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Editors' Picks: Week of August 3–10, 2020

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For all you true crime fans!
The Billionaire Murders

The Billionaire Murders

The Mysterious Deaths of Barry and Honey Sherman
edition:Paperback

NATIONAL BESTSELLER
A top journalist crosses the yellow tape to investigate a shocking high-society crime.

Billionaires, philanthropists, socialites . . . victims. Barry and Honey Sherman appeared to lead charmed lives. But the world was shocked in late 2017 when their bodies were found in a bizarre tableau in their elegant Toronto home. First described as murder-suicide — belts looped around their necks, they were found seated beside their basement swimming pool — police later ruled it a st …

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ONE

Wrong Turn

On the morning of Friday, December 15, 2017, family, friends, and colleagues of Barry and Honey Sherman woke, shook off sleep, and set about their normal routines. But for some, a nagging thought persisted. Something was amiss. An email not returned, an empty desk in the executive office, a vacant seat at a charity boardroom table. At 50 Old Colony Road, in Toronto’s suburban North York, snow was softly dust­ing the ground, melting quickly on the heated driveway and obscuring any footprints that may have been made on the front lawn or unheated steps over the previous two days.

It had been cold, ten degrees below freezing, and as the sun rose behind clouds, it promised to be another grey, wintry day in Canada’s biggest city. Many of the people who owned homes on the street had already flown south to escape the cold weather, so it was not unusual at this time of year for a house in the neigh­bourhood to be quiet. At the rear of the house was an outdoor pool, long closed for the season, a tennis court surrounded by a fence, and two patios. In a basement underneath the tennis court, stretching north on the property, was a lap pool rarely used by the homeowners. In front of the house, one vehicle was parked on the circular driveway, a light gold Lexus SUV that was ten years old. Judging by the snow lining its fenders and windows, it had been there at least overnight. Beside it, on the left, was a long bed of snowball hydrangeas, their withered brown flower heads perked up by little hats of fresh snow. A ramp to the right of the Lexus led down to a closed garage door that opened into a six-car underground garage nestled in the basement of the house with utility and recreation rooms on the ends closest to the road, and the lap pool at the far north end.

At 8:30 a.m., two people arrived on a clockwork schedule: a cleaning lady on her regular Friday visit, and a woman who came twice a week to water the plants in the home. The cleaning lady parked in the centre of the circular drive. The woman who came to water the plants trudged along the street, passing the large For Sale sign at the curb. The house had been on the market three weeks with an asking price of $6.9 million. Just the day before, a Toronto magazine had revealed publicly for the first time that the property was for sale: “Pharma Titan Barry Sherman is selling his modern North York mansion.”

Inside 50 Old Colony, the woman watering the orchids and other plants filled her can and went from room to room. The cleaning lady got busy as well. Hanukkah had begun the previ­ous Tuesday evening and included in her assigned duties today was helping Honey prepare potato latkes, which she would cook later that day at the home of one of the Sherman children. The main floor was 3,600 square feet, anchored by a grand entrance topped with a chandelier and a curved staircase heading up to the second floor. The six-bedroom house, including the expan­sive lower level, was well over 12,000 square feet in total.
 
Both women began their chores on the main floor. While they were working, a phone rang. The cleaning lady followed the sound into a powder room, where she found an iPhone lying on the tiled floor. By the time she picked up the phone it had stopped ringing. When she moved upstairs, she noticed that the bed in the master bedroom had not been slept in and that the room was unusually tidy. Normally, on cleaning day, the bed was unmade and clothes from the night before were casu­ally strewn on the bed or a chair. The cleaning lady busied her­self dusting surfaces and picture frames.
 
Around 10 a.m., Elise Stern arrived. Dark-haired, with a thin, angular face, Stern was a twenty-year veteran real estate agent who shared the listing for the house with Judi Gottlieb, who was the senior realtor on the file. Just the other day, Gottlieb had shown the house to two men who struck her as odd ducks. But in her business you met all kinds.

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The Forest City Killer

The Forest City Killer

A Serial Murderer, a Cold-Case Sleuth, and a Search for Justice
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

 

Recently featured in:

  • The New York Times
  • Bustle
  • Quill & Quire
  • Booklist
  • Publishers Weekly
  • CBC
  • Toronto Star

A My Favorite Murder recommended read

“A must for true crime fans.” – Booklist

“A truly impressive account of this dark chapter in [Ontario’s] history . . . Not just a sharp work of investigative journalism, The Forest City Killer is a poignant portrait of children and young people whose lives were cut short in horrific circumstances and a clarion call for long overdue …

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October 9, 1969. Dawdling around the back roads of Oxford County in a pickup truck, Ron Kiddie and Pete Kingma were on a duck-hunting excursion. They were two young guys, rifles in the back, gum in their mouths, listening to the radio and talking shit as they bounced along hills and uneven asphalt. It was uncustomarily warm out, so they rolled down their windows to catch the breeze. The sun was low in the sky. With a little time left before dinner, they stopped to check for birds under the gleaming new concrete bridge over Big Otter Creek. It was shouldered by two hills and two curves — a great dark, low hiding place for water fowl. Ron pulled over next to the narrow bridge. Walking across the short expanse, they each took a side, Ron on the north and Peter on the south, leaning over the guardrail as far as they could.

 

“Hey Peter,” called Ron. “Come see this.”

 

Peter checked for traffic before crossing over. On this road, with the sharp turns and steep incline, they were hidden and trapped if a speeding automobile came over the hill.

 

“There’s a body,” said Ron, pointing down.

 

Peter looked. “Oh, that’s just a dummy.” To prove his point, he went and got his gun out of the truck to look down through the scope. As he squinted, he became very still and then slowly looked up at Ron. “There’s a ring on her finger,” he muttered.

 

Without hesitation, Ron skidded down the steep banks of the creek to find out what was going on. “I can see [pubic] hair,” he shouted, as Peter followed. “And a vaccination mark on her arm!” On the edge of the water, he stumbled and accidentally stepped in the water. “Well, I’m wet now,” he said, turning his head and looking back. “I better wade in and see before we call the police.”

 

He felt the frigid water creeping up his legs as he pushed through the muck, the soft creekbed beneath his boots. He could see goosebumps on her flesh, her face floating just beneath the surface of the murky water. Her chin was tilted up, as if she were calling out for help. Her left arm and breast protruded from the shallow creek, naked white in the fading fall sunlight, and her right hand floated in a fist, her young finger decorated with a black Alaskan diamond ring. 

 

In a sleepy London, Ontario, neighbourhood, fifty-year-old OPP Detective Dennis Alsop had just sat down to dinner. He was grabbing a quick bite to eat before heading out again to pick up his fifteen-year-old daughter Daphne, who would soon be finishing up at her ballet class.

 

The phone rang and he answered.

 

“They found her.”

 

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Murdered Midas

Murdered Midas

A Millionaire, His Gold Mine, and a Strange Death on an Island Paradise
edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook Hardcover Paperback
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A gold mine. A millionaire. An island paradise. An unsolved murder. A missing fortune. The story of the infamous Sir Harry Oakes as only Charlotte Gray can tell it
On an island paradise in 1943, Sir Harry Oakes, gold mining tycoon, philanthropist and "richest man in the Empire," was murdered. The news of his death surged across the English-speaking world, from London, the Imperial centre, to the remote Canadian mining town of Kirkland Lake, in the Northern Ontario bush. The murder became celeb …

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Blood in the Water

Blood in the Water

A True Story of Revenge in the Maritimes
edition:Paperback

NATIONAL BESTSELLER
 
Shortlisted for the 2021 Crime Writers of Canada Brass Knuckles Award for Best Nonfiction Crime Book 
 
A brutal murder in a small Maritime fishing community raises urgent questions of right and wrong, and even the nature of good and evil, in this masterfully told true story.

In June 2013, three upstanding citizens of a small Cape Breton town cold-bloodedly murdered their neighbour, Phillip Boudreau, at sea. While out checking their lobster traps, two Landry cousins and ski …

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Highway of Tears

Highway of Tears

A True Story of Racism, Indifference and the Pursuit of Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback

A searing and revelatory account of the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls of Highway 16, and an indictment of the society that failed them.
 
For decades, Indigenous women and girls have gone missing or been found murdered along an isolated stretch of highway in northwestern British Columbia. The highway is known as the Highway of Tears, and it has come to symbolize a national crisis.
 
Journalist Jessica McDiarmid investigates the devastating effect these tragedies have had on th …

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INTRODUCTION

The Highway of Tears is a lonesome road that runs across a lonesome land. This dark slab of asphalt cuts a narrow path through the vast wilderness of the place, where struggling hayfields melt into dark pine forests, and the rolling fields of the Interior careen into jagged coastal mountains. It’s sparsely populated, with many kilometres separating the small towns strung along it, communities forever grappling with the booms and busts of the industries that sustain them. At night, many minutes may pass between vehicles, mostly tractor-trailers on long-haul voyages between the coast and some place farther south. And there is the train that passes in the night, late, its whistle echoing through the valleys long after it is gone.

Prince George lies in a bowl etched by glaciers over thousands of years on the Nechako Plateau, near the middle of what is now called British Columbia, at the place where the Nechako and Fraser Rivers meet. It is a small city, as cities go, but with a population of about eighty thousand it is by far the largest along the highway, a once prosperous lumber town that fell on hard times. Hunkered under towering sand bluffs carved by the rivers, the once bustling downtown is quieter these days, though a push for economic diversification has, in the past few years, brought in a new wave of boutique shops, pubs and upscale eateries.

From the city, the highway runs northwest, passing ranches with sagging barbed-wire fences and billboards advertising farm supply stores and tow truck companies. It winds down from the plateau toward the coast, through ever-narrower valleys where cedar and Sitka spruce and hemlock rise from beds of moss and ferns to form a near canopy as the skies sink lower, the mountains loom higher. The air grows heavier as the highway draws closer to the Pacific, clinging to a ledge above the Skeena River blasted from the mountainsides to make way for trains and trucks, where the margin of error is only a few feet in either direction. Those who err are often gone forever, lost to a river that swallows logging trucks and fishing boats alike. Those who disappear in this place are not easily found.

The towns owe their existence to the railway that carved a path from the Rocky Mountains to Prince Rupert just over a hundred years ago, propelled by fears in Ottawa of an American invasion and hopes of selling prairie grain to Asia from a port on the northern Pacific. The last spike of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway went into the ground April 7, 1914, just a few months before Europe erupted into the First World War. Settlements grew along the railway as livelihoods were wrested from farms forever beset by late springs and early frosts, from towering forests that carpeted the hills and from mines from which men chipped out silver, copper and gold to load onto boxcars going somewhere else.

But before these towns named for railway men, fur traders and settlers, there were other communities here. People inhabited this land long before history was recorded in any European sense. Before the Egyptians erected the pyramids, before the Maya began to write and to study the sky, before the Mesopotamians built the first cities, Indigenous people lived in this place. Only about two hundred years ago did Europeans arrive in the Pacific Northwest, seeking sea otter, gold and, later, lumber. Soon, the nascent government of Canada would claim the territory as its own and seek to assimilate or destroy those who had been here for so long. Settlers arrived on foot and in canoes, then on railcars and steamboats, and then on the highway. By the early 1950s, a road connected Prince Rupert to Prince George, though it was little more than a gravel strip in places and often rendered impassable by snowfall, avalanches and landslides. Soon, Highway 16 was extended across the Rockies to connect the northwest of British Columbia to Edmonton and beyond, opening this vast region to the rest of the country. The road was dubbed the Yellowhead after the Iroquois-Metis fur trader Pierre Bostonais, known as Tête Jaune for his shock of bright yellow hair. And so it remained, until what it brought earned it a new name: the Highway of Tears.

*

No one knows who the first Indigenous girl or woman to vanish along the highway between Prince Rupert and Prince George was, or when it happened. Nor does anyone know how many have gone missing or been murdered since. In more recent years, grassroots activists, many of whom are family members of missing and murdered Indigenous girls and women, have travelled community to community to collect the names of those lost. Their lists suggest numbers far higher than those that make their way into most media reports, but they are still incomplete—people who have been gathering names for many years continue to hear about cases they were unaware of.

The RCMP has put the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada at about 1,200, with about a thousand of those being victims of homicide. The actual number is likely higher; the Native Women’s Association of Canada, or NWAC, and other advocacy groups have estimated it could be as high as four thousand. And although the RCMP reported that the proportion of homicide cases that were solved was about the same for Indigenous and non-Indigenous women and girls—88 and 89 per cent respectively—NWAC research into 582 cases suggested that 40 per cent of murders remained unsolved.

According to the RCMP, a third of the 225 unsolved cases nationwide were in British Columbia, with thirty-six homicides and forty unresolved missing person cases, more than twice the next-highest province, Alberta. The entirety of northern British Columbia is home to only about 250,000 people, or about 6 per cent of the province’s population. Around the Highway of Tears alone, a region that is just a fraction of northern B.C., at least five Indigenous women and girls went missing during the time period covered by RCMP statistics—more than 12 per cent of the provincial total. And, in addition to the missing, there are at least five unsolved murders, or about 14 per cent.

The Highway of Tears is a 725-kilometre stretch of highway in British Columbia. And it is a microcosm of a national tragedy—and travesty. Indigenous people in this country are far more likely to face violence than any other segment of the population. A 2014 Statistics Canada report found Indigenous people face double the rate of violence of non-Indigenous people. Indigenous women and girls in particular are targets. They are six times more likely to be killed than non-Indigenous women. They face a rate of serious violence twice as high as that of Indigenous men and nearly triple that of non-Indigenous women. This is partly because they are more likely to confront risk factors such as mental illness, homelessness and poverty, which afflict Indigenous people at vastly disproportionate rates—the ugly, deadly effects of colonialism past and present. But even when controlling for those factors, Indigenous women and girls face more violence than anyone else. Put simply, they are in greater danger solely because they were born Indigenous and female. As one long-time activist put it, “Every time we walk out our doors, it’s high risk.”

Across Canada, as across the Highway of Tears, no one has counted the dead. But whatever the number, too often forgotten is that behind every single death or disappearance is a human being and those who love them, a web of family and community and friendship, those bonds we form that make us strong; those bonds that, when broken, tear us apart.

*

I was ten years old the first time I saw Ramona Wilson. A photo of her, smiling, black hair cloaking her left shoulder, was printed on sheets of eight-by-eleven paper and hung up around Smithers, the B.C. town where we both grew up. Over the picture was a banner that read: MISSING. Under it was a description: 16 years old, native, 5 foot 1, 120 pounds, last seen June 11, 1994. The posters plastered telephone poles and gas station doors and grocery store bulletin boards throughout town and the surrounding areas for months. But in April the following year, the posters were taken down. She was gone.

I would learn later that Ramona wasn’t the only First Nations girl or young woman to vanish from the area. In 1989, it was Alberta Williams and Cecilia Anne Nikal. The following year, Cecilia’s fifteen-year-old cousin Delphine Nikal disappeared. In 1994, the same year Ramona didn’t come home, Roxanne Thiara and Alishia Germaine were murdered, their bodies later found near the highway. In 1995, Lana Derrick went missing. The posters went up, and they came down, but not because the girls got home alive.

There wasn’t a great fuss about these missing and murdered girls. “Just another native” is how mothers and sisters and aunties describe the pervasive attitude. Police officers gave terrified, grieving families the distinct impression that they didn’t care and didn’t try very hard. Nor did the public rally to the cause in large numbers with donations for reward money or attendance at vigils, searches or walks. Families were often left to search, raise funds, investigate and mourn alone. It was not unusual in the 1990s to hear comments about the “error” a girl must have committed to encounter such a fate, whether it was hitchhiking, prostitution, drinking or walking alone at night. It is still not uncommon. Too often, these deaths and disappearances are seen as the result of the victim’s wrongdoing rather than as what they truly are: an ongoing societal failure. Many of the girls who vanished here were not hitchhiking, nor were they sex workers, nor were they doing anything much different than many other young people. But to many of the people living in predominantly white communities, it seemed as though disappearing off the face of the earth was something that happened to other people. And it was, because this is a country where Ramona Wilson was six times more likely to be murdered than me.

I left northwestern British Columbia in my late teens and never planned to return, aside from the odd week or two to visit family. I reported from across the country and overseas, focusing when I could on human rights abuses and social injustice—that was what I cared about, what I wanted to shed light upon, in hopes of playing some small role in fixing it. Over those years, I watched as women and girls in northwestern B.C. continued to disappear—Nicole Hoar, Tamara Chipman, Aielah Saric-Auger, Bonnie Joseph, Mackie Basil—and long felt that I needed to come home to this story. The first time I spoke with local family members who have become some of the strongest advocates—quite literally, national game changers—for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls was in 2009. But it wasn’t for another seven years that circumstances aligned and I returned home to research and write this book.

In June of 2016, not long after I arrived back in Smithers, I had the honour of walking the Highway of Tears with Brenda Wilson, Ramona’s sister; Angeline Chalifoux, the auntie of fourteen-year-old Aielah Saric-Auger; and Val Bolton, Brenda’s dear friend, along with dozens of family members and supporters who joined them for part of the way. Called the Cleansing the Highway Walk, it marked the ten-year anniversary of the first Highway of Tears walk. At the end of it, when we arrived in Prince George after three weeks of leapfrogging down the highway’s length from Prince Rupert, Angeline stood on a stage alongside Brenda and Val. It was June 21, National Aboriginal Day, and hundreds of people had turned out to celebrate at Lheidli T’enneh Memorial Park on the banks of the Fraser River. Angeline told Aielah’s story, and then she read to the crowd her favourite quote, from Martin Luther King Jr. “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it,” she read out. “He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

Not nearly enough people gave a damn when these girls and women went missing. We did not protect them. We failed them. The police haven’t solved these cases, but there are multiple perpetrators. There are those who committed these crimes, and there are all of us who stood by as it happened, and happened again, and happened again. And while we cannot undo what has been done, we can try to understand how this happened, where we went wrong. We can address the myriad factors that make Indigenous women and girls vulnerable. We can make sure it does not happen again. And we can remember them, these young women with all their dreams and troubles and hopes and cares, who should still be here today. I owe them this. We all do.

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The Court of Better Fiction

The Court of Better Fiction

Three Trials, Two Executions, and Arctic Sovereignty
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

2020 Arthur Ellis Award, Best Nonfiction Crime Book — Shortlisted
In its rush to establish dominion over the North, Canada executed two innocent Inuit.

In 1921, the RCMP arrested two Inuit males suspected of killing their uncle. While in custody, one of the accused allegedly killed a police officer and a Hudson's Bay Company trader.

The Canadian government hastily established an unprecedented court in the Arctic, but the trial quickly became a master class in judicial error. The verdicts were de …

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PROLOGUE

On December 6, 1921, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Corporal William Doak arrested a young Inuit male named Alikomiak a few miles inland from the northeast coast of the Northwest Territories. Alikomiak was accused of murdering his uncle, the final blow in a series of retaliatory killings between rival families. He did not resist arrest and went willingly with the RCMP officer to the Tree River detachment.

The police outpost had no holding cell, forcing Doak to detain Alikomiak in the barrack’s storage shed. Doak was not a large man, but he towered over the prisoner, who was “quite young, short and [of ] very slight build.” Alikomiak’s cringing obedience soon earned Doak’s trust and he was given free run of the small detachment, performing menial tasks to appease his captor.

As the first feeble signs of spring arrived in 1922, Doak’s subordinates were all otherwise engaged, leaving him alone to supervise the accused. On March 31, Doak threw his sealskin long boots at a sleeping Alikomiak, then pointed to their fraying soles. He mimed a stitching motion, an implicit order to repair the boots. When the Inuit captive finished resoling the first boot, he showed it to Doak. The enraged corporal threw the boot back at Alikomiak. “I had not done it right,” Alikomiak later said, adding, “I was mad and did not feel good inside.”

The next morning, Doak used the rare moments of privacy to sleep in. His service revolver was within easy reach, holstered and draped over the bedpost near his head. Just before sunrise, Alikomiak went into the “unlocked Police store house” and took a rifle and four bullets. He crept into the barracks and saw “that Doak was still asleep … on his right side with his face to the wall.” Alikomiak moved to the left of the cook stove ten feet from Doak’s bed. He raised his rifle and fired once, hitting Doak in the left buttock.

The corporal awoke with a scream. He tried to sit up, but was in too much pain. Rising onto his left elbow, Doak looked at Alikomiak and shouted, “What is the matter with you?”

Alikomiak bolted out the door, but he paused to look through the window near the wounded man’s bunk. He saw that “Doak had turned in his bed with his legs hanging over the side and his head against the wall. He was groaning and his eyes were sometimes open.” Blood flowed from the corporal’s mouth and Alikomiak knew “he was close to dead.”

The Inuk returned to the sleeping quarters. He lifted Doak’s legs onto the bed and covered him with a blanket. Doak eventually lost consciousness and was dead before the sun cleared the horizon. According to police, Corporal William Doak would not be the only man Alikomiak killed that day.

He was arrested later that afternoon by Constable Daniel Harrison Woolams at a seal camp seven miles from the Tree River detachment. He did not resist arrest, asking only to change his boots before surrendering to police.

Alikomiak made a full confession through an RCMP translator. In his statement he recounted the killing in graphic detail, including Doak’s final words. That confession would be the sole evidence against Alikomiak in the trial that followed.

There are several glaring inconsistencies in Alikomiak’s account, irregularities that investigators, the prosecutor, jurors, and the judge failed to notice at the time and that all legal scholars studying the case have failed to notice in the decades since. One of the most obvious was that only two people were in the room when Doak was killed: the victim and the perpetrator. Alikomiak could not speak a word of English and Doak knew nothing of the local language.4 Throughout his incarceration the two had communicated exclusively through hand gestures. So, how could Alikomiak possibly have known what Doak said in the moments before he died?

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