The prime suspect in the disappearance of a young girl in Edmonton in 1983 is dead.
The suspect — whose identity is still guarded by police — died from cancer at his home in a small town in Southern Ontario in August 2016. He’d just turned 65.
The man is identified in this post simply as ‘PS’ — for prime suspect.
Six-year-old Tania Murrell [pronounced Ton-ya Murl] vanished on her way home from school in 1983. In all that time, there’s been absolutely no trace of her.
Police believe Tania was abducted, murdered and buried somewhere.
If PS was the culprit, he likely took his secret to the grave. If he wasn’t, investigators are back to square one with little hope of solving the mystery.
Tania Murrell was a grade 1 student at Grovenor Elementary School at 10426 – 145 Sreet in Edmonton’s West End. On a bitterly cold January 20th, 1983 she left school to go home for lunch … but never made it.
When Tania failed to return home that evening, the alarm bells went off. City Police got involved and a massive search was soon underway.
Police had no solid leads. It seemed as though the kid had vanished into thin air.
Tania’s disappearance led to the birth of Child Find Alberta — and, some say, to the premature deaths of all but one of her family members. The father, Jack, died in the 1990s … then the mother, Vivian.
In late January 2015, Tania’s younger brother John hanged himself at a half-way house in the city. John had eaten jail food for most of his adult life.
The prime suspect remained a mystery until police received a tip that a ‘family friend’ was not really a friend. He was a drunk and a ‘deviant,’ they said. “Check him out,” they said.
Turns out, the man was interviewed early on — and given a lie detector — but the results were inconclusive. That’s because the suspect was tanked when police wired him up. Officers assured PS that he’d passed the test. Truth was, that owing to his enebriated state, the results were inconclusive.
Police didn’t question PS again until five years later — in January 1988 — when they suddenly appeared at his door in Ontario.
Off to a hotel room they went.
Two Edmonton Police detectives grilled the suspect for 11 hours non-stop.
PS would go on to tell family members the two detectives offered him booze, but the lead detective, Ian Shoaf, denies that. The session was video-taped but when reporters asked to view the tape, police refused saying the case is still under investigation.
The officers say PS taunted them, proclaiming that only two people knew what happened to Tania — “him and God.” When the detectives offered him a ‘deal’ [second-degree murder instead of first-degree murder, treatment, etc] he allegedly told them, “Fuck you! You ain’t got a body.”
He was right. Police didn’t have a body.
And they still don’t have a body.
A PERSON-OF-INTEREST IN ANOTHER CASE
The man who became known as PS was also a ‘person of interest’ in the disappearance of Kevin Reimer, a 9-year-old, who supposedly wandered away from his parents’ campsite at Elk Island National Park in June 1979.
Reimer’s remains were eventually found in woods nearby. An RCMP officer who took part in the initial search, however, maintained the body had been dumped in that area after police did their search.
Police say PS was the ‘good Samaritan’ who had contacted the RCMP in Sherwood Park to let them know that a search was underway for a missing child. PS worked at the park, according to police.
TOO MUCH TO IGNORE
When Edmonton Police finally focused on PS, they discovered what Mr. and Mrs. Murrell had known for years — that their drinking buddy was a sexual weirdo.
Family members say PS once tried to yank down Jack Murrell’s zipper when the father passed out on a couch after he drank too much.
They also say PS sent the Murrell station wagon into the ditch when he reached over and turned off the ignition key — while the family was driving to a lake near Edmonton. Instant chaos.
Anther horror story. For no apparent reason, says a biker, PS smashed an empty beer bottle into his face while the two were playing cards. That evidence came from a man who himself had been questioned by police.
Vivian’s closest friend, Heather Hansen, says she pleaded with the mother to reconsider her relationship with PS. “He creeps me out,” Hansen said, adding, “And I don’t think Tania should be running around the house half naked with him around.”
Vivian ignored the warning. She stood by PS.
In 1990, six years after her daughter’s disappearance, the mother broke down and admitted she’d made a huge mistake by inviting PS into her family. She now believed that PS was her daughter’s killer. Police were 99.9 percent sure. Vivian said she was 100 percent sure.
If PS was the killer, it was too little, too late.
Jack and Vivian Murrell, a party-hard couple, had protected PS when investigators began asking tough questions. “Not him,” Vivian said, “he’s our friend.”
Friends then came out of the woodwork, telling police that owing to PS’ bizarre behaviour, they suspected PS may have abducted Tania. Turns out, many seemed to know … but few uttered a word because ‘they didn’t want to get involved.’
A long-time family friend had morphed into public enemy #1.
Police were later handed a poem the suspect had hand-written called “A Love That Could Never Be.” The police theory was that PS was madly in love with Tania. In the poem, PS makes an apparent reference to their time together on a beach south of Edmonton. The poem is open to interpretation.
In spite of a number of bizarre occurrences involving PS, mother and father allowed the man to take Tania camping — alone.
THE AUTHOR MEETING PS
I met PS only once. He poked me in the chest, announcing to everyone in a crowded kitchen at the Murrell house, “He’s not a reporter! He’s a fucking cop!”
An hour later, PS and I were walking the dark neighbourhood alleys with a flashlight … checking garbage cans. It was a cloudless evening … nothing but stars in the sky.
I was looking for possible human remains. Found nothing.
The story was broadcast on CBC Radio the following morning.
That night the temperature was about minus-30. PS had no gloves and so I loaned him mine. He was appreciative.
THE LAST DAYS OF PS.
After being treated at a hospice, PS was allowed to return home to die. According to his obituary, he died surrounded by some family and friends. We’re talking August 2016.
PS died in a small community in Southern Ontario. I only learned of his passing on 8 March 2018 when a confidential email arrived in my computer. I have no idea who sent it … and they didn’t respond when I wrote back.
I wanted to talk to PS, especially during his final days. There was probably not a reporter in all of Canada who did not want that opportunity. If he was the killer and if there was ever a time for a death-bed confession, that was it.
Or if PS wasn’t the culprit, perhaps he had a lead on who was.
But that’s all water under the bridge now. The man’s dead.
PS’ FAMILY SAYS NO WAY!
In early October 2018 I travelled to the hometown of PS to confront family members with the allegations and police evidence. I interviewed the elderly mother of PS, his sister and a son — and all had the same story — PS wasn’t the type of guy to harm anyone.
They conceded that he had a drinking problem while in Edmonton, but not after he returned to Ontario to raise a family [two girls, one boy]. He and his wife eventually went their own ways.
His three children [two girls and one boy] — now adults — live in the area and support their father 100 percent.
His son  pointed out if police were so sure PS was the culprit, why hadn’t they done something — as in revealed credible evidence — in the 30 years that had passed. They say PS expressed concern about Tania disappearing, but after a lengthy interview by the police [“which he willingly agreed to”], he stopped talking about the case. Never brought it up again.
They say that Jack, Tania’s father, once phoned PS and threatened to kill his daughter. Nothing came of that and PS apparently did not report the threat to police.
The son described his father as a God-fearing man. “I’ll defend my dad,” he said, “he was there when I needed him the most. And even when I screwed up, he still loved me.” He described his father as a “stand up” kind of guy and not a “fuck-up.”
He pointed out that if his Dad had killed Tania, why wasn’t he haunted by it? He says his father was not tormented — as in no screaming nightmares — because of what happened to Tania … “because he didn’t do it.”
As for police evidence that PS had taunted them during a critical interview in 1988, the son says PS was probably “humouring” them. He says his father would have taken the murder accusation as an “insult” and would have been “insulting them back.”
FOR A MORE COMPLETE STORY ON TANIA MURRELL …
Click on this link: https://byronchristopher.org/2012/10/10/tania-was-murdered/