When first responders arrived at the scene of a serious road traffic accident on the Barnet Highway, Vancouver, they could see the male driver was trapped in the vehicle.
Straight away, paramedics and firefighters scrambled to rescue him, using machinery to cut through the metal of the SUV.
The driver, who was identified as Jan Poepl, was unconscious and unable to explain how the crash had happened. But as police walked around the scene to try to determine the exact chain of events, they found a woman, who was also unconscious, lying in a ditch nearby.
The woman was Nicole Porciello, also known as Nicole Hasselmann. She had been a passenger in the car and had been thrown 30ft when the SUV had crashed into a street light.
As medics assessed her injuries, they discovered something deeply disturbing. Nicole, 34, had injuries from the accident but she also had 47 stab wounds.
When police began to investigate and piece together the sequence of events leading up to the crash on 16 November 2018, what they uncovered proved to be chilling.
Nicole and Jan had dated on and off for seven years. Jan worked in real estate, while Nicole was a student support worker at Templeton Secondary School in Vancouver. She was also a mum with a 10-year-old son.
Everyone would comment about how committed Nicole was to her students and how she always saw the best in every situation – and in people. This could explain why she had continued to try to make the relationship work with Jan, despite his controlling and jealous nature.
Jan had struggled with drug addictions and had been physically abusive towards Nicole. He was particularly jealous of men, but he also disapproved of Nicole’s female friends – or anyone who she got close to. The couple would break up and get back together, with Nicole agreeing to give him another chance.
She was fearful of Jan and it became apparent to others that he seemed to have some form of control over her and this possessive streak was only getting stronger.
In November 2018, nine days before the crash, they had split up again. Nicole had started seeing someone else and, even though that had ended, it had fuelled Jan’s jealousy again.
On the evening of 16 November, Jan picked Nicole up in a rental vehicle while her son was at hockey practice. But something went terribly wrong and the estranged couple are thought to have got into an argument.
With Nicole in the passenger seat, Jan pulled out two kitchen knives and stabbed her 47 times. Then, as she was slowly bleeding to death, instead of calling 911, Jan took off his bloody jacket, got out his mobile phone and recorded a video of the two of them.
The footage, which was later shown in court, was deeply upsetting. Nicole was covered in blood and fighting for breath. In a desperate attempt to save her life, she could be heard telling Jan that she loved him.
But rather than help Nicole, Jan didn’t show any sign of remorse. He just kept recording and told her that the attack was her fault.
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“You just took, took, took from me,” he said, capturing it all on his phone. “Disrespected me for months and years.”
Tragically, Jan didn’t seek help. Instead, he drove back to his home. For two hours, he left Nicole bleeding to death in the car, while he sent emails, including his work resignation, paid some bills and even did some online shopping for a new TV and a dishwasher.
Then he got back into the SUV and drove Nicole, who was still alive, to the Barnet Highway. It is thought that he intended to stage the car crash and make it look like Nicole had died as a result of the accident.
He gathered speed, then slammed his foot on the accelerator and smashed at high speed into the street light. Nicole, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was immediately ejected from the car when it crashed.
Although Jan and Nicole were both taken to hospital while still alive, only Jan survived. Nicole died as a result of the 47 stab wounds and the injuries caused by the crash.
On 29 November 2018, Jan was arrested and later charged with second-degree murder. Nicole’s devastated and grief-stricken family, meanwhile, started a social media campaign, speaking out about the heartache they had all suffered over the loss of a much-loved daughter, sister, friend and a mother to a young son.
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Family and friends describe Nicole as a “bright candle” that was blown out, but one that would “forever shine” in their hearts.
“She brought joy, happiness and positive enlightenment to everyone she encountered,” read one of the touching tributes. “She had nothing but kindness and unconditional love for family and friends.”
They were, however, troubled by the fact that the second-degree murder charge would mean that, although Jan would automatically get a life sentence, he could be eligible for parole after serving just 10 years.
When the case came to court in February this year, Jan pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. The defence team made a case
for parole after serving 10 years, while the prosecution argued for a minimum of 15 years. In March, at a sentencing hearing, Jan made a statement to the court, saying, “I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time to tell you how sorry I am.”
His lawyer shared letters in court, which had been sent by a chaplain and a life skills facilitator at the prison facility where Jan was on remand, that suggested his client was making efforts at rehabilitation. But Nicole’s family argued that this alleged “regret and remorse” wasn’t credible and that Jan had failed to show any genuine emotion.
When the disturbing video was played in court, many family members chose not to watch as Nicole fought for her life and tried to save herself. In victim impact statements, Nicole’s father Joe told Jan, “You destroyed my family. Our hearts are broken. You took my baby and I will never be whole again.”
Nicole’s best friend Ashley Engelson was equally forthright with Jan. “I wish she’d never met you,” she told him. “She would still be here.”
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The judge called Jan’s actions “callous, cruel and self-absorbed”, and added that the video he had made showed “an astonishing lack of remorse” for the woman that he claimed to love.
She also spoke about a heartbreaking handwritten letter written by Nicole’s son, expressing his grief, and admitted that she had found it difficult to read.
On 13 April 2021, Jan was given a life sentence and a minimum of 15 years before being eligible for parole. Outside court, where Nicole’s family had gathered, it was clear that this was not seen as a severe enough sentence for a man who had killed a young woman and mother in such a brutal manner.
“Justice doesn’t exist in this country,” Joe told waiting reporters.
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