THE GUY ON THE GREYHOUND BUS

There’s intense interest around girl-train thrillers. Paula Hawkins’ The Girl On The Train sold millions of copies. Now it’s a motion picture. The girl-trend started with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. Then The Girl in the Ice by indie author Robert Bryndza took off. The girl-list goes on. The Girl You Lost, Girl In The Dark, The Good Girl and, of course, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series come to mind. I haven’t read them but respect the girls have done well in crime fiction.

But what about guys? And what about true crime? Especially true crime with a horror twist starring a demon straight outa Stephen King’s head. Have you heard about The Guy on the Greyhound Bus? The story where the psycho stabbed a sleeping bus passenger 100 times then cut off his head and paraded it like a carnival prize before gutting him and eating his eyes and his heart before the crowd? Well, it’s true. Now this deranged killer is scott-free because he was found not criminally responsible simply because he was a schizophrenic who wasn’t on pills.

I’m going to tell you the nearly unspeakable story of The Guy on the Greyhound Bus. It’s not to shock you with gory details, though there’s enough to go around. It’s really about victim and family rights as opposed to the killer’s. It’s also about what’s wrong with a broken criminal justice (legal) system and the strange world of forensic psychiatry. And it’s about proper public protection.

This gruesome murder happened on a bus loaded with 38 passengers. It was July 30, 2008. The Guy On The Greyhound Bus was Vince Weiguang Li, a 40-year-old Chinese immigrant to Canada who left Edmonton, Alberta eastbound for Winnipeg in the Province of Manitoba. The innocent and unsuspecting victim was Tim McLean, 22, a carnival worker heading home for a break. Around 8:30 pm, Greyhound 1170 was an hour west of Winnipeg on the TransCanada Highway. That’s when hellish horror happened.

The Greyhound made a rest stop about a half hour earlier. Vince Li was sitting near the front. He got off, had a smoke, then reboarded. Now Li moved toward the back. Carefully, he looked at each passenger before reaching the second row from the rear. Tim McLean sat on the passenger side by the window. The aisle seat beside him was vacant.

Li turned and made eye contact. Tim smiled. He motioned an invite to the seat. Li slowly sat down. Then Tim leaned back against the window with his headphones on and drifted off to sleep. Other passengers described Li as unremarkable—up to this point. He’d been quiet and distant. Now, a passenger across the aisle saw Li’s behavior change. He fidgeted, starting a low Chinese chant. Without warning—Li pulled a Bowie knife from his pack. He lunged it to sleeping Tim’s neck.

Tim let a blood-curdling scream. He tried to fight back. But Li didn’t go into a frenzy. Rather—as shocked, gasping witnesses described—Li robotically plunged the blade into Tim’s shoulders, neck and chest. Over and over and over. Terrified passengers screamed for the bus to stop and massed for the door. Now Li had Tim on the aisle floor, still plunging and plunging.

The driver braked the Greyhound to an emergency halt. Everyone bailed off except for Li. Tim was clearly dead but Li wasn’t even close to finished. Petrified passengers stood outside as traffic whizzed by. Aghast, they stared as Li sawed and hacked. Then Li stood. Blood-dripping knife in one hand. Tim’s severed head by the hair in the other.

Women shrieked. Men puked. Little kids cried as teens tried capturing it on phones. Then Li, expressionless behind sunglasses, came for the door—presenting Tim’s decapitated head. Presence of mind from the driver prevented Li’s escape into the crowd. He blocked the door but police were miles away. A passing trucker gave men in the group tools as weapons in case the psycho got out.

Li paraded Tim’s lifeless head—back and forth—up and down—along the parked Greyhound’s aisle. Then he went back to work. Li opened Tim’s chest and tore at his organs. He removed Tim’s heart, lungs and liver then ripped out entrails. Every piece of Tim’s body was defiled and strewn about the bus. But it got even worse.

Right in full view of the audience, Li digested Tim’s eyes and part of his heart. He cut off Tim’s nose and both of his ears, smelling them and licking blood from his fingers. But Li came prepared for this slaughter. Not only did he have the knife—he also had plastic bags to store separated items—packaging pieces for some future purpose. Part Jeffrey Dahmer. Part Norman Bates. Vince Li carried on.

Police and emergency responders arrived in mass. They contained the scene and attempted to reason with Li. It was senseless. Li continued to dissect Tim’s body and present parts for four hours. Arm-chair Swat members later crucified police for not shooting Li to stop his butchering rampage but the police held at bay. They tried to negotiate with the crazy man holding a knife. But you simply can’t kill a deranged man in this situation.

Without warning, Vince Li made a break for freedom. He smashed out a window and leaped to the ground meeting jolts from a Taser and teeth from a dog. Li was cuffed and it was over. The standoff, that is.

The crime scene was processed and witnesses were isolated. They took Li to a secure hospital. He’d also been injured in his attack—standard police procedure even for as bizarre a crime as this. But the aftermath was awful.

Bus passengers were severely traumatized. Some haven’t recovered today. That includes emergency personnel and professional people who were present and exposed to this trauma. But the biggest sufferers were Tim McLean’s family. They lost their loving son, brother, cousin and nephew. Friends lost a guy who’d give them the shirt off his back never mind a laugh from their innards. None of them ever got justice.

Tim McLean was an innocent young man. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time and a victim of circumstances much like the pedestrian creamed in a crosswalk by a drunk. Looking back, there were strands of fate bringing these two men together on that Greyhound bus. But could it be prevented?

Let’s look at Vince Li.

Vince Li was born and raised in China. He earned a degree in computer science then immigrated to Canada in 2001. He settled in Winnipeg and worked in Edmonton. Over time, Li’s marriage declined and they separated. Li had one brush with police for peculiar behavior. Records are sketchy about his mental assessments. Seems he was an undiagnosed schizophrenic not prescribed the right meds. Nor was he taking any when he boarded the Greyhound bus.

Li held minimal paying jobs at Walmart and did paper deliveries. He reclused like so many mentally-ill people do. Li was fired in Edmonton after a strange interpersonal altercation. That caused him to board the Greyhound for Winnipeg. He had no family, no friends, no support and no supervision. Vince Li was a ticking bomb.

Does that excuse his psychotic and dangerous criminal behavior?

Vince Li moved through the justice system quickly. The Guy on the Greyhound Bus got international attention. It wasn’t only the dramatics. There were plenty. This case opened a Pandora’s Box containing the issue of long-term criminal responsibility by the mentally ill.

In the early stages, everyone in authority agreed Vince Li wasn’t operating in a normal mindset. The police. The prosecutor. The defense. The psychiatrists. Even the judge. No one argued that. They were quick to form a conclusion without exploring the entire circumstances in a full and open trial. But Tim’s family had no input. No one in authority listened to what impact this brutal murder had on Tim’s family and friends, not to mention traumatized witnesses on the bus.

It’s the overall picture that’s never been put to rest. That includes whether it was conclusively proven that Li was out of his mind and had no concept of what he was doing to Tim was wrong. It’s also the overall concepts of punishment, holding an offender accountable no matter what their mental state and ensuring the public is properly protected from future danger.

Then there’s respect and support of victims. Vince Li spared Tim McLean’s family a lengthy trial. Li claimed he was not criminally responsible due to mental illness and the court bought it without calling traumatized witnesses and family members. They relied on expert opinions from forensic psychiatric witnesses who were clinically detached from the scene.

Judgment passed that Li was not criminally responsible for Tim’s murder due to psychosis caused by untreated schizophrenia. He was quickly locked up in a secure hospital facility where monitoring and treatment commenced for an indefinite period. Untold time and money were spent in “rehabilitating” Vince Li. They put him on medication and under various therapies. They even helped Li change his name to Will Baker.

But nothing was done for Tim McLean’s family or the traumatized people who watched Vince Li butcher Tim. There was little regard for the public’s protection that Li—now Will Baker—would be permanently locked up like the law should allow. It was left to the “system” to deal with Vince Li. That system is made of people. And people are flawed.

Here’s where the system is flawed. It’s made of people with law degrees and medical degrees. Particularly psychiatric degrees. These guys can get crazier than The Guy on the Greyhound Bus.

There’s something brain-draining about academics. It’s like they’ve never ridden a bus filled with the common folks they’re supposed to serve. A lack of mental clarity runs from psychiatric assessments to criminal verdicts to appellate decisions to legislative changes. The Vince Li—Tim McLean case is no exception.

On March 5, 2009—seven months after Li took Tim’s life—Vince Li was found not criminally responsible due to a mental illness. He was shipped to a secure treatment facility. Most of the polled public agreed this was the right decision. Like, how could someone kill and dismember a stranger on a bus be in their right mind? Warehouse Li, they agreed. Keep us safe from guys on the bus like him. He’s crazy. Just never let him out.

The shrinks saw it different. And lawmakers had little control.

When the criminal court system washed their hands of Vince Li, the mental health system took over. Their mandate is to recover someone, not to punish or deter them. Public protection is low on their scale. Success in mental health is measured by restoring someone to a healthy state and maintaining it. That’s a noble goal for psychiatry but a dangerous gamble for society.

Once they got Vince Li in the system, the experts went to work. There are extensive videos and transcripts available on hours and hours of a forensic psychiatrist interviewing Li and trying to get inside his head. “God made me do it,” Li said. “I was an evil son of an evil god. God chose me as the killer and God chose Tim as the victim. God controls all things and God made me do it.”

It took a bit to get Vince Li’s medication right and stabilize him. He wasn’t in a normal, functioning state of mind when he killed Tim McLean. But he wasn’t truly out of it. Vince Li knew exactly what he was doing and he remembered it. He described Tim’s gruesome murder detail-by-detail to his forensic psychiatric team just as a serial killer confesses to detectives.

You can argue lack of intent due to mental incapacity all day long. It’s bullshit. Vince Li got on that Greyhound prepared to kill. He bought that knife and he bought those plastic bags well in advance. Li now looked for an opportunity to use them. No matter what his mental state was, that showed planning and premeditation. Li wanted a victim and Tim McLean was it.

Something to consider about killers—they can be very, very good actors. Famous killers like Gacy and Bianchi were masterful manipulators. They told investigators and profilers exactly what they wanted to hear. Li might be a small player in the world of murders but he’s not unusual. There are many dangerous offenders warehoused in mental institutions. But there are few who did what Vince Li did to Tim McLean.

Now that Vince Li was out of the courts and jails, he was in the care of mental health care workers. Li was controlled and they adjusted his medication. They got him to function in an apparently normal state and began testing his response to freedom by slowly integrating him back into society. It was their mandate. Public protection was not.

By June of 2010—15 months after Li was absolved by the criminal justice system—he started supervised release. Two years later, he began unsupervised leave from the hospital but only for short periods. Bit by bit, Vince Li was put back on the street. By 2015, Li was in a half-way house and only monitored for medication. Finally, on February 10, 2017 Vince Lee was declared completely stable and reliable to function on his own, including regulating his own meds—even though all psychiatrists agree schizophrenia is an incurable mental disease.

A forensic psychiatrist was quoted saying at Lee’s release hearing that, in his opinion, Li “had only a 0.8% chance of relapsing”. How in the world he came up with that figure is beyond me. Maybe he moonlights as an actuary. That’s the flaw in the judiciary/psychiatric system. They put far too much weight in academic opinions and not enough on what actually occurred. And what can potentially occur. It’s the lunatics running the asylum.

Today, Vince Li is a free man. There’s no system oversight. He’s not accountable for his crime in any way. It’s exactly like it never happened. That’s plain wrong.

The flaw in the criminal legal (not justice) system is there’s no respect for victims like Tim McLean and his family. This “not criminally responsible due to a mental disability” loophole goes too far. There has to be some permanent restraint put on potentially dangerous people who prove they’re capable of violent acts.

The flaws disrespect protection of society. They neglect victim and family rights. Carol de Delley is Tim McLean’s mother. She’ll never get over this. Carol and Tim’s father, Tim McLean Sr. never got to say goodbye to their son—his body was completely unviewable.

“Li has an incurable disease that makes him do terrible things,” Carol says. “I believe he needs to be in an institution that addresses those needs. I don’t think it matters if you’re mentally ill or not. If you kill someone, you should lose your freedom. Period.”

To the average citizen, this case is more than a tragedy. It’s a travesty. How the public should be forced to take a chance on an unsupervised nut who committed the most barbaric act of public murder and cannibalism I’ve ever heard of is plain stupid. It’s too high a risk.

The shrinks disagree.

Vince Li is free on the street. He has no family, no friends, no support and no supervision. Li is a ticking time bomb.

18 thoughts on “THE GUY ON THE GREYHOUND BUS

  1. Liz Blackmore

    This day and the aftermath for the family, first responders and motorists who could not stop for safety reasons still resonates in my brain. It was beyond belief as the details were being broadcast on the morning news. My heart went out to Tim’s mom first of all. How terrible for this to happen and then be repeatedly played on media.
    The release and subsequent change of name for Lee is a further stab to the heart to all involved. Personally, I think he should have been held in a facility that would be able to continually monitor his daily routine.

    Reply
  2. Denis Barker

    If Li should be locked away for the protection of society so should all other individuals suffering from schizophrenia. There is no reason to believe that Li, even if he should discontinue his medication and relapse, would kill again. It’s not difficult to understand the reasons people kill; money, jealousy and sexual sadism top the list. Among those who are found not criminally responsible the motives are less understandable. A killing by a person in the grip of a psychotic delusion is as rare as a death by a lightning strike on a clear day. Is there any reason to believe that Mr. Li is now more dangerous than any other person with a background of psychosis? There is always the possibility that a particular paranoid delusion will drive a person to behave antisocially (consider John DuPont), but unlike criminals who are mentally competent their behaviour is not given to predictability, past is not prologue.

    it wasn’t very long ago that offenders who were mentally ill were locked away for indeterminate sentences, only to be released ‘at the pleasure of the Lieutenant Governor’. I met several inmates at the Oak Ridges facility in Ontario who had been incarcerated longer than the maximum sentence prescribed by the Criminal Code of Canada. In many cases their incarceration was justifiable (at least morally if not legally) because they would represent a continuing threat to society. It would, however, be unconscionable to do so to an individual who has not demonstrated a pattern of criminality, but committed a single offense, however heinous, in the grip of a psychotic delusion.

    A great deal of the public outrage surrounding Mr. Li’s treatment is driven by fear and ignorance. Decapitation and cannibalism are shocking crimes. The attack on a random victim, a young man, by a crazy foreigner is alarming. When these facts are married to a general distrust of psychiatric expertise and skepticism of the legal system the release of Li seems almost irrational. It is in situations such as this, when our survival instincts are triggered, that we need to take a deep breath and inventory what we really know versus what we think we know.

    Reply
  3. Frances

    I am still sick to my stomach reading this piece. Li was mentally ill and will always be mentally ill.
    How any legal system will not monitor this murderer is beyond me. He should never had been released from mental illness care where he belongs.

    Reply
    1. Garry Rodgers Post author

      I’m with you, Frances. It’s unfathomable to me that Li is absolutely free and not being monitored. There are some changes in Canada’s criminal law that deal with future offenders but can’t be retroactively applied to Li’s case.

      Reply
  4. Wendy Pearson

    Garry, I remember the Li case. I read about it when it happened. Either on the net or wherever. But I didn’t know the outcome as you have explained. You are right, the criminal system does not protect victims. I feel so sorry for Tim McLean’s family and the traumatized passengers on that bus. Why did the snipers not take this out? I have never traveled by bus in my life. And after reading this will make a point to never do so. But I know these kinds of heinous crimes can happen anywhere. No one is safe when you hear this guy is free., changed his name and walking around. Who’s his next lunch?

    Reply
    1. Garry Rodgers Post author

      Hi Wendy & thanks for commenting. There was a lot of criticism about how the police handled this while Li was desecrating the body but the way the law is structured, there was no legal authority to shoot him unless he put another person’s life in immediate danger. There’s no way a police officer would have been justified in sniping Li off, although they certainly had the ability to do it. Tim McLean was already dead and Li was clearly arrestable for that. As horrible as the mutilation and cannibalism is, that’s a relatively minor offense in the Canadian Criminal Code. The officers at the scene made the decision to wait Li out rather than make an aggressive arrest attempt where someone else may be hurt or killed, including Li. I believe they made the right choice as the incident ended without further violence however many will disagree with that. They acted within the law and that’s what they’re mandated to do. Shooting Li would amount to murder.

      Reply
      1. Wendy Pearson

        Garry, I appreciate the detailed explanation regarding the Canadian Criminal Code. And I’m not an advocate of murder, of course, but it’s astonishing to hear this: “As horrible as the mutilation and cannibalism is, that’s a relatively minor offense in the Canadian Criminal Code.” Thanks for spelling it out.

        Reply
      2. Garry Rodgers Post author

        I had to check the Crim Code before replying because I wasn’t sure if causing an indignity was a dual procedure offense – ie. indictable or summary conviction (felony or misdemeanor for the US). It’s straight indictable but has a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment. I’ve been involved in a few cases where we charged someone with causing an indignity to a dead body. That’s usually the result of a death where the perpetrator tries to conceal the body afterward such as the guy in “Under The Ground” where he cut up his girlfriend after killing her and buried her or where the deceased is dumped in the woods or a body of water. The largest sentence I recall was 18 months but that was tacked on concurrently to sentencing for the primary conviction. No one ever says the law is fair 😉

        Reply
        1. Wendy Pearson

          Thanks for looking that up, Garry and clarifying! Good to know. So, true. The law isn’t fair, is it? As writers, it’s good to know these things from experts like you. 🙂

          Reply
  5. Napemaskwa

    Perhaps next time the event won’t be quite so public or perhaps last time it wasn’t! Who knows?

    Reply
  6. Sue Coletta

    Wow. What a story, Garry! It’s hard to believe he’s walking the streets again. That poor family. And the witnesses, they’ll probably never forget the ordeal. Is the psychiatric community concerned about the children who witnessed this macabre act? They’re probably scarred for life.

    Reply
    1. Garry Rodgers Post author

      This story runs a lot deeper than what I wrote, Sue. It has a personal connection with me as one of my police colleagues who was a first responder to this incident committed suicide associated with PTSD. The Tim Mclean murder wasn’t the only contributing event to Ken Barker’s death but I’m sure it played a part. I wrote a blog post on PTSD and mentioned Ken in it. Here’s the link: http://dyingwords.net/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-nasty-bitch/#sthash.oBtqHNau.dpbs I also know the medical examiner assigned to this murder and it took its toll on her, too. I can’t imagine how it affected the civilian witnesses, especially the children. As usual, the “system” made incredible efforts to treat the perpetrator but neglected the innocent victims.

      Reply
  7. Dianne Kalk

    I am a retired pharmacist. I can tell you that men typically do not take their medication. Whether it’s lithium for their bipolar disorder, or anti-seizure medication for their epilepsy…or even, their statin for their cholesterol. You’re a man, you know that already. Guys tell you, the pharmacist, that they did take their medication. Why take more? Apparently, Bill Clinton did not refill his original prescription for high cholesterol! This assumption apparently does not apply to erectile disfunction drugs.
    I am worried about Vince li, I’ve forgotten his new name, but I feel that we will be hearing from him sooner or later.
    They’re going to do the same deal in the case from Calgary, where the murderer had his psychotic break at a house party, before killing 5 of his friends. Funny that, as the English say, he was on his escape route as soon as the cops were called. How can they say that he didn’t know what he was doing? The murderer’s dad is a big wig in the Calgary Police Service. The way that everyone has been pussy footing around this case since it happened leads me to think they are going to go for this type of release since he’s now diagnosed. Makes me feel scared. The guy couldn’t even talk at trial, years later.

    Reply
    1. Garry Rodgers Post author

      Hi Diane – sorry, I replied to you yesterday but for some reason, it disappeared. I think you’re quite right about men neglecting meds. Come to think of it, most of the cases where we apprehended a disturbed person were men off their meds. I’m vaguely familiar with the Calgary case in that it’s a high-profile police officer’s son but nothing more. My suspicion is there’s buck-passing in these mentally-disturbed cases. The courts and criminal system are only too happy to shove them over to the mental health care side. Thanks for commenting!

      Reply
    1. Garry Rodgers Post author

      It’s only us old cops who can see the humor in this stuff, Joe 🙂 It’s the way we stay sane 😉 Nope, we’ve got enough nuts north of the border to feed an army of squirrels. But of all the crazy stuff I’ve heard of, this one wins the prize.

      Reply

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