Of all the folks ambling around the folksy-cute rock-climbing community of Squamish, British Columbia, which is about 65 miles north of the U.S. border, no one is more perplexed by the unsolved 2017 murder of a onetime neo-Nazi troublemaker lunatic named Davis Wolfgang Hawke than his last girlfriend, Eva McLennan, who knew him only by how he first introduced himself, as Jesse James, avid vegan cragsman, adventurer, technologist, futurist, nutritionist, philosopher, writer, occasional poet, ex-officer in the Israeli Defense Force, and holder of a theoretical physics Ph.D. from Stanford. If that seems like a lot to take in, just imagine how it was for her. The guy she’d been in love with was pretty much just a spectral figment of his own imagination. Even his theoretical degree was purely theoretical.
The fullness of this realization didn’t happen right away. First came the murder, him found shot inside his 2000 GMC Yukon XL, which is where he lived, off a service road outside of town, digging the peripatetic so-called vanlife, the truck then torched such that you’d never know it was once bright red. All his gear vanished in the inferno, too — his climbing stuff, two phones, two laptops, a bunch of USB drives, everything. At the time, McLennan spent her nights in a tent a short distance away and stumbled upon the scene expecting only to enjoy another day of climbing the area’s many outcroppings and crags. Their last words to each other were “Good night, sweet dreams, I love you.” Instead, chaos and upheaval and death and cops.
“The vehicle was unrecognizable to me,” McLennan says, morosely.
In the aftermath, she told the police all she could, especially about the Bitcoin fortune Hawke said he possessed, worth millions, if not at least a billion, which may have been the killer’s motive. But she couldn’t supply the one bit of information the police really needed in order to move forward, Jesse James’ real name. For two years the pair went out, spending every waking moment together, and she didn’t have a clue. So, the case went cold, until late last year, when a DNA match finally surfaced and James suddenly became Hawke, 38 at the time of his murder, and all that he was and wasn’t.
McLennan, of course, was floored.
When the news reached me, I was pretty shocked, too. I’d spent a week or two with Hawke back in 1999, when he was a 20-year-old student at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, to write a piece for Rolling Stone about his allegiance to the former German führer (“Rise and Fall of the Campus Nazi,” RS 823). Our introduction took place inside a crappy hot-tin trailer, me ushered into his office by his then-fräulein to find Hawke sitting behind a massive desk dressed in full SS-black Nazi regalia, including the requisite swastika armband, tied-back ponytail, a sparse Hitleresque push-broom mustache, a German Luger pistol resting conspicuously a few inches from his trigger finger — and looking not at all like the highly rated chess-playing geek he was as a kid. Only Hawke wasn’t Hawke in 1999. He was Commander Bo Decker, founding leader of the American Nationalist Party. He called his gun-toting followers, whom he numbered in the hundreds, the Knights of Freedom. It was all kind of insane and delusional, what with him going on about the inevitable day (“I do have a sense of imperium”) when he’d become president of the United States, thereafter to deport all blacks, sterilize all Jews, and execute all gays.
A few weeks later, I met with him again, in Washington, D.C. He was supposed to lead a big rally there, and the cops turned out in force. But hardly anybody showed up and Hawke fled the scene, thoroughly humiliated, disbanding his party shortly thereafter and disappearing from sight, much to the dismay of some of his Knights.
“That is desertion in the face of the enemy,” one of his fellow racists told me. “Normally, you’d be shot for that.”
After that, I didn’t think about Hawke again for another five years, until he resurfaced as the central character in a 2004 book called Spam Kings, with author Brian McWilliams dubbing him the Spam Nazi. Turns out he’d reinvented himself as one of the first pariahs to flood the nation’s email inboxes with unsolicited come-ons for various girl-wowing sex pheromones, pyramid schemes, loans, penis-enlargement pills, and instructions for how you, too, can become a spammer scammer just like him. He was damn good at it, too, netting somewhere over $100,000 a month, which he converted into gold. In 2005, however, AOL sued him and won a $12.8 million judgment, after which, presto chango, he went back underground, this time determined to stay in the shadows. And it wasn’t only because of the AOL fiasco. At some point, he ditched his gold and piled the proceeds into Bitcoin, which had started another of its periodic runs, levering his wallet into the stratosphere and earning him, he told McLennan, “multiple international threats,” including the unwanted attention of the Russian mafia.
And that’s about all he told her about his past. Almost everything else, he kept tamped down and hidden. One biggie is that he was Jewish by birth, a fact that he hated almost from the start, which is why, two days after graduating from high school, he marched over to the courthouse and legally jettisoned his given name, Andrew Britt Greenbaum, of the Boston Greenbaums, in favor of Davis Wolfgang Hawke, of the who-knows-where. And, for McLennan, it seems that shocks like these will never stop coming.
“Frankly, I’m terrified about what else I’m going to learn about him,” she says. “It’s like, ‘What else is there? What else you got?’ Is there more stuff that goes beyond hate speech? I couldn’t tell you. I don’t know.”
So there she is, way up in British Columbia, all of 26 years old, knowing more than she did before but not knowing the one thing she herself wants to know most: Who killed her boyfriend and why?
When people think of Squamish, they generally don’t think of murdered Jewish chess-whiz Nazis-turned-cryptocurrency-fortune-hunters. Historically, it’s mostly been a simple forestry and climbing community, with many of the climbers enjoying what has come to be called vanlife — hundreds of them, according to one estimate, living out of what they drive, much to the dismay of some of the town’s establishment realtors, council members, and the like. For the van folk, it’s all about the giant granite monolith known as Stawamus Chief and the 800-plus climbing routes bolted into its sheer walls, slabs, dykes, and cracks, with 1,500 other routes scattered throughout the area, leading to Squamish’s reputation as Yosemite North. Of course, if you wanted, or needed, to go someplace and live not only off the grid but also as a new person altogether, with a past worth escaping, there could be no finer place. You could even go by an obvious fabrication of a name like Jesse James and no one would notice or care. For her part, McLennan morphed into BigAbi Garbanzo, though for no shady reasons of her own. It was James’ idea that she take on an assumed name, to try to help insulate herself from those multiple international threats. “It’s also the reason I can’t talk about my past. I can’t have anybody knowing who I am,” he told her. “So, if you’re going to be attached to me, choose an alias.”
Their life together seems pretty idyllic, living like nomads, no need for jobs, Hawke financing everything, bathing in local creeks not because they had to but because they wanted to. Hawke had started climbing in 2009 and by 2015 was thoroughly accomplished, going so far as to pass himself off as a guide, though he held no official credentials. He wouldn’t climb with his girlfriend, however, until she learned the necessary skills on her own. When it came to BigAbi, it seems, he was protective like that.
It was somewhat different for his neo-Nazi-years partner, Patricia Lingenfelter, 32 at the time, also known as Knights of Freedom chief party secretary Fräulein Lingenfelter. Near as I could tell, she did nothing without Decker’s explicit instructions. He told her to call him Commander, nothing else, so she did, as faithfully as she could, though on occasion, she’d mess up and call him “dude,” which he let pass without comment. If she wanted to go into his office, she had to ask for permission via walkie-talkie. He was constantly getting speeding tickets, so she did most of the driving, with him calling out every move — slow down now, speed up now, pass that guy now, turn now. One morning, Lingenfelter appeared in the trailer’s kitchen wearing fatigues and a white T-shirt and said, happily, “I was feeling a little more militant today.” The Commander looked her over, shrugged, looked at how junked up the trailer was, and said, “Try to get [the place] a little more presentable. It looks disgusting, frankly.” She said, “Yes, sir,” seeming to take it all in stride.
The Commander himself wouldn’t acknowledge that he was in a relationship with Lingenfelter or that he’d ever even had a girlfriend. “Love,” he told me, “is just not my cup of tea. I admit it freely: I’m a control freak. If I’m not in control of the situation, I’m unhappy. If I’m not interacting with someone where I’m on a superior level, I’m uncomfortable. In all of my social relationships, I tend to be the superior. Even in this one, because if I didn’t want you here, you wouldn’t be here. You’re completely subordinate to me.”
He smiled at me, and I smiled at him. Like most people, I’ve never met a neo-Nazi that I liked, but the Commander and I got along just fine. I even grew to enjoy his company, attending classes with him, going to court with him to deal with his lead-foot tickets, waltzing into the police station at the request of a local detective who rocked back and said he wanted to talk to him in private. That’s when, for a brief moment, the Commander appointed me KOF’s official “media representative,” who he wouldn’t go anywhere without for his own protection. The cop groaned and told us to beat it. We had a good laugh about that.
Later in the day, back at his trailer, he went on as usual — racist this, racist that — when, out of the blue, his wolf-dog peed on the kitchen floor, and he said, “Bad dog, baaaad dog,” and nuzzled it fondly on the head. Me, I’m a sucker for kindness to animals, though I draw the line at Hitler himself, who was known to be a major dog lover, favoring his German shepherd Blondi over even his own fräulein, Eva Braun.
After that, the Commander was only too happy to hang loose in his office, massive desk in a tiny room, and blue-sky about first actions he’d take as president. Among other things: He’d legalize marijuana, though not heroin or cocaine, and of course, gone right away would be speed limits on the nation’s roads. He would deport nonwhite gays, but “white homosexuals will be executed.” Rape somebody and expect the victim’s family to come over and wipe yours out, legally. “They can exact revenge if they want. My system will discourage crime.”
I asked him about vices.
“Vices? I’ve never touched a cigarette, never been drunk, never touched pot. But, as you know, I do speed. I do everything too fast: eat, drive, walk.”
“Here’s a vice: vanity,” said Lingenfelter.
“I’m not vain,” the Commander said, sneering at her.
So, that’s the kind of guy he was back in 1999. By the time he arrived in Squamish and became Jesse James, however, he seems to have changed almost beyond understanding or even possibility.
“I don’t think his Nazism was an act,” says McLennan. “It’s just that I saw no signs of it, absolutely none. I found no signs of anti-Semitism or racism, and I went out with him for two years. This may sound stupid or naive of me, but I know that he was very honest with me on a day-to-day basis. Our life together was climbing, which he took very seriously. We lived and breathed climbing together. And I know that I knew him well, in terms of us as climbing partners, making life-and-death choices together. But of course I feel guilty for not knowing more about his past. I mean, I didn’t even know he was the penis-enlargement king.”
She halfway laughs about the absurdity of that alone, then takes a deep breath and goes on: “He was the first person in my life to really love and look after me. He was a tremendous friend, super-considerate and supportive. I can’t rewrite history to pretend I hate the guy. I don’t hate him. He had rules for not celebrating birthdays, but he did celebrate mine. He was wonderful to me, and we were really good to each other. You couldn’t ask for a better partner.”
When she says things like this, there’s so much sadness in her voice, but happiness, too, for having finally found the kind of love that regenerates itself, building over time instead of declining and fading. But then it was ripped away. There’s no weeping or sobbing about it, though. Maybe that’s not her. At the same time, you can tell she’s still suffering and still confused.
She isn’t climbing much, or at all, anymore, largely due to a fall she took shortly after Hawke’s murder. She face-planted into rocks from 70 feet up, broken bones everywhere, ribs, pelvis, hip, nose, eye socket, a punctured vertebrae, a case of amnesia that lasted for two weeks, and a brain injury that she calls severe. Within a year, she’d stopped climbing altogether. “I used to do a lot of free solo climbing, but I just don’t trust myself anymore, and for climbing, you really need to trust your mind.” And she can’t. And she no longer has any backup. Just one more loss.
For everything Hawke was around McLennan, his rep around Squamish was somewhat different. More than anything, he just seemed to be pompous and preening and still possessed of feelings of superiority and the old imperium. Maybe he no longer wanted to become president in order to deport, sterilize, and execute, but he still wanted everyone to know how great he was, and he’d often write about it online, either on Facebook or on one of the several blogs he maintained, among them SurvivorMan.net, in which he extolled the virtues of “what I call the ‘Survive Diet,’ the aim of which is eternal life.” He only ate raw, organic, vegan, gluten-free foods, no sugar ever, but a ton of Zimt chocolate. “Zimt chocolate is quite possibly the BEST raw chocolate I’ve ever eaten,” he once wrote, “and I’ve eaten a whole lot of raw chocolate!”
On occasion, you could find him in the heart of downtown Squamish, inside the 1914 Coffee Company cafe, jawboning about the many-worlds theory of quantum mechanics, for instance, and looking down on anyone who demonstrated what he called “the horrifying traits of a scientific instrumentalist,” which themselves, he liked to say, “prompted me to ditch academia out of boredom during my physics postdoc,” which of course he never ditched because he never was in any “doc,” post or otherwise. No matter. He’d go on to make various abstruse points about, say, Shor’s algorithm or the adiabatic quantum algorithm, sounding very much like TV’s Sheldon Cooper, who is just as much a fiction as Hawke himself was.
Other times, he’d drive his Yukon north of town to the Ground Up Climbing Center, just off of Commercial, to play ping-pong and crow over his wins. (“I have not lost a game in a long time!”) Or else he’d be sitting at a table inside Starbucks or Nesters Food Mart, sponging off the free internet connections, hunched over his laptop, which he’d snap shut if you came up to him. “He was always really weird about shutting his laptop right away as soon as you’d approach,” recalls a climber named Nicole Deuchar. “He was the kind of person who never told you too much about himself. ‘Don’t take a picture of my face, don’t do that,’ he’d say. He was always super-mysterious.”
And a climber named John Shaw says, “Our conversations were always friendly, but it was always like he was hiding something. Like, ‘Fuck, dude — you’re sneaky.’” Another thing Shaw noticed: “His teeth were yellow. He said he had all this money, but he fucking doesn’t go to the dentist? I just found it odd.”
Yellow teeth or no, however, give him a chance and he’d open his mouth to tell you he hadn’t had a cold in 15 years, had 20/20 vision, and that during his seven years of daily climbing he had never messed up and hurt himself, not even once. Then he’d go on about being a “hobbyist molecular geneticist” who spends more than $3,000 a month on supplements, with plans to live forever.
Along the way, he’d post inflammatory, long-winded climbing essays on the internet with titles like “A Guide to Sandbagging Newbies and Sport Climbers on Squamish’s Grand Wall,” which you don’t even need to be a climber to get the gist of, and features him taking some new climber to one of the area’s most dangerous hunks of rock, the idea being, “Let’s put this guy to the test,” knowing but not caring how it’d go for the fellow if he fell and “what happened to the human body as it bobbed and bounced off slab on a 20-meter pendulum whip.” No blood came of it, but by day’s end, Hawke had pawned the guy off on another climber while he himself “sprinted across the ledge to eat lunch and admire the view.”
The online response from local climbers was not pretty. They called him “one weird dude,” “a total dickwad,” and “a real douche bag,” and said he must be suffering from “a severe mental problem.” A guy name Jesse wrote, “I think it sucks ball smegma that every time someone calls me by name at the crag, I have to spend 20 F%$#$&^ minutes explaining who I am not.” Another: “Our few encounters in the bluffs have been enough for me to pick another crag if I notice him around.”
No doubt Hawke just shrugged and went back to his ping-pong game. He may have lived in the shadows, but he couldn’t help but make public pronouncements that made it seem like only he deserved sunshine.
“My friends are always mildly flabbergasted to learn that I haven’t spoken to my family in over 15 years,” he wrote in 2016. “This is not due to a bad childhood or any particular animosity but simply the result of cold logic. Sharing some common strands of DNA is a flimsy prerequisite for a relationship.” He also complained that “99.99% of the people on this planet are just wasting time before time wastes them.” Among those he approved of: Ray Kurzweil and Elon Musk. And himself. “I am trying my best to be one of those .01%.”
But then he got wasted, not by time itself but just in the time it took for someone to pull a trigger and light a match.
So far, British Columbia’s Integrated Homicide Investigation Team seems to have made absolutely no progress on the case.
“We’re not even quite sure if it’s a culpable or nonculpable homicide,” says IHIT spokesman Frank Jang. “It’s not completely out of the realm of possibility that someone could have discharged a firearm and unknowingly hit and killed him, a bullet ricocheting, one in a million. Or it could be somebody hunted him down for his gold or his Bitcoin and decided to kill him. Only after we found out who he was — until then, we just thought he was a homeless person — we’re like, you know, this could be a weird plot where somebody finally came to finish off the scum Nazi. There are so many different possibilities, but it definitely wasn’t suicide. Somebody shot him. As to who did it, your guess is as good as ours. We average about one homicide a week here, and there’s really no precedent on our part for this one. It’s really left us scratching our heads.”
McLennan thinks they’ve simply given up and stopped trying. And it makes her furious.
“IHIT betrays their duty and is a shameless disgrace,” she wrote on Facebook, after Sgt. Jang appeared in a newspaper story saying that Hawke “perhaps” slept in his vehicle and “perhaps” had a heat source inside, when he knew full well that Hawke was a committed vanlifer and that, no, he didn’t have an external heat source that could have led to the inferno. “Fuck Frank Jang & several others up next. The bastards. After how many hundreds of fucking hours of taped interviews and phone calls and emails? I know a statement of war when I see one. These negligent imbeciles have failed their homicide victim. CAN I SPEAK TO THE JANITOR???”
In the meantime, Hawke’s father, Hyman, has offered a $10,000 reward for tips leading to the killer’s arrest, but, near as I can tell, no one has stepped forward. I tried calling him to chat about it, left several messages, but he didn’t get back to me. I didn’t talk to him in 1999, either, but I did speak, at length, to his wife, Peggy, who died in 2018. She spent a good portion of that conversation in tears over the lost soul of her only son.
What Hawke told me about his parents is that they were upper-middle class, that his mom wasn’t very bright, and that his father, a mathematician, was actually his stepfather and would be among the Jews sterilized in due time (“It’s a must”). He said his real father was some German man his mom had an affair with, which she wouldn’t deny to me, for fear that her Britt (she called him by his middle name) would never talk to her again.
He was a brilliant student, she said, with his chess achievements often making the local paper, sometimes on the front page, which came with a heavy price.
“He was beaten up in elementary school, middle school, and then in high school,” she told me. “Every day for two years in middle school, two boys would come in before class, one would hold his arm down and the other would beat relentlessly on his hand. But being a boy, he was too ashamed to tell me about it.
“One day, I went into his room as he was changing his shirt, and I saw black-and-blue marks and scratches all over his back, and I asked him what happened, and he made up a story. But months later, he acknowledged that some children had thrown him over a chair.
“He was a nerd, and he was bullied, and what can I do about it? He was abused by the other children. They weren’t black children or Jewish children, they were just children, though he was called names.” She took a deep breath and continued on: “I mean, how can you get rid of someone calling you a Jew and a kike? How can you ever get rid of that? He’s so ashamed. People have made him so ashamed of who he is. He’ll never stop. I’m afraid he’ll never stop. He’s gone in too deeply.”
During high school in Westwood, Massachusetts, Hawke was obsessed with two things. The first was chess, which he played with such skill that for two years he was top dog in the state.
One of his high-school-classmate opponents remembered him this way: “[He was] a pale, skinny, intimidatingly brilliant, terminally aloof kid.… Initially he refused to even play against me. Until I formally tried out for the team, I wasn’t worth his time. Even then, he took pains to make it clear he didn’t consider me a worthy opponent. He played the whole, painfully brief game with headphones on, barely looking at the board, making split-second moves. In three years, I never saw him lose a game. My senior year, after he graduated and I took over as captain, kids at chess meets in neighboring towns would shake in their sneakers when they saw us coming: ‘Is Greenbaum still with you?'”
Hawke’s other childhood obsession was knives. “I was very wealthy as a child,” he told me. “I’d get $1,000 every Christmas, and $500 or so on birthdays. I spent it all on knives. My room had so many knives you really couldn’t move without stepping on a knife.”
By the end of his senior year, he’d read Mein Kampf, heard destiny calling, formed his first hate group, and begun handing out fliers on Boston’s streets. Soon enough, he was down in South Carolina, going to college and working to expand his dreams of world domination, mainly via the auspices of the internet.
“My sense of historical destiny is what makes me what I am,” he told me one day inside his trailer, while dropping goldfish into a fish tank for his pet red-bellied piranha. Among those other first acts as president: to remove Benjamin Franklin and put Hitler on the $100 bill. “Actually,” he mused, “I might put Hitler on both the 100 and the one.”
The rally in Washington was meant to be his biggest neo-Nazi achievement to date. The Washington Post wrote up his plans and the D.C. cops turned out in force, 2,000-men strong near Lafayette Square, on foot, on horseback, on rooftops, in helicopters. But by that time, Hawke knew that his supposed followers were a feckless lot, so off he and Lingenfelter sped, back to Wofford College as fast as they could go, abandoning the few that did make the trip. And those few were beyond pissed.
“He’s a yellow-bellied coward, a Jewish coward,” one of them said.
Another: “The kid was gifted. He was dynamic, intelligent, articulate. He was young. He could give a damn good speech. All right, so he had a few problems. But tell me, who doesn’t have problems? And then just to chuck it away, to fucking pour it down the drain on the day he’d spent a year and a half waiting for — I grieve for him. It’s just a damn shame. It just breaks my heart.” He paused for a moment, then said, “Heil Hitler.”
Meanwhile, his mother’s last words to me before hanging up in tears continued to echo through my head, and they continue to this day.
“I honestly hope that someone, when he goes to class today, kills him. That’s what I hope. I want him to be dead. He’s no longer the son I knew.” Seems like wherever he went, he left broken hearts behind, until his mother, 18 years after the fact, finally got her wish.
Nobody who knew him in Squamish really wants to talk about Hawke or say anything: good, bad, indifferent. I exchanged a few messages with his girlfriend prior to BigAbi Garbanzo, and unless I was willing to offer compensation, she wasn’t going to say a thing. I don’t blame her. In a woke world, charges of toxicity by association can be a very dangerous thing. In passing, however, she did mention that she’d gone out with him for eight years, so if BigAbi saw him for two years and he died in 2017, then he must have arrived in Canada around 2007 at the latest, assuming no girlfriend overlap.
After giving up the Nazi business in 1999, he (and Lingenfelter) next resurfaced back on the Eastern Seaboard, in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, where, under various assumed names (Johnny Durango, Winston Cross, Clell Miller, among others), he set about pioneering, for lack of a better term, those many uses and abuses of spam, enlisting the help of some of his chess buddies and making a fortune.
His business partner at the time was a future New Hampshire chess master named Brad Bournival, who today says, “I personally never really saw clear signs of racism when I was with him. I think that whole Nazi thing was just to get attention. His idol growing up was Bobby Fischer, who was half-Jewish, too, and also into the Nazi thing. So, in some respects, I think he was kind of imitating Bobby Fischer.”
As far as I know, this is the first time anyone has ever posited a Fischer-Nazi connection but it makes sense, how a young outcast looking up to one of the greatest chess players of all time might take on various of that elder’s attitudes and beliefs wholesale, if only as a matter of escapism — although, of course, it takes a certain kind of someone to try to make them real.
Then, in 2004, AOL won that $12.8 million judgment and back underground Hawke went. The last time Bournival saw him, he’d shaved his head and “made it seem like he was going to go away for a while.” Various sightings and rumors have him turning up in New Hampshire’s White Mountains; in Laramie, Wyoming; and in Colorado. At some point, he returned to playing competitive chess and was still quite formidable, if in a typically irritating way.
“He came through our club a couple of times,” a chess player wrote on one forum. “He faced his knights backwards. Which I found a pretty silly attempt to look like a radical nonconformist. Alas, he kicked my butt.”
He called himself Walter Smith then and, to the best of anyone’s understanding, never again appeared anywhere using his legal name, until it was foisted upon him as a corpse, late last year, when the University of North Texas’ Unidentified Human Remains Lab matched a sample of his DNA to that of his parents’ and suddenly everyone in his orbit was at least that much the wiser, if no less mystified or enlightened.
“In terms of a motive for his murder,” McLennan told me, “according to him, he’d say, ‘I have many hundreds of million dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency.’ I’ve contemplated he was hacking into things in the cryptocurrency space, to get so much money. But I have to wonder if other things were going on, too. My personal thought on his murder is that it was a contract killing to do with cryptocurrency. He had some of the largest holdings in the world. I wonder if a silencer was used, because people were around. And I’d assume an accelerant was used, given how extreme the fire was.”
Since we first spoke, BigAbi has stopped communicating with me, thinking that I was asking leading questions in order to trap her into saying that it was definitely a security breach of some kind that definitely led the Russian mafia to kill her boyfriend.
“I never said a security breach happened,” she wrote me. “That is one possibility I was explaining re bitcoin risks. I never said threats were made to him. I said large bitcoin wallets can be exposed to threats re. risk of theft. Your listening skills were an outrage … Recommend you stick to celebrities in mansions, not unsolved murder victims. … Not interested in your leading questions any further.”
I found this somewhat perplexing, since all I’d done is ask her to clarify her earlier statements about the Russian mafia, to which she responded, “I’m not saying the Russian mafia did it. I’m saying that’s the way he talked about the threats against him. I don’t know how seriously to take it, or how seriously to take the words ‘Russian mafia,’ but that was how he talked.”
After a while, I began to think there was more going on here than the cascading effects of a simple misunderstanding. “Hope the story doesn’t happen,” she wrote in her last message. She also tried to dissuade me from the possibility of visiting Squamish, saying that a new mayor has begun introducing changes to do away with vanlife and that the town is no longer like the one she lived in with Hawke.
But at one point she also said, “Right now, I’m scared of coming across like a lovesick widow. I never expected my name to be connected to this kind of thing, and I’m like, ‘What the fuck have I gotten myself into?’ You know? I don’t regret the choice but I’m reconsidering the whole thing.”
Again, I can see why. Toxicity by association. But a short while later, she showed up in the local press once more, giving an interview in which she said, “I’m not going to let it rest. He’s with me for life.” In an accompanying photograph, she’s wearing a massive coonskin cap with one helluva bushy tail and looking quite glamorous. Naturally, the missing Bitcoin fortune “that could now be worth billions” was also a big part of the piece. And between those two things — McLennan’s photograph and the lost fortune — posters in the comments section were unrelenting in their criticism.
Running bits of it together, here’s how it went: “She wants the bitcoin, no other reason! […] I wouldn’t give up either … those Bitcoin passcodes worth billions might be her driving force … I meant, love. Love must be the reason why. […] Is that a poor raccoon on her head? […] It’s a wealthy raccoon if they ever find the bitcoin. […] Police do actual police work in BC? Good luck with that. If nobody is telling, the BC keystones have no clue. Who gets the bitcoins? […] Whoever finds the password. Which if you really look at it … that’s the missing piece from this entire article. It’s all about the password. Everything else is pure b.s.” Only toward the end did someone show a little heart, writing, “Good luck, keep searching, everyone deserves a conclusion to their story, even Neo-Nazis.”
I’d say the same should also be true for McLennan, a conclusion to her time with the guy, even if he was a neo-Nazi. She was in love, and sometimes that trumps all. “For what it’s worth, nothing could be more horrific to me than the revelations about him,” she told me. “You’re not going to find a shred of anti-Semitism or racism in me. I know people were super-upset about it. It’s not like it’s a wonderful thing to go acting like you’re lovesick over somebody who turns out to be a Nazi. I understand that’s upsetting to people, and I’m pretty much a total pariah around here. [But] all I care about is his murder being solved.”
The only thing I find unsettling about any of this is how the Squamish community has failed to rally around her in some big fashion, if only because she was in the dark as much as anyone and to blame her for that just seems wrong. It’s not like, while she was off sleeping in her tent, Hawke was stripping down and suiting up in his Nazi regalia of old, Luger at the fore.
Of course, it’s so easy for people to say she should have known. At one point, in a confessional moment, Hawke had halfway tried to blurt it out. He told her what he’d looked like in the past. She said, “So you wore combat boots and a trench coat and a long ponytail. Was this a goth phase?” He said, “I wasn’t a goth. I’m not sure you would have liked me back then.” She said, “Probably not.”
When we spoke, she said, “I’m glad I said that and didn’t say, ‘No matter what, I would have loved you.’ It’s a fucking good thing I didn’t say that, but I guess I feel kind of bad that I missed the message.”
Here’s how I see it, however. If Hawke could slip past the U.S. border into Canada undetected and remain there for at least a decade, just a homeless guy living in his vehicle (with a $12.8 million judgment hanging over his head), then slipping undetected into someone’s heart was, for him, probably just as easy.
Meanwhile, Bournival isn’t quite so sure that his buddy is even dead and gone. “I almost think somehow he found a way to fake his death, because that would be totally his style,” he tells me. “I remember him even talking about doing stuff like that. I mean, if he did fake it, it’d look exactly like that — a burnt-out car and a body burned to where it’s hard to I.D. Most likely it’s probably real that he’s dead. But in my own mind, I still think there’s a chance.…”
In the past few months, I’ve spent countless hours digging down into Hawke’s digital footprint as Jesse James and have found nothing inconsistent with the person he told people he was. Some of it was more than a little hard to believe. In one post, he tells the story of fleeing his postdoc studies, flying to Israel, joining some special forces unit, and engaging in a bloody firefight that left his buddy Jaacov “lying in a contorted red mass on the ground, gone.” In the aftermath, he describes how at night that event “shakes me awake cold and shivering.” Further, he says he could “repent” for what happened but to do so would lead to “a false story and a false story is no story at all.”
Make of those words what you will. Indeed, in hindsight, much of what he wrote becomes ironic in the most obvious of ways and even bleakly, blackly comic. For one, he saw no reason why, with the application of his superior mind, he couldn’t live forever. As he wrote on his SurvivorMan blog: “True indeed that no one has ever lived past one hundred thirty years, but nobody with my genes or diet or knowledge or supplement regimen or commitment or lifestyle has existed in the past thirteen billion years. Not one person identical to me — ever. [And] since no one like me has ever existed, no one like me has ever died. By that reasoning, I must have a 100% chance of immortality! WOOHOO!”
And then there’s the small matter of love, which he seemed to be slaving over, in front of his computer. He’d tackled it once before, in a 375-page 2015 book he wrote (using his Jesse James alias) titled Psychology of Seduction: Seduce Women Using Evolutionary and Social Psychology, which is still available on Amazon and far better, much more comprehensive, and much less offensive than anything written by Neil Strauss or Erik “Mystery” von Markovik, the two best-known pick-up-artist authors. It also includes a self-test to see where you stand in terms of psychopathic malevolence. Even the most charitable of final tallies places him at the very darkest end of the scale. On the other hand, if you only count his known actions following his arrival in British Columbia, he comes off far better, mainly just as someone with a deep-seated need for constant attention.
More recently, it seems he’d been working on developing a solution to the age-old problem of finding true love, his goal being to help mankind do away with “’satisficing,’ which is a fancy term for the cognitive heuristic of settling for the most adequate person who is reasonably available.” He saw a future in which his end product — artificially-intelligent virtual robots he called “love bots” — could be “programmed with all the desirable traits you hope to find in your soul mate,” from the physical to the metaphysical and beyond, in order to “alleviate the fruitless and time-consuming search” for perfection in the real world. And here’s the kicker: “Since no one wants to pay for love, I will be making these love bots available free to the public once the programming is complete.” Sometime later, he mentioned selling an unnamed something to an unnamed far-sighted company for an undisclosed sum. Could have been his love bot code or something else entirely. We may never know, since all that he owned and possessed went up in the blaze.
Before his death, he was a frequent poster on an anything-goes Facebook group called Squamish Climbing. Here, he spouted off as usual, but he also wrote, “I personally would love to see more minorities in climbing. There is way too much ignorant white trash in this group.”
He was particularly critical of a climbing outfitter called Arc’teryx: “It seems reasonable to accuse them of racism based on two undeniable points. There are tons of super strong minority climbers, far stronger than some of the assholes that Arc’teryx sponsors… 2. They simply choose NOT to sponsor one single minority climber, despite the abundance of such climbers. Instead, looking at their athlete’s page, they want young, buff white dudes and gals as the face of Arc’teryx. For them it seems appearance even takes precedence over both climbing ability and personality.” (Arc’teryx has yet to respond to Rolling Stone’s request for comment.)
This brought forth some harsh words, but he didn’t shrink away or take back his own. And then, in the first weeks after his death, climber after climber stepped forward to say nice things: “I climbed with Jesse once and met him a few times over the years in Smoke Bluffs and he has always been generous.” And: “Jesse James passed away? How?? He was one of the first people to set up a top rope for me.” Also, “he walked the walk. He talked the talk. Goddamn! A good man!”
His climbing pal Nicole Deuchar did tell me, “Every time we went climbing, he’d keep me safe. He was always tight. I mean, he was so psyched about rock climbing that it was contagious. People would say to me, ‘Why do you go sit down and talk to him? You don’t even like him.’ And I was always like, ‘I kind of do, though.’”
Once he was identified as the former leader of a neo-Nazi outfit, however, most of the encomiums drifted away like so much rock dust. But even then, one climber peeked around the shadows to write: “Whatever the outcome here was, this human was always beautifully polite, kind and totally a treat.”
Read enough of this stuff and it’s hard not to lean sideways in the judge’s chair, maybe soften your stance and loosen up previously held high-and-mighty opinions, maybe not by a lot, but maybe just enough to briefly gaze upon him with a kind of wonder and not as a total psycho who only got what he deserved.
He was murdered on the cool, nearly windless night of June 14th, 2017, out on Cheekye Forest Service Road. If the killer was after the password to Hawke’s Bitcoin account, as seems most likely, no one will likely ever know, since you can’t forensically trace bitcoin holdings the way you can, say, a bank account, unless the cops solve the case. And the cops aren’t saying much, withholding anything the killer alone would know, the number of bullet wounds, the caliber of the bullets, whether Hawke was burned alive or not, whether an accelerant was used or not. Then again, they don’t seem to know much either — haven’t been able to confirm he owned any bitcoin at all, can’t say for sure when he first arrived in Canada or even how. “He could have swum in off a submarine or flown here in a jetpack, who knows?” says IHIT’s Frank Jang. “We just don’t have a record. He was a complete ghost.”
This ghost once wrote: “The most remarkable feature of our world is that night follows day. From this certain fact, we know there was a beginning, and from this certain fact we know likewise there will be an end. The question is: What kind of end?!”
The end is something he seemed to think about a lot, even as he pushed against it with his loopy belief in immortality. A year before his death, on one of his blog sites, he posted a poem he called “The Road Goes on Forever,” about a hermit meeting his fate in “a heap of blood and bone” at the hands of the ferryman Charon, who guides him across the river Styx and into Hades and then returns to his endless task, “another day, another sorrow.” In Greek mythology, Charon was paid for his services in silver. Today, it’d be bitcoin.
And even though it wasn’t Charon who came for Hawke, it might as well have been, for all anyone will probably know. Even more unknowable, of course, are what thoughts ran through Hawke’s mind inside that GMC Yukon as his own particular end closed in. Maybe he was feeling the echo of something else he wrote: “I don’t think it is logically and philosophically possible to live a technically meaningful life unless you live forever. Death obscures all meaning.” And then that was that, all meaning obscured, just as he thought, if there was any meaning to his life ever at all.