It was during Coming Home To Brookfield Days last summer that approximately 140 people attended a sports history night at the Brookfield Baptist Church.
An enjoyable and happy occasion, few people in attendance were aware that a serious crime story showed its ugly face during the evening.
Planned by an organizing committee of eight people under the direction of historian David Carter, “The Brookfield Sports Miracle” night paid tribute to Rev. Frank Locke, Donnie Rutherford and Wally Fisher of the 1947 Truro District Hockey League champion Brookfield Elks as well as a number of other early-day Elks.
As two comedy acts were part of the program and two acting awards would be presented, two special guests agreed to judge the acting. One was former Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Joe Lundrigan, the other was Lenore Zann, the former longtime Nova Scotia NDP MLA who recently ran as a Liberal and was chosen by Cumberland-Colchester voters as MP.
One significant coincidence was that Lundrigan and Zann were meeting for the first time; neither realized there was a tie-in from the past.
Legally blind for a number of years, Lundrigan played his early hockey in his native Corner Brook and across Newfoundland. He played later for Saint Francis Xavier University, Tulsa Oilers and the Maple Leafs. Zann had enjoyed an interesting ‘two-part’ career in acting and in politics.
“What seemed like quite a coincidental question to me, Lenore asked me if I ever knew a hockey player by the name of Spinner Spencer,” said Lundrigan, who resides with his wife Ann in Shubenacadie. “I was surprised, for no one mentioned Brian’s name to me more than a couple of times since my playing career.”
Lundrigan learned that Zann had an acting career before politics and had played Spinner Spencer’s girlfriend in the 1993 television movie Gross Misconduct (The Life Of Brian Spencer). And Lenore was surprised to find out Lundrigan and Spencer had been teammates with both Tulsa and Toronto.
“I always called him Brian, he was a friendly guy,” said Lundrigan. “I recall us sitting together on bus trips; Brian was just a normal guy in most ways. I’d describe him as an average Canadian kid; Brian was a good teammate.”
Following the July event, Lenore shared with three or four of us the interesting conversation she had with Lundrigan regarding Spinner Spencer. Unexpectedly, during a community event, the night had taken a strange twist and a dark side in sports had surfaced.
Both Lenore and Joe were very familiar with the tough life Spinner Spencer had lived, as told in Gross Misconduct.
On Dec. 12, 1970, Spinner, a native of Fort St. James, B.C., was playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs against the Chicago Black Hawks in Toronto. As CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada was televising the Vancouver-Oakland game, a problem was on the horizon.
Spinner’s father, Roy, drove from his home to the TV station in Prince George armed with a shotgun; he demanded that the station televise the Leafs-Black Hawks game. Unfortunately, a shootout with the RCMP followed, an officer was wounded, and Roy Spencer died tragically of a gunshot wound.
Spinner, a hard checking and popular player, spent parts of 10 seasons in the NHL; besides the Maple Leafs he played for Buffalo Sabres, New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins.
In 1980, he walked away from hockey and became submerged in drugs, crime and violence. In 1987 he faced a charge of kidnapping and murder in Florida. Facing the death penalty, Spencer would eventually be cleared of the crime and released.
Only months later, on June 3, 1988, Spinner, 38 years of age, was murdered in what was determined to be a botched robbery.
Call it fate, but two days after the sports history night, a friend from Kentville visited my Brookfield home. It was former RCMP officer Ron Belanger, who I had discussed Spinner Spencer’s life story with occasionally over the years.
Enjoying an exceptional police career, Belanger is one of those well-organized individuals and a great record keeper.
Not too surprised, I received an email a few days later from Belanger in Kentville. Attached were copies of three 1988 Florida newspaper articles regarding Spencer.
Reading each article closely, it was somewhat closure to a crime story revisited quite by coincidence.
Lyle Carter’s column appears every second week in the Truro News. If you have a column idea, contact him at 902 673-2857.