Editor’s note: the DEAD WRONG homepage has links to previous articles, the cast of characters, extras, and commentary.
Part 1: The War of the Roses
This article contains graphic accounts of violence and sexual violence that will disturb some readers.
There is a spot on the Dartmouth waterfront with a spectacular view. It’s right where Shore Road, the road that runs along the harbour, passes under the Macdonald Bridge and makes a right turn, becoming Lyle Street, which runs uphill, inland.
At the turn, there’s a pull-out from the road, a space big enough for just a car or two, next to one of the concrete pillars for the bridge. From there, you can see across the harbour to downtown Halifax, the navy yard, and the shipyard. Giant container ships pass occasionally, on their way to and from the port terminal.
It was at that spot, on an early Sunday morning in 1996 — November 3, 2:23am, not long after the bars had closed — that a bridge commissionaire on his rounds found a car. On investigation, he found a man in the car. A dead man. A dead man with his pants around his knees.
The commissionaire called the the Halifax Regional Police, who processed the scene. Next to the 43-year-old dead man’s body was a pink and beige woman’s jacket, which was placed into evidence. The body was taken away for autopsy, the car towed. To this day, the police refuse to name the man. He’s not listed in local obituaries.
The medical examiner quickly determined that the man had died from a heart attack; his death was not considered a criminal matter. Sergeant Mike Spurr wanted to close the case file, so the next Wednesday morning Spurr visited Constable Peter Gallant.
Gallant had been working the vice circuit, and knew most of the working girls in Dartmouth — the girls and women working the stroll along Wyse and Windmill Roads and the streets adjacent. Spurr showed Gallant a photo of the jacket found next to the dead man, and sure enough, Gallant immediately recognized it as belonging to Robin Hartrick.
Robin “was a miracle baby,” says her mother Pauline. 1 “She was a baby that was premature at birth. She only weighed one pound five ounces at the Grace Maternity.” Robin’s birth name was Margaret, but since she was “only as big as a minute,” the family called her “Robin,” thinking of a small, frail, beautiful creature.
When the dead man was found under the bridge, Robin was 33 years old and working the streets for money to feed a crack addiction.
Constable Gallant had seen her dozens of times, arrested her a few times. That afternoon, Gallant and his partner, Tony Blencowe, found Robin walking around downtown Dartmouth. She agreed to come to the police station to make a statement about the man’s death. She said she had been working the stroll on Windmill Road, and was picked up by the man and driven to the spot under the bridge. While she was servicing him, he died. She freaked out and ran away, leaving her jacket behind.
That would’ve been the end of the matter, except Robin kept talking.
“She also mentioned that she was working the streets only to get information on who killed Brenda Way,” said Gallant.
Gallant knew this wasn’t true. Brenda was killed nearly a year before, on November 12, 1995. Gallant had seen Robin working the streets long before then. Her first arrest, for communicating for purposes of prostitution, was in 1991. Police records show that in 1995 alone, Robin was stopped or arrested by police six times in the months before Brenda was killed.
So Robin’s claim she became a sex worker in order to find out who killed Brenda was nonsense. Gallant heard her out anyway.
“Ms. Hartrick was telling us some — what I felt were vague details about a red truck and an area where she felt that it [Brenda’s murder] happened,” said Gallant. “When asked if she knew — how she knew these things, she indicated that she had psychic premonitions.”
Robin babbled on about psychic premonitions for almost an hour, and the officers had had enough.
“We were to the point of frustration,” said Blencowe. “We felt that it was, to us, bogus information and she was just wasting our time, and we didn’t not feel anything was going to come of it. “
The police officers prepared to end the interview and escort Robin out of the building.
But just then Robin had new information. “Well,” she blurted out, “I guess it doesn’t matter that at 4:15 Glen told me in front of Linda Grandy’s apartment that he knew Brenda was dead.”
That was three hours and 15 minutes before her death was reported to police.
A “fun time girl”
One strategy Maritimers have for combating the dreariness of the fog-bound and rainy climate is to paint their houses in bold colours, with the hope that the clashing hues can break through the never-lifting grey and boost the spirit.
Another strategy is to give up the battle completely and lose oneself in the competing fog of booze and drugs.
Both strategies came together in Jelly Bean Square. The builders of the social housing project just across the Macdonald Bridge from Halifax employed the first strategy. Each of the 11 two-storey townhouses, six units in each, stretching up the hill to Victoria Road, were painted a different colour, like jelly beans in a bowl. But people who grew up there also remember it as a neighborhood where drugs and violence were endemic. Brenda Way grew up in Nova Court, a six-storey brick apartment building that is also part of the complex.
“Brenda was just fun to be around,” said a childhood friend. “We laughed at everything back then, which poor kids manage to do in spite of everything. She would burp 100 times in a row, for instance, and I would pay her a dollar for doing it. That’s a funny memory for me.”
Life in the Square, however, was tough. “In the neighbourhood you would be picked on for any flaw you had,” said the friend.
Brenda had a pug nose. That was enough. She would go through life with a nickname: Pit Bull.
Brenda started working as a prostitute when she was 14 or 15 years old, according to her sister Carol. 2
Halifax is a port city and a military town in an impoverished region; there have been sex workers in the city since it was founded in 1749. From the Second World War through the 1970s, the authorities looked the other way at prostitution, and brothel owner Ada McCallum was well-known about town, her business tolerated.
But by the time Brenda arrived on the scene in the 1980s, prostitution was relegated to two Halifax “strolls” — around Cornwallis Park near the train station, and along Maitland Street 3 in the north end of the Halifax peninsula.
In 1988, Cynthia Manderson, a researcher at Dalhousie University, studied sex workers in Halifax. Manderson identified 46 women working the Halifax strolls. She was able to speak with most of them.
Manderson found that most of the teenage prostitutes were homeless or neglected by their parents, and believed that many had been victims of childhood sexual abuse.
At that time, Brenda was 21 years old, and had been working the streets for six or seven years. Brenda was a tiny woman, not quite four-foot-ten, and just 95 pounds. She had jet black hair, which she typically kept at shoulder-length, and often dyed with a red henna. She had two tattoos: a flower above her left breast and a butterfly on her back, on the right shoulder blade. Brenda battled a crack addiction, with greater and lesser success, but people, even police, remember her as independent and high spirited.
“She was a hugger,” said a childhood friend. “I ran into her once, she was on Victoria Road. By that time we had long gone our separate ways, but she yelled across the street, and ran over and gave me a giant hug. She was so happy to see me — always was. It was genuine, and she was like that with everyone.”
Brenda lived most of her life in Dartmouth, the smaller sister city to Halifax across the harbour. After the Macdonald Bridge opened in 1955, the North End of Dartmouth rapidly developed, with single-storey clapboard houses on postage stamp-sized lots and, especially in the area around Albro Lake Road, two- and three-storey apartment buildings. It was an affordable housing stock for young families and for workers in the nearby Burnside Industrial Park.
But the same affordability that attracted working people and young families also attracted the down-and-out and the desperate. The Dartmouth stroll arose in about 1990. Brenda was then 23 years old, and she became one of the stroll’s most known sex workers. Seemingly everyone knew of Brenda, even if hardly anyone actually knew her as a person.
I’ve had difficulty reconstructing Brenda’s life through the 1980s and early 1990s. For example, I was able to track down Linda Grandy, a former sex worker who worked the streets alongside Brenda and considered her a friend. Linda agreed to speak to me, and gave a far-ranging and candid interview. Like Brenda’s childhood friend, Linda remembered Brenda as a “sweet girl.” I asked her to elaborate on that — “can you tell me more about her, what she liked and disliked, like that?” I asked. Linda paused for maybe five seconds. “We were all on crack,” she said finally.
One thing’s for sure: life on the street was hard and dangerous. All the sex workers interviewed by Manderson had encountered violence from johns. Disease and pregnancy were a constant worry. Brenda became pregnant 11 times; nine of those pregnancies resulted in abortions.
Brenda’s first child was a boy, fathered in 1989 by Bob Renner, a Dartmouth pimp. I found Renner easily enough — he’s living in the old family home, between Windmill and Wyse Roads, right in the middle of the Dartmouth stroll. I friended him on Facebook, dropped him a message, asked if we could speak. “Sure, give me a call,” he responded.
“I had a stable of, give or take, I probably had 30 or 40 different women,” Renner told me over the phone. “I never, ever mistreated any of them, you know, didn’t beat them with a coat hanger when they didn’t make any money. I’m a capitalist, right? You make money, I make money. You don’t make money, I don’t make money. I don’t need your money, but if you say you’re going to do your thing under my auspices, well, then, you give me my fair cut and you keep the rest and go about your business, go about your life.”
Renner didn’t remember how or where he met Brenda, but said she lived with him for “five or six years” in his family’s home. Brenda, said Renner, “was in my main circle.”
“She was a great personality,” he said. “She was fantastic. Smart as a whip, had character like you wouldn’t believe, a real joker, fun time girl. She was just all around a great chick. She was talented in her way; she knew how to hustle men.”
But like many of the other people I talked to for this article, Renner’s remembrances of the mother of his child don’t get beyond vague generalities — he brought up no specific details of Brenda’s life, no anecdotes that stand out, none of Brenda’s likes and dislikes, what kind of music she listened to, if she had any dreams or hopes for her future. She was just Brenda, the “fun time girl,” the “great chick.”
I asked Renner if he’s sure he’s the father of Brenda’s child.
“I suppose so,” he answered. “I never had a DNA test, but he looked exactly like me in my baby pictures. You put his picture up to my picture and it’s the same head and everything.”
The boy was raised by Renner’s mother.
“Yeah, I brought him here,” said Renner. “My mother and father were scared that [Brenda] was going to come and steal him or whatever. I told her, ‘You’re not in a position to be taking care of no baby. Look, that’s just going to hold you back. It’s going to ruin your life, but I’ve got a position — I can pawn him off on the family. Let the family fucking watch him! And you don’t have to worry about where he’s at, what he’s doing, coming back and forth, having obligations all the time.’ I said to her, ‘You know you’re going to screw it up, because you drink, you smoke drugs, you fucking run wild wherever you want to go, you got no determination on anything that normal society adheres to.’
“I said, ‘Look, the kid’s an accident,’ right?” continued Renner. “I mean, I used to pound the fuck out her sexually, you know what I mean? I used to ride that fucking thing sideways. I’m an oversexed guy. I used to pound those fucking women. They all loved me. When it came to sex, most of them were nymphs anyways.”
I thanked Renner for his time and hung up.
On September 5, 1991, Halifax police charged Renner with living off the avails of a prostitute — Brenda — and controlling Brenda’s movements in such a way as to show he was abetting her prostitution. A few months later, Renner was additionally charged with dealing hash. He was sentenced to a total of four years in prison.
With Renner in prison, Brenda went her own way and by most accounts 4 continued to work the streets independently, without a pimp.
Her second child, a girl, came in 1993. Repeatedly arrested for prostitution and addicted to crack, Brenda was, as Renner put it, in no position to be a parent. Understandably, Child Protection Services planned to seize the child at birth. But Brenda arranged for a friend, Ron Corbin, to agree to name himself as father of the child on the girl’s birth certificate, and Corbin and his wife raised the girl as their own. 5
Corbin is now an old man, bitter and angry. I found him living near Guysborough. He gets out in the woods a lot, to get away from people. He agreed to a phone interview one Sunday, after he spent the day fishing.
Corbin wasn’t actually Brenda’s child’s father, but he wanted to help Brenda out. “She was a friend of my daughters — all four of my girls from my first marriage were street girls,” Corbin told me. “I liked her, and she was in a situation.”
“When all the shit started”
Soon after she gave birth to the girl, Brenda met Glen Assoun at the Dartmouth courthouse. “I gave her my phone number, and she called me about two to three days later,” Glen recalled. 6
“We started seeing each other.”
Glen was small man, about five feet six. He had thick, black, shaggy hair, and a full beard. Glen was a “wannabe biker,” Corbin told me. Glen wore biker boots, in which he kept a double-edged nine-inch knife. He almost always wore black jeans, a black shirt, and a black baseball cap. Attached to his belt were a small pocket knife, a heavy key chain, and a pager.
Glen grew up in Sydney, one of nine children — eight boys and one girl — of a preacher, who Glen said had abused him. Glen dropped out of school after Grade Six. He worked a series of odd jobs, occasionally as a landscaper, and for six years on offshore oil rigs. While working for the DND, Glen was in a car crash and suffered an injury that resulted in a monthly disability payment from Sun Life Insurance. There’s evidence that the injury was faked — Corbin told me Glen shot himself in the foot, and Brenda’s sisters said the disability claim was entirely bogus. But at least for a while, doctors signed off on the claim.
Glen was a man living on the margins of society, constantly moving, often involved with the law. In 1986 he was convicted of assault, and fined $500. In 1991 he was himself the victim of an assault. Milton Williams, a Dartmouth cop, said that in 1993 or 1994 he was called to a Dahlia Street address; Glen was inside, contemplating suicide. Williams didn’t say how that incident unfolded or was resolved.
Glen had been married twice, to women named Margaret and Jennifer. He had four children: James, Glen Junior, Tanya, and Amanda. Margaret said Glen was abusive and mistreated the kids. Jennifer said Glen would hold a knife to her throat nearly every day throughout their two-year marriage. 7
When Brenda and Glen met at the courthouse in 1993, they were each facing charges. “Brenda got a year on her charges,” said Glen. “She did three months and was then given parole.” 8
As Glen told it, Brenda’s three months in jail were a good thing because she was able to break her crack habit. When she got out on parole, he rented a cabin in Fall River in order to keep her away from the crack in Dartmouth. They stayed in Fall River for a few months, then moved to Sydney, where Glen had family. They didn’t care for Sydney, however, so six months later moved back to Dartmouth. Glen bought a camper and they stayed at the Shubie Park campground for about a month.
“That’s when all the shit started,” said Glen. “She got back into the drugs and disappeared for a couple of days. When she did come back, she was stoned.”
In June 1995, Glen and Brenda moved into the Four Star Motel on Prince Albert Road, at the corner of Lawrence Street.
Until the early 1970s, the main route into Dartmouth was via the Waverley Road, then to the MicMac Rotary, which had an exit to Prince Albert Road. A cluster of motels arose on what were then the outskirts of town: the Dartmouth Inn, the Four Star Motel, the MicMac Motel.
In the 1970s, however, Highway 118 was constructed, providing a quicker, more direct route into Dartmouth via Woodland Avenue. The old motels along Prince Albert Road were suddenly off the main route; by the 1990s they were what realtors would call “tired.” The Four Star filled its rooms with weekly and monthly rentals to drifters and people just one step up from the streets. Glen and Brenda lived in room 420, on the second floor.
It didn’t go well. As soon as Glen and Brenda moved into the Four Star, Brenda was looking to get out. She met a man named Donald Manning at My Son’s Place Tavern on Wyse Road in the North End. They had a couple of beers together and then went to visit Brenda’s friend, an old guy named Mickey Bates who had an apartment at 109 Albro Lake Road. They talked about finding Brenda a new place to live. 11
Manning eventually asked a friend, David O’Neill, also known as Shakey, if he could put Brenda up for a while
“I said, yeah, OK, a couple of days, you know,” said Shakey. 12
Shakey was living at 9 Lawrence Street, an apartment building just behind the Four Star. A woman working at the Four Star helped Brenda carry a few bags of clothes across the parking lot. Shakey said that Brenda had bruises on her cheek and upper arms that day, and she said Glen had beaten her.
“I got a kick out of her,” said Shakey. “I liked her. She was a good person. I was a bachelor. She moved in. I hadn’t even unpacked. She turned the place into a, you know, a fairly nice place to live.”
Brenda ended up living with Shakey for a couple of months, but she was still working the streets, and still running into Glen — he lived right across the parking lot, after all. One day, Brenda told Shakey that Glen had threatened her with a .357 Magnum.
Shakey liked having Brenda around, and “I never had one minute of trouble from her,” he said. But he lived in a single apartment, and the landlords “kind of made a few bones about that, so I told her she’d have to find another place.”
Brenda told Shakey she was going to move in with her father, who had an apartment on Victoria Road. Instead, she moved back into the Four Star with Glen.
It was a bizarre and unstable relationship. Brenda would take off for a few days at a time, working the streets and doing crack, but then come back to Glen.
Glen, too, would disappear for days at a time, staying with Cathy Valade. “I knew him as my daughter’s father’s brother,” said Cathy. She didn’t say which brother. Her daughter’s name was Rachelle.
Cathy said that she had met Glen in 1990. She had just come back from Ontario and Rachelle, then 17 years old, was living with Glen “in a trailer out behind the airport.” Cathy didn’t explain why Glen, then 35 years old, was living with his brother’s 17-year-old daughter, or what the nature of the relationship was.
Four years later, at the Natal Day celebrations on the waterfront in 1994, Cathy and Rachelle ran into Glen, and soon after Glen called Cathy. They started having casual sex. “It was like sometimes he was here, sometimes he wasn’t sort of thing,” said Cathy. “He might have been maybe at my place two or three days and then gone for two months and back again or whatever.”
“Fight or I’ll have no respect for you”
In the summer of 1995, after Brenda had moved back into the Four Star with Glen, Robin entered their lives. Robin was also a sex worker.
“It was a date,” said Robin. Glen and Glen Junior were standing on the balcony of the Four Star and saw Robin walking across the parking lot. “They asked me if I wanted to come up for a beer.”
A week later, Glen introduced Robin to Brenda. The two women hit it off and became friends. Robin lived with Brenda and Glen at the Four Star for a while, 13 and then moved down to Pine Street in downtown Dartmouth, by the bowling alley.
“I had a place, but I used to stay up at Lloyd’s, just to be close to Brenda,” said Robin. Lloyd States was a sickly older man who lived at 8 Lawrence Street, an apartment building right across the street from the Four Star; 8 Lawrence is now the Hearthstone Inn.
Robin said she worked primarily in Dartmouth because the cops in Halifax would hassle her.
Brenda had the opposite problem: in 1995 the Dartmouth cops were cracking down on prostitution in the North End, arresting johns and sex workers alike, and Brenda was so well known in the neighbourhood that she was targeted. As Robin explained, Brenda might start off the day working in North End Dartmouth near the MacKay Bridge, but only for as long as it took to get a date to take her to the Hollis Street stroll in Halifax.
Even though they generally worked on opposite sides of the harbour, Brenda and Robin would watch out for each other. They’d catch up in the morning, or before they started work. Brenda would stop by Robin’s place by the bowling alley to wash up, get some space from Glen, and just to talk. They’d smoke crack together.
Robin said she would sometimes have sex with Glen, even while Brenda was present. But that was just sex, and maybe Glen would give Robin enough money to buy some crack. None of them thought of Robin as being in a relationship with Glen. Glen was with Brenda.
Brenda and Glen “loved each other, but it was very jealousy,” said Robin. “He [was] set against her doing rock, prostitution, but then again he doesn’t mind her being out and winning money and but he didn’t like to fork over money for her for the rock which she has to have. Ah, they always argued like living with the War of the Roses, I guess.” 14
Robin said she twice cleaned blood off the walls at the Four Star, “either from a bloody nose or from him smacking her.” 15
Glen was constantly angry with Brenda; a couple of times, he threw her clothes in a box, and dumped them on the sidewalk outside 109 Albro Lake Road, the apartment building where Brenda’s friend Mickey lived. Brenda’s sister Jane said she happened to be walking by just as Glen was dumping the clothes on the sidewalk; she convinced him to take the clothes around the corner, to Brenda and Jane’s father’s apartment on Victoria Road. Whenever the clothes were dumped, Brenda would collect them and head back to the Four Star.
Cathy Valade related a bizarrely violent incident at the end of the summer of 1995. One night, Glen and Glen Junior showed up at her apartment on Alfred Street in the North End, and the three of them drove around in a cab looking for Brenda — Glen was raving about “that fucking bitch,” said Cathy. In the cab, Glen Junior told Cathy his father and Brenda had got in a fight, then Glen went over to Mickey Bates’ apartment at 109 Albro Lake Road and tried to kick in the apartment door.
They couldn’t find Brenda, so they went to the Four Star to drink. Present were Glen, Glen Junior, a motel employee named Corey Tuma, Cathy, and Robin. After a while, Brenda showed up; she didn’t like that Cathy was there.
According to Cathy, Brenda went into the bathroom, and Glen followed. Cathy could hear them arguing, and then the bathroom door opened, and Glen threw Brenda out the door and into the refrigerator. He came out and punched Brenda a few times; when she fell to the floor, he started kicking her.
Then, continued Cathy, Brenda “came at me. We had the fight. And she — by this time I had her pinned down. And Glen said, ‘Come on, Brenda, fight or I’ll have no respect for you.’ And then she said, ‘Glen, get her off. She’s too heavy.’ And Glen told me to get off her.”
Glen told Brenda and Cathy to shake hands and make up, but Cathy refused. They argued for a bit more, and then Glen Junior called a cab to go to a bootlegger for more booze. When Glen Junior returned, Glen gave Cathy $10 to take the cab home. “You don’t belong here,” he said.
While Cathy’s description of the night is detailed and vivid, neither Corey Tuma (the motel employee) nor Robin, both of whom Cathy said were present, made note of it.
A month or so later, on October 8, 1995, Brenda filed assault charges against Glen. The night before, Glen “grabbed me and started punching me in my face and head, smashing my head against the bed board and the wall,” Brenda said in her statement to police. Glen punched her “20 times at least,” and strangled her, she said. “While he had me on the bed strangling me, he asked me if I wanted to know what death feels like.”
Brenda said Glen was a “nice person” when he was sober, but when he drank he often beat her. “I can’t take it anymore,” she said. “I am only a little woman. I’m tired of the threats.”
Even though Brenda had filed assault charges against Glen, the couple continued to live together for a week or two. Then, one evening, Glen threw Brenda’s clothes over the balcony at the Four Star. A motel employee, Wanda, helped Brenda gather the clothes and bring them to Shakey’s place, across the parking lot at 9 Lawrence Street.
“I asked her [Brenda] why they [Brenda and Glen] were fighting,” said Wanda, “and she told me… ‘he always fights me when he’s trying to get me off the streets and off the [drugs].’”
For the next few days Brenda seems to have shifted back and forth from Shakey’s place to her father’s place, 252 Victoria Road, Apartment 9.
“She come to my place for two weeks, but out of the two weeks, she might have spent maybe three nights,” said her father, David Way. “The line of work she was in, she was never home at nighttime.” 16
Otherwise, said David Way, Brenda would pop in on “the odd day” for dinner or to take a shower. At about 1:30 in the afternoon on Friday November 10, Brenda came by the apartment and “picked up a couple of folding chairs and a vacuum cleaner and a few other little odds and ends she had here and she left,” said David Way. “Said she was going to go clean a fellow’s apartment.”
That was the last time David Way saw his daughter. Forty-two hours later, on Sunday November 12, at 7:30 in the morning, Brenda’s murdered body was discovered in the parking lot behind 109 Albro Lake Road.
Soaked in blood
Brenda was found wearing a white tank top, completely soaked in blood. Her black leotards were removed from her right leg, and had been pulled down onto her lower left leg. A single white sock was on her left foot. A black shoe was found near her body, but its mate was never discovered.
Later, a bus driver came forward and said he had found Brenda’s jacket on Victoria Road at 5:30 on the morning of the murder. He turned the jacket over to police; the keys to Shakey’s apartment were in the pockets.
Despite the condition of her clothes, there was no indication Brenda had been sexually assaulted.
Brenda was brutally attacked with a knife or other sharp object. Her throat had been slashed three times. The fatal cut was just five millimetres deep, but that was enough; it nicked Brenda’s external jugular vein — the vein that brings blood back to the heart.
“Another centimetre the other way, and [the attacker] would’ve missed it,” said Charles Hutton, the pathologist brought in to examine Brenda’s body.
The cut to the jugular vein would result in “a gusher, not a spurter,” said Hutton.
Hutton said it was likely that Brenda’s throat had been slashed and she fell to the ground. Then, the attacker kicked or stomped on her, lacerating her liver.
Brenda’s death was slow and painful.
As Hutton told it, evidence at the scene suggested Brenda was attacked a few feet away from where her body was found, closer to the apartment building, where a large pool of blood stained the ground. After the attack, said Hutton, “she probably moved during the agonal or dying period, over, rolled over, maybe in an attempt to get up.” Her arm was found stretched out, as if reaching for something. It’s possible, said Hutton, that Brenda lived for as long as 10 or 15 minutes after the attack.
Police came to the murder scene at about 7:30am. A light drizzle began falling, so they covered Brenda’s body with a tarp to preserve evidence. Her body was near the dumpster at the edge of the parking lot; they encircled the area with crime scene tape, the restricted area extending a bit into a small stand of trees behind the parking lot. The medical investigator arrived. Multiple police officers and a dog searched the entire area within the taped zone, looking for weapons, evidence, clues. Nothing was found.
For the next couple of days, police blanketed the neighbourhood, interviewing everyone they could think of with any connection to Brenda — family, other sex workers, crack addicts, anyone.
But the investigation into Brenda’s murder seemed to go nowhere. Days turned into weeks, and weeks into months, with no leads, no arrests.
It couldn’t have helped that the Dartmouth Police Department was just then in the process of being destroyed. The old cities of Dartmouth and Halifax, the town of Bedford, and the county of Halifax were being forced into amalgamating with each other, creating a single “supercity” called the Halifax Regional Municipality.
The new supercity had a new government, a new city council, a new police department. The Halifax Regional Police Department was formed by merging the former Dartmouth and Halifax police departments, and that meant a shakeup of brass, a reassignment of managers. Soon after amalgamation became official on April 1, 1996, a new chief investigator, Dave MacDonald, a cop who had previously worked in the old city of Halifax, was assigned to Brenda’s case. He was teamed up with a former Dartmouth cop, Sergeant Mike Spurr.
Still more months would pass, however, with little real progress in the case.
Then, almost exactly a year after Brenda was murdered, the man was found dead under the bridge with Robin’s jacket in his car, and Robin was at the Dartmouth police station saying Glen told her at 4:15 on the morning of the murder that Brenda was dead.
“The weight is off my shoulders”
Constables Tony Blencowe and Peter Gallant were at the end of their patience. Robin had been wasting their time, going on about psychic visions about a red truck on the Pipeline Road and other nonsense, and only after an hour did she drop the bombshell about Glen being at the scene of the murder.
Blencowe asked if this was another psychic premonition. No, said Robin, this really happened.
Robin agreed to give a statement about what Glen Assoun had told her the morning Brenda was murdered, but she said she didn’t have time right then; she had somewhere to go. But she’d come back the next day, she said.
Robin failed to show the next day. But a week later, on November 14, Blencowe and Gallant once again found Robin in downtown Dartmouth. She agreed to come to the station and give a statement.
Robin told Blencowe and Gallant that early on the morning Brenda was murdered, she was wandering around, visiting different crack houses, looking for Brenda.
“Then I went to Linda Grandy’s place at 109 Albro Lake Road,” she said. “I left Linda’s place around 4:15am and Glen Assoun was coming up the walkway towards the building. He said to me, ‘Well, she’s finally gone. Now, the weight is off my shoulders.’ I asked him, ‘where is she gone?’ I knew he was talking about Brenda. He said, ‘She’s dead.’”
Robin said she knew it was 4:15 because she asked Glen what time it was. “His arm was right shaky so I held his arm while he looked at his watch. He said it was 4:15am,” said Robin. “He was freaking me out, so I told him I had to go and I got out of there.”
Despite earlier thinking Robin was feeding them “bogus information,” and despite the psychic visions, the crack, and her erratic behaviour, Blencowe and Gallant dutifully took her statement and sent it up the chain of command.
A knife with a broken tip
Blencowe and Gallant didn’t know it, but chief investigator Dave MacDonald had already been slowly collecting evidence against Glen.
The first break had come via an incredible discovery by Brenda’s sister Jane Downey. On September 9, 1996, about 10 months after Brenda had been killed, Downey discovered a knife with a broken tip near the murder scene.
Downey said she was walking to her father’s apartment. There is a shortcut — a path through a stand of trees — that runs from the parking lot behind 109 Albro Lake Road (where Brenda was murdered) to the parking lot behind 252 Victoria Road (David Way’s apartment building).
She brought the knife to her father’s place, and called police. Sergeant Dave MacDonald, the main investigator into Brenda’s murder, came and interviewed Downey about the knife.
When Downey found the knife, MacDonald started zeroing in on Glen as the main suspect in Brenda’s murder. It made sense: There was evidence that Glen had beaten Brenda, and even threatened her life. Glen carried knives on him. Glen had motive, means, and, perhaps, opportunity.
And so when MacDonald received a copy of Robin’s statement to Blencowe and Gallant, MacDonald wanted to find Robin and get what’s called a KGB statement from her.
“KGB” refers a court case that went all the way to the Canadian Supreme Court in 1993. The gist of the Supreme Court ruling is that when a witness gives a videotaped statement to police under oath, that videotape can later be used as evidence in court, even if the same witness is later unavailable for trial and can’t be cross-examined.
In the weeks after Gallant and Blencowe interviewed Robin, Dave MacDonald and Mike Spurr tried to find her to get a full KGB statement from her. “I had a very difficult time tracking her down and finding her,” said MacDonald. “When we did find her, she was in no shape to provide any kind of statement. She was on the street, prostituting and using drugs.”
At some later point — he couldn’t remember when, exactly — MacDonald and Constable Ron Fahie ran into Robin on the street. They picked her up and brought her back to the police statement. “And again,” said MacDonald, “you know, she was not in a good position to give a statement because she was on the street prostituting and using crack cocaine and we didn’t think it was a good idea to take a statement at that time.”
But while MacDonald was having no luck collecting a KGB statement from Robin, two more pieces of evidence came in linking Glen to Brenda’s murder.
Ten dollars in quarters
A couple of weeks after Robin had spoken with Gallant and Blencowe, Wayne Wise told police Glen Assoun had told him he had committed a murder.
Wayne is Glen’s nephew, the son of Glen’s brother David.
Wise was a career criminal — he had seven theft convictions, four fraud convictions, four drunk driving convictions, three assault convictions, convictions for possession of hash and administering a noxious substance, and multiple failures to abide by the conditions of his release. He had been in and out of jail for 15 years.
That January day, he had been charged with still more crimes: two counts of theft under $5,000, four counts of fraud under $5,000, a count of public mischief.
As police were driving him back to lockup from an interview on the charges, Wayne told them about Glen’s confession. A couple of weeks later, on February 18, 1997, Dave MacDonald and Mike Spurr drove to the Cumberland County Correctional Centre to interview Wayne. The next week Wayne was transferred to the Halifax Correctional Centre, and on February 25 he was driven to the Dartmouth police station, where he gave a statement.
Wayne told MacDonald and Spurr he had been thinking of moving out west. By this time, Glen had moved out to British Columbia, so Wayne thought it would make sense to contact him. Wayne got Glen’s phone number from Glen Junior.
As Wayne told it, one January day, while he was high on crack, he called Glen in British Columbia, dropping $10 dollars worth of quarters into the payphone at the Dartmouth Shopping Centre.
“I asked if there was any work out there and asked him what — first of all, what he was doing there and he said he was hiding,” said Wayne. “I asked why and he said he’s a suspect in a murder investigation…. I asked him if he did it and he said yes.”
From ear to ear
Two months later, in April 1997, a woman named Tina Cameron showed up at the Dartmouth police station to speak with Dave MacDonald.
Cameron told MacDonald that two weeks, or maybe a month, after Brenda’s murder, she was at her friend Cathy Valade’s apartment.
“Me and Cathy were sitting in the living room and he [Glen] came in,” Tina said. Cathy and Glen sat on the couch, while Tina sat on a nearby chair. “He said, ‘I did it,’ and she said, “Who, Brenda?’ And he said ‘Yes.’”
Tina said she was upset by the conversation — she had only met Glen once before — and so went into the kitchen that adjoined the living room. From there, said Tina, “I heard him [Glen] say that he got her [Brenda] from ear to ear and that the tip of his blade was broke off.”
By April 1997, MacDonald had collected the following information possibly implicating Glen in Brenda’s murder:
- Robin’s statement to Blencowe and Gallant about running into Glen the morning of the murder;
- Jane Downey’s discovery of a knife at the murder scene;
- Wayne Wise’s claim that Glen had admitted to killing someone; and
- Tina Cameron’s claim that she overheard Glen telling Cathy Valade that he had killed Brenda.
There’s no indication that any additional significant evidence against Glen was collected over the next eight months. The investigation seems once again to have languished, going nowhere.
Throughout the entire eight-month period, Robin had been working the streets of Dartmouth. She had even been arrested a couple of times, and no one thought to bring her in to give a KGB statement.
Then, Rachel MacQuarrie went missing.
“So tiny and skinny”
Rachel was a 32-year-old woman living at 234 Victoria Road, in an apartment building near Russell Street not far from where Brenda’s murdered body was found. Rachel was reported missing on October 8, 1997, but the last anyone had seen of her was two weeks before, on September 27.
In the summer of 1997, a joint RCMP-Halifax police department team dubbed “Operation Full Course” had been established to investigate the many unsolved murders in the Halifax area, including Brenda’s. RCMP Constable Stephen Maxwell was assigned to investigate.
Rachel’s disappearance was officially an active missing persons case, but police were pretty sure she had been murdered.
“She had never been located or apparently there was no trace of her using any credit cards, telephone, hydro, so on and so as a result of that, the MacQuarrie file became one of our investigations,” said Maxwell. “And one of the persons to last see Ms. MacQuarrie was Ms. Margaret Hartrick, also known as Robin.”
Maxwell didn’t explain how he knew Robin was one of the last people to see Rachel.
Maxwell, who’d worked in Bedford, wasn’t familiar with the Dartmouth scene, so he asked Constable Curtis Pyke, who had been working the Dartmouth vice file, for a photo of Robin. Photo in hand, Maxwell and his partner, Derek Williams, went driving around looking for Robin.
After a cat-and-mouse game that seemed to be going nowhere, on January 21, 1998, Pyke simply ran into Robin on the street, and she readily agreed to be interviewed about Rachel’s disappearance. Pyke paged Maxwell, and the three met at the Woodside police office.
While Maxwell was interviewing Robin about Rachel, Dave MacDonald, the chief investigator of Brenda Way’s murder, called the office. “Remember that statement Robin had given about running into Glen Assoun the day Brenda Way was murdered?” asked MacDonald. “You think you could get a KGB statement from her about that?”
The day Robin was brought to the Woodside police office, she hadn’t eaten in three days, but Maxwell was later insistent that she was sober and speaking coherently.
Maxwell was joined by Tony Blencowe, one of the cops who had interviewed Robin back in 1996, when the man was found dead under the bridge. This time, in 1998, Maxwell and Blencowe took a statement from Robin about the last time she had seen Rachel — that’s still an open murder investigation, so we don’t know what Robin said.
Then, in the same interview room, Robin gave a second KGB statement about seeing Glen Assoun the morning Brenda Way was murdered. But, according to Maxwell, Blencowe forgot to push the “record” button on the video recorder, so the entire hour-long statement was lost.
Without the videotape, Maxwell would have to take the statement again, and Robin agreed to come back the following day. Maxwell and Blencowe drove Robin back to North End Dartmouth. They stopped by the Green Gables convenience store on Victoria Road and bought Robin a box of chicken and a pack of cigarettes, then dropped her off at the corner of Victoria and Albro Lake Road, right on the stroll, and just 50 metres from where Brenda had been murdered.
The next day, Robin showed up at the police station as promised, and Maxwell took two KGB statements from her: the first about running into Glen the morning Brenda was murdered, the second about Rachel’s disappearance.
Maxwell made sure to press the record button.
After Maxwell had collected the KGB interview from Robin, three more months would pass before an arrest warrant was issued for Glen Assoun.
“The ‘epicentre’ of evil, death and darkness”
Glen always maintained he didn’t kill Brenda, and he had an alibi.
After the day Glen threw Brenda’s clothes off the balcony of the Four Star, Brenda split her time between Shakey’s place at 9 Lawrence Street and her father’s apartment at 252 Victoria Road. And Glen also moved out of the Four Star, and in with Ann Morse, a friend of Glen’s ex-wife Margaret, at 40 Lahey Drive in the North End.
And that’s where he was the night Brenda was murdered, Glen said: “I had about eight beer and went to bed at approximately 2am.”
Ann corroborated Glen’s story. She said Glen was at her house from around 8 or 9pm until the next morning. At around 2, said Ann, she and Glen went to bed; she remembered looking at the bedroom clock just before she fell asleep, and it was 5am.
Glen said that when he got up Sunday morning, Ann told him his pager had gone off in the night, and it sounded like Brenda. Glen then called David Way and found out about the murder.
Glen and Ann lived together for a while, moving around in the margins. They lived on Lahey Road until early December, but then Ann wanted to move to Calgary.
“I had nothing here [in Nova Scotia],” she said.“I didn’t speak with my family. They didn’t speak with me. My kids weren’t getting along with me because of their father — my ex-husband. I had planned to go away long before I met Glen.”
Ann sold all her belongings, and bought a bus ticket to Calgary. Glen had a family member — his sister Kim’s husband — who worked for Air Canada, and so was able to get a round-trip flight for 100 bucks.
“He was going to help me look for a place on my own within a couple of months to give me a chance to find the city — what the city was like and stuff,” Ann explained.
While Ann was en route on the bus, Glen flew to Calgary and rented a room at what had to be the sketchiest, most trouble-plagued place in all Alberta: the Cecil Hotel, which the National Post once called “Calgary’s ‘epicentre’ of evil, death and darkness.” Ann joined him there, but just for two or three days, because Glen unexpectedly flew back to Halifax.
Ann didn’t say why, but she abandoned her plans to live in Calgary. By Christmas Eve she was back in Nova Scotia, and she moved in with Glen at the Maritime Motel on the Bedford Highway. They stayed there for a month, then moved together to Spryfield.
She and Glen were “just strictly extremely good friends,” said Ann. “And, yes, I did have casual sex with him a couple of times, but there was no relationship.”
In the months after Brenda’s murder, while he was living with Ann, Glen was pounding the streets, looking for information on the murder. He kept calling and meeting with police investigators to tell them about his hunches, offering up suspects and theories about how Brenda may have been murdered.
Glen told investigators about Brenda’s bad customers. One was a regular customer she’d met at the bar of the MicMac Hotel across the street from the Four Star. She got in a fight with the man, who accused her of stealing $200 from him; Glen heard the argument and came over and roughed the guy up a bit, sending him away in his car, which he described to investigators. Another bad customer was a “big fellow” from Bridgewater who had locked her in a room at the King Edward Hotel in Halifax. And then there was an “older fellow” who “had given her a hard time.”
At one point, Glen took a knife from a sex worker and turned it over to police, thinking the knife was the weapon used to kill Brenda.
Another time, Glen called police out to the Pipeline Road to investigate a pile of clothes he had found. Glen thought the clothes belonged to Brenda.
By April, however, Glen was convinced that Brenda was killed by her former pimp, Bob Renner, on the street outside Renner’s parents’ home. Glen told police a guy named Larry Borden, who was living with Renner, and a sex worker named Amber could tell police that after Renner killed Brenda, he put her body in his car and dumped it in the parking lot behind 109 Albro Lake Road.
Police don’t appear to have acted on the tip. I asked Renner if he had killed Brenda, and he simply laughed. “Only if I could do it psychically from Alberta,” he said. Renner maintains he was working in the oil fields when Brenda was murdered.
Glen was so invested in finding out who had killed Brenda that police had to tell him to knock it off. “We were starting to get complaints from people in Dartmouth with the manner that he was questioning them about the murder of Brenda Way,” said Constable Brian Johnston. “And we cautioned him that, If you’re going asking for this information, be very careful, you know, how you get this information and how you deal with people. You know, we don’t want people making complaints that you threatened them, or assaulted them.”
At the end of April, 1996, Ann moved into an apartment in Halifax’s south end with another man, a man she described as her boyfriend.
Two months later, in July, 1996, Glen and his son Jamie MacNeil moved to Maple Ridge, British Columbia, where Glen’s brother Kevin lived. Kevin’s wife set Glen up with some bedclothes and kitchen utensils, and Glen and Jamie moved into the Royal Crescent Lodge. Glen continued his nomadic ways, living on the margins of society while bouncing around BC, living variously in an old house, a hotel, moving in with the woman tending bar at the hotel for a while, then living in a van, going to live in Chilliwack for a bit, also to Prince George.
When police arrived with a warrant for his arrest on April 8, 1998, Glen was cooperative and willingly came to the RCMP attachment. He was arrested and flown to Halifax.
The arrest led to two more pieces of evidence against Glen becoming available.
“And I’m going to kill you, too”
The day Glen was arraigned at the Halifax courthouse, Roberta was sitting at home in Ontario, watching TV. The evening newscast came on, and there was a short piece about Glen’s arrest; the report included a photograph of Glen. Roberta recognized Glen as the man who had brutally attacked her the year before.
Roberta (a pseudonym) 17 had spent her youth in and out of group homes, in Dartmouth, in Halifax, in Truro, in Ontario. By the time she was 16 years old, she found herself homeless, addicted to crack, and working the Dartmouth stroll.
After Glen’s arrest, Roberta told police that back in 1997 she had been working on Windmill Road. A man driving a blue pickup stopped. “I got in and he asked me how I was doing,” said Roberta. “I said, ‘Fine.’ I asked him if he was a cop and he said ‘No’ and he touched my breasts and I touched him. And he asked me if I’d give him a blow job for 30 bucks and I said, ‘Fine.’”
Roberta said the man gave her the money, and then started driving out Highway 118, stopping at a pullout from the highway near Shubie Park. “And I told him, ‘I don’t want to be out [on] the highway.’ And he said, ‘Oh well,’ and then ‘give me the money back.’ And I said, ‘No, take me back.’ And he punched me on the left side of my face and he told me to give him his money back. So I did. And then he told me to take off all my clothes and I did. And then he made me give him oral sex.”
From there, continued Roberta, the man drove her to a warehouse in Burnside. “He made me keep my head down so I couldn’t see where I was going. And we went in this place. I don’t — it had all kinds of metal and stuff. I think it was a workshop. And he made me perform oral sex on him.
“And he was punching me and stuff and he slit my right nipple with a razor blade and he slit my leg. And he tied my hands behind my back and he kept hitting me and stuff. And he told me to shut up or I’ll — he’ll kill me. And then the name ‘Pit Bull.’ He said ‘Pit Bull.’ And I don’t know what made me say it, but I asked him if he killed her and he said, ‘Yes, and I’ll kill you, too.”
The man then raped her vaginally, said Roberta. “He came, and gave me my clothes back, and drove me home. And about 10 minutes after that, he showed back up with my jacket. And it had a note in my pocket.”
According to Roberta, the note said, “And I’m going to kill you, too, you fucking bitch.”
Roberta described the man: He was five feet six inches tall. He was “scruffy,” with short, greyish-black hair, a beard and moustache. He had a scar under his left eye and an earring in his right ear. He was wearing a blue sweatshirt, tight jeans, sandals, and “lots of chains.” A giant key ring hung from his belt.
The man who attacked her, said Roberta, was Glen.
“I killed her and dumped her body”
About a month after Glen was arrested, Brenda’s sister Jane Downey called Dave MacDonald with some interesting information: her friend’s boyfriend said Glen had confessed to killing Brenda.
David Carvery was a convicted coke dealer then residing in Cellblock B in the Halifax Correctional Centre while he was awaiting trial on still more coke charges. Glen was on the block, too, awaiting trial on the murder charge.
“It happened when we was watching the television,” said Carvery. He and Glen were alone on the block — all the other prisoners were out in the yard for rec time.
“It was the news that came on TV about a body being found on the Cherrybrook Road. I don’t know if it was a prostitute, but it was a lady’s body found on the Cherrybrook Road.”
This was Christine McLean. McLean was a 27-year-old woman who had previously had prostitution-related convictions; her body was found in the woods near the Cherrybrook water treatment plant on May 11, 1998.
“And Mr. Assoun said to me when the news was on there,” continued Carvery, “he said, ‘Whoever dumped that body there was a very smart murderer.’ And I asked him why he would say that. And he told me, ‘Because that’s what I did to my ex-girlfriend. I killed her and dumped her body.’”
Carvery said that Glen had given him some details of the murder: “[Glen] told me he drove around, slit her throat, and dumped her body by a dumpster. He was very upset with her and he was trying to get back with her. She was a prostitute and how she was using crack cocaine and how she was drinking a lot.”
“Get some food into her, some nourishment”
Preparing for trial, crown prosecutors must have assessed their evidence against Glen.
There wasn’t much.
Most of the details about Glen’s history of violence would probably not be permitted to be presented to the jury, although it was likely that Brenda’s assault charge against Glen would be allowed.
There was no unambiguous physical evidence connecting Glen to the murder. The knife Jane found at the scene of the murder was an interesting clue, but it was anyone’s guess whether the judge would allow it to be entered as evidence.
Four people could testify that they had heard Glen confessing to murdering Brenda, but two of them — Wayne Wise and David Carvery — were convicted criminals looking for a deal on their jail sentences. A third, Tina Cameron, was not part of the conversation she overheard, so a good defence attorney would suggest that maybe she misunderstood what was being said. The fourth witness’s testimony — from Roberta — would be problematic because she was a drug addict whose memory could be challenged.
That left Robin. Sure, like Roberta, Robin was a crack addict. But unlike the four people who said they heard Glen confess to the murder, Robin placed Glen at the scene of Brenda’s murder, with knowledge of her death, on the morning of the murder.
Robin was the linchpin, the key to the prosecutors’ case. If Glen Assoun was going to be found guilty, it rested on the testimony of Robin Hartrick.
With a serious charge like murder, there is typically a preliminary inquiry, where a judge decides whether the prosecution has enough evidence to continue on to trial. The preliminary hearing on Glen’s murder charge was held in August of 1998. This was when the prosecution would for the first time lay out much of the evidence against Glen.
Police were worried about Robin’s testimony. “She was put in a hotel,” said Dave MacDonald, “given an opportunity to dry out, if you will, get some food into her, some nourishment.”
The police department paid for a room at the Dartmouth Inn, right across the street from the Four Star. Robin was watched 24 hours a day for “one or two days,” said MacDonald. MacDonald himself kept guard the night before Robin testified.
On August 18, MacDonald drove Robin to the Dartmouth courthouse, where she gave her testimony. The judge ruled the evidence merited a trial.
In return for Robin’s testimony, prosecutors dismissed one prostitution-related charge against her and withdrew a second. Dave MacDonald and Mike Spurr arranged for Social Services to find her an apartment on Portland Street. With a place to live, a monthly social assistance cheque, and the possibility of counselling and job training through Social Services, MacDonald hoped that Robin would pull her life together.
After the judge determined there would be a trial, the next step in Glen’s legal odyssey was a bail hearing, scheduled for three weeks later, on September 10.
In the early morning of the day of Glen’s bail hearing, police were called to North End Dartmouth. Some kids walking through the woods behind Harbour View School had happened upon an unconscious, bloodied and beaten woman.
It was Robin.
Robin would never regain consciousness. She died eight days later, on September 18.
Next in the series: DEAD WRONG, part 2: Trial and error
Part 2 of this series is behind the Examiner paywall and so available only to paid subscribers. Click here to purchase a subscription.
- I’m indebted to freelance reporter Lizzy Hill for interviewing Pauline Gallant ↩
- R. v Glen Eugene Assoun, page 708 ↩
- over the years, the Maitland Street stroll migrated uphill to Gottingen and Agricola Streets ↩
- Brenda’s sisters believed that Glen was Brenda’s pimp, but police believed she was working independently. Robin also said Brenda had no pimp. ↩
- Ron Corbin’s testimony, R. v Glen Eugene Assoun. ↩
- Assoun, Glen, Statement to police, November 12, 1995 ↩
- R. v Glen Eugene Assoun, Sentencing Decision. ↩
- I’ve been unable to find any convictions for Glen from this period, so he apparently beat whatever charge he was facing. ↩
- R. v Glen Eugene Assoun, page 836 ↩
- R. v Glen Eugene Assoun, page 868 ↩
- Donald Manning’s testimony, R v Glen Eugene Assoun ↩
- David O’Neill’s testimony, R v Glen Eugene Assoun ↩
- In Robin’s KGB interview (page 7) she said she stayed with Glen and Brenda “A couple of months. Three, four, five months. Almost, I wouldn’t say, a year.” None of those timelines make sense. ↩
- The KGB interview transcript reads “Ah, they always argues like living with the born roses, I guess.” I believe “born roses” is mistranscribed; more likely Robin said “War of the Roses,” a recent Hollywood movie about a violent relationship. Thanks to Tempa Hull for helping me figure out the reference. ↩
- Robin’s KGB interview transcript, page 8. ↩
- David Way testimony, R. v. Glen Eugene Assoun. ↩
- I’m withholding Roberta’s real name because she is the victim of sexual assault and because, as we’ll see next week, there is a publication ban on another matter that Roberta is involved in. ↩