KILLER’S VIOLENT PAST COMES TO LIGHT
Phu Lam had violent history and faced financial ruin, court records show
EDMONTON — Phu Lam had threatened to kill his wife and her family. He had been previously charged with assault and illegal possession of a handgun. In recent months, a gambling problem left him on the brink of financial ruin.
This week, Lam, 53, is believed to have used a stolen handgun to shoot and kill his 35-year-old wife Tien Truong and seven other people, including two children. On Tuesday morning, he turned the gun on himself inside a Fort Saskatchewan restaurant surrounded by police.
Two children were inexplicably spared from the rampage.
On Friday, police identified the victims inside the home and suggested a new timeline for the “planned, deliberate, targeted” murders.
It took at least 40 hours for police to find the bodies. The killings may have happened as early as Sunday morning.
The six bodies were only discovered in the early- morning hours of Tuesday inside a north-end home.
Police still don’t know why Lam spared his one-year-old daughter and eight-month-old nephew; he dropped them off at a relative’s house after he killed the others, they believe.
Those killed were Lam’s wife, Tien Truong, her eight-year-old son, her parents, her sister, her sister’s three-year-old daughter and a friend.
Court documents show that Lam, believed responsible for the worst mass murder in Edmonton history, had a troubled marriage, financial troubles and a criminal background that included violence.
Edmonton police were called to Truong and Lam’s home on Nov. 3, 2012, after Truong’s sister called police, telling them she worried for Tien’s life. Truong and other family members provided statements. Lam was arrested the next day and charged with assault, sexual assault and seven counts of threats causing death. He was denied bail.
On Nov. 6, 2012, Truong applied for an emergency protection order (EPO). She told the courts that Lam had threatened to kill his entire family.
The EPO was granted; Lam was ordered not to come within 100 metres of Truong or her family. But in the days that followed, Truong and her family appear to have reconsidered.
The couple was slated to return to court on Nov. 16, 2012. Truong failed to show up and Lam remained behind bars, but the judge deemed the case serious enough to adjourn until Jan. 18, 2013. After Lam and Truong failed to appear for the second hearing date, the order was vacated.
The criminal charges — including the threats to cause death — were also stayed on Dec. 21, 2012. A few days earlier, Alberta’s ministry of justice received new statements from all the witnesses in the original complaint, recanting or changing what they had told police.
The main complainant issued a sworn video statement recanting all allegations against Lam, Alberta Justice says.
Edmonton police say they offered “supports” to Truong and her family at the time. They were never called back to the home.
Lam came to Canada in 1979. His new wife, 18 years his junior, arrived in 2003. Six years later, Lam helped bring her parents and sister.
The relationship soured shortly after Truong came to Canada, she testified. Lam took away her phones and limited contact with friends. He had physically abused her, she claimed, choking her at least twice.
The testimony also revealed discord over a young child in the relationship. Months before the EPO, a DNA test confirmed the eight-year-old boy was not Lam’s son.
Police aren’t sure about the status of Truong and Lam’s relationship at the time of the killings or whether Lam was living at the home they coowned, but there were no signs of a forced entry.
At the time of the killings, the couple were facing financial pressures that would affect their livelihoods.
In February 2013, Lam filed for bankruptcy when his gambling debts — he had completed a recovery program in May 2014 — threatened to overwhelm him. At the time, he owed thousands of dollars on more than a dozen credit cards, with debts amounting to more than $110,000.
He had no income, and his few assets included the couple’s furniture, a 1989 Toyota Camry and a single dollar.
In recent months, Lam had been working again, earning more than $3,000 per month. He was a machine operator with Alta Steel, a scrap-based mini-mill operation in northeast Edmonton, and occasionally worked as a handyman in VN Express, the Fort Saskatchewan restaurant.