IN 1998, A VIOLENT STRANGER WAS TERRORIZING HALIFAX—POLICE RECALL HOW THEY CAUGHT HIM
Editor’s Note: This story contains strong language that will offend some readers.
In late June 1998, they arrested a man for a series of violent assaults against four women, in which three of the attacks included a sexual component. The case they had against the man was strong, but there was a problem. He said his name was Ian Thor Greene and claimed to be 19 but police didn’t believe him. He had other aliases, including Ian O’Leary, Joe Thunder, and Daniel Greene. Fingerprint checks didn’t turn anything up.
In late July, police issued an international plea for help identifying the man. CBC’s The National was amongst the media outlets that picked up the story, its broadcast airing in parts of upstate New York.
That night, the primary investigator on the Ian Thor Greene case, Const. Tom Martin, was at home. Around midnight, he received a call from the dispatch centre telling him to call Det. Frank Coney from New York state. Martin phoned Coney and introduced himself. “I didn’t even finish the statement and all I got back from Coney was, ‘You got that fucking guy? You got that fucking guy?” I said, “Yeah, he’s in a cell.’ ‘Are you fucking sure you’ve got that fucking guy?’ I said, ‘Yeah, he’s in a cell.’ ‘Don’t turn your back on that fucker.’”
Coney said the suspect’s real name was William Chandler Shrubsall. He was a 27-year-old American fugitive with a long rap sheet that included manslaughter, stalking, harassment, assault, and sexual-abuse convictions. Further investigation in the U.S. later found dozens of other allegations in which charges were never laid, says Martin.
Shrubsall was originally from Niagara Falls. On the night before his high-school graduation in 1988, where he was to be the valedictorian, the 17-year-old beat his mother to death with a baseball bat at their home. He went to jail for 16 months.
There were other incidents and charges in the coming years, but the most significant one stemmed from an August 1995 incident at a house party where the then 24-year-old Shrubsall sexually assaulted a 17-year-old girl. As the trial neared an end, Shrubsall left a suicide note on May 14, 1996, that said he was going to jump off Niagara Falls. The court found him guilty in absentia.
On May 16, Shrubsall checked into the Metro Turning Point shelter on Barrington Street. Martin isn’t sure how Shrubsall managed to get here that quickly, but suspects a family member helped him.
During his time in Halifax, the stocky Shrubsall worked as a telemarketer, played on a baseball team, scammed several churches out of money, and tried to enroll in Grade 12, claiming to be 17. He was actually 25.
Shrubsall didn’t turn up on the Halifax police’s radar until June 1997, when he tried to hire a prostitute. Going under the name of Ian Thor Greene, he pleaded guilty and was fined $100 in August. It’s not clear why his fake identity didn’t raise any red flags then.
By June 1998, Shrubsall was living at the Sigma Chi fraternity on South Street and working at Wendy’s on Quinpool Road. In the early hours of June 22, 1998, police were called to the frat house. Hours earlier, Shrubsall had met a woman at the Dome, they danced together and then walked back to his place. Once there, she tried to call a cab using the phone in Shrubsall’s room. That’s when he began to beat, choke, and sexually assault her. The thumps and screams coming from the room prompted Shrubsall’s roommates to intervene and he fled.
Police began investigating. Martin was one of the officers who searched Shrubsall’s room that day, alongside constables Jim Perrin and Penny Hart. There wasn’t much in the way of mementoes. “He didn’t want anything from his past with him,” says Martin.
They suspected they weren’t facing a first-time attacker. “It was very high risk,” says Martin. “People usually don’t mess in their own backyards and this is where this individual lived.”
As they searched the room, police discovered a wallet and a purse that belonged to two different women.
Tamara Donnison owned the wallet. On Feb. 12, 1998, the 24-year-old was working her shift at the Great Northern Knitters Factory Outlet on Upper Water Street when someone beat her with a baseball bat and robbed her. She was in a coma for several days. Doctors had to reconstruct her fractured skull. Against the odds, she survived. “It was very brazen because there are police that are constantly there, there’s lots of bus traffic, there’s sidewalk traffic and it’s right underneath a courthouse,” says Rob Fetterly, one of the Crown attorneys who prosecuted the Shrubsall cases.
The purse they found in Shrubsall’s room belonged to a 19-year-old woman that someone sexually assaulted and robbed in a Tower Road driveway on May 4, 1998. The woman had been at the New Palace Cabaret and walked home by herself. She had a feeling she was being followed and put her keys in her hand to protect herself. Shrubsall ambushed her and beat her so badly her contact lenses had to be surgically removed.
To find Shrubsall, Hart and Perrin spoke with people that knew him. At an apartment building in South End Halifax, the officers knocked on a door. Perrin says his “senses were tingling” because it took a long time for the Shrubsall acquaintance to answer. After a quick conversation, the officers left.
When they got outside, a man started speaking with them. “[He] asked us if we were looking for somebody there and we said we were,” Perrin recalls. “And he said, ‘Well, I think he jumped off the balcony while you were inside.’” In the distance, they could see Shrubsall running away. The officers then chased him on foot through alleys and backyards and over fences before they caught him.
When they interrogated him, he wasn’t co-operative. A story he often used in Halifax is that he was from the Yukon and both his parents were dead: his father having died in a car crash, his mother in a house fire.
During the interrogation, Shrubsall had one moment where he slipped but police didn’t catch it. When asked if he wanted something to eat, Shrubsall said he wanted a sub and soda. “It really pissed me off in later years to think that I missed that, something so obvious,” Martin says. “Soda is American.”
The job of prosecuting Shrubsall fell on the shoulders of Paul Carver, a Crown attorney who was 31 when he first took the case, just four years older than Shrubsall. By chance, he just happened to be working bail court when Shrubsall was first arraigned. He stayed on the file.
Courts tried the three cases separately. A fourth case involving sexual assault went to a preliminary inquiry, but the Crown didn’t feel it had a strong chance of conviction, so it withdrew the charges.
On the witness stand, there were some odd moments with Shrubsall. “He had spent a great deal of his life being told how smart he was and when he testified, it struck me that he believed or perceived he could say just about anything and he should be believed,” says Carver.
He points to the Donnison case. When Shrubsall was asked why he had her wallet, he said he’d found it in a park and planned to contact her to return it, even though he said he had a bad feeling when he found it. “If you had a bad feeling, why would you take it home?” says Carver.
Besides the three main trials, Shrubsall also pleaded guilty to violating the Immigration Act by working illegally in Canada. There was another trial for harassing an ex-girlfriend. While testifying at this trial, Shrubsall talked about plans to go to the Curry Village for dinner with her. “It was a very good restaurant by the way, I highly recommend it,” is what Shrubsall told the judge at one point, says Carver.
In Halifax, there were likely more incidents involving Shrubsall where he wasn’t charged. “I’ve talked to women that he did just as bad [things], if not worse, to the South Street attack, the same sort of thing, street attacks, got the full story and they said ‘Tom, I’m not interested in doing any more with this,’” says Martin.
The courts found Shrubsall guilty. To ensure he never stepped foot outside of prison again, the Crown made a dangerous-offender application, which was granted in December 2001.
A Parole Board of Canada document notes a 2001 psychiatric assessment found Shrubsall has “a mixed personality disorder with anti-social, narcissistic traits, and paraphilia,” while another assessment from 2002 called him a psychopath.
That same year, Shrubsall legally changed his name to Ethan Simon Templar MacLeod. Simon Templar is the name of the fictional book, film, and TV character known as The Saint.
Since 2012, Shrubsall has applied for parole four times, and all applications were denied. Even if he is released from prison, a seven-year sentence awaits him in the U.S. for sexually assaulting a minor. Carver says the average length of time a dangerous offender spends incarcerated is around 23 years. “He’s getting closer and closer and closer,” he says. “He’s still a young man.” says Carver.
He still has an address book from the case filled with the contact information for people who were involved, but he hopes not to have to use it. “I may have to potentially call some of these people and say, ‘He got out,’” says Carver.
While the police and Crown got their jobs done, Martin says the “superstars” of those cases are the victims. “To watch those three women, it was almost breathtaking to know what each of them had been through and to watch how they maintained their composure and testified in the manner they did,” says Martin. “I really, truly never saw anything like it in my years.”