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59 unsolved murders

Former Halifax detective Tom Martin says the city is taking the wrong approach to solving its abundance of cold cases

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Photos: Aaron McKenzie Fraser. First published in Reader's Digest (March 2014).

Photos: Aaron McKenzie Fraser. First published in Reader's Digest (March 2014).

Persistent is a good word for Tom Martin. He retired from the Halifax Regional Police force in 2008 after a decorated career because of health reasons (three heart attacks in 2005) but he’s still talking about policing. He’s become an advocate for changing how police investigate unsolved murders. “That is a [hot]-button topic with me, for sure,” he says.

After he retired, Martin worked for a private security company for a couple years. He also ran for mayor (finishing a distant second behind Mike Savage with 19.9 per cent of the vote in 2012) and tried to win a seat as an MLA.

In 2011, he started Martin and Associates Investigations Inc., a private-investigation, protection and security company that has grown to have almost 50 full and part-time employees. Business is good, but Martin doesn’t want to talk about that. He wants to talk
about Halifax’s unsolved murders.resized-jan06-2014-Readers-Digest-True-Crime-Tom-Martin-Halifax-NS-photo-by-Aaron-McKenzie-Fraser-www.amfraser-resized

For about half of his time on the force, Martin worked in the major unsolved crimes unit, which works on unsolved murders and missing persons cases. At press time, this unit has 70 cases listed on the Halifax Regional Police website, including 59 unsolved murders. Contrast that with London, Ontario, which has a similar sized population, but only 10 unsolved murders.

Halifax’s 59 unsolved murders are made up of a mixture of unsolved murders and cold cases. In 2000, Halifax Regional Police established a cold-case squad, which has solved one case. “That in itself should cause any manager to put the brakes on and say, ‘OK, obviously whatever formula we’re following is not working, so what can we do? We’ve got to change it,’” says Martin.

The solved case is the 1988 murder of Arnold “Smiley” Joseph Bailey. In 2003, Gerald Patrick Dow pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact for hiding the murder weapon. In a 1991 preliminary hearing, Dow fingered Terry Marriott Sr. for the murder, but a judge acquitted him.

While the cold case unit has solved one case, the homicide unit has had some success in solving unsolved murders in recent years. “In the last three years, we’ve solved eight previously unsolved homicides and one of those goes back to 2004,” says Supt. Jim Perrin. He’s in charge of Halifax Regional Police’s criminal investigation division.

Martin’s not consumed by the cases he couldn’t solve. He says he’s never had a nightmare, woken up with a cold sweat, or had a hard time sleeping. “I’ve worked too many of them to simply walk away. I can’t,” he says.

Martin says he gets dozens of calls a year from victims’ families for cases he worked on and even ones he didn’t work. It’s no wonder he’s so passionate about unsolved murders. To the people he hears from, he’s a confidant and the things he hears troubles him. Some people tell him of not having heard from the police officers that work their cases in years.

Perrin says that’s unacceptable. “Years should not go by without hearing from an investigator,” he says, adding that he would like to hear from anybody who has had that problem.

When Martin was working, he says he made sure to speak with the families of unsolved murder victims at least every six months. He says rumours circulate and find their way back to victims’ families, and police should look into them. Martin says 90 per cent of the time, the information is useless, but in the process of investigating, there may be a useful nugget. Just the process of investigating can lead officers to discover new information
unrelated to the original tips.

Martin says he also hears from current officers unhappy with the management of the police force who they feel hinder their ability to solve cases. Throughout his interview with Halifax Magazine, Martin consistently praises the officers doing the investigations, but has harsher words for management. “I am completely and totally disgusted with management’s lack of commitment when it comes to this,” he says.

Perrin disputes that. “I respect the perspective that Tom has, but it is a dated perspective,” he says. “Tom’s not here anymore…Things have changed.” Perrin points to the eight previously unsolved murders that have been solved in the last three years to back up this assertion. “The proof is in the pudding,” he adds.

Perrin says the biggest challenge investigators face in solving cases is the reluctance of witnesses to talk, who stay silent because of reasons like fear and loyalty. “It’s frustrating for the families,” says Perrin. “It’s frustrating for us because we know that we could solve the file if only Person A would come forward or tell us the truth.”

“There’s no greater motivator than fear,” Martin agrees. “They’re afraid to talk and that’s understandable.”

For unsolved cases, time is both a friend and foe. In the short term, this fear prevents people from speaking out. However, over time people are more willing to speak out. Martin uses the example of people having a secret in their lives and vowing to never share it. Many people do end up sharing those secrets after all. “Very few people have the resolve to never speak,” he says.

The possibility of getting a cash reward of up to $150,000 is another incentive. The provincial justice department has a rewards program “for information leading to the arrest and conviction of person(s) responsible for specified major unsolved crimes.”

One detail from Martin’s past still speaks volumes today. When he’d get called to a murder scene, he wouldn’t leave it until he felt he knew every last detail about the site. Martin isn’t obsessed about the cases he worked. It’s just not in his DNA to say goodbye to them: “I don’t finish a case until it’s finished.”

 

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