Every February, Lubo Kunik liked to go to Stanley Park to take photos of snowdrops. The park was one of the amateur photographer and outdoor enthusiast's favourite places to explore with his camera.
Now his friends believe his love for the park might have been what killed him.
Vancouver police say that someone walking a dog found Kunik’s body on the seawall in Stanley Park between Second and Third Beach shortly before 11:30 p.m. on Feb. 1. They say he had been stabbed and died where he lay.
The 61-year-old man was Vancouver’s second homicide of the year. On February 7, police issued a press release saying that this attack, along with an attack on an elderly man in the park last November, appear to be random. Although there is no evidence to directly link these two incidents, police are cautioning people against being in the park alone at night.
“We are all so sad but mainly angry he died such a horrible, useless death,” says Wendy Khandl who is part of an extended group of Czech and Slovakian ex-pats who come together over their love of nature. “I go onto the Internet every hour hoping the police have caught someone.”
Among the group, Kunik was known as Bobor, which means beaver.
Kunik was from Kosice, Slovakia, says Pavol Gorel, who knew "the Bobor" for 43 years. "He was a highly educated man with a high IQ. He was one of the 10 most rewarded students in university and spoke four languages."
Gorel left what was then Czechoslovakia in 1984 and Lunik defected about six years later. He first landed in Saskatoon but, as an avid mountain climber who had climbed Russia's highest peak, he found the Prairies unappealling. He decided to keep moving west and came to Vancouver, where he worked fixing industrial machines for Toshiba and Panasonic. "He was really, really very skillful," Gorel says.
Kunik lived on Barclay Street, roughly half a kilometre from the place he was killed. "Stanley Park was his backyard," Gorel says.
"Everyone says the night he was killed was a beautiful night full of stars," he adds, believing that Kunik — whom Gorel says didn't drink, smoke or do drugs — was probably in the park to take photos of the sparkling lights. "He had an iron will and strong principles. He was a really smart and educated man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. You can't imagine what a big hole this person who killed him made to his friends, to society, to everyone who knew him. We lost one of the finest men in our community. Society has lost such a good man."
Kunik was not married; his parents passed away but his sister and her family still live in Slovakia.
An introvert, he often stayed in the background but enjoyed taking part in the camping excursions the Czech and Slovakian group would arrange a few times a year. “We are lovers of nature. We come together to play music and enjoy each other’s company,” says Khandl, a retired supervisor for the Calgary health region.
“He was caring, loyal to everyone and always helpful,” she adds. “I’ve never seen him in a disagreement. He had an empathetic heart. We were extremely lucky to know him. I really, really liked him. He’s such a loss to us.
“One of our friends asked, ‘Who will help us now?’ He was always there when you needed him.”
Kunik was the group’s go-to person on questions of photography and cameras. Khandl recently reached out to him for advice on what lens to buy.
He wrote her three long emails on Jan. 23. In one of them, he advised her to take a small camera which she could slip into her pocket whenever she was taking photos in dangerous places. He worried that someone might try to steal her camera.
That’s what his friends think might have happened to him. He could have simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“He’d give you the shirt off his back,” says Khandl. “If someone had wanted his camera, he would have given it to him.”
“Bobor was a true friend, gentle and always willing tohelp,” says Tony Popelkat. “He loved outdoors - hiking, camping, skiing, snowshoeing. He was an accomplished photographer, and Stanley Park was one his favorite places to take his pictures. And seems this passion of his was fatal to him at the end. We all will miss him terribly.”
VPD media spokesperson Const. Jason Doucette says, "The investigation is ongoing and very active. Finding out who did it and why is very important to us."
He says that the person of interest who was taken into custody has since been released but "he does remain a person of interest."
Police are asking for anyone who was on the Stanley Park seawall between English Bay and Prospect Point on the night of Feb. 1 between 8 and 11 p.m., to call detectives at 604-717-2500.