its midst.”
The Crate: A Story of War, a Murder, and Justice will be available starting June 19, 2018 on Amazon.
Vadas Levison will also be making multiple stops to promote the book, including events on Aug. 12 at the Muskoka Natural Food Market, Aug. 14 at the Huntsville Public Library and Aug. 15 at Muskoka Shipyards in Gravenhurst.