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LOVE ON THE RUN
By Shawn Blore
She felt differently at the end of the testimony about Murrin's beating. On December 29, 1994, with an undercover operation that had gone nowhere, Tidsbury visited Murrin's buddy Bob Holmes and convinced him that Murrin was the killer. Holmes, an ex-con, was infuriated. "I would just as soon kill the bastard who did it myself," Holmes told Tidsbury in a taped conversation. "Couldn't agree with you more," Tidsbury replied.
With Tidsbury's encouragement, Holmes decided to ask Murrin some questions. On January 5, he and a pair of hefty friends showed up at Murrin's place with a tire iron. Murrin tried to scare them off with a .22-calibre rifle, but Holmes, who had been negotiating to buy the gun from Murrin, knew it wasn't loaded. Murrin was knocked on the back of the head, thrown down his stairs, tossed in the back of a waiting pickup and driven to Mission Creek Park. The bridge over the creek was gated and locked, so they hoisted Murrin over the fence and let him drop six feet onto the concrete on the far side.
Screaming prompted someone to call the police. A pair of uniformed officers arrived at the scene, but according to radio logs, Tidsbury's deputy, Constable Gerry Webb, sent them away. "You weren't here," one cop testified Webb instructed him. "Don't take any notes." (In court Webb denied this.) The logs then indicate Tidsbury himself called the dispatcher and had all the uniformed patrolmen removed from the scene. Tidsbury's detectives drove to a near-by mall, parked, and waited. Forty-five minutes later, Tidsbury finally moved in to find Murrin, bleeding, half-buried in the snow, cranial fluid leaking from his ears. Police told the ambulance it was a routine call and not to bother with the lights and siren.
Tidsbury, in many long appearances on the stand, unequivocally denied all allegations of impropriety. (Now living in Calgary and retired from the rcmp, he was invited directly, and through rcmp channels, to comment on his role in the investigation, but he never returned calls.)
Beth Killaly, another detective on the Tran case, testified that the afternoon before the beating Tidsbury himself told her about the plan for Holmes to extract a confession from Murrin. She testified that Tidsbury told her, "We might find Murrin tied to a tree at [Tran's] gravesite." So stark was Killaly's contradiction of Tidsbury's testimony that defence counsel Peter Wilson said that one of them had to be lying. Killaly, he added, had no reason to lie.
(The day Murrin was released from hospital after the beating, Tidsbury arrested him for pointing the unloaded .22 at Holmes. He served two years plus a day. He was charged with the Tran murder shortly after he got out.)
The last significant piece of Crown evidence was a fragment of mitochondrial dna (mtdna), drawn from some pubic hairs found on Tran's clothes. According to the Crown's experts, this mtdna match- ed Murrin's. But there were problems there too. The experts admitted that although it is more re-silient, mtdna is not as definitive as the more established nuclear dna. All individuals along a maternal line share the same mtdna, and it's also possible for totally unrelated people to have identical mtdna strands. The likelihood of this occurring was given at one in 128, or 781 people in a city of 100,000.
When it came time to consider their verdict, the six men and six women deliberated for a full seven days. On January 25, 2000, the jury came back into the room and a number of them, Kathy Macdonald included, were smiling at Murrin. The verdict was not guilty.
The evening he was freed from jail, Shannon Murrin had a bit of a celebration at an airport hotel. Kathy Macdonald wanted to go. She let on her desire to her fellow juror Chantal Laverdure. "'I don't want you involved with that man,'" Laverdure says she told Macdonald. " 'Promise me you won't get involved.' " Macdonald didn't make the promise, but neither did she make it to the party. Murrin and she had, to that point, exchanged not even a word. So she watched the footage on the late news that night of Murrin catching a fiight back to Newfoundland.
Still, she couldn't stop thinking about the trial. Ten days after it ended, she got Murrin's number from directory assistance and gave him a call. She wasn't the only one. Two other jurors, according to Murrin, also called him in the aftermath of the not-guilty verdict. Macdonald asked him what he was up to. Not much, he said, thinking of writing a book. Those were exactly the sort of words to pique Macdonald's interest. She had once tried her hand at mystery writing, creating a plot for an elaborate stock-market thriller. Somehow it never got done. This material was even better.
When the relationship became public, and Macdonald returned home to prepare for her move east, the Vancouver Police Department announced that she was being placed under investigation for possible obstruction of justice.
Being under investigation, says Macdonald, "really freaked me out." She contacted Murrin's lawyer, Peter Wilson, for advice. She also called up Gillian Guess, who suggested the two meet to talk. In Guess's experience, phones and bedrooms and other private places were liable to harbour microphones, so the two eventually met in a park and walked their dogs together. The next day, to Macdonald's surprise, shots of the two with their respective pooches were splashed across the front pages. Very quickly, however, Macdonald got used to the media attention. She went on a radio phone-in show with Guess. By the time Canada am had them set up for an early-morning interview, Macdonald and Murrin, back in Vancouver for a visit, were comfortable enough to share a joint beforehand.
They stuck to beer - a Kokanee for Murrin, a Corona for Macdonald - at our first meeting in a Vancouver restaurant. In short order, Macdonald began discussing mtdna and how certain populations that are genetically similar - like Newfoundlanders - could have a greater than usual percentage of people with identical mtdna sequences. Murrin, listening in, got increasingly agitated by all this technical talk.
"It was all shit. Ah, now I'm pissed off." With that he stood up, slammed his Kokanee on the table, and stalked off. Macdonald stared at his retreating back, then shrugged. "I think the beating has given him a really short fuse." I took the opportunity to question Macdonald more closely on her personal life, wondering aloud if the relationship is largely about sex. For the first time since I'd met her, she laughed. "After menopause it's just not quite the same," she said. "My girlfriends and I keep waiting for when we'll want to have sex again."
Murrin, it seems, appeals to a different set of desires. Part of it is literary. Murrin and Macdonald are indeed trying to write a book. Part of it is adventure. "I'm fifty years old," she said, draining her Corona. "If there was ever a time to do what I want in life it's now. Going to Newfoundland is a big adventure."
A few evenings later I headed over to Macdonald's west-side condo for a farewell party. Murrin was there, along with three or four of Macdonald's friends, having a beer, and, in Murrin's case, another joint. Macdonald's girlfriends had mostly been accepting of Murrin. Mostly. A neighbour with whom Macdonald shared condo keys turned white when Macdonald told her she was going to Newfoundland. Then she had her locks changed. She hasn't spoken to Macdonald since.
Macdonald's family was equally leery of Murrin. Her father refused to meet him. So did her sister. "That's their problem," said Macdonald. "They know where to find me if they want me. It's their turn to make an effort."
Before Macdonald finally packed up and left Vancouver, however, something happened to change her family's minds. A television reporter turned up two startling bits of evidence that the defence had never received. Way back in August, 1994, a woman, a neighbour of the Trans', had told an ex-rcmp officer and a Missing Children investigator that on August 17 she twice drove past a little pink bicycle left in the street in front of Murrin's house, not on the lawn. The ex-cop and the investigator made a point of getting this information to Kelowna rcmp. Whether deliberately or not, the rcmp did not pass this information on to the defence.
The second revelation was that during the trial, a man in jail for a sexual offence had confessed to the killing. According to the report, the man told a fellow inmate that he had killed Mindy in an abandoned house on nearby Gaggin Road. Police had never searched the house, and it was later demolished.
For Murrin's lawyer, Peter Wilson, it was the last straw. He wrote out a twenty-three-page letter outlining all the things wrong with the investigation and prosecution of Shannon Murrin, demanding a public inquiry.
The news report left Kelowna rcmp in a bit of a bind. The investigation was formally closed, but an alleged confession could hardly be ignored. So they developed a facility for semantics. "Reopening the investigation would imply everything we've done to date, all the thousands of hours of work that's been put into this case, was wrong-headed," said rcmp constable Garth Letcher. "That is not the position of the force. However, we continue to investigate this tip and all tips as they come in. But the investigation itself is closed."
The information may have done little for the investigation, but it did open up a link to Macdonald's family. Kathy's father, Gary, agreed to meet Murrin. According to Murrin, they talked cars. Macdonald, Sr., gave Murrin a roof rack for Kathy's Monte Carlo. And then the next morning, after packing up, in Murrin's words, "seventeen bags' worth of shoes and makeup," the two set off on their cross-country road trip to Newfoundland.
A couple of weeks later, i follow. Macdonald meets me at the St. John's airport. The next day, I'm driven out to the Murrin family home, a trim little bungalow on a treeless acre on the far rural edge of the city.
When the story about her son and Kathy broke, Murrin's mother invited the reporters who besieged the house in and fed them while they waited for her Shan to come back. She welcomes me similarly, taking a plastic bag of fresh cod tongues that Murrin has bought up the road and dipping them in flour before throwing them into a lightly oiled pan. "I loves 'em, cod tongues," she says. As she cooks and chats, part of Macdonald's attraction to the place becomes clear. Her own mother has been sick with Alz-heimer's for many years. Even as a child she felt somewhat estranged. Mrs. Murrin, by contrast, is warmth personified. "I just feel really at home here," says Macdonald. And Mrs. Murrin, used to having a house full of people, clearly likes having Macdonald around. "Ay, Kathy," she says, as she tells a story about how she came to St. John's from a far-off outport in the forties, "I had to come to St. John's to find a man. You had to come all the way to Newfoundland." Then she goes off on a small cackling fit.
Macdonald doesn't seem to mind the ribbing. Indeed, she runs off to find her clipping file in a bedroom and returns with a Province cartoon in a laminated cover. "How to meet chicks," says the caption. Below in separate panels are four options: go to the gym; go to the bar; go to the beach; get charged with murder.
I meet Mr. Murrin in the same kitchen a few days later. He's just come from a veterans' function, so he's wearing the medals from his Korea campaign. A small, stocky man with wiry black hair, Shannon, Sr., bears little resemblance to his son, nor do they seem to share much in the way of temperament. I show him some photos I've taken the day before of Shannon and Kathy on the dock at Portugal Cove.
"Ah, there's Shan smoking a joint as usual," he says with a bafflement that must be decades old. Murrin, Sr., is a teetotaller, and the steadiest of citizens. He worked as a truck driver for nearly three decades. He built the house we sit in himself and put food on the table for his three kids. Shannon, his middle child and elder boy, clearly remains a mystery. "He had a girl for a while. Nice girl she was, too," he says, referring to Shannon's first wife. "Gave him two nice boys. But she took off, sick of waitin' on him, and I don't blame her."