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.
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.
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.
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.
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.