On Tuesday, Oct. 22, 1968, Halifax Police Chief Verdun Mitchell went about his day as usual. He left his Parkdale Avenue home in Halifax’s west end, where he lived with his wife, Iris, and their son, Derek, and headed to the police station downtown.
In the afternoon, Mitchell went to City Hall to attend a meeting of the city’s Safety Committee. The committee voted to buy 10 new police cars for a total of $28,633. After the meeting, Chief Mitchell headed back to his office at the police station on Brunswick Street, arriving at around 4pm.
Mitchell then spoke with Deputy Police Chief John Wrin and Police Superintendent George “Ollie” Robertson. Wrin later said the three talked about promotions and recruiting in the police department. The meeting over, Mitchell stayed in his office, alone.
I have a photo of Chief Mitchell in the office from 1952, 16 years earlier, when the then-new police station was opened on Brunswick Street. Mitchell is just 36 years old. He is a thin man, with short, closely cropped hair, and despite his relative youth, a receding hairline forms a widow’s peak. To my eye, he’s a dead ringer for Lyle Lovett, the musician and actor. Mitchell is wearing his crisply ironed chief’s uniform — black coat over a white shirt, a black tie. He’s seated at an oak desk protected by a glass pad, fiddling with an intercom, which sits next to a telephone. The photo was no doubt taken for promotional purposes. It seems staged, too orderly for a working office.
Sixteen years later, at 6pm on October 22, 1968, there was no order, no staging, as Mitchell sat at the same desk, pulled out his service revolver, placed the barrel against his head, and pulled the trigger.
• • • •
In the summer of 2019, I was contacted by someone I’ll describe as adjacent to police, someone I consider both informed and credible. He said he wanted to tell me about a decades-long coverup involving Verdun Mitchell.
The story is this: Mitchell may have been responsible for Halifax’s oldest unsolved murder, that of Michael Resk, a Gottingen Street grocer who in 1955 was gunned down gangland-style in the back of his delivery van. My source explained that sometime in the 1970s or 1980s, the Halifax Police hired an outside investigator to look into the Resk murder and that the investigator wrote a report about it, but that report was ‘disappeared,’ never to be spoken of again.
My source told me that he had recently spoken with the author of the report — the source wouldn’t reveal the author’s name — and the author was still, all these decades later, too fearful to speak about it publicly.
It occurred to me that if this story was true, it might explain Mitchell’s death by suicide — had Wrin and Robertson confronted Mitchell about the Resk murder that October afternoon?
Also, if the Halifax Police Department actually covered up Mitchell’s murder of Resk, and continues to keep it secret, how would that play out?
I grew up in the Catholic Church, and was taught about Original Sin, the belief that all of humanity was forever damned to hell because Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, and only the saving grace of the Lord can save us from that fiery fate. I don’t much care for the doctrine — it condemns people for simply being born — but I find it a useful analogy.
In the case of the Halifax Police Department, I posited that, if true, the high-level coverup of Verdun Mitchell’s involvement in the murder of Michael Resk was the Original Sin, an affront against decency and law so grievous that it condemned the department to dysfunction and illegitimacy ever since. So that’s the working title of my next deep-dive investigative series: Original Sin.
I didn’t have a lot to go on — an allegation about a police chief murdering someone almost 70 years ago and a memory of a disappeared investigation, plus some admittedly unfounded speculation. But in the Fall of 2019 I began researching Verdun Mitchell and Michael Resk, with the hope of one day telling the full story.
Then the world broke.
In March 2020, the pandemic came to Nova Scotia. Then, a month into the lockdowns, 22 people were murdered over a two-day killing spree that spanned much of Nova Scotia. I set aside the Mitchell-Resk research as all my time was consumed by more urgent reporting.
By last year, the Mass Casualty Commission was winding down and the reporting pressure was easing just a bit, and so I found a bit of time here and there to get back to the story.
I dug through old documents at the municipal archives and at the Dalhousie law library, and interviewed people on background. I’ve spent hundreds of hours on research. And as I was doing this work, I began to realize that while the murder of Michael Resk was important, it wasn’t the whole or even the main story.
I began to see that the Resk murder is just the entry point into a longer and broader social context that in some ways still defines Halifax. It’s a sweeping tale with amazing and unexpected twists, stretching from 1916 — the year of the Battle of Verdun — through the turbulent 1960s, and with echoes to the present. It involves at least two wrongful convictions for murder. And it gets at the unsettling rot at the heart of Halifax’s police and justice system.
Turns out, there is an Original Sin even more grievous than (the possible story of) a cop killing a grocer.
Earlier this year, in addition to my original police-adjacent source, two more people contacted me — a relative of Michael Resk and a retired cop. Each of these three people contacted me without knowledge of the other two. Obviously, for whatever reason, the universe was telling me to do this story.
But again, every time I made a bit of progress, some terrible thing — hurricanes, fires, floods — pulled me away to more urgent reporting and editing. Then I spent a month on an exhaustive telling of the Carrie Low story, and then another month reporting on the murder trial of Randy Riley.
There comes a moment when a story crystallizes in my mind, when I see all the disparate parts come together into one meaningful whole. That moment came to me a few weeks ago, when I was having drinks with my podcasting colleagues Janice Evans and Nancy Hunter (we made the Dead Wrong series together). I was telling them how I kept getting pulled away from the story, this time by the Riley trial. And then it struck me: no, the Riley trial wasn’t pulling me away — rather, the Riley trial is the same story, just in a new iteration.
I realized this is not just the sweeping historical tale I had worked on for so long, but also the story about our police and justice system, our community, our city, today.
And so here I am, asking readers for help. While I see the general outline and how the pieces fit together, there’s a lot more work to be done. I need to give the Original Sin story more of my undivided attention. And I can’t do that if I’m again pulled away on other stories — what’s next, locusts? frogs? the Angel of Death?
What I need is time, and time means money — money for the Halifax Examiner to carry the day-to-day reporting load without me doing as much of it. Money to hire a freelancer to cover some of the morning posts I write. Money to hire a part-time researcher to help with the Original Sin series.
Making the Original Sin series a reality — both a reported series on the website and a podcast series — requires 400 new subscribers to the Halifax Examiner. If you’d like to see that happen, please subscribe, and ask your friends and colleagues to subscribe.