Canadian Couple Murdered in Mexican Resort

This article was originally published in Maclean’s magazine on March 13, 2006. Partner content is not updated.

This article was originally published in Maclean’s magazine on March 13, 2006. Partner content is not updated.

Canadian Couple Murdered in Mexican Resort

A little more than a week after Serge Ettinger and Crystal Chung were married in a mid-afternoon ceremony on a Mexican beach, Thunder Bay police began calling members of their wedding party, one by one, into a small room at the station containing a couple of chairs, a desk just large enough for writing, and two wall-mounted video cameras. The interviews, requested by Mexican authorities through Interpol, were to include all of the 50 Thunder Bay residents who had returned home on a direct flight from Cancun on the afternoon of Feb. 20.

Police focused in particular on the question of what time members of the wedding party first came across a set of bloody footsteps leading from room 4134 in the Barcelo Maya Beach Resort, just outside Playa del Carmen on the Mayan Riviera. It was there that Domenic and Nancy Ianiero of Woodbridge, Ont., also at the resort for a wedding, in this case their daughter's, died after their throats were slit in the early morning hours of the day Ettinger and Chung's guests were to fly home. Stacy Chung, the bride's sister, first saw the trail at 7:30 a.m. "They were half-footprints - half the foot," she says, and had apparently been made by someone wearing shoes.

Another guest, a Toronto lawyer attached to the party, spotted the trail as early as 5 a.m., hours before relatives found the murdered couple. Sometime around 7 a.m., just after the grisly discovery, a bridesmaid staying in a room directly opposite stepped into the hall to see the Ianieros' door ajar and a woman's head lying in a pool of blood. "She thought it was a lady 'cause the hair was long," said Ettinger, 31. The woman suggested to hotel staff that perhaps they could close the door. Instead, a maid began to mop up, working diligently, said Stacy Chung, "like she was mopping up spilled milk."

That scene on the morning of the Thunder Bay group's last day at the Barcelo did little to enhance what had otherwise been a happy occasion for Ettinger and his 27-year-old bride. Neither did the fact that two of their guests - Kimberly Kim and Cheryl Everall - were last week identified as suspects in a dubious investigation by Mexican police into the murders. "Instead of talking about the wedding - which was a beautiful wedding, it was perfect - this has kind of preoccupied everybody," Ettinger said.

Preparations for the ceremony began a year ago. Setting their sights on a warm locale, Chung and Ettinger debated for a time between Cuba and Mexico, but eventually settled on the Barcelo. Scott Mattson, a 31-year-old collision shop manager slated to be a groomsman, put a down payment on the trip in August; the balance was paid off by November. Despite such foresight, however, there were problems when the wedding party started arriving at the Barcelo, a monolithic resort of aircraft-carrier proportions, on Feb. 13. When one married pair, who were using Chung and Ettinger's ceremony as an excuse for their own honeymoon, checked in to their suite, they found that the fruit basket and champagne promised by the resort had gone to the wrong couple. "You could tell they were getting rooms mixed up but they were speaking Mexican," said Mattson. (When authorities later attempted to identify Kim and Everall, shoddy registration records sent them looking for King and Everald - much like the name of an obscure reggae band.)

For the wedding, held on a stretch of sand between the sea and a club called Captain Morgan's (the waiters wear costumes inspired by Treasure Island, while the bar is constructed in the likeness of a pirate ship), Chung wore a white strapless dress, complemented by a sprinkling of white orchids in her hair. A professional photographer provided by the resort snapped pictures. At the wedding's end, all the women lined up and hiked up their skirts for the camera, each flashing one leg in the manner of Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night. "It's so hard to be sexy," said one at the time.

The reception that followed featured a local drink - the cucaracha, a heady mixture of tequila, brandy and Kahlua - set ablaze and served with a straw. When the revellers realized Chung had no garter belt, she permitted a table napkin to be tied around her upper thigh. The resort's evening entertainment featured a Michael Jackson impersonator. He was so convincing that later, looking at photographs of her daughter posing next to the performer, the bride's mother could not believe the man was not Jackson.

The Thunder Bay gang spent the rest of their time swimming with dolphins, visiting Mayan ruins, and deep-sea fishing. When the news spread that a bridesmaid had seen a dead body in the room opposite hers, the wedding party was happy its flight was due to leave for Thunder Bay that afternoon. "Everybody just wanted to get the hell out," says one man. That morning, Cheryl Everall stepped from her room down the hall from the murder scene to find a maid mopping the tiles. "I did see something that was kind of like dirty gunk," she said at a news conference arranged by her lawyer, Lee Baig, in Thunder Bay. "It didn't overtly look like blood. I certainly wouldn't have thought it was blood. But it definitely was dirty on the floor." Only the day after she returned to Canada did she learn that the Ianieros had been murdered. A day after that, she and Kimberly Kim learned they were the Canadian women Mexican authorities were looking for in connection to the killings.

See also HOMICIDE.

Maclean's March 13, 2006