01/17/2017 13:29 EST | Updated 01/18/2018 00:12 EST

'Seemed to get more bitter:' Family says murder suspect angry over unpaid money

CALGARY — The family of a man charged in the deaths of a couple and their young grandchild say the accused was angry over unpaid money.

"He had some business dealings with Alvin that had fallen through. As the years went on he seemed to get more bitter about it," the accused's sister, Patti Garland, testified at his trial Tuesday.

Douglas Garland, 56, is charged with first-degree murder in the disappearance of Alvin and Kathy Liknes and their five-year-old grandson Nathan O'Brien in 2014.

He and Liknes had worked on developing an experimental pump for the oil and gas sector. Patti Garland's common-law partner at the time, Allen Liknes, was also involved and had known the accused for about 16 years.

Allen is Alvin Liknes's son.

Patti Garland said her last conversation with her older brother was at Christmas 2013.

"He had approached me and said he needed to tell me that he was going to call the police. He said he believed Alvin and Allen had stolen some property from the farm," she said.

The Crown alleges the victims were killed and their bodies burned as part of a years-long grudge over the pump's patent.

Archie Garland said his son and Alvin Liknes got along well when they started working together but the relationship soured.

"Alvin didn't pay Dougie some money and that didn't sit well," he testified Tuesday.

He said he told his son it was "just a bump in the road" and "you can't win them all" — but the anger lingered.

Archie Garland testified garbage on the farm was incinerated in a large burning barrel that wasn't visible from the family home because it was protected by a hedge. He said when the burning barrel got too full, it would either be taken to a dump or was just left on the ground.

The trial heard on Monday that police found DNA evidence from all three victims on the farm and bits of bone and a tooth in the burning barrel.

Under cross-examination, Archie Garland told defence lawyer Kim Ross that his son could be a bit of a loner.

"He had no friends, did he?" asked Ross.

"He didn't have that many friends, no. He did have the odd one," Archie Garland replied.

"I never ever seen him show violence to anybody."

Doreen Garland painted a troubled portrait of her son who she said spent a year studying medicine at the University of Alberta, but quit after suffering some kind of a breakdown.

"He's my son, I love him ... I think he's an unhappy man," she said. "He didn't discuss his problems with me."

She said she had returned home from a memorial service on June 30, 2014, and turned on the TV news.

"The next thing that flashed on the screen was a picture of Mr. and Mrs. Liknes and their grandson," she said.

Doreen Garland told her son that it looked as though the couple had taken Nathan.

"He said, 'I don't know. I don't want to talk about the Likneses.' He seemed to have lost interest in any dealings with Mr. Liknes."

She said she didn't notice any change in his demeanour.

Garland's sister testified she visited her parents July 3, 2014, as a result of the Amber Alert and the missing family members. She said a news report showing a green Ford pickup truck appeared to be the same as the one her brother drove. She was asked how she felt.

"Not very good. My son and I went outside and looked out the window. It looked a little different. We went outside to get a better view and it certainly looked like the vehicle," she said, adding the pictures were sent to police.

Nathan was at an impromptu sleepover at his grandparents after an estate sale. The couple was planning to move to the Edmonton area and spend their winters in Mexico.

When the boy's mother came the next morning, she found "pools of blood" and signs of a struggle.

— Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter