Collecting remains was a challenge for police

Rosie Mullaley
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Officer testifying at Folker trial describes scene where body was found

WARNING: This story contains disturbing content.

It was a disturbing image — a close-up photo of a human skull, upper jaw and teeth lying on the ground.

Accused murderer David Folker (right) talks with co-counsel Jason Edwards before the start of proceedings in his trial at Newfoundland Supreme Court in St. John’s Tuesday.

It was taken by police Sept. 2, 2010, the day campers stumbled upon the remains of Ann Marie Shirran, a mother of a young son,  in a wooded area near Cappahayden.

Police suspected the 32-year-old had been murdered.

On Tuesday, that photo, along with others showing other parts of Shirran’s remains, were shown to jurors at Newfoundland Supreme Court in St. John’s during the trial of David Folker — Shirran’s boyfriend — who is accused of killing her.

The eight women and four men of the jury looked intently at the two computer screens that were placed on the railing of the jury box as the photos of the scene were shown one by one.

When the photo of the skull was displayed, most jurors kept their eyes locked on the screen. A few looked at it and slowly looked away.

Images showing the skull and other parts of Shirran’s remains were banned from publication by Justice Wayne Dymond.

The photos were part of the evidence gathered at the scene by Sgt. Karl Piercey, a retired RNC officer, who at the time was head of the forensic identification team investigating Shirran’s case.

Folker had reported Shirran missing on July 18, 2010. He claimed he had no idea where she was.

But he was lying.

On the second day of the trial earlier this month, Folker admitted there had been a physical altercation between them and Shirran died as a result.

He also admitted he disposed of her personal items in a wooded area off Blackhead Road in St. John’s and dumped her body in the area of Cappahayden on the Southern Shore.

However, the 42-year-old is maintaining his not-guilty pleas to charges of second-degree murder and interfering with a dead human body.

When Piercey took the stand Tuesday, he told the court that he first became involved in the case on July 24, 2010 to look into Shirran’s disappearance.

Two searches of the Kilbride apartment where Shirran had lived with Folker and their son turned up nothing unusual, he said.

On Sept. 2, 2010, he was called to Cappahayden, almost two hours away.

He spent Tuesday morning on the stand describing the photos and the scene where Shirran’s remains were found.

Piercey said the skull, upper jaw and teeth were located near a small trail off a gravel pit, in an area that was difficult to reach, since it was dark and was in heavy, thick brush.

“We wondered if the remains were put there or if something happened at that location,” he said. “(But) there was no evidence to suggest anything had happened at that location.”

He said the remains were decomposed, with some soft tissue and hard tissue remaining on the bones.

“She had to have been face down because flesh was still on the back of the skull,” Piercey said.

He said the skull was about 1 1/2 metres away from the body’s final resting place — or body mass.

The body parts were scattered throughout a 150-metre area — with many of them having been dragged off by animals. The lower jaw was found about a metre away form the body mass, while other bones, including the tibia, fibula and femur (leg bones), arm bone, broken pelvis and spinal column were also spotted nearby.

He said the teeth, which had a large cavity, were taken to Dr. Simon Avis, the province’s chief medical examiner, for preliminary identification.

Piercey said hair was also located at the scene.

A pair of black yoga pants — which were worn by Shirran the last time she was seen — were also discovered near the body mass.

Piercey said there were many challenges in collecting the remains. Not only was there heavy, thick vegetation, but because it was an outdoor scene, weather was a factor. He said it was a large scene — with the remains scattered in a 150-metre area — they were two hours away from resources, and extra officers, including RCMP officers, were needed for security.

He said they also had to call on a forensic anthropologist to help them differentiate between human bones and the numerous animal bones also found in the area.

Collection of evidence at the scene went on until Sept. 15, 2010.

“It was a big job,” Piercey said. “We wanted to be sure we didn’t miss anything.”

Much of the evidence, he said, was sent to various laboratories across the country for examination.

The trial continues today with more forensic testimony.

Twitter: @TelyCourt

Organizations: Newfoundland Supreme Court, RCMP

Geographic location: Blackhead Road

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