A former Saskatoon radio host is reaching out to anyone who can help to shed new light on a 32-year-old cold case.
Dave Scharf, better known as Rambling Dave, is writing a book about the life and death of Shawn Reineke.
The 18-year-old from Hodgeville, Sask. was found at the bottom of a garbage chute in the Seager Wheeler Hall, a University of Saskatchewan residence, in 1984.
Scharf, who now works as a journalist in Ottawa, said Reineke’s story has never left him.
“The story always kind of was there in my mind for many years. Literally every time I ever drove down Cumberland Avenue and looked over at Seager Wheeler Hall, Shawn popped into my head,” he said.
Reineke, who was neither a student nor a tenant, was attending a party on the 14th floor of the building south of the university campus on Sept. 28, 1984, when he passed out on a couch on the 12th floor.
“Would I like to solve the case? Of course I would. Is that my expectation? I think that’s extremely unlikely.”
A group of people found him and, as a prank, decided to hold a mock funeral.
They covered Reineke in mustard and shaving cream, and tied a fake death certificate to his toe. They then put him in the elevator, expecting him to go to the bottom floor where a security guard would find him.
Instead, a trail of shaving cream and mustard was found leading out the elevator on the ninth floor to the garbage chute. Reineke was found on the bottom floor in a steel bin at the bottom of the chute with critical injuries.
He died the next day after he was removed from life support.
“A group of students held a mock funeral for Shawn and then shortly thereafter, he was dead. That’s a pretty remarkable tale,” Scharf said.
To this day, it’s unknown how exactly Reineke ended up going feet-first down the chute.
A coroner’s inquest found it “highly unlikely that Mr. Shawn Reineke placed himself into the garbage chute.”
Scharf said after years of curiosity, he finally decided to find out what the investigation had uncovered.
First, however, he sought the blessing of Reineke’s parents, Don and Ruby.
“You’re approaching somebody about the death of their child,” Scharf said. “And even though it’s 32 years ago, my anticipation was that they’re not over it.”
What he found was a family who still missed their son, but held no sense of anger or vindictiveness and pointed no fingers of blame.
Scharf said he left “feeling a real warmth” for them and understanding that as much as closure would be fulfilling for everyone, the family was also happy to go on with life.
“Would I like to solve the case? Of course I would. Is that my expectation? I think that’s extremely unlikely,” he said, adding the point isn’t to get someone charged, but rather complete the story.
He poured over the 900-page coroner’s inquest and began seeking out those who testified.
He said he hasn’t uncovered many new details about the case, but he has found many media reports from the time contained inaccurate or spotty information.
Because he has been unable to reach some of the 20 people who testified, he set up a website hoping they will reach out to him.
He also wants to talk to anyone who personally knew Reineke, to turn him from a victim or party boy into the living, breathing young adult who “played hockey, went to high school, drank beer and had a girlfriend.”
With the family’s permission, he also wants his book to explore how society abandons children and young adults to booze rather than talking to them and developing good habits.
Finally, he hopes the book can be used by police everywhere to learn how to handle cases where there’s no more investigating to do and a mountain of evidence, but not enough to charge anyone.
“I just want to talk to people,” Scharf said.
“I don’t have any axe to grind. I don’t have anything other than a desire to have a conversation.”