The Uncover: Dead Wrong podcast is out to the world. I cannot thank my colleagues Janice Evans and Nancy Hunter enough — while my reporting informed the podcast, it was they who shaped the story-telling and made the episodes come together. Also, the entire CBC podcast crew in Toronto was amazing, and the project could not have suceeded without their assistance. I have never been involved in such a deeply collaborative process, and I think the results are fantastic. We were able to tell the story of Glen Assoun’s wrongful conviction with a riveting narrative that has evidently resonated with millions of listeners.
Necessarily, however, even a thorough podcast like Dead Wrong will skip over some of the story, for story-telling reasons. We threw out a lot of information because it detracted from the main narrative. So, each day this week, I’ll be publishing one Dead Wrong Extra, to explore an angle to the story that was left on the editing room floor.
This is the first Extra.
Last year, the Halifax Examiner, together with the CBC and the Canadian Press, successfully petitioned the court to unseal the court record related to Glen Assoun’s wrongful conviction. On July 2, Justice James Chipman made his ruling, and the court communications office immediately gave reporters one of the newly unsealed documents — the “Preliminary Assessment” of Assoun’s case written by federal Justice Department lawyer Mark Green. The Preliminary Assessment was the basis for Chipman granting Assoun bail in 2014. It spelled out the basic narrative of the story we told in the podcast.
In late 2019, as we were putting together the podcast, I had to double-check a fact I had collected years before. I remembered that the information I was fact-checking was included in a police report that for some reason I had not copied, so I went to the courthouse to review the paper court file — the eight banker’s boxes of documents that detail every step of Assoun’s case — to look for that police report. As I was rooting around in those boxes to look for the police report, I found something new: Innocence Canada’s complete submission to the court. It turns out that that submission had also been unsealed, and was not provided to us in July; it was, however, placed back in the public court file. That submission includes the documents discussed below.
Police knew about Michael McGray. Well before Brenda Way was murdered on November 12, 1995, police knew Michael McGray was a violent criminal, and even suspected him of a murder. Police knew McGray lived in the neighbourhood where Brenda Way was murdered, at the time she was murdered.
And, after Brenda Way was murdered, but before Glen Assoun was arrested for the murder, police suspected Michael McGray in three missing person cases, one of which turned out to be a murder.
But even with all that knowledge, McGray seems not to have been considered a suspect in Brenda Way’s murder.
McGray’s previous police record
Michael McGray’s first conviction, for dangerous use of a firearm, was in 1982. Two years later, he was convicted on two breaking and entering charges, and for forgery;.
In 1985, McGray was convicted of dangerous driving and sexual assault. We also now know that in 1985 McGray murdered Gale Tucker near Church Point, but police did not know that at the time.
By 1987, McGray was in Saint John. On November 14, 1987, McGray and two other men — Mark Gibbons and Norman Warren — attempted to rob a cab driver named Charles Bashara. McGray, in the back seat, grabbed Bashara around the neck, and Gibbons, sitting in the front passenger side seat, pulled out a knife and cut Bashara’s hands while attempting to take his cash, but just at that moment McGray loosened his grip and Bashara was able to jump out of the cab. Panicking, the three would-be robbers also fled the cab.
Warren, who had also been in the back seat, ran one direction, and McGray and Gibbons ran another. McGray blamed Gibbons for botching the robbery, and stabbed and killed him at Market Square.
But McGray fingered Warren for killing Gibbons, and even testified for the Crown in the murder trial against Warren. The jury, realizing that either man could have committed the murder, found Warren not guilty.
For his part in the robbery, McGray was sentenced to five years in prison.
In 1991, McGray was given a three-day pass from prison for the Easter weekend, and over that weekend killed two men in Montreal: Robert Assalay and Gaétan Ethier. But again, police did not know McGray was involved in those murders at the time.
In 1993, McGray was paroled and came to Halifax. He met a girl, Tammy, on Spring Garden Road, and the two became semi-nomadic, travelling across the country and into the US for the next four years, often sleeping in parks. But the couple’s journey started in Halifax, and they would come back to the Halifax area from time to time.
Michael McGray in Halifax police records
Halifax police use a computer database called RAPID, which collects all the information the department has on people. The Halifax Regional Police Department was created on April 1, 1996 by amalgamating three previous police departments — the police departments run by the former cities of Halifax and Dartmouth, and by the town of Bedford. So the HRPD’s RAPID system includes inputs from those previous police departments.
Here’s what the records show, chronologically:
June 1, 1993: McGray is named as a suspect in a murder/attempted murder. The RAPID records don’t say what the case was, but this is the same day the murdered body of 17-year-old Shelley Connors was discovered behind the Lion’s Rink in Spryfield.
Shelley’s murder remains unsolved. Someone with knowledge of the case tells me that based on the manner in which she was killed, McGray is no longer considered a suspect in her murder.
But the point remains: at the time of her murder, police seemed to have considered McGray a possible suspect, if only to rule him out. That is, police thought him capable of murder. No documents I’ve seen say when or how he was ruled out as a suspect.
May 20, 1995: McGray is listed as a suspect in a missing person case. On that date, a 15-year-old boy named Nicholas Lane was reported missing in Waverley. He was last seen at 4:35pm on May 19, near the intersection of Waverley Road and the Highway 107 bypass. His family searched for him in Halifax and in Truro, and Search and Rescue crews searched the woods in the Montague area, but found nothing.
Some six months later, Nicholas was still missing. “Your attitude changes from day-to-day and week-to-week,” Nicholas’s father told the Daily News in December. “It’s cold out today: I think about him out there. Is he alive?”
I’ve found no news reports saying Nicholas was ever found, but his disappearance is also not listed as an unsolved crime.
So while we can’t now say that Michael McGray was involved in Nicholas Lane’s disappearance, it appears that police at the time thought he might have been involved.
Update: a relative of Nicholas Lane contacted me to say that Nicholas’s body was discovered in the woods some years later, and he was the presumed victim of suicide.
June 10, 1995: Michael McGray attempted to commit suicide. The details of the suicide attempt were provided to police in 1998 by McGray’s girlfriend, Tammy.
In February 1995, Tammy had given birth to McGray’s child, a boy. Due to medical complications, the boy died three days after birth. “Mike started drinking, ‘n he just couldn’t handle that,” Tammy told police. “He blamed himself for it.” (Ellipses and contractions in this account are in the original police document.)
Tammy told police that she got a job as a maid at the Future Inn, a hotel in North Dartmouth, and Mike got a job as a landscaper at a seniors complex she called “Oak.” Tammy also said that in this period, the couple moved from an apartment on Highfield Park Drive to an apartment at 37 Brule Street, also in North Dartmouth.
“And then one day I was working and I got off early…he was home…and he sliced his wrist.” Tammy continued: “there was a letter there… when I got off work… saying you know I’m sorry for our son’s death, it’s not your fault, it’s my fault… for everything I’ve done in my past ‘n… you know he blamed himself, so…he sliced his wrist ‘n I called the ambulance… but the cops showed up… too… because they’re… they had a record of him, so…
“Well, they were warned when… he was coming to Dartmouth I guess. The cops said that they were warned… that Michael MCGRAY was in this area.
“So he slits his wrist…and instead of going to the hospital for stitches, he went…the cops took him and through [sic] him in the… drunk tank I guess.”
Tammy said she threw away McGray’s suicide note. Asked if she could remember what it said, she replied: “It said something like I…it’s not your fault…it’s my fault…blame myself for my son’s death…fer [sic]… stuff I’ve done in my past…and this hows [sic] God’s paying me back fer [sic] (inaudible).”
As Tammy told the story, police had been warned about McGray moving to North Dartmouth in February 1995, and police records recount that police responded to 37 Brule Street, Apartment 3, on June 10, 1995. Police records also show that McGray had attempted suicide on that day.
Five months later, Brenda Way was murdered behind 109 Albro Lake Road. We now know that at the time of Brenda’s murder, McGray and Tammy were living at 48 Jackson Road, about 150 metres from the murder scene, but the apartment at Brule Street was also close to the murder scene: about three and a half blocks away.
And yet, McGray — a man police had been warned about, a man who had been named as a suspect in Shelley Connors’ murder and Nicholas Lane’s disappearance, a man who police knew lived near the murder scene — was not considered a suspect in Brenda’s murder.
January 26, 1996: Just one or two days after Brenda Way was murdered, Michael McGray and Tammy suddenly moved out of their Jackson Road apartment, leaving behind their cat and leaving all their furniture out on the curb. They moved in with Tammy’s mother, in her apartment in the south end of Halifax.
Two months later, McGray is listed in police records as a witness of an assault. On the same day, Tammy is listed in police records as the victim of an assault. I know where this happened, and I think I know who the suspect in the assault was, but I’m going to withhold that information for a future article.
But again, the point is that police were well aware that McGray was still in the Halifax area just two months after the murder of Brenda Way.
January 15, 1997: Michael McGray is again listed as a suspect in a missing person case. I can find no further information on this case.
July 23, 1997: McGray is again named as a suspect in a missing person’s case. Although the RAPID records don’t say who the missing person was, this is the same day Crystal Jack was reported missing by her mother, who had last seen Crystal on July 15, at her Agricola Street apartment. Crystal was a sex worker frequently seen on the Maitland Street stroll.
Tragically, 14 years later, on June 9th, 2011, Crystal’s skull was discovered in the woods by a surveyor, about a kilometre east of the Irving station at the Mount Uniacke exit off Highway 101. Her murder is still unsolved.
So far as we know, Michael McGray did not move his victims’ bodies; he killed them where he found them, and left them there. None of his victims were found buried or in the woods. So it seems unlikely that McGray killed Crystal. But again, at the time, police thought McGray might have been involved in her disappearance.
October 8, 1997: Michael McGray is again listed as a suspect in a missing person case. I can find no further information on this case.
Joan and Nina Hicks
By early 1998, Tammy and Michael ended up in Moncton. Tammy met a 48-year-old woman named Joan Hicks at a homeless shelter — Joan had recently moved to Moncton from Newfoundland in order to marry a prisoner she was corresponding with, and it took her some time to find to find an apartment.
Joan soon found that apartment, and moved into it with her 11-year-old daughter, Nina.
I’ve seen so many conflicting versions of what happened in Joan Hicks’ apartment in the early morning hours of March 1, 1998 that I’m not yet comfortable publishing a definitive account. Here’s what I can say, however: at 8am, a man named Glendon Bennett called police to say that Michael McGray had murdered both Joan and Nina Hicks. Joan’s neck had been slashed; Nina was killed in such a horrible manner that we didn’t describe it in the podcast, and I won’t here either.
McGray was arrested, and soon admitted to killing Joan Hicks, but said he did not kill Nina. McGray also admitted to killing Gale Tucker in Church Point in 1985, Mark Gibbons in Saint John in 1987, and Robert Assalay and Gaétan Ethier in Montreal in 1991. He also said he had killed up to 16 people.
Meanwhile, Halifax police were focussing on Glen Assoun as the murderer of Brenda Way. Assoun was arrested on April 8, 1998, just five weeks after McGray was arrested for killing Joan and Nina Hicks.
McGray made his other admissions before Assoun was put on trial in 1999. Later, in 2001, McGray also finally admitted that he killed Nina Hicks, saying he didn’t previously admit to the murder because a child killer would likely himself be killed in prison.
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