Just before suspected hitman Gene Lahrkamp left for Thailand earlier this year, he told his former military friend in their online group chat that he had a “job” overseas and would be in touch when he returned.
Lahrkamp also said the work was with a private military company without providing further details, according to a close friend and former colleague in the Canadian Armed Forces.
“So the last time we spoke to him was probably in February. And he told us he had a job set up with a (private military company) and he was going to go… overseas for a bit. And we will hear from him when he returns,” said the friend who asked not to be named.
“And then another friend of mine got a message from him… just as he came back. And he said, ‘Okay, like, everything’s fine.’”
That was before Lahrkamp, 36, was publicly identified as a suspect in the murder of former BC gangster Jimi Sandhu, who was shot dead outside his beachfront villa in Phuket, Thailand, on February 5. And that was before the Trail dog breeder — who spent six years in the army — fled as police hunted him across Canada.
His friend was shocked when news broke last week that Lahrkamp, fugitive BC Duncan Bailey, and two young Richmond pilots had crashed a small Piper plane near Sioux Lookout, Ontario. All four died.
He had been trying to contact his friend ever since Lahrkamp was accused of being an international hit man — desperate to find out what was going on.
“I tried to reach him in every way I could. My friends tried to reach him – we all had our phones on standby waiting for that private caller or him to come to the door, but that never happened,” he said.
All sorts of thoughts were running through his head: “Maybe he really does work for the government or something, right?”
“Like nothing really, really added to us. As to why Gene went down that dark road, it doesn’t make any sense.”
His friend, who lives in another province, will visit Lahrkamp at his home on a hillside overlooking the Trail. He owns one of the Belgian Malinois Lahrkamp dogs, as do the other former soldiers in their close-knit group.
“I go out every year. We’re on the phone with each other probably every week,” he said. “We would go hunting together or just hang out with the dogs. … We will climb the mountain. He’s planning to open a hunting camp, like a guided tour.”
The Lahrkamp he knew had the biggest heart, even though he was a bit secretive. Her friend cited the fact that Lahrkamp had turned down suggestions to put one of her puppies after birth with serious medical problems.
“Gene was like, ‘Why would I do that? It’s still a living thing,’” said the friend.
He didn’t know if Lahrkamp had a hard time getting cash as his uncle Wilf told Postmedia last week.
“Gene is very secretive when it comes to finances. He won’t divulge it. It’s always like, ‘I’m fine. I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine.”
The friend joined the military at the same time and the two men underwent basic training and infantry school together before the two joined the third battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment in Petawawa. They were both deployed overseas, overlapping for part of their tour along the Russia-Ukraine border in 2014.
Lahrkamp was trained as a sniper, his friend said.
“We slept in the same barracks together. He and I would practice almost every night on tactics and strategy, whether it was like raids, or like, urban operations, or shooting drills, gun drills, everything.”
He has replayed the surveillance video of Sandhu’s shooting time and time again. If one of the killers was Lahrkamp, his friend couldn’t believe “how reckless that was. Looks like his head isn’t in it. ”
Lahrkamp struggled with the transition from military to civilian life, especially after he broke up with an old girlfriend who was part of the dog breeding business, the friend said. The military desensitizes soldiers to violence and is sometimes hard to shake off once you’re out, he added.
“He was never really an emotional person to begin with, right? Unless you’re in the circle. Then you have to see that side of him, but no one else will ever see that side of him.”
Lahrkamp’s ex-soldiers are baffled by all the unanswered questions. Some still thought he was alive, the friend said.
“Gene is a great paratrooper, right. So we were thinking maybe he jumped out of the plane and it crashed?”
The Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash while the Ontario Provincial Police are conducting a broader criminal investigation. Postmedia has revealed that a complaint had been made to Transport Canada about pilot Abhi Handa four months before the crash.
Lahrkamp’s friend realized that, “I will never speak to that man again. And that sucks.”
“But in the end, we were also in the army together. And we know more than anyone that everyone has an expiration date.”