More than three years after his death, a man who was shot dead and found in a burnt-out SUV near Squamish, B.C., has been identified as a U.S. citizen known for spreading racist, neo-Nazi ideologies and for a massive spam email campaign that led to a $12.8-million US lawsuit.
Police found Davis Wolfgang Hawke dead on the Cheekye Forest Road, off the Sea to Sky Highway east of Paradise Valley, around 9:30 a.m. on June 14, 2017. Officers had been called about a burnt, red 2000 GMC Yukon XL on the side of the road.
An autopsy later confirmed the man had been shot dead, but for years the RCMP could not confirm his real name.
The Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT) only knew he went by the alias Jesse James, and that he was well known as an avid climber in Squamish, which is around 50 kilometres north of Vancouver.
But with IHIT’s confirmation of his identity on Thursday, details about Hawke’s past — including his fascist sympathies and a lucrative spam empire he built hawking loans, pornography, jewelry and prescription drugs — have come to light thanks to the work of an investigative journalist.
Brian McWilliams, author of the book Spam Kings, spent years tracking the young man, who he says lived a nomadic, risk-taking existence. He often travelled with half-wolf dogs, which were the only thing he appeared to be loyal to, according to McWilliams.
“It doesn’t surprise me that this guy died in an inglorious and maybe a violent way. He was always living on the edge,” McWilliams said.
McWilliams said Hawke, born Andrew Britt Greenbaum, changed his name many times and was evasive when the journalist was chasing him for a story on his junk-email empire.
He said Hawke and his associates bragged about making up to $300,000 in a year in the spam business, after dropping out of college.
While IHIT said they had little information on Hawke, other than he was 38 when he died and was originally from the U.S., McWilliams has gathered a lot of information about the “puzzling” young man who grew up in an affluent Boston suburb and was a chess prodigy.
McWilliams, who interviewed Hawke and his family, learned how he was bullied as a child for being small and Jewish — before he rejected his Jewish background, changed his name to Hawke and soon after became known to anti-racism groups as a neo-Nazi.
“At some point, he just became infatuated with this white supremacy notion,” said McWilliams.
“He brought that mentality of everybody being inferior to him into the rest of his life,” he said.
He organized a failed anti-government march in Washington, D.C., in 1999, and was written about in the New York Times and Rolling Stone magazine.
Later he used his writing talents to trick people into sending him cash, and his spam email venture took off, according to court documents.
“He was a con man. He felt that he could convince anybody to buy herbal Viagra, just writing some clever email text. This guy was super intelligent and thought there was a sucker born every minute — and he was real good at finding them,” said McWilliams.
In 2005, internet company AOL won a $12.8-million US judgment in federal court in Virginia against Hawke, who was accused of breaking federal law by sending massive amounts of unwanted spam emails to its customers. Hawke never showed for the trial.
Investigators believed he and his partners earned more than $600,000 on the spam sales pitches.
AOL also won a court order to dig up two properties owned by Hawke’s relatives in Massachusetts to recoup costs, because Hawke had once bragged he buried gold and platinum in the yards, according to U.S. district court documents.
The company ultimately decided not to search the properties, which belonged to Hawke’s grandmother and parents.
The family said no money was ever there.
A warrant for Hawke’s arrest remained active.
Lawyers who worked on the case for AOL told CBC News on Thursday they hunted Hawke for years, and learned he’d escaped the U.S. by sneaking on board fishing trawlers, spending time in Belize.
After warrants for his arrest expired, the search wound down. But Hawke kept living like a fugitive and never returned home, according to his family.
McWilliams said he always wondered if Hawke would settle down one day and “sell insurance,” but said, “It sounds like he stayed kind of a wild man.”
Hawke’s uncle Raleigh Davis said his nephew’s death was communicated to the family last week. He said nobody had seen Hawke in 20 years, and confirmation of his death at least offered some closure.
“He was really smart and really clever and really confident in a lot of ways. I think he had a really insecure side, though,” said Davis.
“It’s just sad.”
Anyone with more information about Hawke’s death is asked to phone IHIT at 1-877-551-4448 or email email@example.com or call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 if they want to remain anonymous.