Christine Jessop’s murder has finally been solved

It was a murder that mystified Ontarians (and Canada as a whole) for over three decades. How could a little girl just vanish seemingly without a trace, and several weeks later turn up dead and partially decomposed in a remote spot, with nobody noticing a thing? And, to make matters worse: Who sexually assaulted her before strangling her and leaving her there like that?

And later on, the tragedy was compounded by scandal as a man who had nothing to do with the crime was wrongfully convicted, and spent several years in prison. Guy Paul Morin‘s story of false conviction and the long road to exoneration has been told by journalist Kirk Makin in his book, Redrum the Innocent (which, I suspect, will soon be re-issued by its publisher with an update reflecting the new discoveries mentioned in the video.)

Along the way, the wrongful conviction of Guy Paul Morin shed an embarrassing light on a dark and ugly pattern in Canadian policing: prejudice and preconceived notions leading to capture of wrong suspects, and conviction based on their non-conformity to a very narrow, WASPy ideal of “correct” behavior. As Kirk Makin found out, Guy Paul Morin became the prime suspect mainly because he was, in the words of one detective’s notes, “a weird-type guy”. Guy was a night owl and a francophone. He played the clarinet, was a beekeeper in his spare time, and had a quirky sense of humor. To the police’s mind, that combination betokened sociopathy, a trait necessary to commit the vile and sexually perverse murder of a prepubescent girl. It never occurred to them that they had the wrong man.

And this wrongful conviction was far from an isolated case. Donald Marshall and David Milgaard, two other wrongly convicted (and long-imprisoned) men, also proved their innocence and in so doing, indicted our so-called justice system, which has a demonstrable pattern of bias against outsiders.

Donald Marshall was convicted of the murder of his friend, Sandy Seale, mainly on the basis of racial prejudice (he was Mi’kmaq and Seale was black; Seale’s actual killer, Roy Ebsary, was white — and more than happy to let an “Injun” take the blame for his stabby tendencies).

David Milgaard was a teenage hippie who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time on a road trip with a couple of friends — a no-no in arch-conservative Saskatoon, circa 1969. The common-sense fact that he could not have done such a violent crime in the short time he was seen, too far away from the scene, somehow failed to sway the jury. It certainly didn’t impress the very right-wing Crown prosecutor, who believed that hippies were all degenerates, and that Milgaard was just another Charles Manson type. (The real killer of Gail Miller, Larry Fisher, was a conservative-looking construction worker who lived in the same neighborhood as the victim, and had a violent fetish for women in white nursing uniforms, of whom he had raped several. Naturally, his clean-cut appearance helped to cover for him, at least until DNA finally led to his unmasking and Milgaard’s exoneration.)

Most notably, Steven Truscott went to prison — and very nearly to the gallows, despite being underage — for the rape and murder of his schoolmate, Lynn Harper, which he also did not commit. At 14, he was even younger than David Milgaard, who was 16 when he was falsely accused of rape and murder ten years later. Ironically, Truscott was probably the last person, other than the killer, to have seen Lynn Harper alive — and may even have identified the car belonging to the killer when he picked up the 12-year-old hitchhiker on the highway. But who listens to innocent teenagers? Certainly not the cops, who in the 1950s and ’60s were all too eager to believe the worst about them. And who certainly didn’t keep their eyes on “respectable” adult white men who literally got away with murder. Lynn Harper’s murder is still unsolved to this day.

It was a nauseating pattern in those days of growing liberalism and youth rebellion, but it carried over right up into the 1980s, when the same old mindset led to the wrongful conviction of Guy Paul Morin. Canadian cops have a lot of bungling under their belts when it comes to violent crime. The fact that they’re deeply racist is no news to anyone who’s not white; our whole justice system was built on systemic racism. But how they get it so terribly wrong, so terribly often, even when race is NOT a factor, needs to be addressed. A full reckoning is very, VERY long overdue.

It will be interesting to see what shakes out, belatedly, about Calvin Hoover, the real killer, who took his life five years ago and never saw anything resembling justice for what he did to Christine Jessop. And what new stories will now be written as this old, cold case finally can be marked as solved.

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