The colourful sex life of Con Boland

Posted by on Aug 25, 2021 in Books, Brian's Blog, Celebrities, Justice | Comments Off on The colourful sex life of Con Boland

Edmonton photographer Con Boland died this week of cardiac arrest at age sixty-nine. Here’s some of what I wrote about him in 2003, eight years after his former sex partner, Marilyn Tan, went to court to face an assault charge for injecting him with HIV-positive blood:

THE STORY FIRST HIT the front pages in February 1993 when Con Boland, a well-known Edmonton portrait photographer, told police that an “unknown assailant” with a scarf covering his face came to Boland’s front door and threw sulphuric acid at his face, burning his neck, shoulders and chest. Four people were subsequently charged with a series of offences, including conspiracy to murder Boland: His former lover Marilyn Tan; her new lover Geoffrey Clarkson; and two private detectives hired by Clarkson to implicate Boland in alleged narcotics activity. The charges against the three men were later dropped, primarily because of tainted wiretap evidence. But some of the charges against Tan stuck and by the time she went to trial in May 1995 the case had taken on the dimensions of a TV movie of the week. “Edmonton’s trial of the century,” proclaimed the Edmonton-based Western Report magazine. “High society characters and tales of explicit sex highlight the case against Marilyn Tan.”

The acid attack, as it turned out, was not the only aggravation factor in Boland’s troubled relationship with Tan. Eight months earlier, in June 1992, she had allegedly injected him with HIV-positive blood while they were having sex in a California hotel room. It was mainly because of this incident that she went to trial in Edmonton on charges of aggravated assault, conspiracy to administer a “noxious substance” and twice administering the substance. Additionally she was charged with uttering a death threat against Jeanette Kunkel, the woman who became Boland’s new sex partner after he parted company with Tan.

Con Boland

The case spotlighted the sordid end of a relationship that began in 1984 when Tan arrived at Boland’s doorstep, responding to his ad for a receptionist. He was then a boyish-looking 36-year-old, establishing a reputation for himself as “photographer to the stars,” with a roster of high-profile clients that included hockey great Wayne Gretzky, Pierre Trudeau, Peter Lougheed and Edmonton Oilers owner Peter Pocklington. She was a dark-haired 24-year-old beauty, divorced with a four-year-old son, and had been living in Edmonton for about two years. Born in the Philippines and raised in poverty she had emigrated to Canada at age seventeen with her mother and an older brother, settled first in Winnipeg, married at age twenty, and had a baby boy whom she nicknamed Tex.

Tan had fifty dollars in her purse when she and Tex arrived in Edmonton. She found a low-rent apartment, worked behind the counter at a 7-Eleven store, sold clothing at a women’s fashion store, and then went on the road as a band singer. She didn’t have much of a voice but, according to the agent who booked her, “she had a real artistic sense and she could work an audience.”

She applied for Boland’s receptionist job in order to get off the road. But her qualifications failed to impress him. She couldn’t type and she knew nothing about photography. Plus she had a “foreign” accent, and Boland didn’t like that. But he did like her smile and, though he initially hired someone else to answer his phone and do his paperwork, he found another place in his life for Tan. He phoned her later that day and invited her out for dinner. “She was vivacious,” he said. “She had some kind of charisma.”

They saw one another regularly over the next year, and intermittently in the years after that when she worked for a time as his live-in sales assistant. Tan returned to singing and Boland occasionally went to see her when she performed in Edmonton. As a musician himself who played piano and improvised variations on classical melodies, Boland could see that Tan had little musical talent. But she “had really good stage presence. The way she moved was a pleasure to watch.”

Boland, like Tan, was an immigrant who came to Canada seeking a better life. Born in the Netherlands, he came as a nineteen-year-old in 1967, when the Canadian government was offering interest-free loans to foreign nationals to buy one-way airline tickets to Canada and become landed immigrants. After working in an Edmonton photo lab for a couple of years, he opened his own studio in a house that he bought in the inner-city community of Riverdale, and hung out his shingle as a portrait photographer.

In 1970 Boland married an Edmonton schoolteacher named Diana Tkachuk. It was an “open” marriage that lasted about six years. He slept with other women and she took a lover who actually lived with the couple in their Riverdale home. After Tkachuk left him in 1976 Boland began consorting with prostitutes and contracted a series of sexually transmitted diseases. He also dabbled in recreational drugs but his partying didn’t seem to adversely affect his photography business, which grew and flourished. He added rooms and a sauna to his three-storey studio, entertained lavishly, turned his yard into an award-winning show garden, and drove expensive cars.

(Read the rest of this story in my book, Boondoggles, Bonanzas and Other Alberta Stories, available as a paperback or e-book by clicking HERE.) 


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