** Three Updates to the original story: **
a] The prime suspect [‘PS’] in this case died in Ontario in 2016. He was 65.
b] Tania’s old home was demolished in late 2018. It’s been replaced by a modern dwelling. Details and photos at the very end of this post.
c] An audio recording made by Vivian and Jack Murrell — just days after Tania’s disappearance — was located in late 2018. The recording [and a transcript] of the parents’ heart-rendering plea are now included in this post. See ‘A Personal Message to the Abductor’ … coming right up.
Tania Murrell [pronounced Tohn-ya Murl] was a six-year-old Edmonton girl who disappeared on a bitterly cold January 20, 1983. No one has heard from the child since. There have been no sightings, phone calls, nothing. Zip.
Tania’s disappearance smells of foul play, yet charges were never laid.
But as you’ll discover in this post, there was a serious person of interest — a middle-aged man, now deceased. He not only knew the child’s parents, he hung out with them and made their tiny bungalow his second home.
Shortly after Tania vanished, the suspect moved back to Southern Ontario … and in the summer of 2016, he died from cancer. He never returned to Alberta.
According to people who knew him when he lived in Edmonton, he was a heavy drinker and a dope-head who struggled with another destructive vice: sexual deviancy.
However, his family members maintain he was not a deviant — nor a killer. Detectives had the wrong man, they say.
Let’s call him ‘PS’ [for prime suspect]. Because of reports of his ‘odd behaviour,’ it wasn’t long before Edmonton Police had PS on their radar …
The suspect’s first police interview was at the main cop shop downtown, not long after Tania failed to return home from school. The second interview — five years on — was in city in Southern Ontario, close to the U.S. border. The meeting took place — not at a police station — but in a hotel room.
Two senior detectives handled the interrogation, which they described as hard-hitting. It was certainly long … the men talked for 11 hours.
The detectives caught PS lying and when that happened, they got their hopes up he’d tell all. With their man on the ropes, the officers closed in. But suddenly everything went south. Bang. Just like that. The suspect glared at his interrogators and uttered these taunting, game-over words: “Fuck you! You ain’t got a body …”
PS was right. Police didn’t have a body. What they did have however was a firm belief — as in 99-point-5 percent firm — they were in the company of the culprit who had scooped Tania.
Police did ask the man for his thoughts on what happened to the child. His response: “Only two people know: Me and God.”
Was PS just ‘messing’ with the police … or had he offered up a brazen confession?
The Tania Murrell case quickly became contaminated because of some major screw-ups. One was that the parents were part of the problem, not the solution. When police questioned Mom and Dad about their suspicious drinking buddy, they staunchly defended him. “Not X—-!” the mother pleaded, “he’s our FRIEND …!!”
The Murrells were well aware their buddy was a deviant and a piss tank but they welcomed him into their home just the same — especially when he showed up with a case of beer.
At the end of the day, Edmonton Police found themselves in a legal no man’s land. They had some evidence — enough to lay a charge — perhaps — but not enough to snag a conviction. Officers feared that if PS went to trial, he’d get off. And for that reason they held off filing charges.
The man remained the only suspect in the Tania Murrell case. He was never identified publicly, not even as a ‘person of interest.’
Tania’s disappearance tormented not just a family and their friends, but an entire city … and to some extent, a country. It has become one of Canada’s most heartbreaking missing child cases.
Heather Hansen, a close friend of the Murrells, summed things up this way: “When Tania went missing, it was the hardest and saddest thing I had ever experienced.”
To this day, thousands continue to be haunted by the Tania case. They want to know what happened — and if someone took her … who??
The following is my account of what went down … from the fateful day Tania disappeared, up until now. This post is based on interviews with:
- Tania’s parents, Jack and Vivian Murrell
- The child’s maternal grandmother
- Tania’s babysitter
- Friends and acquaintances of the Murrell family
- The suspected abductor/killer
- The suspect’s family
- A roommate of the suspect
- The lead Edmonton Police Detective
- Two psychics
If you don’t believe in psychics, this isn’t for you. Then again, maybe it is.
This isn’t a quick read but if you’re into true crime, it’s worth your while. The chapters …
- The Abduction
- Bad News
- Worst Fears Realized
- A Personal Message For the Abductor
- The Search
- The ex-Mountie Psychic
- Media Attention Diminishes
- The Tania Murrell Missing Children Society
- Celine and John
- Jack and Me
- The Murrells Move to British Columbia
- Clairvoyant Ralph Hurst
- Hurst’s Readings
- The Prime Suspect
- The Poem
- Reflections About the Prime Suspect
- A Psychic’s Read on What Went Down
- Zeroing In On The Prime Suspect
- The Police Interrogation
- A Connection to the Kevin Reimer Mystery?
- Phone Interview With Vivian Murrell – January 1993
- Tania Now Has Company?
- John Murrell Dies
- How The Media Works
- Searching For PS in Toronto – 2015
- PS Dies
- Tania’s House Demolished
- Maybe, Just Maybe
- True or False?
- On a Positive Note
- Where’s Everyone Now?
- Care to Comment?
In the first weeks of 1983, Alberta’s capital was in the middle of a prolonged cold snap. Around 11 a.m. on January 20th, it was bone-chilling cold [as in see your-breath-cold] when young Tania Murrell walked out of Grovenor Elementary School at 10345-144 Street, in Edmonton’s West end.
Tania was bundled up and on her way home for lunch.
She didn’t have far to go. Her home — a small, rented bungalow at 10426-145 Street — was about a block and a half away.
At the Murrell residence, Vera Stortz was waiting to serve her niece and Tania’s younger brother, John, a hot meal.
John was in kindergarten at the same school. He got out of class that morning and walked outside … but no Tania. Big sister was nowhere to be seen.
Tania had left without him, apparently, and so John walked home alone.Tania’s mother, Vivian, worked at a bakery about a mile distant. Her father, Jack, a carpenter, built new houses for Alldritt Homes on Edmonton’s South side.
Some have described Vivian and Jack Murrell as ‘party-hard folk’ who loved their booze, pot, rock music and Harley-Davidson motorcycles. They were, as one family acquaintance gently put it, ‘everyone’s-our-friend-people.’ But to most, Vivian and Jack were simply two young parents whose hearts were ripped out when their child suddenly vanished, never to be held or seen again.
Heather Hansen describes Tania as a ‘very happy kid.’ “Anyone would have loved to have her as a daughter,” she says, “… an absolute dream of a child, quiet and very content.”
And gentle. As children are. “She always wanted a hug and a kiss when I left the house.”
“Tania loved to dance, have fun with her Barbie dolls — and play in the sand box,” Hansen added. She shared that her daughter and Tania spent hours in the sand box, laughing and “talking about the weirdest things … like ‘what are you going to be when you grow up?'”
When Tania was a no-show for lunch that fateful day, Vera phoned her sister at work. Right off the bat, Vivian didn’t have a good feeling. It was unusual for Tania not to head straight home from school.
Things just weren’t right …
Vivian began to worry. She hoped that Tania had simply gone to a friend’s house … but a mother’s intuition told her otherwise.
Vivian drove home right away. When she arrived, she learned that Vera had already been out looking for Tania and calling her name.
There was absolutely no sign of the child. What the hell was going on??
Jack left work and rushed home. His gut, too, told him that something was wrong.Here’s a partial scan of Tania’s ‘missing poster’ showing key information about her, including what she was wearing that morning:
Tania would surely be home after school, friends assured the nervous parents. But when Vivian dropped around to her daughter’s classroom, she got some dreadful news: Tania hadn’t returned to class.
The child’s seat remained empty.
There was more grim news: Not only had Tania’s classmates not seen her, no one had. It was as though the kid had vanished into thin air.
Now everyone was concerned — because they could relate. Parents were thinking, there but for the grace of God … and children were thinking, will that happen to me?? Fear had gripped Edmonton.Vivian then phoned Edmonton Police and a officer dropped by the house. At that point, there wasn’t much he could do but jot down a description of Tania and get a search started.
Things became worrisome when Tania didn’t come home that evening. Where was she??
The parents tried to remain positive but there were just too many red flags. Their last, faint hope was that Tania spent the night at a friend’s house and had forgotten to tell her parents. That wasn’t Tania’s character — but in the midst of the worst crisis in their lives, how the parents wished that had actually happened.
Alas, that wasn’t the case. There was no sleepover.
When Tania failed to show up for class next morning, the alarm bells really went off. There was now little doubt that something sinister had happened. The situation was now beyond worrisome. It was dreadful.
Edmonton Police didn’t know what to make of the child’s disappearance — and neither did most reporters, myself included. I was working for CBC Radio News when police fired off an alert about a missing child. At that point, it was barely a story.
Next morning, CBC reporter Ruth Anderson was about to head out the door to cover the mysterious disappearance. I asked Ruth to hold off until school started; my thinking was that it made no sense getting worked up over a youngster who may have slept over at a friend’s house.
I was wrong. Vivian was right … the mother said she had a ‘gut feeling’ something bad had happened when Tania failed to come home at noon.
Both Vivian and Jack were now scared, Jack more so. Worried that someone might recognize him from newspaper and TV stories, he promptly shaved off his beard. There were rumours that Jack, a biker [though not a ‘gang member’] owed somebody money. Drug debt.
Perhaps Jack owed someone money — perhaps he didn’t — but it’s my belief that Tania’s disappearance had nothing to do with a debt.
Vivian began second-guessing herself. She kept saying ‘what if?’. What if I didn’t have to work that day? … what if Vera had gone to pick the kids up from school? … what if …?
Vivian Murrell in the kitchen of her home on 145 Street
[Photo courtesy of Edmonton Sun]
Officers began going door-to-door. A volunteer search was soon organized.
The mysterious disappearance of a 6-year-old got a lot of play in the news, although some radio and TV reporters mispronounced the child’s name as “Tan-ya Mur-rell.” Friends of the Murrells [“Murls”] didn’t recognize the name when they first heard it on the radio.
The spelling of Tania’s name in newspaper stories was sometimes screwed up as well. One headline screamed, ‘WHERE IS TANYA?’ Even the child’s ‘missing’ poster had her name spelled incorrectly.
I the child’s name had the correct spelling …
Police began going through a list of known pedophiles living in the area — and there was a pile of them. Vivian was shocked so many perverts lived within one mile of her house.
One deviant, in particular, was a lot closer than Mom realized.
WORST FEARS REALIZED
Tension rose at the Murrell house, the parents’ pain temporarily deadened with the love of friends and family … plus beer and pot.
Jack pounded his fists on a kitchen cupboard, screaming, “Why would anyone do this?”
The Murrell phone rang non-stop [their phone number was listed in the directory]. Most people were either helpful or wanted to be … offering tips, insights and theories.
Not all callers were well-meaning. Some seemed to take a perverted pleasure in giving the Murrells false leads.
When someone vanishes, everyone and their dog has a theory as to what went down … and why. Like a fog rolling in, rumors about ‘vindictive bike gangs’ began to blanket Edmonton. I lost track of the number of tips we received in the newsroom that Tania had been abducted by a biker gang.
Some bike gang members are drug-dealers, okay, but they don’t belong to ISIS — and they don’t execute kids.
A PERSONAL MESSAGE FOR THE ABDUCTOR
Several days after Tania vanished, I was looking for a new ‘angle’ to the story, something that hadn’t been covered. I drove around to the Murrell residence, parked out front, walked to the back of the house and knocked on the door.
Before anyone could answer, I was joined by CBC Television news reporter Warren Michaels and his cameraman. From a back alley, the pair had spotted me standing there and — uninvited — trudged through the snow to join me. I thought, well so much for this interview … watch this nosedive.
The door opened. Jack Murrell — his eyes red and puffy from crying — glared at the three media strangers wanting to interview him during this most painful time. Before slamming the door in our faces, he uttered two words: ‘fuck off.’
I looked at Warren, he looked at me … and we quietly left.
That’s how I met Jack Murrell.
I returned to my car and fired up the engine. But I shut it off, grabbed my cassette tape recorder and returned to the back door. The TV guys were no longer around; they had abided by Mr. Murrell’s request.
I knocked. Again Jack opened the door. “I thought I told you to fuck off!” he shouted. I shot back, “You don’t tell me to fuck off.”
Jack apologized and held the door open, all the while explaining that he was so distraught, so down, because his daughter was still missing.
I told him I understood, as I have children of my own.
Jack hung his head and began to sob. This bothered me, of course.
“Maybe I can help you find Tania,” I offered. “How can you do that?” he asked, looking up. I explained that if he and his wife recorded a personal message to the abductor, I could put it out on the radio and perhaps — perhaps — the person who took his daughter might hear it … and set her free.
“You think that’ll work?” Jack queried. I said, “What do you have to lose, man?” I handed him my Sony 142 cassette tape recorder and a microphone.
It’s against CBC policy to loan out our equipment — as one technician dutifully pointed out — but I figured what the hell. Some rules are meant to be broken.
My only instruction to Jack was that he and his wife speak from the heart and not read from a script. I also told him I’d drop by in the morning to pick up my gear.
I returned to my car and drove home. Supper was waiting.
Early next morning, when I went around to the Murrell house, Jack was waiting at the door with the tape recorder and the all-important cassette tape. I was anxious to hear what he and Vivian had to say, so I played the recording as I drove to the CBC building on 75th Street, on Edmonton’s south side.
My God! The couple’s gut-wrenching plea left me in tears.
VIVIAN: “Hi Tania. We miss you babe, Mom is waiting for you to come home right now. I know you want to come home … and who’s got ya, you gotta tell him that you wanna come home. Just tell him he knows you’re a good girl and you gotta come home.
We gotta do ballet …
“And John wants you home.
“Mom doesn’t know what to do anymore, she misses you so much. But whoever has you, just drop her off at some place warm. We don’t want to see who you are, just bring my baby home …
“She does want to come home. She loves her Mom. She loves her Dad, her kittens, her puppers. And she’s gotta come home. She wants to come home. You know she wants to come home. Please make Tania come home.”
JACK: “Whoever you are, if you got my Tania [sigh] and you’re keeping her warm and safe, that means you must care about her. If you care about her, let her come home. Please. Please, just let our little girl come home … just take her some place where somebody can find her. [sigh]”
VIVIAN: “Okay, this is to whoever … if you need money, we don’t have any money but we can get money for you. If you need that, you just phone us and we’ll help you out, borrow money … it doesn’t even matter, we gotta bring Tania home … we’ll get you some money if you want money. We got a lot of friends that love Tania. We really miss her. We’ve been trying so hard to find her and we just don’t want her out in the cold. We just can’t have that little girl out in the cold anywhere.
We have to have Tania back because we just have to and we need her more than you need her. And I know she wants to come home …”
Here is the actual recording made in January 1983. It’s poor quality … but you can follow along by reading the transcript.
The clip runs 2:33.
Courtesy of the Murrell Family and the Edmonton Sun, here’s a photo of Tania with her pets. Harley is the black lab.
Peter Hutchinson, producer of Edmonton-AM, CBC Radio’s current affairs program, teared up when the tape was played in studio. The voices of a grief-stricken couple pleading for the safe return of their young daughter not only shook staffers at the CBC, it stunned those who had their radios tuned that morning to Edmonton AM.
A day or so later, the Murrells followed it up with a news conference in their small living room where they made the same plea, this time in front of a number of reporters and TV cameras.
Not long after Tania vanished, so did her black dog, Harley. No foul play was suspected, Jack said. It was just one of those things.
Even so, it was another hit for the Murrell Family.
Police checked out hundreds of leads, but not all were genuine. One man called the police tip line to reveal that Tania’s remains would be found at the bottom of a sewer drain. Police checked it out. Notta. Officers traced the call and charged the culprit with mischief.
Another bozo later tried to extort the Murrells for money. He ended up eating prison food for a while.
‘Missing’ posters went up everywhere — on telephone poles, at bus shelters, truck stops and in shopping malls. Hundreds of city blocks were searched; Edmonton Police called it the largest door-to-door search in city history.
Little Tania was now on minds of many, not just folks in Edmonton but across Canada and the United States. Her story would eventually be featured on the U.S. TV program, Unsolved Mysteries.
Volunteer searchers — friends of the family and concerned citizens — searched day and night for Tania. They combed ravines, backyards, abandoned vehicles and garbage cans.
I was with a group of searchers one night when garbage cans were being searched. We wondered if we’d come across body parts or the child’s severed head. It was still bitterly cold and the feeling was that if Tania had been murdered, it would have been hard for the killer to bury her.
Edmontonians turned on the morning news hoping to hear the child had been found and was back with her family. Everyone wanted a happy ending, but it never came.
Her abductor was either lucky, clever … or both.
The owner of the Edmonton Oilers of the NHL, Peter Pocklington, quietly offered a 25-thousand dollar reward for information leading to Tania’s safe return. Pocklington also gave the Murrells tickets for an Oilers game. Once the game was over, the Murrells visited with ‘Peter Puck’ and the players in the dressing room.
Pocklington was never publicly identified as the businessman who’d put up the reward money. That was his choice; he wanted neither recognition nor publicity. That may cause some to say, “really?” as many have a different impression of the Oilers’ owner.
Shortly after Tania vanished, the Edmonton Sun published a story in which a psychic claimed that Tania had been taken by a bearded man. For a few days, every man with a beard in Edmonton got second looks.
Just an aside here, several crime reporters at the Sun covered the Tania story, but no one came close to Gary Poignant. Gary broke many elements of the Tania story.
Vivian Murrell contacted psychics in both the U.S. and Canada, desperately hoping to find clues as to what happened to her daughter. Not one medium asked for money, although some did say if they had to fly to Edmonton they’d like their airfare paid.
Vivian got information all right — but unfortunately much of it could not be verified. The mother shared with me an interesting ‘finding’ from a female psychic in the United States: the man who took Tania had driven by the Murrell house just before he went to the school. If that was true, the abductor not only knew where Tania lived — but may have known her family as well.
It made sense to go by the Murrell house first; Jack’s vehicle might have been parked there. The abductor would have been in serious trouble had he tried to scoop Tania with her biker dad looking on.
I asked a close family friend if Jack would have assaulted the abductor. “Assaulted?” she asked. “He would have beat him to death.”
THE EX-MOUNTIE PSYCHIC
One medium — a former RCMP officer — flew to Edmonton from British Columbia to help out. For the life of me, I cannot remember his name.
I spent some time with the man and listened to what he had to say.
It was my first time with a psychic and I tried to keep an open mind about what he was ‘reading.’ I didn’t know what to believe.
About half a mile northeast of Tania’s home, the medium identified a house he claimed was somehow ‘connected’ to Tania. I checked it out. Well. It was the home of one of Tania’s friends from school … and Tania had been there a number of times. Weird. How does that happen?
The psychic said I had much to learn about the Spirit World. He criticized me for being impatient, saying the information I wanted would come in its own time. That’s all well and good, but when there are deadlines …
The medium also claimed that a significant amount of human blood would be found in the basement of a house not far from the Murrell residence. He described the house as having a steep arch [similar to a lancet design] over its front door.
He also said he didn’t know if the blood was Tania’s …
Off I went.
I located a deserted house matching the description [it was the only one like that in the area], and I mentioned the address to Tania’s father.
After I left, Jack broke into the house and — what do you know? — came across a bloody mess on the concrete floor in the basement.
But it was a false alarm. According to police, a former tenant had cut himself while working with a power saw and hadn’t cleaned up the mess.
Sympathetic police made allowances for Jack’s break-in — said they understood his desperation — but warned him he shouldn’t be doing that.
Before Tania was abducted, the Murrells had plans to move to a larger house nearby. They eventually did — to another rental, at 9913-151 Street.
The ex-Mountie-turned-psychic showed up one night at the new Murrell residence asking for keys to their old home, the one on 145 Street.
I was with the man when he unlocked the front door of the small, single-story house. We flicked on the hall light and walked around, our footsteps and voices echoing in the empty rooms.
It was especially eerie being in the kids’ bedroom, in the very northwest corner of the house. How Vivian and Jack must have wept when they packed Tania’s clothes and toys into cardboard boxes. I can’t tell you how sad I felt standing there, trying to get my head around that.
The ex-cop asked if I’d climb up and see if the attic door was sealed. It sure was — with plenty of old paint. “That’s not good police work,” he commented, as I landed on the floor with a thud. “Officers should have checked the attic ‘door,'” he said, “… but obviously, it has not been opened in a long time.”
He pointed out that immediate family members were often suspects in crimes such as this.
We then checked out the basement, flicking a light switch at the top of a flight of narrow, wooden stairs. Nothing happened. The light wasn’t working. Not to worry. Armed with a flashlight, we slowly made our way down into the dark basement … mindful of every step because the stairs had no railing.
We’d soon be in for a heart-thumping surprise …
While Mr. Psychic was shining his light above the ceiling beams, I wandered off to the southeast corner of the basement. Here was a large storage room with a door. The door was wide open, but I didn’t walk in because it was too dark. And so I stood with my back to the door, watching the flashlight beam flit here and there.
From just behind me, someone shouted, “Who’s there!!?” Christ. I nearly pissed myself. The Murrells forgot to tell us a boarder still lived in the basement.
Thank you, Vivian, for the near heart attack.
The ex-Mountie remained calm. In the room was a boarder, a man in his 20s, in bed with the covers up to his face. He gave us his name and said he worked at Gainers Meat Packing [on 66th Street, in the east end of the city]. He answered all our questions.
The man also wanted to know if we had any news on Tania. We told him we hadn’t and we bid him good night.
Apparently, police had already checked out the boarder. The guy had a solid alibi; he was at work when Tania vanished.
About a month after Tania’s disappearance, Vivian remarked that she felt completely at peace one night after a long talk on the phone with a female psychic in Calgary, pointing out it was the first time in weeks she didn’t take sleeping pills to get to sleep.
MEDIA ATTENTION DIMINISHES
Time moved on.
The days turned into weeks and the weeks into months. It was a sad spring, a sad summer, a sad Thanksgiving and a particularly sad Christmas. Vivian and Jack still put up Tania’s stocking, however. It was a gesture of hope.
Tania was also no longer a lead story. She was no longer a story period, save for the odd update when Vivian gave a talk about missing children, or when her parents commented on the anniversary of the abduction.
Jack, Vivian and John Murrell – January 1984. [Photo courtesy of the Edmonton Sun]
I dropped around to the Murrell house occasionally to see if anything was shaking, but there was often nothing newsworthy.
Vivian did mention that if her daughter was abducted, she hoped that whoever took her was wealthy and ‘spoiling her rotten.’ She wondered if Tania had been scooped by a rich man living in the Middle East. That struck me as a bit silly, but I didn’t share that with her.
Hope was keeping the mother alive … and somewhat sane.
I asked Vivian if reporters were ‘using’ them. “Yes,” she replied, “you’re trying to ‘sell papers’ — but we’re using you too … to find our daughter.”
One summer day, Vivian and I were talking in her living room and I picked up a photo album. I was flipping through it, looking for snapshots of Tania, and I came across a few ‘party’ pictures. It was either extremely warm when those photos were taken … or people had too much to drink because some of the women were exposing themselves. I thought, shit, this ain’t right. The kids can see this …
I asked Vivian, “What’s with this shit?” She walked over to see what I was looking at. “Oh,” she said, “those are just party pictures.” The point I was trying to make is that why would anyone have these photos in an album — in a living room, no less — accessible to children? I mean, shouldn’t they be hidden in a box in a basement, up near the rafters? Vivian must have picked up on what I was thinking because she looked apologetic.
People sometimes criticize me for being too negative. Trying to be more positive, I back-peddled a bit. “Well,” I added, “some of your friends aren’t bad looking …”
Just an aside, I realize there are no perfect mothers and fathers. Parenting ain’t easy, and all parents struggle to be good moms and dads. Been there. Done that. However, for Vivian and Jack Murrell — high school drop-outs — parenting was even more challenging because of smoking and excessive alcohol and drug use. And that includes legal drugs.
A dysfunctional family situation made the Murrells easy prey for a party-hard outsider — a clever deviant — to be accepted unconditionally. HUGE mistake.
More on the man’s bizarre behaviour in this post.
THE TANIA MURRELL MISSING CHILDREN SOCIETY
Vivian Murrell decided to fight the problem of missing children head on and so she set up a charity, calling it The Tania Murrell Missing Children Society.
It was the first Canadian agency to deal with missing children. Child Find Alberta was launched not long after.
CELINE AND JOHN
Celine Stevenson had just started elementary school when she met John Murrell. “A sturdy looking boy with shaggy blond hair, a slight lisp to his husky voice,” she recalls of the 6-year-old, “… and the saddest eyes I’ve ever seen.”
“On his very first day of grade one, our teacher made him stand in front of the class and basically had him showcase his claim to fame as the brother of a kidnapped child. It was awful.”
Turns out, the Stevensons and Murrells were close neighbours. Celine and John would eventually spend time in each other’s homes.
“John’s parents were very kind,” she says, “[they tried] to maintain a positive and happy home atmosphere. [However] I was aware of their sadness and could see their daughter’s disappearance had broken them.”
“They always made me promise to phone them the second I arrived home, and most times John would insist on walking me there himself.”
“The following year they moved away, and I never saw them again.”
JACK AND ME
One summer evening I had a chance meeting with Jack in Spruce Grove, just west of Edmonton. A rodeo or horse show perhaps? Not sure. I was told that Jack Murrell was there and so I went looking for him.
I found him in the parking lot by himself, standing between some cars. He was crying. I said, “What’s wrong, Jack?” He swore and said he’d like to see one of my girls abducted, then I would know how it felt …
Jack was different than Vivian that way. Vivian often cried — always apologizing for the way she looked, as if that was important — but she never lashed out.
To be fair to Jack, he was Tania’s dad and it was clear he loved his daughter dearly. The man cried a million tears after Tania vanished. He was clearly broken.
In 1987, things went off the rails with Vivian’s charity and with her family. That year, Vivian, Jack, John and baby Elysia quietly slipped out of Edmonton.
A scoop by Gary Gee and Philippa Dean of the Edmonton Examiner thrust the family back into the news again when the Alberta Government began asking questions about money raised for Vivian’s charity. Had Jack and Vivian buggered off with the cash? It sure looked that way to me.
There were now two more mysteries: where were the Murrells living … and what happened to the money for Vivian’s charity?
THE MURRELLS MOVE TO BRITISH COLUMBIA
In September 1987, I received a tip the family had relocated to British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, possibly Kelowna.
Cam Ford, Senior Editor at CBC Radio News in Edmonton, asked if I’d fly to the Okanagan and look for the Murrells. Certainly, I said. I landed in Kelowna where I rented a red sports car.
Finding the Murrells was like trying to find a needle in a haystack; the Okanagan was a large area, spread out along Okanagan Lake. I checked out as many construction sites in Kelowna and region as I could, but no luck. No one knew of carpenter Jack Murrell.
It was frustrating. More than once I thought, what the hell am I doing here??
I finally hit pay dirt at a sprawling trailer park on the edge of town, where the Murrells had stayed for a week or so. Fortunately, Jack had loaned some stuff to a man who was still living in the park … and he drew a map where the Murrells could be found.
The guy was a rough sort, but he was okay. I recall him jumping from his door to the ground, a meter below, in his bare feet, landing with a thud in the dirt … and not being bothered by it. The guy owned an old motorbike and put it this way, it wasn’t a Honda Gold Wing.
I followed his directions and drove north out of town, stopping briefly to pick up ‘something’ on the way. It was pitch dark when I pulled up at a small cabin, surrounded by trees and overlooking a lake. Before I rapped on the door, I stood quietly and listened for voices inside. When I heard Jack and Vivian talking, I knocked.
Jack opened the door. “Aw fuck,” he announced, turning back to break the news to his family, “they found us.”
Initially, I wasn’t welcomed — but my case of cold beer was, and that got me in the door. I told the Murrells I would not reveal their location but that folks back in Alberta wanted to know if contributors to their charity had been ripped off.
Vivian did all the talking; just as well, because Jack was hot under the collar about being ‘discovered.’ He stomped around the room as Vivian and I talked at a small kitchen table.
The Murrells were making a living by picking fruit in one of the many orchards in the Okanagan.
Vivian explained that things just got too ‘heavy’ in Edmonton and her world was caving in. She said she couldn’t go anywhere without people asking about Tania.
The money was all accounted for, Vivian assured. “Everything is all in here,” she said, breaking away from the table to point to several dirt-covered cardboard boxes stacked on the small deck.
Vivian promised to get in touch with Harold Baker at Alberta Consumer and Corporate Affairs and explain things.
The three of us polished off half the beer that night, okay, maybe most of it, Jack cooled down, the kids went quietly to sleep and we parted on good terms.
It was the last time I saw Jack and Vivian.
According to Alberta Consumer and Corporate Affairs, Vivian kept her word and contacted them. I can’t say if the financial issues surrounding the charity were ever resolved.
Who knows? Maybe a kind-hearted government bureaucrat sat back in his leather chair, twirling a pencil and pondered … what’s really important here? … missing money or a missing child? Perhaps the Alberta Government treated the Murrells the same way it treats energy companies: with ‘special considerations.’
Was the money accounted for? Or did the Murrells use the money to pay off some debts? I didn’t know … but I had my suspicions.
I returned to Edmonton physically and emotionally drained and filed stories for CBC Radio, for both local and national news. CBC Television lugged a camera over to the radio newsroom and did a quick hit for its evening cast. The Murrells were back in the news again.
Bill Ringrose, one of the editors at CBC TV News, heard my taped interview with Vivian. He called over to the newsroom and said, “She sounds drunk!” “Bill,” I reassured him, “She was just very tired …”
What did police think of psychics? The impression I got — at least from this file — was that police looked at all evidence … but publicly, they wouldn’t always admit to using mediums.
Edmonton Police would eventually get their best information on the Tania file courtesy of a psychic living in southern British Columbia.
CLAIRVOYANT RALPH HURST
I met Ralph Hurst in 1984 at a news conference at the posh Westin Hotel in downtown Edmonton. The ‘newser’ had been arranged by organizers of a psychic fair. Hurst was one of half a dozen mediums in a conference room on the second floor.
An equal number of reporters, myself included, asked questions. We later broke up for ‘one-on-one’ interviews with the psychics.
I selected a soft-spoken man with a British accent, Ralph Hurst of Clearbrook [near Abbotsford], B.C.
Hurst was a nervous sort and my opening comment did not put him at ease. I said his line of work sure had its share of fakes. Hurst agreed but insisted that he wasn’t a fake.
I asked, “Is it true we have ‘spirit guardians’ who look over us?’ “Yes,” the Brit answered and looking in my direction, added, “I can see your guardian, just above your left shoulder. He’s Chinese.” I said, “Didn’t know that … may I ask him something — in Chinese?” Hurst didn’t bat an eye. “Go ahead,” he said. I fired off my question: 你是如何在中国.
Hope I spelled that right.
Hurst replied, “He says his health is fine. What did you ask him?” I replied, “I asked how he was.” Without missing a beat the psychic shot back, “Well, there’s your answer. Do you have any more questions?” That one handcuffed me, and so I shut up. As far as I could tell, Hurst didn’t know any Mandarin Chinese.
As a child growing up in England, Hurst explained, he would play with kids from the ‘Spirit World’. Just as his parents were amazed their young son could see ‘ghosts,’ the child was equally amazed others couldn’t see what he saw.
Hurst once remarked that dealing with Spirits was like looking out a window at night … he could see his own reflection as well as that of the Spirits.
I asked Hurst if he could come up with information on a missing 6-year-old Edmonton girl. “Does her name begin with ‘T’?” he asked. I said, “Correct … you heard about her on the news? …” “No,” he replied, “I picked that up off you.”
Hurst went on to say he felt Tania was now in the Spirit World, meaning she had died and ‘crossed over.’
He also claimed the Murrells had two other children, not one. I shook my head and said, “That ain’t right Ralph … there’s only one other child, a boy.” Hurst stood firm. “No, I’m picking up there’s a second child.” I pointed out that I knew the family well and his claim of another child was proof that psychics sometimes screw up. Hurst stood his ground, insisting there was not only a second child but that the child was living with the family. That made his claim even more ridiculous.
In spite of our differences, we parted on friendly terms.
A few days later, I phoned Vivian to share with her my encounter with the B.C. psychic. Before I could give her an update, she exclaimed, “Byron, I’m going to have a baby!” Whoa. That hit me. I immediately phoned Hurst in British Columbia but he was not at home and so I left my apology with his wife. Hurst was in hospital suffering from exhaustion.
He later called back and said, “Forget it, don’t worry about it.”
Elysia Murrell was born on November 12, 1985.
Last I heard, Elysia was living in Niagara Falls, Ontario — Jack and Vivian’s old home before they moved West.
Hurst then mailed a cassette tape with his ‘reading’ of the Tania case. I found little concrete information in this initial reading.
Hear psychic Ralph Hurst. The reading, recorded in 1985, runs 7:15.
What was interesting was that — according to Hurst — Jack Murrell was in a ‘sticky financial situation’ and somebody wasn’t happy with him. However, he felt it had nothing to do with Tania’s disappearance.
I never did make a connection to the letter “J” or “Jacob.” Did ‘J’ stand for Jack … or John??
In a later reading — not recorded — Hurst said the suspect had killed another person. More on that coming up.
Hurst also said that Tania was not a ‘silly girl’ and that she wasn’t prone to going off with strangers. He sure nailed that one. Vivian trained her daughter not to talk to strangers specifically. The mother beat on pots and pans on the sidewalk, telling Tania, “I’m a stranger! … I’m a stranger! … run into the house!”
Let’s face it, how many parents go to those lengths? Did Vivian Murrell have a premonition that one day somebody would grab Tania?
Vivian had ‘street-proofed’ her daughter from the dangers of talking to strangers. Brenda Dawson, Tania’s babysitter, recalled a time she was driving near the Murrell house, it was raining and on the sidewalk was Tania and John. The kids were on their way home. She offered them a lift — but they refused to get in her vehicle. And she was the babysitter.
The fact that Tania willingly got into someone’s car in front of her school that fateful day in January 1983 indicates that Tania knew that person very well. The list of possible suspects was suddenly very manageable.
Dawson also revealed that Tania would sometimes run around the house in her underwear — in front of visitors, including the sexual deviant who was eventually identified as the prime suspect in the child’s disappearance.
THE PRIME SUSPECT
I spent a lot of time thinking about Tania’s disappearance. I tried to make sense of it all but it was a bit like trying to assemble a jigsaw puzzle with many of the pieces missing.
Tania probably knew her abductor, of that I was convinced. The abductor may have had a beard and worn a baseball cap, as the psychics claimed. In any case, the description matched a man — a family acquaintance — whose initials for the purpose of this story will be PS [prime suspect].
At the time of the abduction, PS was in his early 30’s.
Let’s bring him into the story …It was PS who volunteered to screen phone calls [tips] made to the Murrell house.
PS was a likeable enough guy — but not always. When I went around to the Murrell house one evening, just a few days after Tania was abducted, he stopped me on the short flight of stairs that led up to the kitchen. He put his finger on my chest and proclaimed to everyone in the room that I was not a reporter — but a ‘fucking cop.’
There sure was a lot of cussing at the Murrell residence.
PS and I later walked out into the cold night, lifting lids off garbage cans and poking around. When I wasn’t holding the flashlight, he was. We were looking for Tania’s body — or parts of it.
His hands were freezing, PS said, and so I loaned him my gloves.
PS seemed strangely disinterested in what we were doing that night. For a man who was close to Murrells, it struck me as a bit odd. However, at that point, I did not suspect PS as a molester, abductor … or killer.
I thought he was just a guy who hung out with the Murrells and drank a lot.
A SUSPICIOUS POEM
I later asked Ms. Dawson if she had more to offer. She sure did, handing over a poem PS had written shortly after Tania disappeared.
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the poem. At this point, no one but PS, Dawson and myself had read it.
PS had wanted Dawson to type it out so he could enter it in a contest.
The prime suspect titled his prose Could Never Be.
Tho the day be far away, or the night just closing in
Remembering the fun they had that day and feelings possessed within.
Gazing into the distant stars, the plans they made, so bright and new
As they walked along that deserted beach, all their problems, were so few
The time alone, just themselves, warm new feelings, so tender and strange
Nervous thoughts of love, of making love, passionately, their lives would change
Undisturbed, but for the waves, closely embraced, on the beach they lay
The summer ended much too soon and for them, their final day!
Precious new feelings that they shared, knowing soon, would have to end.
The tears flowed with their final kiss, it was their first love, they couldn’t pretend
Often they wished, to turn back time, oh, for time to have stood still!
Aye, to turn back time, but time goes on, it’s nature’s will.
To return some day, they said they would, but I knew — we never could
I couldn’t help but wonder if the poem was about Tania.
Here’s a copy of the original, handwritten document. [Last I heard, the original was on file in the Homicide Section at the Edmonton Police Service, main building, downtown]
REFLECTIONS ABOUT THE PRIME SUSPECT
Brenda Dawson described PS as “very intelligent, someone who read a lot … who liked to write poems and put his thoughts down on paper.” “But when he drank,” she cautioned, “he was really strange.”
“He wouldn’t remember a bloody thing,” she said, “he became ‘polarized’ and would pass out.”
Dawson recalled it was hard to maintain eye contact with PS because his eyes moved all over the place. She described him as “Nervous, jittery … with his fingernails bitten. He seemed kind of mellow, not feminine, not queer,” she said, “wasn’t manly, but not a wimp.”
According to Dawson, PS often slept over at the Murrell house and was quite friendly with kids.
I tried to find out as much as I could about the guy: where he worked, how he became involved with the Murrells, his lifestyle, behaviour, the car he drove, acts of kindness, acts of weirdness, anything.
I discovered it was Vivian who first met PS when the two worked for a landscaping company in the city.
Terri, a friend of the Murrells, said PS was often intoxicated. She said he occasionally passed out on the floor or on the couch … and that when he was drinking, he had a ‘split personality.’ She said PS would sit at the table drinking — calm and collected — then all of a sudden would fly into a rage … but would return later, okay. She noted he was more offensive to women than to men.
A friend of the family warned Vivian that PS ‘gave her the creeps’ and that she should keep an eye on him. Vivian assured her that he was harmless. The woman recalls she was relieved when PS left the Murrell house to go home. “He was smart,” she recalls, “but there was something creepy and manipulative about him …”
This chilling story is from Melsi, a man who shared an apartment with PS for about a year: One night the two were drinking and playing cards when, unprovoked, PS grabbed an empty beer bottle and smashed his companion in the face, knocking him to the floor. Melsi recalls, “it was like a firecracker had gone off in his head.” PS got pounded out and was told to find another place to live.
Melsi — then living in British Columbia — threw a couple of worn but effective cliches my way: “There is no light at the end of his tunnel … and he’s a man whose oars are not in the water.”
I asked Melsi if he ever suspected PS had scooped Tania. “Yes,” he said, “I always thought [he] took her.” “Did you ever tell anyone that?” I asked. “No.”
I wonder how many other people suspected PS, but kept their thoughts private.
A story was that PS was driving with the Murrells — the family on an outing to a lake south of Edmonton — when he reached over and turned off the ignition, sending the station wagon off the road and into the ditch. Guess at the time it seemed like a fun thing to do.
Jack then became physical with PS.
Another disturbing story had to do with the time Jack and PS were enjoying some beer at the Murrell house one night and Jack fell asleep on the couch. Jack woke up to find PS trying to pull down the zipper on his jeans.
Other than that, PS was just another fun-loving guy who did his bit to keep beer companies in business.
Perhaps the most disturbing thing is that Jack and Vivian Murrell let PS take Tania and John camping alone. Please explain that to me.
It was Dawson’s understanding that PS had been molested as a child, but I was never able to confirm that.
Heather Hansen, a good friend of Vivian Murrell who met PS a number of times, said she was always suspicious of the guy, but Vivian ignored what she had to say. “He could out-manipulate a manipulator,” Hansen says.
“The first time I told Viv [about PS] he gave me the willies,” recalls Heather, “she told me I was nuts and to have another beer.”
Had PS avoided the scrutiny of the Edmonton Police? No. He was given a truth-verifier [lie detector] — and told that he’d passed it. Truth is, the results were inconclusive because PS was intoxicated. He was never given a second polygraph.
One of the officers involved in the Tania investigation was a drunk too.
A PSYCHIC’S READ ON WHAT WENT DOWN
Ralph Hurst and I connected again in the mid-1980s when he was in Edmonton for another psychic fair.
We sat in a booth at a Boston Pizza restaurant near the city’s downtown core. I said, “I have something to show you” and handed him the poem — a sheet of paper inside a clear plastic sleeve. Hurst asked if he could remove it. I said sure. He turned it over and closed his eyes. “Oh,” he shuddered, “whoever wrote this has great remorse … he’s crying and saying ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry’ …”
Hurst read the poem and handed it back without commenting on it.
I asked him if he could tell how Tania died. He said he could feel squeezing and pain on his throat and pressure at the back of his neck. Strangulation.
He claimed Tania’s body was fully clothed and that she hadn’t been dismembered. According to Hurst, the corpse initially had been hidden in a cool area, such as a basement or a freezer, where it remained for a number of weeks.
PS returned to Ontario in the spring of 1983, several months after Tania disappeared.
According to Hurst, the child’s fate was sealed after she told PS she was going to tell her father about something they’d done.
According to an Edmonton Police detective, just before Tania was abducted, the family was out for an evening meal at a restaurant and Tania was acting up. Police now suspect the child was out of sorts because she may have been molested.
Hurst and I then drove to the west end. I parked my car outside Tania’s elementary school. The clairvoyant asked that I not interrupt him as he ‘went back’ to the morning of January 20, 1983.
There’s a set of main doors at Grovenor Elementary School where staff and children come and go. According to Hurst, Tania did not leave by way of those doors, that she left through a door at the south end of the building. [correct, say police]Again according to Hurst, there was a lot of what he called smoke at the rear of the sedan Tania stepped into. The ‘smoke’ in fact was exhaust fumes that were visible owing to the extremely cold weather.
Hurst’s account is that the passenger door swung open and Tania willingly got in. He also claims PS was looking at two other children about 60 feet ahead of Tania. This was news to me. According to the psychic, the kids were on the same sidewalk, walking north on 144 Street — but they didn’t look behind them. If they had done that, they might have seen Tania and got a glimpse of her abductor and his vehicle. [correct again, say police]
The medium said PS was “shit-faced” [drunk] and that he’d driven by the school a number of times searching for Tania. Hurst also believed that PS had driven by the Murrell house just before heading over to the school.
I told Hurst I’d take him to the Murrell house, one street over. He said, “Just drive to the street, I’ll find the house.” He did. “That’s it,” he said, pointing to a small white bungalow on the west side. I stopped the car and Hurst asked that I pull ahead a bit. “At the back, on the right,” he said, pointing, “… that was Tania’s bedroom.” Correct. “Wow!” I said, “that’s crazy, how the hell do you do that?”
Hurst claimed that Tania’s body was stuffed in three garbage bags and buried about two feet down in a ‘soggy area.’
He had three ‘signs’ where the body would be, but even that was just a general area, not a specific location. The signs:
- → a broken-down fence
- → a large letter ‘A’
- → a small body of water
While it’s interesting, it’s not a lot to go on. I pulled out a map of Edmonton showing the North Saskatchewan River and some man-made lakes. Hurst said the body of water he ‘saw’ was much smaller than anything on the map.
We then drove to an area where PS had lived, which, turns out, wasn’t all that far from where Tania was scooped. We headed south on 149th Street and turned left into a ‘well-to-do’ neighbourhood. We were now on Summit Drive, a quiet road that snakes along the southern edge of MacKinnon Ravine Park.
Near 143rd Street, Hurst shouted, “Stop! There’s the broken fence!” To our left was the railing of a wooden fence that had fallen down. Sign #1. Hurst was pumped.
We climbed down into the ravine at the 142nd Street bridge, a structure supported by a number of massive concrete piers. At the very top of one of them [at the southwest corner] was a spray-painted, large letter ‘A’, more than 4 feet tall with a circle around it. How the heck anyone got up there to do that is beyond me. But who cares. Sign #2.
Where the pier was buried in the ground was a large depression, perhaps 20 feet across, filled with water. “There’s the water,” announced an excited Hurst. Sign #3.
I was worked up too. But my excitement quickly diminished when Hurst said he wasn’t very good at locating dead bodies.
I had no idea where to start looking on the heavily treed ravine, though I did return, finally, in the summer of 2012 with a metal detector and a shovel, hoping to pick up a metal zipper, buttons or metal clasps on the child’s winter boots. I was assisted one day by two private detectives from Calgary, Bruce Dunne and Shelly Nowell.
I returned three more times to the ravine, once with reporter J.T. Lemiski of CFCW Radio. We found buried cans, nails, an old ax head, the frame of a very old bicycle … but no clothing or skeleton wrapped in garbage bags. Frustrating again. And I took a few spills to boot.
I figure that only 10-15 percent of the area was scanned with the metal detectors.
Is the body there? Be damned if I know. Everyone has an opinion where Tania’s body might be. Another psychic said the child’s remains are not in the ravine.
Edmonton Police Detective Ian Shoaf felt that Tania’s body might be in Strathcona Country, immediately east of Edmonton. That’s because the prime suspect had worked there and was familiar with the area. That, too, makes sense.
One final comment about medium Ralph Hurst. One evening we were driving in my car, just rounding the corner at Stony Plain Road and turning south on 142nd Street, when he said if his readings led to the discovery of Tania’s body he did not want any of the $25,000 reward money.
“Christ,” I said, “just give the money to the parents, they could use it.” “No!” Hurst shot back. “None of that money should go to them.”
He felt Jack and Vivian were partly responsible for what had happened to their daughter.
ZEROING IN ON THE PRIME SUSPECT
In 1987, I tracked PS to a city in Southern Ontario, thanks to a phone call to his mother, also living in Ontario. I asked where I could find her son. She sounded worried. “This is about Tania, isn’t it?” I said, “Yes it is.”
It was no surprise perhaps that the mother of the prime suspect knew exactly why I was phoning. How I wished I’d talked to her more then. I got the sense she knew something.
From time to time, I met with an old school chum who had joined the Mounties after high school. Ken Chambers worked out of RCMP K-Division in Edmonton. Ken was sincere, thoughtful and thorough. One day over lunch at Pizza Hut, just south of the CBC Building, I brought up the Tania Murrell case. I shared with Ken some findings that might not have been known to police, certainly information that wasn’t public.
It wasn’t long before Ken got on the blower to Edmonton Police. That prompted a phone call to the CBC Radio Newsroom from Edmonton Police Detective Ian Shoaf who wanted to talk about Tania Murrell. I said, “Okay, but let’s share information.” He agreed.
We met on a Saturday afternoon at Shoaf’s office in a secure part of the second floor of the main police building downtown.
Shoaf was the lead detective on the Tania file, having taken over from two other detectives. I found him to be upfront and cooperative. Shoaf went through my notes on the case, and I poured through his files on Tania, all neatly contained in a four-drawer metal filing cabinet. The officer was well organized.
After we traded information and chatted for a while, Detective Shoaf leaned back in his chair and announced, “He’s our man …”
A few days later, I drove out to the ravine with Detectives Shoaf and John McLeod, the first officer on the Tania file. We went there in an old, unmarked police cruiser. McLeod seemed disinterested, not so Shoaf. McLeod remained in the cruiser while the younger Shoaf and I scampered down the embankment.
Back in the cruiser, the officers talked about the possibility of having a sniffer dog help locate human remains, then wondered that owing to the passage of time if there would be anything for the dog to find. I sat in the backseat, listening to the two men talk.
Neither officer was overly keen on searching the ravine including Shoaf, who had a hunch that Tania’s body was buried somewhere in Strathcona County, an area PS was familiar with.
According to Shoaf, they had located the vehicle PS owned at the time of Tania’s abduction … but too much time had passed and they couldn’t get any evidence from it. They had located his old car in a wrecker’s lot.
THE POLICE INTERROGATION
Police made plans to fly to Southern Ontario to confront the suspect.
I suggested to Detective Shoaf that if he and PS were to play a game of chess, he’d get his ass whipped. PS was a piss-tank, but he was no dummy. A police check indicates that PS had a high IQ.
Detectives Ian Shoaf and Jim Cessford met with PS on the fifth anniversary of Tania’s abduction, 20 January 1988. According to Shoaf, they went around to the suspect’s house very early in the morning … and were surprised when he opened the door and greeted them. “Was he tipped off you were coming?” I asked. The detective didn’t know if he’d been warned. I told him that I hadn’t told a soul.
PS accompanied the two detectives to a hotel room where the cops went at him non-stop for 11-hours. According to Shoaf, PS initially denied writing the poem [‘Could Never Be’], then owned up to it.
He also downplayed his association with the Murrells, saying he barely knew them … and that he couldn’t remember the name of the Murrell’s missing girl. “Really?” said Shoaf, “then why did you name your own child ‘Tania’?” [Note: PS Family members say PS had no children named Tania. I believe this to be accurate.]
The bottom line is that the detectives could not crack PS.
Police suggested a second-degree murder plea [and therapy while in prison], but the response was “fuck you … you ain’t got a body.”
If PS was an innocent man, his comment was sure interesting.
What threw off the interrogation was a phone call that was mistakenly put through to the hotel room. The officers had instructed reception that NO calls were to be put through.
For the detectives to take the call, they had to hit a mental pause button on the interrogation. [The call was about a pizza delivery] The interruption came at the absolute wrong time because PS was on the ropes and the call — which surprised everyone — gave him time to regain his composure.
Shoaf says his last words to PS were that he didn’t want him to kill himself [“you fucker”] because he wanted him alive.
I was at the Edmonton International Airport to meet the two detectives when they returned home on a late flight. I watched the pair ascend the escalator, side by side. Their eyes shouted what their lips feared to say. There would be no breaking news on CBC Radio that night.
What it came down to is that police had enough on PS to charge him, but not enough to convict him. What was especially frustrating for the officers was that the suspect did not deny killing Tania.
Was the interrogation video-taped? It sure was. Is that tape still around? It sure is. But police won’t let reporters see it because the Tania file is still open.
In a 20th of January 1993 interview in the Edmonton Sun, Shoaf told reporter Tom Olsen “He [the suspect] was associated with the family and was in Edmonton at the time. Those people who were close to the family have identified him as the fellow.”
Shoaf went on to say that more than 20 people suspected the individual.
“The absence of a body points to the theory Tania knew her abductor,” wrote Olsen. Shoaf added, “A stranger has no feelings towards the victim, they’ll just dump the body.”
Finally, police could not determine if PS was working that day. In other words, he had no alibi.
If Jack Murrell had come across PS, he’d have no life either. The Murrells — who by now had begun to put the pieces together — figured that their old friend was likely Tania’s abductor and killer.
Jack indicated to police that if he ever caught PS, no one would ever find his body.
A CONNECTION TO THE KEVIN REIMER MYSTERY?
Was PS a predator?
In one of his readings, Clairvoyant Ralph Hurst “read” that PS had taken another life, a boy whose name began with ‘K.’ Hurst thought the name might be ‘Kevin’ but wasn’t sure.
That name rang a bell because of Kevin Reimer, the 9-year-old lad who mysteriously vanished in June 1979 from Elk Island National Park in Strathcona County, just east of Edmonton.
At the time, PS worked in Strathcona County.
The boy’s remains were eventually found in woods not too far from where he was last seen. My friend, Ken Chambers of the RCMP, who was part of the initial search, swore the body wasn’t there when they looked.
Chambers — then stationed at the RCMP Detachment in Sherwood Park — said he and many other officers walked nearly shoulder to shoulder, poking the ground with long sticks … and no way was that body there. His conclusion was that the child’s body was dumped in that location after the police search.
Detective Shoaf said he called the RCMP for more information on the Kevin Reimer file. He says Mounties ruled Reimer’s death accidental.
But was that accurate?
According to Shoaf, the ‘Good Samaritan’ who notified the RCMP that people were frantically searching for a missing boy was not a family member, but PS. I haven’t seen the RCMP file to confirm that.
I have no idea what to make of this.
As one can imagine, Kevin’s death had a massive impact on his family. For years, the boy’s bedroom remained just as it was the day he left. Kevin’s bed was made and his clothes, toys, and books were neatly placed … as though waiting for him to walk into the room again.
PHONE INTERVIEW WITH VIVIAN MURRELL -JANUARY 1993
The mother touches on her recollections of the day Tania vanished, some private memories of her child, the controversy surrounding the Tania Murrell Missing Children Society, how her family was doing at the time of the interview , her shame of knowing the prime suspect; her frustration with the Edmonton Police … and a message to the people of Edmonton.
Click on the small arrow to hear a 21-minute telephone interview with Vivian recorded in January 1993 — 10 years after her daughter disappeared.
In August 2010, long-time family friend Heather Hansen visited Vivian Murrell at her home in Peachland, British Columbia. Heather was also a volunteer with Vivian’s charity. The two talked about old times and shared some laughs, as old friends are prone to do.
Heather says one thing that wasn’t funny was that Vivian was not able to retrieve the manuscript she wrote [‘Where Is Tania?’] and loaned to the Calgary-based Missing Children Society of Canada. Vivian hoped her manuscript didn’t end up like her daughter [missing].
It’s not known what became of Vivian’s document. Chantal Bazinet, who works in media relations for Missing Children, in a sing-songy sort of voice, said she was “looking into it” and promised to get back to me. The pledge made on 12 February 2013. Five years later, no one had phoned back. Guess they’re very busy at the Missing Children Society of Canada.
TANIA NOW HAS COMPANY?
Vivian Murrell died on New Year’s Day, 2011 at her home — a story broken by CFCW Radio in Edmonton. According to other media reports, Vivian’s boyfriend came home and found her dead on the couch.
Heather says Vivian had suffered a brain aneurysm in 2005, the same year Jack Murrell died from kidney failure.
I tried contacting Ralph Hurst recently to give him an update on the Tania Murrell file … but learned that Hurst had died from cancer. I hope my old friend is still following the case from the ‘Other Side.’ Come on Ralph, get off your butt and give me a sign … do some ‘nudging.’
Hurst once said he did not want a dime of the reward money, but he also didn’t want any of the money to go to Tania’s parents. He felt they were partly responsible for what happened because it was they who brought PS into their lives.
Detective Ian Shoaf retired from the Edmonton Police Service after some serious medical issues. He once shared that the Tania file would haunt him for as long as he lived. If there’s any police officer who needs closure to a case, it is Detective Shoaf on the Tania Murrell file. He put his heart and soul into solving this mystery. I tip my hat to him.
[If you gain one nugget from this post, it’s this: look beyond the news release and the news stories. Police officers and reporters went beyond the call of duty to get to the bottom of a child’s disappearance. Because we “fell short” doesn’t mean the mystery cannot be solved.]
Shoaf did say that police questioned the Murrells about PS — but the Murrells defended him, saying [I hope I have the quote right] “Oh no, not – -! he’s our friend!!” No, Vivian, he was your drinking buddy … and a sexual deviant. Police — plus a number of your own friends — suspect he killed your daughter.
But is he the culprit? At this point, it’s really hard to say definitively because not enough facts are known.
JOHN MURRELL DIES
In a story dated 20 January 2015, the Edmonton Sun reported that John, 37, was now ‘clean,’ working full time and living at a halfway house in Edmonton. John Murrell told the newspaper he’d turned his life around, vowing not to go back to jail.
Less than a week later, there was a tragic update to the story: Murrell died by his own hand on Sunday, 25th of January 2015.
According to a police source, John Murrell was found hanging by a white electrical cord at his halfway house. According to a story in the Edmonton Sun on Sunday, 29 March 2015, the man died from a methadone overdose.
For the complete Sun story on the 20th January 2015 by Gary Poignant, including a short video clip of John Murrell, click here: http://www.edmontonsun.com/2015/01/20/brother-of-abducted-edmonton-girl-tania-murrell-says-hes-turned-his-life-around-misses-his-best-friend
HOW THE MEDIA WORKS …
Since this blog story was posted on 10 October 2012, no ‘mainstream’ media outlet did an update on the Tania Murrell mystery — until the 30th anniversary of the abduction rolled around. Suddenly, Tania was back in the news again.
All along, the media outlet with perhaps the best coverage of Tania’s disappearance has been the Edmonton Sun. What’s surprising and disappointing is the Edmonton Journal’s coverage this time around. Zip! Like, what’s with that? It looks like the Journal couldn’t come up with anything original, so it simply ignored the story.
Back on Friday, 18 January 2013 reporter Gary Poignant did an update for the Edmonton Sun. Poignant’s story was based on interviews with Vivian Murrell’s sister, Vera [mentioned earlier in this post] … and Brandy-Jo Ewashko, a playmate of Tania.
What’s new in the Sun story is that 30 years after the fact, Brandy-Jo Ewashko now reveals that when Tania was abducted she was on her way to a 7-11 convenience store, in the opposite direction — and not to her home. At the time of Tania’s disappearance that critical piece of information wasn’t mentioned to police, certainly not to the news media because we would have put the story out there.
The new information, like a lot of stuff on the Tania file, is of course “un-verifiable.” Given Tania’s character and training by her mother — and the freezing temperature at the time — it’s hard to believe the child would suddenly head off to a convenience store instead of going straight home, where a hot meal was waiting for her. Then again, who knows? Only two people know the answer, and one is likely now in the Spirit World.
Melanie, who says she worked at the 7-11 at the time of Tania’s disappearance, writes, “Nobody came to the store for information, or to see if any of us saw anything or anyone on the day of her disappearance.” Melanie’s letter is listed in the ‘Comments’ section at the end of this post.
Here is a 23 January 1983 story by Gary Poignant of the Edmonton Sun, featuring an interview with then 6-year-old Brandy-Jo Ewashko [click on ‘I think Tanya got stealed’ to read the story]:
Edmonton Sun : 23 January 1983. Click to enlarge.
Notice there’s no mention of Tania on her way to a convenience store.
The most recent Sun coverage prompted this critical yet diplomatic response to the Sun website from Tania’s younger sister, Elysia Murrell. Click on the image below to read Elysia’s note.
Correspondence from Elysia Murrell dated 21 January 2013. Click to enlarge.
The gist of what Elysia Murrell is saying is that the new information on Tania wandering off to a 7/11 is likely bull … and it’s ticked her off.
The next mainstream media outlet to do a story on the 30th anniversary of Tania’s abduction was CFRN Television, CTV’s Edmonton affiliate. Without source attribution, CTV’s website story reads:
“The little girl had gone to school with her brother, and was supposed to go home with him for lunch that day, but it’s believed that she headed in the opposite direction instead towards what was a convenience store …”
“Believed?” By using believed, CTV avoids giving credit to the Edmonton Sun. That’s not unusual. By not giving credit, the public may think CTV actually got this information on its own. Smoke and mirrors.
It gets worse. On 22 January 2013, the Vancouver Sun [not affiliated with the Sun Media chain] published a Canadian Press story on the 30th anniversary of the abduction of Tania. Notice how unconfirmed information has suddenly morphed into a fact. Again, click on the image to enlarge.
“But for some reason she headed in the opposite direction instead, toward what was a convenience store …”
Here’s a summary of the latest events:
a) a new twist to the Tania story — 30 years later, a child’s memory is jogged with information that has Tania’s relatives raising their eyebrows as to its credibility;
b) a TV station grabs the Sun information — without giving credit — and does its own story;
c) another news organization rewrites the TV copy, but passes off the new information as “fact” …
d) yet another news outlet prints the new information as if it were gospel.
And that folks, is why the public does not — and should not — have complete faith in the mainstream news media.
The Edmonton Sun has updated its story on Tania Murrell — “30 years later, tips in Edmonton case of missing 6-year-old Tania Murrell becoming very rare” — with a good portion of the story devoted to the prime suspect. Information on the prime suspect was first made public in this post on October 10, 2012.
SEARCHING FOR PS IN TORONTO – 2015
It was a long shot at best.
In the spring of 2015 I got word that PS might be homeless and living on the streets in Toronto, and so I traveled to Ontario to check out some shelters. Considering the hundreds of hours I’d invested in the Tania story, I figured, what the heck.
I spent the better part of June 17th and 18th going from shelter to shelter downtown — including the large Salvation Army complex at 167 College Street — asking anyone who’d listen if they knew the whereabouts of PS.
Some wanted to know why I wanted to see the guy. I explained there had been three deaths [mother, father, son] in a family he knew very well when he lived in Edmonton … and that he should know that. Of course, PS already knew about a fourth death [Tania], but I didn’t bring that up.
Shelter administrators were friendly and polite — but declined to provide any information. Wherever I went, the answer was the same: “Sorry, but owing to privacy regulations we can’t tell you anything.” Fair enough. The law’s the law.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to determine if the elusive PS was staying at any of the shelters in downtown Toronto — or even if he’d been there.
I dropped off my business card at a few places in the hope that if somebody knew his whereabouts, they’d give me a call. Like I say, a long shot.The street people I met were somewhat suspicious, understandably — although fairly talkative, especially if they wanted money or favours.
One old guy in a beat-up wheelchair [he had both legs amputated], who seemed like he hadn’t shaved in three days and showered in five, asked if I could go in the dollar store and get him some rubbing alcohol. “I’ll pay you,” he said, his shaking, nicotine-stained fingers clasping a crumpled $5 bill. He assured me it was for ‘medicinal purposes.’ I said, “No thanks, buddy.”
A slim man in his mid-70s got my attention. He had a trimmed, white beard and a somewhat officious look about him that suggested he had been ‘somebody’ back in the day. I told him I was looking for [PS].
The man took a puff on a short cigarette and as the smoke curled up around his face, he flashed one of those plastic smiles. You know the kind. In a proper British accent, he asked, “And why should I be helping YOU?” He maintained a fake smile until I said, “You’ve just shown why you ended up here.” That’s not kind, I know, but I’m not very gracious to dicks.
Outside another shelter, on George Street, just south of Gerrard, I spotted four men sitting around a picnic table in the shade of a big tree, chatting and smoking. Just some old-timers on the street passing the time of day.
I was a short distance away, on the sidewalk. Separating us was a tall fence made of black steel bars. I gripped the bars — getting the attention of the men at the table — and to the eldest of the four men remarked, “Bud, it’s like you’re in jail!” Quick as a whip, he shot back, “From where I’m sitting, it looks like YOU’RE the one in jail!” He laughed. I laughed. Well, everyone laughed. It was kind of funny. A nice little ice-breaker.
We chatted a bit and I brought up PS’ name. Turns out, they didn’t know him. I told the old guy at the table that I’d been looking for PS for decades. Just before I pulled away he gave me some free advice: “Can I tell you something?” he said and without waiting for an answer, continued, “… if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s NEVER GIVE UP!!”
The meeting ended with smiles all around. And to the four strangers at the picnic table, I tipped my hat and went on my way.
Turns out, the prime suspect was never in Toronto. Bum lead.
The prime suspect in Tania’s disappearance died on Wednesday, August 10, 2016 at his home in a small town in Southern Ontario. He had cancer.
I wish I’d known where he was living when I was in the area [in 2015] … but I guess it was not meant to be.
If PS is indeed Tania’s abductor and killer, we may never find out where her body is or how she died.
PS was cremated.
MAYBE … JUST MAYBE
Tips regularly arrive from readers who have thoughts and theories on what may have happened to Tania, and where she might be today — if she’s alive.
Here’s an email I received in early March 2019 from Angela Guzzo in Ohio, USA …
Hi, I am almost 100% certain this is nothing but this jumped out at me after reading your article on Tania. I was looking through facebook at all the Tania Murrell’s and the cheek bones and eyes on this girl just jumped out at me – so I went and compared it with her family members. I certainly don’t want to impose as I know this case means a lot to you and I had never heard of it until I read something you published on it recently. For what it’s worth here is what I saw …
The cutie with the dark hair and dark blouse lives in Western Australia … and her name is Tania Murrell [same spelling] although I don’t think she’s the one Canadians have been looking for.
TRUE OR FALSE?
Tanya Murrell is alive. True or False?
The answer: True.
Before you say, WTF … note the spelling: Tanya [not Tania].
Tanya Murrell is 38, alive and well … and living in Texas. Here’s a photo of her when she turned 18, taken in the late 1990s.
Tanya says she discovered her near-namesake by Googling and coming across this blog story.
It seems strange — like something from the Twilight Zone — to open my email and see correspondence from Tanya Murrell. Must say, it gave me a jolt.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
TANIA’S HOUSE DEMOLISHED
Tania’s small house at 10428 – 145 Street was torn down in late 2018.
The new digs at 10426 – 145 Street …
When informed of the demolition, Heather Hansen — a longtime friend who spent a lot of time in the Murrell house — remarked, “It makes me kinda sad … but maybe it’s a good thing. The ghosts are gone now.”
According to Re/Max realtor Ken Morrison, in 1989, the Murrell house sold for $61,000 … three sales later [in May 2018], it went for more than 5-times that — $349,900.
The old house was torn down a week before Christmas … on December 18, 2018.
Morrison adds, “It’s too bad there’s no a memorial or anything in Tania’s name anywhere in the area. As the years go on, I’m sure fewer and fewer people will remember the story.”
ON A POSITIVE NOTE …
Is there some good news in all this? Longtime friend of Vivian Murrell, Heather Hansen, believes there is.
She feels that Tania, Vivian, Jack and John are back together again — meaning in Heaven or ‘The Other Side’ — and for her, that’s positive.
WHERE’S EVERYONE NOW?
More than 30 years later, there’s still no sign of Tania Murrell … and her disappearance has landed no one in court.
Yet, a lot has happened in three decades. Tania’s parents, Jack and Vivian Murrell, have both died. So has Tania’s younger brother, John Murrell. Dead, too, is one of the early police detectives on the Tania file, John McLeod. Psychic Ralph Hurst has also crossed over.
Elysia Murrell is living in Niagara Falls, Ontario. The media had portrayed Elysia as a single mother, but she hasn’t seen her two young boys in SEVEN years. PS died at his home in a small town in Southern Ontario on 10 August 2016. He was 65. Cancer took him. PS had a criminal record, with his earliest known conviction in 1978 [Alberta] and his last known brush with the law in 1996 [Ontario]. His obit says he will be sadly missed by family … and “The Kitty”; Edmonton Sun reporter Tom Olson was doing communications work with the Alberta Government; reporter Gary Poignant was released by the Edmonton Sun-Edmonton Journal as part of their cutbacks in early 2016; he has written a book [on an unsolved double homicide] and moved to Nelson, British Columbia; he’s now back in the Edmonton-area; CBC-TV reporter Warren Michaels was working communications for “Cold-FX” [where a judge gave him a fine for ‘insider trading’]; CBC Radio Senior Editor Cam Ford moved to Melbourne, Victoria, Australia where he became a lawyer; CBC Radio reporter Ruth Anderson was news director at CTV Barrie, Ontario; CBC Radio Producer Peter Hutchinson was station manager at CBC Radio in Victoria, British Columbia; RCMP officer Ken Chambers is retired and living in New Brunswick; for a while, Edmonton Police Service Detective Ian Shoaf worked in law enforcement for the Alberta Government; Jim Cessford was Chief of Police in Delta, British Columbia … he retired in January 2015 after two decades there; Vera Stortz is in Edmonton; Peter Pocklington is in California where he was in and out of jail; Heather Hansen and her husband live in Leduc, south of Edmonton … and yours truly is semi-retired and living in Edmonton.
It is my belief that Tania Murrell is deceased and that she was murdered on the 20th of January 1983, the same day she failed to make it home from school.
Depending on which psychic I consulted, Tania is either dead or alive. Most say she’s now in the Spirit World, reunited with her mother, father, and brother.
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