Scarred by murder

Tara
Tara Bradbury
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Bagbys recount the deaths of their son and grandson as they mark a terrible milestone

Like an indelible stain, an etching on the heart, the memory of getting the news of their son’s murder is something Kate and David Bagby will hold with them forever.

Kate was the first to learn in November 2001 that Dr. Andrew Bagby, age 28 and the couple’s only child, was dead. He had been discovered in a Pennsylvania park by a homeless man looking for recyclables, shot multiple times.

“Kate called me at work and said, ‘Andrew’s dead! He’s been murdered!’” David recalls.

David dropped the phone and began to hyperventilate; after being driven home by a coworker, he threw himself down on his living room floor and sobbed. The pain, he says, would not go away.

Just under two years later, the Bagbys’ second worst nightmare came true: having been holed up in their apartment waiting for news of their 13-month-old grandson, Zachary, who had gone missing with his mother, Dr. Shirley Turner, they were told by their lawyer that two bodies had washed up on Manuels Beach.

“She said, ‘The news is not good.’ It was the same as before. I kicked a hole in a door and sat at the table and screamed until my head was mush,” David told The Telegram this week.

Ten years ago this Sunday, Turner fed Zachary Ativan tablets, used her sweater to tie him to her, and jumped off the end of the wharf at the Foxtrap Marina, drowning them both.

Andrew had met Turner, who was 12 years his senior, while they were studying medicine at MUN. After a period of time together, Andrew had broken off the relationship. At the time of his murder, Turner was living in Iowa, but visiting Pennsylvania regularly, where Andrew was a resident at a local hospital.

David said while he had no idea who might have killed Andrew during his and Kate’s first meeting with police, Kate already had a feeling Turner was a suspect. By the time she was charged with first-degree murder, Turner had returned to St. John’s, and later informed the Bagbys she was pregnant with Andrew’s child. She gave birth to Zachary in July 2002.

David and Kate moved to St. John’s in an effort to get custody of Zachary and were forced to be friendly with Turner in the process. Turner was returned to jail late that year awaiting a decision on extradition to the States, but was released on bail a couple of months later by an Appeal Court judge who decided Turner wasn’t a risk to the general population.

Turner was out on bail fighting extradition when she drowned Zachary and herself.

“I believe in evil,” Kate says. “I believe she knew what she was doing.”

•••

Looking back, Kate says she’s not sure what the couple could have done differently to protect their grandson.

“We never could kidnap Zachary,” she says. “It’s all right in the books and in Hollywood, but if we had taken him away, we would have had to involve other people. We would have had to find someone with a boat to hire to take us (across the border). We had to think of what kind of life he would have had in hiding.”

•••

In the years that followed, the Bagbys fought to reform Canada’s bail system, lobbying for changes to the Criminal Code of Canada to make it more difficult for people accused of murder to get bail. In a 2006 report by Winnipeg medical examiner Peter Markesteyn after an inquiry into Zachary’s death, Child, Youth and Family Services and the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate were harshly criticized. Zachary should never have been in the care of his mother, Markesteyn concluded, and he made numerous recommendations; some of those were directed at the delivery of justice service, and included improving the knowledge of people posting security for those on bail.

While David blames the legal system for Zachary’s death, Kate also blames social workers, who she says should have realized the danger of leaving him in Turner’s custody.

In late 2010,  Bill C-464 — adding a clause to the Criminal Code of Canada allowing bail to be denied if deemed necessary to protect a child — became law, spurred by the Bagbys.

Last year, an act to amend the Fatalities Investigation Act in this province, for the formation of a Child Death Review Committee to examine unexpected deaths of youth under 19, was passed in the House of Assembly. Creating such a committee was one of Markesteyn’s recommendations, although the Department of Justice said in February it would take more time for the committee to be struck.

Nothing has been heard of the committee since.

“I think we have done every practical thing we could have done to push for change,” David told The Telegram, adding he’s not sure the new bail law will make a difference in all cases, due to the presumption of innocence. Perhaps it will take a challenge to the Charter, he muses, or at least in the way it’s interpreted.

“What we want next is for the judges to take it to heart and for the entire legal culture to take it more seriously,” he says.

David wrote a book, “Dance With the Devil: A Memoir of Murder and Loss,” in 2007; a documentary film, “Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About his Father” was made by Andrew’s longtime friend Kurt Kuenne in 2008, with the Bagbys’ participation.

•••

These days, the Bagbys are back home in California, and say they’ve relaxed more since the bail law was changed. They travel a bit, spend time with friends and take part in church activities (”Kate does; I just go along and set up tables,” David says.) They often speak at events for various groups and district attorney associations, telling their story, both out of a sense of obligation to Andrew’s and Zachary’s memories, and to spread a message.

“To my mind, the more people (who)  know this side of the legal stories, the better. There should never be a second killing,” David says.

Is there a day that goes by when they don’t think of their son and grandson?

“Not a chance,” David says. “An hour would be nice. Not nice, you know, but something.”

Zachary would have just turned 11 years old, and his grandparents say they find comfort in close friends and relatives who are around his age. This week, they visited Disneyland with their godson, who is the age Andrew would be if he were alive, and his children. Sunday’s anniversary won’t go unnoticed, Kate says.

The couple can’t help but wonder what Zachary would be like and what he’d be doing.

“I’m up and down,” adds Kate. “I’m angry at times, and so deeply hurt. We go to dinner parties and I realize Zachary’s not in the backyard enjoying himself like the others are.”

The Bagbys say although they have some wonderful friends in Newfoundland and they have been back twice for necessary reasons, it’s not likely they’ll ever return.

“There’s just too much there,” David says.

tbradbury@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @tara_bradbury

Organizations: The Telegram, MUN, Youth and Family Services Office of the Child Child Death Review Committee Department of Justice Charter Disneyland

Geographic location: California, Pennsylvania, Canada Manuels Beach Iowa Hollywood Winnipeg Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • Jennifer
    January 01, 2014 - 18:13

    I have watched the documentary "Dear Zachary" more than once. The first time I watched it I sobbed uncontrollably for this family's loss and the injustice bestowed on them throughout. I could not get past my own sickness and anger around it. When I watched it again I could finally see the celebration of life that it so eloquently displayed. Andrew was loved beyond measure in his short 28 years and touched so many people. Kate and David touched countless people and went on to make a huge difference in the name of their loved ones. Little Zachary, in one year of life, symbolizes so much and has moved so many. My heart aches each time I revisit this family's pain but I say a prayer for this amazing couple, for Shirley's children left behind and for all those people who hurt from this tragedy. May your lives be a testimony and used to the fullest.

  • Randy
    August 18, 2013 - 02:16

    What a monster this Turner lowlife was!! Imagine, take their only son, and then to deliberately cause them the total destruction of their lives by then diabolically murdering their only grandson, an innocent child , at that! Hopefully there is a God.

  • Marshall Art
    August 17, 2013 - 23:09

    Hey, Appeal Court Judge who released Turner on bail because you decided , in your infinite wisdom, that she wasn't a risk to the general population. It must suck , big time, to be you.

  • Erika
    August 17, 2013 - 18:08

    While I think it's so important to recount the Bagby's loss as the anniversary nears, there is another family grieving as well. My husband is Shirley's oldest child and Zachary's big brother. Every day of every year, he too, lives with the devastation of what happened. He has two younger sisters who also lost a mother and brother. The Bagby's are absolutely amazing people. The world is truly blessed to have angels like them here. I think they would, without a doubt, agree with me that Shirley's family deserve some recognition on this anniversary every year. Every year on August 18th there is an article written about the grief Kate and David face (rightfully so) but there is never any mention of the 3 children that were left behind. It's unfortunate.

    • Pansy Martin
      August 18, 2013 - 20:32

      The family of Shirley have suffered much, I can only imagine the guilt and questions about what could have been done to change things. This is a tragedy for everyone.

    • David Bagby
      August 19, 2013 - 12:33

      Erika has pointed out this oversight before, and she is (again) absolutely right. We have become friends with her and TJ, and we know that Shirley's family are indeed suffering from this tragedy just as we are.

  • shirley
    August 17, 2013 - 13:20

    my heart goes out to Mr& Mrs Bagby, no parent should ever have to go through what they did! and well for years to come. god bless you both RIP Andrew&Zachary with much love, shirley

  • David
    August 17, 2013 - 11:15

    I still think about the Bagby's everday. I can't imagine the pain they have experienced. The heartache, disapointment and sheer disbelief of the system of justice that had repeatedly failed them over and over again. By far the biggest miscarriage of justice in Canadian history. God bless you David and Kate, and please take some solace in the fact that not all Canadians are as incompetent as those who have contributed to your undescribable loss, and pain.

  • Christine
    August 17, 2013 - 10:58

    I cannot finish reading this right now. I have to come back later and read it to the end. I am still sickened at the injustices done to little Zachary and to the Bagbys. Keep strong until you meet again. God bless.

  • Thomas power
    August 17, 2013 - 08:26

    A parants love is truly A blessing I am so sorry for your pain I pray for your happyness & peace of mind. May God bless you & give you strenth to go on strive to be happy..

  • Eliza
    August 17, 2013 - 07:52

    The Bagby's are "from aways." Shirley Turner was a Newfoundlander. That's all you need to know to understand why the social workers and the justice system didn't protect Zachary the way the should have.

    • Pansy Martin
      August 18, 2013 - 21:12

      This is an inappropriate comment. I would welcome clarification.