Becky-Leigh Michelin was only four when she woke to a bang and she and her sister discovered the body of their slain mother, Deidre Marie Michelin. Then they found the body of their father, Jobe Wolfrey, with a shotgun lying next to him.
From what Michelin remembers, she and her then five-year-old sister — one of four siblings in the Rigolet house at the time of the Jan. 20, 1993, murder/suicide — walked to a relative’s house for help.
“This night, she was going to leave and take us with her. He couldn’t handle it,” said Michelin, who is now in her 20s.
“It started in the living room. That’s where my mother was to.”
Her mother, just 21 when she was murdered, is among the 60 killed or missing women and girls who will be remembered in a public vigil in St. John’s Feb. 3, a project organized by Marguerite’s Place, the Coalition Against Violence - Avalon East, the St. John’s Native Friendship Centre and the Newfoundland and Labrador Sexual Assault Crisis and Prevention Centre.
Michelin remembers her mother as someone who loved the outdoors, going to cabins and boating.
After the killings, the children stayed for a time with their grandmother, but Michelin said they were eventually separated into foster homes, which brought more trauma.
“None of that would have happened. It just hurt knowing (my parents) weren’t there,” she said.
Now Michelin, a youth worker in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, has her own little girl and no mother to turn to for advice.
Talking about what happened, though, helps her cope.
“She was a person, from what I am told, that loved us dearly,” Michelin said of her mom.
She also had to deal with the fact that her father, with whom she had been close as Daddy’s little girl, committed the horrific act.
Michelin said at the time, there was no dedicated RCMP detachment in Rigolet. (According to the RCMP, it had an active patrol cabin in the community and the area was policed by the Goose Bay detachment.)
Michelin said she has seen video of herself and her siblings and their mom at Libra House, a Labrador shelter for abused women, but ultimately her mother’s cries for help went unheeded.
“(My mom) was kind of stuck, I guess,” she said.
Many lives touched
At the vigil, there will be readings by 60 people, one for each of the women and girls who have been killed or who are missing and presumed murdered in the province.
Some deaths occurred at the hands of partners or husbands, while others included sex-related violence.
The researchers involved have tried to find as much information on the victims as they could, tracking down old court documents and newspaper and media reports and interviewing family and friends.
The resulting database will be maintained and updated, said Leslie MacLeod, executive director of the St. John’s Status of Women Council/Women’s Centre.
“Those of us who have worked on the list can never let it go. Every time we add a name or find more information, it is very hard and so important. These women are the face of violence. This is what violence looks like in our province. The most murders we have seem to be women who are being killed,” MacLeod said.
“It’s everything — shooting, stabbings, stranglings, throwing bodies away. It’s axes, it’s knives, it’s hammers, it’s cars — every weapon you can think of, iron bars smashing women’s heads in, lots of shootings, lots of stranglings.”
The people behind the headlines
The list includes high-profile cases such as the unsolved 1981 murder of Dana Bradley in St. John’s, the 1979 Corner Brook murder of Janet Louvelle and the 1983 murder of Marilyn Ann Newman in Corner Brook. There are also the unsolved disappearances of Sharon Drover in 1978 and Henrietta Miller in 1982.
The murders of Brenda Marie Young in 1993 and Catherine Carroll in 1990 — in which Young’s boyfriend and Carroll’s son were wrongfully convicted, with DNA evidence eventually identifying the real killers in each case — are also there.
Marguerite Dyson, for whom Marguerite’s Place was named, was beaten to death in her downtown rooming house in 1996.
The killing of 13-year-old Samantha Walsh of Fleur de Lys by her friend Michael Lewis gripped the province in 2000.
Chrissy Predham-Newman was 28 when she was found stabbed to death in her Airport Heights apartment in 2007. Her estranged husband, Ray Newman, was acquitted of the crime.
Her anguished mother, Yvonne, is still awaiting justice in the case and told researchers, “It is still surreal and heart-wrenching when I say the words ‘my daughter’ and ‘murdered’ in the same sentence.”
Ann Marie Shirran, 32, of Kilbride was killed in 2010. Her body was found in the woods in Cappahayden and her boyfriend, David Folker, was convicted of second-degree murder in 2013, although he is appealing it.
Also on the list is the horrific case in which Juliane Hibbs, 35, was murdered along with her fiancé, Vince Dillon, in October 2013 in Villa Nova Plaza, Conception Bay South, by her former boyfriend Brian Dawe, who was found dead in a cemetery from a self-inflicted gunshot the next morning. He was wearing body armour and had weapons and ammunition.
But a number of the cases are either long forgotten or were never publicized. Some occurred out of province.
In 1815, Mary Hearn was violently assaulted and beaten to death by her husband, John, a harbour pilot. He was sentenced to be hanged and left on the gallows in public view.
In 1833, Mary Fanning was eight months’ pregnant when she was beaten to death in Harbour Grace. Her husband, Peter, admitted to it and was convicted of manslaughter.
Jane Geehan of Riverhead, Harbour Grace, was murdered in 1871 and her body was thrown in a pit.
Newfoundlander Sarah Ann McDonald was living with her family in North Sydney, N.S., in 1921 when, while nursing her nine-month-old, she was killed with an axe by her husband, Dan. Two other children were locked in a room off the kitchen.
In 1998, Joan Hicks, 48, and Nina Hicks, 11, were living in Moncton, N.B., when they were strangled. Michael Wayne McGray pleaded guilty to Joan’s murder.
In 2002, Serena Colson, 26, had been planning to move back home to Newfoundland when she was stabbed to death with six different knives in front of her three children in their Bedford, N.S., apartment.
The 2011 murder of Newfoundlander Carol King in Herschel, Sask., has not been solved.
Much of the research was done through the national aboriginal Faceless Dolls project. In this province, the Faceless Dolls organizers decided to include all women because of the interconnections and ancestry, said Amelia Reimer, women’s outreach worker at the Native Friendship Centre.
It became an eye-opening experience to see the extent of the crimes, Reimer said.
The intent is to reveal as much as possible about who the victims were.
“A lot of people focus on the crime and what happened. We were really trying to focus on who they are in life before this happened,” Reimer said.
“These were living, breathing women before they became a statistic.”
Among them is Yvonne King, who in 2002 went missing on her 40th birthday while walking in Fox Harbour, Placentia Bay. She is remembered as being kind-hearted and an A student at Memorial University. Family members commented that her father died without ever knowing what happened to his beloved child.
Among a dozen murder/suicide victims listed are a few whose names were never revealed. One woman, in 2011, was shot in St. John’s while washing her dishes.
The vigil will take place at Salons A & B of the Holiday Inn on Portugal Cove Rd., St. John’s, from 7–8:30 p.m. There is room for about 160 people.