Tuesday 23 June 2009

Guilty of murders but no bodies found

A jury in Sarnia, Ontario decided that the sister of an accused murderer, Thomas Moffit, told the truth when she testified that her brother admitted killing his girlfriend over a domestic dispute. The case hinged on her testimony alone. During several days on the stand, his sister testified that Moffit told her in late May of 2007 that he broke the neck of Shelley Mathieu-Read in the hallway of a Finch Drive apartment building in Sarnia, Ontario. His sister was the only witness to testify that Mathieu-Read was really dead. Shelley’s body has never been found. No one has heard from Mathieu-Read since late May 2007.

Despite that, Moffit was charged with committing second-degree murder between May 1, 2007 and July 29, 2007. His lawyer LeRoy said during his argument, “It’s possible she’s living somewhere in North America after leaving Sarnia, or that something bad happened to her unrelated to Moffit because of her dangerous life as a drug addict.”

Shortly after people lost contact with the missing woman, Moffit told his sister that Mathieu-Read wasn’t coming back and admitted he’d killed her. But LeRoy noted that the sister’s story kept changing the more times she told it. He said that she is neither credible nor reliable, and her testimony doesn’t get the Crown’s case beyond the standard of a reasonable doubt.

The sister initially testified she had no memory of Moffit taking a borrowed wheelbarrow out of a truck he’d borrowed, but later said she remembered him taking it out. Then she testified she didn’t remember looking at the gas gauge after he borrowed the truck, but a short time later she said she had looked at the gauge.

On the evening the sister told police about Moffit’s confession, she led police officers to a comforter she said had been thrown in Perch Creek after Moffit disposed of the body. She also took them to a spot where they later found pants and boots, the court heard. She further testified her brother threw the items away while she drove him back to Sarnia after borrowing her truck. Despite the testimony of Moffit’s sister, the jury found him guilty of second degree murder after deliberating less than an hour.

This is not the first time that someone has been convicted of murder when no body was found however; conviction for a murder in the absence of a body is possible; although historically, cases of this type have been hard to prove as the prosecution must rely on other evidence, usually circumstantial.

More recently, absence of a body has been less of an obstacle to conviction for murder. For example, circumstantial evidence was originally deemed sufficient in the Australian ‘Dingo baby case’, and in others such as Bradley John Murdoch and the murder of Thomas and Jackie Hawks. In the 2002 murder of Danielle Jones, the required circumstantial evidence was provided by forensic analysis of text messages sent by the accused.

I should add however that in the famous ‘Dingo baby case’, years later, the clothes of the baby was found and it was established that the parents hadn’t killed their baby; as it was killed by a Dingo (wild dog) just as they had said to the police. They were immediately released from prison.

However, the possibility of the supposed victim turning up alive remains. In 2003, Leonard Fraser, having allegedly confessed to the murder of teenager Natasha Ryan, was on trial for this, and other murders, when she reappeared after having been missing for four years.

Bradley John Murdoch (born 1958) is serving life imprisonment for the July 2001 murder of English backpacker Peter Falconio in Australia. He was arrested in 2003 and charged with the murder of Peter Falconio on a remote part of the Stuart Highway near Barrow Creek on 14th of July 2001. Falconio's body has never been found. Murdoch has maintained his innocence to this day.

During his trial, defence lawyers claimed that police procedures were not followed correctly, that the witness’ (Joanne Lees) testimony was inconsistent, and that it was impossible for him to have committed the crime. They said that Lees incorrectly identified the details of the vehicle Murdoch was driving. Lees also admitted seeing an internet photograph and article linking Murdoch to the murder before she was interviewed by police. Further, she received large sums of money for a TV interview and advance royalties for her book, No Turning Back. There was however, circumstantial evidence that was hard to disprove. Lee was the victim’s girlfriend and they were together when Peter and she were backpacking. Murdoch had raped her and his blood was later discovered on her clothes. He appealed to the highest court in Australia but his appeal was denied.

In 1999, 14-year old Natasha Ryan vanished from her Queensland, Australia home. No body was ever found, and, after years of searching, her family presumed she was dead. Their fears were confirmed in 2002 when incarcerated serial killer, Leonard Fraser, was secretly recorded in his jail cell confessing that Natasha was one of his many victims.

In the middle of Fraser's 2003 trial for the murder of four women, including Natasha Ryan, the authorities received a tip that Ryan had been living with her boyfriend, Scott Black, since her disappearance. They raided Black's house, which was less than a half-mile away from her parents' home, and found Natasha hiding in a wardrobe. The charges for Natasha's murder were dropped, though Fraser was sentenced to multiple consecutive life sentences for the other three murders.

As for Natasha and her boyfriend, he was sentenced to one year in prison for perjury for claiming he didn't know Natasha's whereabouts. He was also fined $3000 and had to pay $16,740 of the costs accrued by police while searching for Natasha. Natasha only had to pay $1,000 fine for causing a false police investigation, though she sold her story to Australian tabloids for much, much more.

The murder of Danielle Jones was an English murder case where no body was found and the conviction relied upon forensic authorship analysis of text messages sent on the victim's mobile phone.

Jones' uncle, Stuart Campbell, a builder, was convicted of abduction and murder on 19th of December, 2002. Campbell was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder as well as 10 years for abduction.

The trial was unusual in the UK as prosecutions for murder without a body are very rare. The Crown's case rested upon several pieces of evidence. Jones had disappeared without contacting her parents and had been seen talking to a man in a blue Ford Transit van resembling Campbell's on the morning of her disappearance. The testing of blood-stained stockings discovered in the loft of Campbell's house found DNA matching both himself and his niece's; lip gloss used by Jones was also found in Campbell's home. A diary kept by Campbell revealed an obsession with teenage girls, with testimonies that Campbell had manipulated young girls into posing for topless photographs. Mobile Switching Center records demonstrated that Campbell's alibi of being at a D-I-Y store half an hour away in Rayleigh was false, and that Campbell's and Jones's mobile phones had been within the range of a single mobile phone mast at the time that a text message had allegedly been sent by Jones to Campbell. This along with forensic authorship analysis indicated that Campbell had written the message, not Jones, implying that Campbell had sent the message to himself using Jones's phone to make it appear that she was still alive.

I mentioned that convictions of murder in the UK when no body is found is rare, the reason is as follows;

On August 16, 1660, William Harrison left home in Campden, England, to do business in a nearby town. When he didn't return, his servant, John Perry, went to look for him. Perry found Harrison's shirt covered in blood, along with his hat, which had been slashed by a knife. Harrison, however, was nowhere to be found.
Authorities immediately suspected Perry, and likely tortured him for answers. He confessed to a conspiracy involving himself, his mother, and his brother. According to his statement, Perry claimed that it was his brother who had actually killed Harrison while attempting to rob him.

Despite the fact that all of Perry's relatives proclaimed their innocence, the entire family was convicted and hanged. Mrs. Perry, who'd also been accused of being a witch, was hanged first.

Two years later, however, William Harrison returned to England claiming that he had been abducted, taken to Turkey, and sold into slavery. He escaped when his master died, and his return was publicly lauded.

While Perry's trial didn't do John Perry (or his family) much good, it did have an impact on future cases. John Perry's story set a legal precedent in England – ‘no body, no crime’ - that has lasted for nearly 300 years.

In the United States however, no bodies doesn’t automatically mean, no convictions.

William Jackson Marion and Jack Cameron met at a Kansas boarding house in 1872. The two men became fast friends and traveling companions, using Cameron's team of horses to go from place-to-place to find work.

Along their journey, the two made a brief stop in Beatrice, Nebraska to visit Marion's in-laws before moving on. After a few days, however, Marion returned solo, sporting clothes that belonged to Cameron and driving Cameron's horses. Then he left town again.

Weeks later, the body of a man was discovered with three bullet holes in his head. He was also wearing the same outfit that Cameron had worn the day he left town. Marion immediately became the prime suspect and a manhunt began. After 10 years of searching, Marion was finally captured in Kansas.

The trial and conviction of Jack Marion was seriously abbreviated. Marion's verdict was read after just one hour of deliberation, and he was hanged for his crime on March 25, 1887.

Four years later, Jack Cameron reappeared looking for his old friend. Apparently, he had run to Mexico to avoid a shotgun wedding in Kansas, giving his horses and other possessions to Marion. Now he'd come back to reclaim them.

The story does end on a (slightly) positive note: Thanks to the work of Marion's grandson, Elbert Marion, Nebraska governor Bob Kerrey granted Jack Marion a posthumous pardon in 1987, 100 years after his execution.

In May of 1812, when Richard Colvin vanished, speculation amongst the townspeople of Manchester, Vermont, was that his brothers-in-law, Jesse and Stephen Boorn, were responsible. Without evidence of foul play, no charges were pressed.

Seven years later, the Boorn Brothers' uncle had a dream in which Richard said he'd been killed and his body buried in an old cellar on the Boorn farm. Upon excavation of the cellar, a penknife and a button were found, both identified as Richard's. But the "evidence" still wasn't enough to charge the Boorn Brothers. Soon after, when a barn on the Boorn farm burned to the ground, many believed it was arson to cover more evidence. But, again, no charges were filed.

Things finally came to a head, however, when a boy discovered bones under a tree near the Boorn home. While in custody, Jesse confessed that he and his brother had killed Richard. But before the trial began, a closer examination of the bones revealed they weren't even human, but those of an animal. The prosecution carried on, however, for they had the damning testimony of Silas Merrill, a forger, who was Jesse's cellmate.

Merrill said Jesse had implicated himself, Stephen, and their father in Colvin's murder. His testimony mentioned the suspected locations of the crime -- the cellar, the barn, and the tree -- all fitting together in a neat little package. For his cooperation in the case, Silas was set free.

As the evidence mounted, Stephen confessed as well, telling the same story as Silas, but without implicating his father. The Boorn Brothers were convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 1819. Jesse's sentence would later be commuted to life in prison, but Stephen was set to hang.

Rather than sit idly by, Stephen placed an ad in different newspapers explaining his predicament. The ad included a description of Richard Colvin. Amazingly, the thing worked! Someone actually tracked Colvin down, who was alive and well in New Jersey.
The same (no bodies, no conviction) doesn’t apply in China either.

Zhang Zaiyu disappeared from Hubei Province in 1994. A few months later, a woman's body was found in a lake and Zhang's family identified it as their missing loved one. Her husband She Zaiyu was arrested for murder.

For 10 days, She was reportedly denied sleep and received severe beatings until he finally confessed to the crime. Once in court, She said the confession had been coerced and that he was not guilty. He was sentenced to death in late 1994, but four years later his sentence was reduced to 15 years because the courts felt there wasn't sufficient evidence for the death penalty.

Then, in March of 2005, Zhang Zaiyu resurfaced in Hubei. Mrs. Zaiyu claimed to have suffered from mental illness and had wandered away from her home in 1994. She wound up in Shandong Province, living there and even marrying another man.

Her identity was confirmed through DNA testing and her first husband was released from prison 11 years after he had been convicted. He then sued the government and received 700,000 yuan (about $102,650) in compensation.

But more importantly, She's case - and that of Teng Xingshan -- helped bring about changes to the Chinese judicial system in 2005. Now, capital punishment cases are the sole authority of the Supreme People's Court, which requires more oversight and investigation before executions are carried out.

In April 1987, the dismembered body of a woman was dragged from the waters of the Mayang River in central Hunan Province. A young woman, Shi Xiaorong, had been declared missing shortly before the body was found, so police believed she was the victim.

According to authorities, the dismemberment looked "very professional", so local butcher Teng Xinhshan became a prime suspect. It was speculated that Teng had sex with Shi and killed her when she tried to steal his money. Teng claimed he had never met Shi, but was found guilty and sentenced to death anyway. He was executed in 1989.

Then, in 1993, Shi Xiaorong reappeared saying that she had been tricked and sold into marriage in March 1987. When Teng's relatives learned that Shi was still alive, they sued the judiciary. After the case was reopened, Shi testified that she had never even met Teng, and that he had obviously not killed her. Teng was posthumously exonerated in 2006.

In May 2009, Michael Thomas C.S. Rafferty, 28, and Terri-Lynne McClintic, 18, both of Woodstock, were arrested and charged with the murder of 8-year-old Tori Stafford. Her body (at the time of this writing) has not been found. However, the evidence against them both is very conclusive. McClintic was video-taped walking the girl along the street. Rafferty is charged with the murder of the little girl and McClintic is charged with being an accessory to the murder. Both are charged with abducting the little girl.

There was a case in Toronto a number of years ago where the former boyfriend of a Bank of Nova Scotia Bank teller kidnapped her and murdered her. However when he was being tried for her murder, her body had not being located. The only evidence against him was that he was seen removing her from the bank. He maintained that he didn’t kill her and that he left her at another location and that was the last time he saw her. Despite his defence, he was convicted of her murder. Several years later, her body was found.

This is proof that there are obviously times when murderers should never escape the consequences of their crimes simply because no bodies of their victims were ever found.

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