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Who killed Shelley Connors?

It's been 22 years since someone murdered the Halifax teen. Police still haven't found her killer

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Ryan Van Horne is a Halifax journalist, playwright and documentary film director. His work has appeared in magazines and newspapers from coast to coast and on his blog at ryanvanhorne.com. Follow him on Twitter at @RyanVanHorne.

Ryan Van Horne is a Halifax journalist, playwright and documentary film director. His work has appeared in magazines and newspapers from coast to coast and on his blog at ryanvanhorne.com. Follow him on Twitter at @RyanVanHorne.

When Halifax police finally started searching for Shelley Connors, it only took a tracking dog seven minutes to find the body of the 17-year-old Spryfield girl. It was behind the Spryfield Lions Rink, just 400 metres from her home. Twenty-two years later, Halifax police still haven’t arrested her killer.

ConnorsShelley-resized

Shelley Connors

Dust seems to be gathering on the file. Her mother Martha Connors, 64, wonders if the case will be solved in her lifetime.

Shelley disappeared on the afternoon of Saturday, May 29, 1993. Martha pauses as the painful memory of that day comes back. While she was out, Martha says she felt a chill. When she arrived home and Shelley wasn’t there, she started to worry.

“I knew something was wrong,” she says, tears welling in her eyes.

IMG_1116-resized

The River Road apartment building where Connors and her family lived.

Earlier that afternoon, Shelley’s brother Corey answered the phone. “A guy on the other end told me he wanted to talk to my sister,” says Corey, who didn’t recognize the voice and suspects the caller “Chad” was using an alias.

“Shelley went out maybe 20 minutes later and that’s the last time we saw her,” he says. He watched out the front of their River Road apartment and didn’t see her. He assumed that she went back along Foxwood Terrace toward JL Ilsley High School and the Spryfield Lions Rink.

Shelley had just poured herself a glass of pop and didn’t take her cigarettes. It’s likely she didn’t expect to be gone long.

Retired Halifax police detective Tom Martin remembers the night Shelley’s body was found on Tuesday, June 1, 1993. It had already been raining for three days and that night, the skies opened up. “I’ve never seen it rain so hard,” he recalls.

DNA is reliable in court, but a crime scene exposed to the elements like that seldom offers much in the way of physical evidence. That has forced police to rely on witnesses, but Martin cites a saying in Spryfield that has hobbled investigators: “Fear is what makes sure the taps don’t leak,” he says.

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Police found Connors’s body behind the Spryfield Lions Rink, just 400 metres from her home.

Martha hasn’t called police to pressure them for an update. “Where was it going to get me?” she says.

Martin says it could lead to results, referring to the example of Paula Gallant’s family, who pressured police to find her killer. Martin thinks Halifax police don’t devote enough resources to unsolved cases like this, and the 66 other major unsolved cases (www.halifax.ca/police/UnsolvedMurders/MajorUnsolvedCrimes.php)

“Investigators have had persons of interest…over the years, however, we’ve been unable to advance the investigation to a point where charges can be laid,” Halifax police spokeswoman Diane Woodworth says.

The first person of interest is a former neighbour, an older man, who used to meet Shelley near where police found her body. Corey said her friend had introduced Shelley to this man and that the three of them used to “hang out.”

“He was the only guy who wouldn’t take a polygraph and he came after me and my friends a half-dozen times after my sister went missing,” Corey says.Shelley's-boot-resized

Police arrested and questioned this man in August 1993, but never charged him. Martha says she tried to confront him, but his girlfriend got a peace bond against her. “I stupidly went over after him,” she says.

Making Martha’s pain and frustration worse is a persistent neighbourhood rumour that started several years after Shelley’s murder. This second “person of interest” is a man she knows. She’s heard rumours that he’s confessed to friends because he “was remorseful and that he was having problems with it.”

Once, she saw him in a store and he wouldn’t make eye contact with her. “He couldn’t get out of the store fast enough,” Martha says.

She gave this information to police, but doesn’t know what came of it. “We follow-up on all leads, however, we wouldn’t discuss the outcome…even with family members, so that we can protect the integrity of the investigation,” Woodworth says.

Two things must happen to solve this case, Martin says. The police need to devote more effort and the community must do its part.

Shelley’s black low-cut cowboy boots, a brown leather jacket with a gold map stitched on the inside, and her keys were not with her when she was found.

Many people might remember the day Shelley disappeared as the day Wayne Gretzky scored a hat trick to eliminate the Toronto Maple Leafs to advance to the Stanley Cup final.

Anybody who knows or saw anything, even the smallest piece in the puzzle, could help solve the case. It could just as easily have been your daughter or your sister who had been killed. Do what you’d want others to do in that case.

The star marks the apartment where Shelley Connors lived. The red square marks the approximate location where her body was found.

River Road and Foxwood Terrace

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDruZNONJVM

J.L. Ilsley and Lions Rink

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMb1NrjdKQQ

Behind Lions Rink

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_IGaQlFDtk

Fire Road

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9TBtL3SH40U

  • Paul Hart

    So let’s start the discussion. I am a good friend of a sibling. I was working in Liverpool and up until a month ago I never heard of or knew about this story. So her friends, Shelly, obviously had interactions with her friends that day and even after the horrible news of her death there was discussions of who what where. So let’s hear what was said even if it’s hear say or what you may think is nonsense and even from the person that did this. Let’s all put our two cents worth of what you may think is nothing. Let’s hear what you had and have to say.

  • Hugh Jorgan

    Well here are other reasons why the case was never solved that he left out:

    One: The police investigator when they found her was Cpl. Peter Astephen, who thought that a bunch of 17 and 19 year olds who he knew all had alibi’s and therefore were all innocent, would confess if he screamed at them long enough. To no one’s surprise none did, and the investigation lost momentum within 24 hours due to the focus on the younger innocent people rather than the 26 year old main suspect who allegedly didn’t have an alibi. By the time the main suspect was arrested again in August 1993, he called Anne Derrick and after he was released without charge, there hasn’t been an arrest since.

    Two: No one is afraid of the main suspect. In fact, after Martha confronted him and she was hit with the restraining order, he moved to Sackville away from Spryfield. He’s the one scared. And Shelley had about 10 cousins that could have pressured the guy into turning himself in, either by legal or illegal means, but none of them had the guts to do it. Goes to show that Martha had the courage all by herself to confront the guy, but 10+ cousins that all vowed revenge have just been talking for the last 22 years and doing nothing.

    Three: Shelley was engaged to be married. Her fiancée just mysteriously up and left a few weeks before she was killed to go back to Lebanon allegedly. Rumour had it they were still engaged when she was killed. Did the police ever track down this Fiancée that she had for questioning? Did he ever call to express his condolences? Does he even know she’s dead? THAT should have been a huge red flag for police, who did have his licence plate and his make and model of truck he drove to at least start to look for this guy.

    Here is the way to solve the case: Double the reward money from the province to $300,000 and offer the girlfriend of the main suspect immunity and protection. She might roll over on the guy because sooner or later if they break up, there is a good chance she might turn him in and that might explain why she is still with him. She CAN’T leave if she knows his secret or she could die as well. Judging by how badly she has aged in 22 years it might suggest she is holding on to a huge secret. Its the only way we will be sure it was the older neighbour they talked about.

  • Hugh Jorgan

    There were three comments yesterday. Where did they go?

  • Paul Hart

    Don’t think this is a good forum for discussions if previous comments can’t be read. You can’t solve anything if you can’t read postings. Hugh is having same issues. Good information already. Let’s get this solved. Don’t slow down the train.

  • Hugh, or whatever your real name is, I will get an answer for you as to why the comments were not posted. It might have to wait until Monday, but I will get an answer for you. If you have information that you’d like to share with me, feel free to e-mail me at vanhorne.ryan@gmail.com. We can arrange to talk or meet in person. Whatever you prefer.

  • Hugh Jorgan

    Like I said yesterday in my comment before it was deleted along with Paul’s comments:

    The lead detective in 93 was Cpl. Peter Astephen, who spent 12+ hours screaming at Shelley’s brother, friends of Shelley and friends of her brother, all of whom had known alibi’s. He saw a bunch of frightened 17 and 19 year old kids and figured they were weak and would crack. However if your “weak” suspects all have ironclad alibis and can’t be in two places at once, and there was no evidence of a conspiracy, then why was he wasting 12+ hours on trying to get confessions from people he knew to be innocent in the first place? This was the night of June 1st into June 2nd. The prime suspect they mentioned in the article wasn’t arrested until August and after he called Anne Derrick he was released without charge. No action against this prime suspect was taken since August 93.

    The saying about how fear keeps the taps from leaking is not accurate in this case. The prime suspect moved to Sackville after Martha confronted him and got the restraining order slapped against her. That’s not the action of a big scary guy with underworld connections that might scare people into silence. Shelley has about 10 cousins that all know who the prime suspect is and where he is and some have vowed revenge, but all they did in 1993 is threaten and assault someone they knew had nothing to do with it, so they can brag about how tough they were to the rest of Spryfield. Meanwhile the alleged killer is still loose 22 years later.

    Also Shelley was engaged to be married to a huge Lebanese guy that she used to brag had a 3rd degree black belt in tae kwon do and liked to beat people up that owed him money etc. He apparently had to go back to Lebanon a few weeks before she ended up getting killed. They were still engaged apparently after he left. She gets killed but as far as I know the police never even looked for this guy. The police had his licence plate and the make and model of truck he drove and I don’t think they even bothered to start tracking this guy down. Why didn’t he call and offer his condolences? Does he even know she is dead?

    You want solve the case? This is what you do: IF it is in fact the prime suspect that was mentioned in the article, again thats IF he’s the killer, then you give his common-law wife double the reward money from the province $300,000, give her protection and immunity. She has aged horribly in 22 years and rumour has it she almost gave him up in 1993, so I am guessing she is the key to closing this case. She hasn’t left him as well, which might be because she CAN’T leave. She leaves and knows what happened she might become a loose end for him to have to take care of. Maybe she is tired of living in fear and/or living with a lie that huge.

    It’s worth a try. It’s the only way we will know if the prime suspect is in fact the killer.

  • Hugh Jorgan

    I reposted so no worries!

  • I have heard about the wild-goose chases early in the investigation. The faulty assumption that it was related to prostitution, the failure to start seriously looking for her until three days after she went missing. When the police dog started looking for her on the evening of Tuesday, June 1, it took seven minutes to find her body. I wonder if they had started looking for her sooner, would be some DNA on Shelley’s body or clothing?

    The Lebanese boyfriend had moved back to Lebanon by this point. Her family said he was out of the picture at this time. He was an exchange student, but had to go home. This is the first I’ve heard about them being engaged.

  • Hugh Jorgan

    I just sent you an email. Check your inbox.

  • Trevor Adams

    Regarding the comments deleted over the weekend: it’s our policy to delete potentially libellous comments. —Trevor J. Adams, Halifax Magazine editor

  • Janice Purdy

    Our family just moved to this area and I’m shocked and saddened to hear this beautiful young woman’s life was taken just across the street from our home. We have two children around the same age as Shelley and I can’t even begin to imagine the pain her family has had to endure all these years. Someone out there knows something. Let’s hope they come forward with enough information to allow police to take action and, more importantly, put her family’s suffering to rest. I will be thinking of Shelley and her family today. Thank you for sharing her story.

  • Janice, Shelley is what police call a “pure victim.” Some people on the list of unsolved murders were involved in criminal activity and, while that doesn’t justify their murder, it offers some explanation why. When a person puts themself in a risky situation, it can increase the chance of something tragic happening.

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