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.’
6-year-old Tania Murrell [pronounced Ton-ya Murl] vanished on her way home from school on January 20, 1983. In all that time, there’s been absolutely no trace of the child.
Police believe Tania was abducted, murdered and buried.
If PS was the culprit, he may have taken his secret to the grave.
Tania Murrell was a grade 1 student at Grovenor Elementary School at 10426 – 145 Sreet. She left around noon to go home for lunch … but never made it.
When Tania failed to return home that evening, the alarm bells went off. Edmonton Police got involved and a massive search got underway.
No leads were found. It seemed as though young Tania 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.
A few years ago, 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 abductor 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.
Turns out, the man had been interviewed early on and given a lie detector … but the results were inconclusive. That’s because he was tanked when police wired him up. Officers told PS [prime suspect] that he’d passed the test. The truth was, the results were inconclusive owing to his inebriated state.
Police didn’t question PS again until five years later — in January 1988 — when they suddenly appeared at his door in Ontario.
Off to an Ontario Provincial Police [OPP] station they went.
Two Edmonton Police detectives grilled the suspect for 11 hours, incredibly.
The suspect taunted the officers, 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 told them, “Fuck you! You ain’t got a body.”
He was right. They 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 said the body had been dumped in that area after they did their search.
Turns out, 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.
Nothing conclusive, mind you. It just seemed beyond coincidental that a suspect in the disappearance of a young girl was one of the first to learn that a child was missing. A child that would turn up dead. What are the chances?
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.
He once tried to yank down Jack Murrell’s zipper when the father passed out on a couch after he drank too much.
For no apparent reason, PS smashed an empty beer bottle into the face of his roommate while the two were playing cards.
He also 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.
Vivian’s closest friend, Heather Hansen, 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 never forgave herself.
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 was 100 percent sure.
It was too little, too late.
Jack and Vivian Murrell, a party-hard couple, had mistakenly protected PS when investigators began asking tough questions. “Not him,” Vivian said, “he’s our friend.”
Far from it.
Friends then came out of the woodwork, telling police that owing to PS’ bizarre behaviour, they always suspected PS had abducted Tania. Turns out, a lot seemed to know … but few uttered a word because ‘they didn’t want to get involved.’
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 reference to their time together on a beach south of Edmonton.
In spite of a number of bizarre occurrences involving PS, mother and father allowed the man to take Tania camping — alone. If that isn’t crazy, I don’t know what is.
I met PS only once. The guy sure liked his booze. He was a bit of a jerk, poking me in the chest and 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 with nothing but stars in the sky. I was looking for possible human remains — but not PS. The man was in another world. Perhaps PS knew where Tania was because he kept looking upward, as though he was counting the stars.
The temperature was about minus-30 that night. 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.
There’s a mention in his obit that he’s going to be missed … especially by ‘The Kitty.’ Looks like he had a pet cat.
PS died in the summer of 2016 in a small community in Southern Ontario. I only learned of his passing on 8 March 2018 when a confidential email arrived.
Too bad. I’d so wanted to talk to PS, especially during his final days. If there was ever a time for a death-bed confession, that was it …
I have put in a call to one of his relatives to see if they have anything to offer. We’ll see if they call back.
FOR A MORE COMPLETE STORY ON TANIA MURRELL …
Click on this link: https://byronchristopher.org/2012/10/10/tania-was-murdered/