That’s all it took for would-be thieves to cut the heavy-duty steel lock at the gate and burn a rural Rimbey-area vacation home to the ground in the early hours of Nov. 23, 2020.
A gate, heavy steel locks and six security cameras weren’t enough to keep Terry Bearden’s property, located about a mile south of the Rimbey gas plant on Range Road 20 north of Township road 434, from being targeted for the third time.
But with everything locked down and nothing left to steal, the thieves found a few jerrycans of gas, presumably doused the house, lit it and left, the Beardens’ retirement dreams going up in smoke as the home burned.
After 16 years of of sweat equity making the property their ideal escape, plans to eventually settle on the property full-time are gone.
“It’s a huge loss,” said Bearden, who is a Red Deer resident.
When he arrived at the property later that morning, the remains of the home were still smouldering.
“Everything was gone. It was just a pile of ash and burned metal. There was nothing recognizable — just a hole in the ground.”
The security footage shows possibly four people in two vehicles entering the property at 4:54 a.m. on Nov. 23.
His Tacoma half-tonne truck was parked parallel to the gate, blocking the entrance, with a tire clamp on it and a steering wheel club, with the engine disabled.
But when he arrived at his property later that morning, the lock had been cut and the truck had been dragged away.
After entering, they turned off the camera by the gate, which the best footage would have come from.
No faces or license plates can be seen from the remaining cameras.
All equipment was locked up and disabled and there was nothing valuable left to steal. Nothing was taken except for the jerrycans out of the garage.
Bearden believes it was arson, as, with everything shut down, there was no ignition source on site, and says he’s convinced that with nothing to steal the trespassers became angry and lashed out.
That’s when he believes the perpetrators set the fire.
Cameras show the suspects leaving at about 5:02 a.m.
Bearden is a consulting engineer, and the property was also fully-off-the-grid and had its own power and running water.
The quarter section forested lot where they have yoga retreats, enjoy nature and camping with their family. It was their sanctuary and the couple called it “Graceland.”
Previously, generators, trailers and tools were stolen, but Bearden had taken measures to ensure that couldn’t happen again, locking everything away and disabling anything electric so it wouldn’t start up.
After each time the property was broken into, (in 2015 and again in 2019) the couple recouped their losses, repaired damages and rebuilt, but with nothing left now but a hole in the ground where the basement was, Bearden says no more.
While the couple will keep the property for camping, Bearden says they won’t attempt to rebuild.
And although he just turned 70, Bearden still lives an active and healthy lifestyle and doesn’t plan on retiring anytime soon.
“I’m done,” he said.
“My wife does not want to live out there now — she says it’s safer in the city. She’s not wrong.”
Bearden says the sad part is, break-in’s, even the same properties being hit multiple times, aren’t uncommon in the area, and it isn’t going to get better in the current COVID economy.
“It’s a plague on rural Alberta,” he said, adding he feels bad for the RCMP who have to deal with it all.
After all, holiday homes where people aren’t there year-round make for an ideal target, he says.
The Nov. 23 incident is currently under investigation by the RCMP and Bearden says he expects an update soon.
Bearden says the type of people who do this are career criminals who will steal anything they can pawn for drug money.
“Their job starts at 2 a.m. in the morning.’”
He also says they’re smart, come prepared with cordless tools and have already scoped out the properties to know about security features.
“They come equipped.”
A month later, the couple is still dealing with all the repercussions of the fire.
On Dec. 18, Bearden had to watch as demolition crews “hauled away the charred remains” of his home-away-from-home.
He says what criminals don’t consider is that their careless act that takes less than a minute, is weeks or months of an ordeal for the property owners to go through and recover from.
His wife spent three days filling out insurance forms, trying to remember all the contents of the home.
“You can’t, literally, resurrect everything you’ve put into a place over 16 years,” he said.
No suspects were ever arrested in the previous incidents for a lack of actionable evidence.
“You’ve got to have the fingerprint, DNA … good luck.”
However, he is hoping someone out there knows something and is offering a $5,000 reward to anyone who can provide information leading to the conviction of those responsible for burning down his home.
Those with any information are asked to email Bearden at firstname.lastname@example.org.