In 2011 I lived in a notorious Edmonton neighbourhood where I wouldn’t walk the length of a block alone at night. That same year Edmonton was deemed the “Murder Capital of Canada”. Journalist Pamela Roth was also living in the city at that time, and the court and crime reporter has now published a collection of true stories about several of the cops, the criminals, the victims and their families who made headlines in “Deadmonton,” both in 2011 and across the decades.
The book’s title, shadowy cover image, and back cover copy all prepare readers for the disturbing content inside. “These stories are not for the faint of heart,” Roth writes in her introduction, and adds that what the murdered and/or missing victims’ families have in common is “the need for closure, no matter how much time has passed.”
There’s been no closure for eleven-year-old victim Karen Ewanciw’s friend, Shelley Campbell, who was ten when she and her best friend were exploring the river valley by Edmonton’s McNally High School, and, after finding an upside down cross, Ewanciw “walked off in a trance.” Within two days the girl’s body was discovered in the ravine: she’d been sexually assaulted and killed by blunt force trauma. “The blow was so fierce that an imprint of Karen’s face was left in the soft earth where she came to a final rest.” The killer was never found, and in the aftermath, Campbell’s suffered decades of grief and survivor guilt. “It would have been a lot easier to have died with Karen,” she said. Ewanciw’s father-who claims to know who the now-deceased killer was-“regrets not taking care of the killer himself while he had the chance.”
A desire for vigilante justice was also expressed by Michelle Shegelski’s widower. Shegelski was one of three murdered in the University of Alberta’s HUB mall case (2012). All three were armoured car guards, as was their killer and coworker, Travis Baumgartner. “I think [Baumgartner] should just be taken out behind the shed and put down,” Shegelski’s widower said. Roth recounts the night’s tragic events, victim biographies, and how the shooter-described by a former schoolmate as “a quiet kid who got bullied a lot”-was apprehended at the Canada/US border.
Several stories involve innocent victims, like six-year-old Corinne “Punky” Gustavson (1992), baby Robin Thorn (1997), the St. Albert seniors Lyle and Marie McCann (2010), and those who died during “robberies gone wrong.” Other victims lived high-risk lifestyles. The police who investigate these crimes are victims as well: of anguish due to the horrors they encounter, and of frustration when murders go unsolved.
Any light here comes via the organizations and support groups that’ve evolved from tragedy. Young Tania Murrell’s disappearance (1983) “sparked the formation of the Missing Children Society of Canada.” Cathy Greeve’s 1988 death-she was murdered in an Edmonton LRT station-resulted in her father helping to found the Victims of Homicide Support Society.
Although definitely not for the faint of heart, Deadmonton tells compelling stories. Roth now lives in Victoria.
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