On today's not-quite minisode, we delve into the story of Johnny Doyle and his friends, who made the decision to live the rest of their lives at a 24-buffet in the suburbs of Halifax. They never knew that in so doing, they would provoke the wrath of the restaurant's corporate overlords and spark one of the most heinous acts of corporate-backed paranormal terrorism in Canadian history. How could this happen? Find out here, only on Liminal Criminals.
Follow us on Twitter, or on Facebook
Follow, rate, and review us on iTunes, Spotify, or your podcast platform of choice.
Find us online at http://liminalcriminals.buzzsprout.com
CONTENT WARNING: Liminal Criminals is a fictional crime/comedy podcast, and contains elements which may not be suitable for all audiences. Listener discretion is advised.
Hello, dear listeners. Before we begin, I would like to note that the bulk of this podcast was recorded about twenty years ago. It would therefore behoove me to make a clarification about this week’s episode. In it, we make references to a place called “Nova Scotia.” For those of you who are confused by this: “Nova Scotia” was the name of an eastern province of Canada, a pre-Breaking nation. It s largest contiguous pieces in the modern era are in the Skybound Nations, although its former capital, Halifax, is now found in the eastern Deeps. With that in mind, enjoy the episode.
Have you ever wanted to just leave everything behind? To run off and join the circus? Perhaps become a monk or a hermit? Have you ever just wanted to quit your job, climb down a manhole, and join the brotherhood of mole people that live in the sewers? For some people, this pipe dream became a reality. Today, we talk about a group of friends who dropped out of the rat race and chose the road less traveled. Today, we talk about Johnny Doyle and the buffet dwellers of Nova Scotia.
I’m Sam Putnam. And you’re listening to a minisode...of Liminal Criminals.
In December of 1996, Johnny Doyle had the worst day of his life. His wife left him. He lost his job as an ombudsman. His dog broke free from its kennel, devoured Doyle’s entire collection of rare jerkies, and sprinted off into the cold Nova Scotian evening. Despondent, he drove into the nearby town of Haddock Point, looking for a bar where he could drown his sorrows, and perhaps himself, in liquor. But rather than finding a bar, he found the Maritime Grill 24-Hour All-You-Can-Eat Buffet. Deciding that maybe it would be better to eat, rather than drink, his grief away, he pulled into parking lot, strode in, and got a booth seat, laying down ten dollars up-front for the opportunity.
Doyle loaded down his plate with a variety of meats, an overgenerous helping of potatoes, and enough salad to keep a mouse fed for a couple of days. He returned to his table and began to stew in his thoughts, downing complimentary coffee and wondering if it was even possible to put his life back together. The minutes stretched into hours, and Doyle quickly lost track of the time. He was about to finish his protracted dinner, when he looked out the window to see the sun rising.
“Now, I had come into the buffet at 6 PM,” explained Doyle as he recounted his life to biographer Mel Peters, “and the sun only rises after 7:30 in the winter. When I saw that, I knew that I had just spent over 12 hours of my life in a booth at a deserted buffet with nobody but the waitstaff and my reflection in the sneeze guard to keep me company. That sunrise was the surest sign that my life had completely fallen to pieces. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.”
According to Mel Peters’ book Tuck In, Chow Down, Drop Out: An Oral History of the Men of Maritime Buffet, Doyle casually excused himself from the table, went over to the restaurant’s pay phone, and called some of his friends. First he called Robert Jacques, who was also on the edge of divorce. Then, he called Hunter Trap, who had recently lost his job and his hand in a tragic accident at the fishery where he worked as a salmon-sperm extractor. Finally, he called Dirt Leonard, who had been looking for the time and opportunity to give up on life ever since he heard Metallica’s 1996 album, Load. Doyle offered them the same thing; the freedom to abandon their old lives and take refuge with him in this bastion against the world, all for the low price of ten dollars.
Doyle’s friends arrived within minutes. They laid down their money, sat down at Doyle’s booth, and wordlessly turned towards the buffet’s TVs to watch that day’s episode of As The Clam Flies, a daytime soap opera about a family of professional clam-gatherers.
After breakfast, the four stayed at their table, chatting idly and watching infomercials on TV. After lunch, the four stayed at their table, chatting idly and watching the afternoon news on TV. After dinner, they began to see a pattern in their lives beginning to emerge, then stayed at their table and watched nighttime comedies on TV. One by one, they began to drift off to sleep. The next day, the buffet-dwellers, initially unaware of their own resolve, began to realize the commitment they were sinking into. “Honestly, I didn’t think much of it at the time,” said Hunter to Mel Peters, “I figured that we’d stay there a couple days and then go back home. I guess it would kinda be a vacation. But, then the first day went and the next day came, and none of the waitresses really seemed to mind that we hadn’t gone home or showered. So, I think we all kinda agreed that we’d just spend another day and see what happened. Things just went on from there”
The initial few weeks of Doyle and his comrades’ tenure were actually welcomed by the Maritime Buffet management. The four were by-and-large non-disruptive, save for Robert Jacques’ occasional snoring. They eventually learned that they could wash off the bulk of their body odor in the men’s room. And while management noted that the four represented a net loss for the restaurant and the waitstaff universally agreed that seeing the four there every day was depressing, both agreed that the four only ranked in the bottom 30 percent of their customers at worst. What was more, they were beginning to attract attention. The Halifax Argus ran a multi-day human interest story on the four. People from across Eastern Canada were traveling to see the restaurant that was apparently good enough to keep four men there for weeks on end. The Halifax Buffet Corporation, the parent company of the restaurant, even featured the four in an advertisement that ran on local channels between January and February of 1997.
It was after the first month of the Buffet-Dwellers stay that tensions began to arise between the Maritime Buffet and their increasingly-unwelcome guests. As the fours’ lawns grew rampant, their bills went unpaid, and their former social circles abandoned them for newer friends who actually went outside and didn’t live off of reheated roast beef and questionably-fresh tilapia, it became increasingly clear to the workers and management of the Maritime Buffet that these diners weren’t planning on leaving.
The Halifax Buffet Corporation’s first tactic was to take legal action to remove them from their property, claiming that the four were trespassing. This seemed like a promising means of ejecting the Buffet Dwellers from the building, as A, the four insisted on showing up to their hearing by telephone, as they were eating lunch during several parts of the trial, and B, as the infamous case Hurglin vs Dixie Danny’s Alberta Kitchen had established a precedent that a restaurant could eject a patron after 14 days. The restaurant’s desire to keep the matter as a civil case, however, proved to be their downfall. This was not because of any legal technicalities, but rather because that, during the final day of proceedings, the Honorable Judge Presley Oglethorpe suffered a brain hemorrhage during his decision, leading him to utter the words, “I find that Mr. Doyle, Mr. Jacques, Mr. Trap, and Mr. Leonard must—oh god the pain, oh my god please make it stop they can stay they can stay just somebody please get me to a hospital I think I’m having a--” before collapsing. Due to a quirk in Halifax’s jurisprudence, this was considered legally binding.
While the Buffet Dwellers celebrated their momentary success over with a second trip to the dessert bar, they realized that their struggles were far from over. This was true, but not in the manner that they thought. Rather than seeking an appeal or an alternate route through the legal system, Halifax simply attempted to put the screws to the four’s creature comforts.
On March 8th, 1997, the Maritime Buffet removed the televisions from its building and the cushions from its booths. They stopped serving complimentary coffee. They announced that they would be replacing all meat dishes with Her Majesty’s Own Reclaimed Beef, or “HORB,” a potted meat product that was produced by the Canadian government in 1973 as emergency rations. Finally, they established a policy that any new customer who stayed beyond twelve hours could be ejected, and that this policy would apply to any of the Buffet-Dwellers who left the building. The Maritime Buffet, once an Eden for Doyle and his friends, had become a purgatory: one that they could leave at any time, but could never return to.
Still the Buffet-Dwellers persisted. They had gotten used to their new lives. What was more, their old lives, having already crumbled to dust, were beginning to blow away in the cool spring breeze. Their homes had been foreclosed upon. The townsfolk had stopped seeing the four as an amusing quirk of society and started viewing them as obnoxious layabouts. Robert Jacques’ ex-wife Lisa, who once loved coming to the Maritime Buffet, claimed that he had done this to spite her, which gave her an upper hand in divorce court proceedings. They arranged a meeting with a local financial planner, placed their advertising money and savings into a fund that would continue to pay just enough of their required expenses to keep them out of jail, and simultaneously got up for a dinnertime meal of potatoes, carrots, and roasted HORB. They weren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
This decision was enough to push the Halifax Buffet Corporation over the edge. “These bastards aren’t people anymore,” wrote HBC executive Jeff Royal in a leaked memo, “And you don’t cure cancer by negotiating with it. No. You cut, poison and burn.”
Royal and his coconspirators didn’t want the Buffet-Dwellers roughed up. They didn’t even want them dead. They wanted the four to vanish completely, in a way that was as horrifying as it was untraceable. To this end, they pulled out all the stops, casting logic and morality to the wind.
On June 14th, 1997, they summoned the being known only as Dennis.
Jeff Royal bribed Debra Harkin, a hostess at the Maritime Buffet, to go into the middle of the restaurant, spray-paint a sigil onto the ground, and recite a handful of words which I am banned by international law from knowing or saying. She was told that this was just a harmless prank to try and scare off the Buffet-Dwellers. The reality was far worse. By following the instructions which she had been paid to carry out, she had completed the First Invocation of Dennis, a ritual that would compel the entity to appear within a 20-meter radius of the sigil’s location. With Dennis unleashed upon the restaurant, Royal hoped that the otherworldly horror would consume the Buffet Dwellers, along with any possible witnesses to the event.
This failed. In a prepared statement given at a 1997 press conference, Canadian Department of National Defense analyst and paranormal expert Jack DuChamp explained why. “This heinous act violated not only basic human decency,” he stated, “but ignored all facts we know about Dennis. If there is something that we have learned from Boulder, Fort Loud, or Thunder Springs, it is that staying indoors is the easiest way to avoid being taken by Dennis. If there is a lesson to be learned from this tragedy, it is that regardless of the severity or circumstances of a Dennis-related event, it is of the utmost importance to always, always stay inside and out of arms’ reach of doors or windows.”
Sadly, while the majority of the buffet’s customers and employees were savvy enough, or frozen enough by fear, to take this advice, Dirt Leonard did not. Upon hearing the telltale whine of a Dennising in the air and seeing the sigil on the floor begin to glow, he stood up from his table and sprinted out of the restaurant, only to run headlong into the spot where Dennis materialized.
Dirt Leonard was almost entirely subsumed in a matter of seconds, with Dennis only leaving behind a handful of fingertips to fall onto the pavement below. Harkin, overcome with fear and guilt, broke down crying in the middle of the restaurant, loudly sobbing the words, “He just said it’d scare people, oh god he just said it’d scare people.”
As the handful of customers inside the Maritime Buffet backed away from the windows and tried to avoid looking outside, the remaining three of the Buffet Dwellers brought Harkin back to their booth near one of the restaurant’s interior walls. The three, whose calmness bordered on being disquieting, were able to console the sobbing Harkin and get her to explain what had happened.
Word of what Harkin had been tasked with doing soon spread among the patrons and employees of the restaurant. Over the two weeks it took for Dennis to fade away, the people inside the building, now aware of Jeff Royal’s involvement in this crisis, stewed in a mixture of fear, betrayal and rage. Harkin placed as many calls to the local press and authorities as she could. By the time that Dennis had vanished and the emergency response team gave the all-clear, Jeffery Royal had been arrested on paranormal terrorism charges.
And still, the Buffet Dwellers remained. HBC, it seems, had lost.
What has happened since then?
The investigation into the HBC was only able to find evidence incriminating Jeffery Royal and a handful of his employees in the summoning of Dennis. Royal is currently on his 26th year of a life sentence. As part of the security surrounding him, he is banned from receiving visitors, visiting the prison library, or possessing anything that could be used to write.
Debra Harkin left her job at the Maritime Buffet, and found work at the Brushfire Bar and Grill in Halifax. She went missing on January 31st, 1999. If anyone is aware of her whereabouts they are encouraged to call the Halifax PD.
Dirt Leonard was survived by his illegitimate son, Mud Leonard. Mud made a name for himself in the Nova Scotia marijuana cultivation community, a reputation which led to him being arrested multiple times. As of 2022, he is a manager at a dispensary on Ontario.
HORB was taken off the market in 1998, what leaked documents from the Canadian military revealed that the food-like substance had been quote unquote contaminated with high doses of golazaprine, an anti-anxiety drug. A relaunch of the product, called “New HORB,” was slated for 2020, but was scrapped when consumers lost interest after learning that New HORB would not contain any psychoactive chemicals.
The Buffet Dwellers were given free meals for life at the Maritime Buffet in exchange for an agreement that they would not discuss HBC’s consumer practices in any capacity, and that they would leave the building for at least six hours each day.
Robert Jacques, while still divorced from his ex-wife Lisa, the two are now on more amicable terms. Jacques went back to school for a degree in journalism in 2001, and currently works as a food critic for the Halifax Hound, a local newspaper. In 2009, bought a house in Port Herringbone and left the Maritime Buffet.
Hunter Trap began taking odd jobs around the Halifax area, trying to find his true calling in life. He currently works as an artist in Halifax’s North End, having enjoyed a rise to fame after his 15-painting series, “I Saw The Face of Dennis,” was confiscated by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Johnny Doyle got a job in the Maritime Buffet, where he became manager. He never stopped living in the restaurant, leaving only to shower and exercise at the local YMCA. In 2014, he took out a small business loan and purchased the buffet from the HBC. While he doesn’t talk to his former compatriots as often as he used to, he told biographer Mel Peters that once a year, he and the remaining two Buffet-Dwellers get a seat at their old booth, share a meal, and raise a mug of complimentary coffee to the memory of their fallen friend.
This has been Liminal Criminals. I’m Sam Putnam. I’ll see you next time, and remember: if you haven’t seen them, you haven’t been paying attention.
Liminal Criminals was originally a true crime podcast by Liminal Studios. It was originally researched, written and created by Sam Putnam. It is edited for broadcast and distribution with the generous support of the Chthonic Riviera government and Deeps Self-Preservation League. Up next, I’ll be bringing you the news with the evening edition of Studio Community Worldwide Radio.
But first, I must inform you all that I lost a bet, and so therefore I have to spend the next five minutes attempting to yodel, live on-air. I apologize in advance.
Also, Krysta, if you’re listening, I swear to god I will find a way to get you back for this.
Okay, here we go. Inhale
Liminal Criminals is a fictional podcast by SCWR productions. It is written and edited by Sam Putnam. It is cowritten by Krysta Golden. Our theme song is Chthonic Riviera by Cornu Ammonis.
Follow us on Twitter at “liminal cast,” or like us on Facebook. Follow, rate and review us on iTunes, Spotify, or your podcast platform of choice. Tell a friend about us. Remember that all narration on this show is done by amateur stunt performers, and should not be attempted at home. All links are in the show notes.