One death, then another, and another — every in the exact same house. The an initial two created off together a disastrous coincidence, till the 3rd shattered doubts. This is exactly how authorities failure the Harrisons.
You are watching: The house on pitch pine crescent
By Amy Dempsey function writer
April 19, 2018
The housekeeper had actually been cleaning because that two hours without discovering there to be a crime scene upstairs. Her occupational was interrupted through a man at the door trying to find Caleb Harrison, the homeowner, who hadn’t presented up come his office the morning. The housekeeper stated she hadn’t watched Caleb, however his bedroom door was closed. They walk upstairs together and also found him lying in bed v a ceiling pulled as much as his chin, tucked in as though asleep.
Sirens blared together the ambulance come a couple of minutes past noon ~ above Aug. 23, 2013, pulling as much as the ideal home on a tree-lined street in suburban Mississauga: 3635 key Pine Crescent.
Paramedic Patrick Morin looked in ~ the home with that sloped roof and also cathedral windows, and also was struck by a powerful memory. He turned come his partner.
“I’ve been below before,” he said.
The paramedics rushed to the second-floor master bedroom, however there was nothing to it is in done. Caleb Harrison was dead.
Caleb Harrison was found dead in his Mississauga residence on Aug. 23, 2013.
Caleb to be a 40-year-old father of 2 with basic smile, a dark past and also the names of his youngsters tattooed over his heart. The night before, as the late-August sun sank right into the horizon, Caleb had actually helped coach his daughter’s softball video game in surrounding Etobicoke and also driven residence alone. His children, 10 and also 12, to be spending the week v their mother, his ex-wife. They had all been with each other at the baseball diamond — Caleb, his kids, his ex and her husband. At residence after the game, Caleb poured a drink and also turned top top the television. Approximately 11 p.m., he dubbed his girlfriend, then switched his phone come silent and went to bed. A irradiate sleeper, he wore an eye mask and also kept a loud fan running in his bedroom.
Now paramedics and also police stood over Caleb’s body and provided troubling injuries: bruising and also abrasions ~ above his neck, puffy knuckles, deep scratches ~ above his chest.
Called in to picture the scene, Const. Sonya Mackin, a forensic identification services officer, gone into through the prior door and, seeing the carpeted staircase causing the second floor, had the same flash of memory as the paramedic. Year earlier, Mackin had photographed one more body right here at the bottom the the stairs. She’d been there before, too.
Outside, the commotion the cruisers and also police tape collection off a chain reaction of telephone calls. A neighbour phoned a household friend, that phoned one more friend, that phoned Elizabeth Gallant, Caleb’s aunt, that lived nearby. The friend said she’d heard a disastrous rumour. Gallant gasped at the news. Recognize it difficult to believe, she acquired in her car and also drove to the Harrison residence.
Caleb Harrison was not the an initial person in his family members to dice at 3635 pitch Pine Cres. He was not also the second. In April 2010, his 63-year-old mother, Bridget Harrison, was uncovered dead at the bottom that the stairs leading to the 2nd floor. Her body lay steps away from the powder room where one year previously she had found her husband, invoice Harrison, cold and lifeless. His fatality at 64 was classified as organic until Bridget died under suspiciously circumstances and also a coroner to update his file, place the deaths that husband and wife in the same category. “Undetermined.”
And currently a 3rd mysterious death. Whole family clear all out. How could this happen?
Caleb Harrison, centre, v his mother, Bridget Harrison, and also his father, invoice Harrison. In 2010, three years prior to Caleb to be killed, Bridget was found dead at the bottom the the stairs the the family home, procedures away indigenous the flour room where, in 2009, she had discovered Bill’s body.
Peel regional Police would certainly come to believe that the very same perpetrators were responsible because that all 3 deaths — a theory that, if proven, meant that who had gotten away with murder double before, and that authorities had actually missed two homicides.
A criminal trial resulted in murder convictions in two of the 3 deaths, but it go not reveal the series of missteps that resulted in this extraordinary investigative failure. Pieced together, documents disclosed over 4 years that criminal proceedings tell a story of failure made in ~ every time — by police, coroners and pathologists.
The Harrisons’ surviving household members believe the killing of Bridget and also Caleb might have been prevented if the first death had been effectively investigated. Doug Blackwell, Bridget’s only sibling, sat through lot of the trial critical fall, incredulous at how clear the evidence of his sister’s killing turned the end to be. “My faith in justice has actually been destroyed,” the said.
Bridget Harrison with her brother, Doug Blackwell. Blackwell claims his “faith in justice has actually been destroyed.”
Peel police chef Jennifer Evans launched an internal review of the Harrison family death investigations in February, climate suspended the in in march “pending the very nice one process,” a spokesperson said. A main later, police claimed the review was earlier on.Police havenot committed to sharing the report through the family members or making the public, but said findings may be exit \"where appropriate.\"Evansrefused multiple interview requests native the Star and did not respond come questions around whether one independent testimonial was considered.
Together, the Office of the chef Coroner and also the Ontario Forensic Pathology service have introduced their own interior review as a “first step,” stated Dr. Dirk Huyer, the chef coroner. “We believe this is the best method to take to gain the best learning opportunities, to recognize what has actually occurred and also where we can enhance or enhance our fatality investigation system,” the said. An independent evaluation will most likely follow the inner investigation, Huyer said, but the institutions have actually not however made a certain commitment.
Chief Coroner for Ontario, Dr. Dirk Huyer, claims an inner review is the “first step” to understanding what happened in the Harrisons’ death investigations. David Cooper/Toronto Star paper photo
The family has asked Attorney general Yasir Naqvi for a publicly inquiry. They room not satisfied the separate interior reviews will have the scope, authority and also independence important to completely uncover the facts and also prevent mistake from gift repeated. They also have conflict-of-interest concerns. Evans was deputy police chief as soon as Bridget and also Bill died, and at least 4 of the province’s peak coroners and forensic pathologists were associated in the Harrison fatality investigations.
A spokesperson for the ministry go not ascendancy out one inquiry, but said it would certainly be “inappropriate” to discuss the specifically, of the Harrison case since appeals have actually been filed. The ministry stated that when considering a public inspection it is crucial that criminal proceedings “be permitted to continue without interference or influence, therefore as not to jeopardize the integrity and independence that those proceedings.”
Nicole Gallant, Caleb’s cousin, said the tragedy has left surviving family members members v a absence of belief in the general public systems intended to defend them. Because that years, their concerns about who could be death the Harrisons to be brushed off. “We preserved saying, You have to look at these two. Nobody else has actually motive,” Gallant said.
“I just don’t understand exactly how none the them thought us.”
Home to the Harrisons for almost four decades, 3635 pitch Pine Cres. To be a family hub — the default gathering place and second home come a large community of siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and also friends. Bill and Bridget purchase the home in 1975, an ext than a decade after they fell in love backstage at the Stratford Festival.
The engagement photo of Bill and also Bridget Harrison. The pair married in 1969.
“They made the magic,” stated Doug Blackwell, who drove down to his sister’s residence from Kirkland Lake through his wife and also daughters every Christmas and also summer.
Raised in London, Ont., west that Toronto, Bridget Blackwell excelled in school and starred in neighborhood theatre productions. In ~ 16, she landing an apprenticeship at Stratford’s internationally renowned performing arts theatre, wherein she met william Harrison.
Tall, handsome and also two years older 보다 the tiny blond apprentice he started courting, Bill operated in the costume department. He had actually grown increase in Stratford, in a household of musicians and jazz enthusiasts. His father ran Harrison’s beauty beauty Parlour, a business launched by Bill’s great-grandparents after castle escaped slavery in Virginia and also made their way to Canada top top the Underground railroad in 1837.
As a black man and also a white woman dating in the 1960s, Bill and Bridget faced racism, subtle and also blatant, however remained deeply committed to every other. Married in 1969, they worked out in Mississauga. Bill functioned in sales and also management. Bridget introduced a commemorated career in education, working as a teacher, principal, superintendent and special assistant come the education and learning minister. She would end up being a visionary in her field, a mentor to generations the students and teachers. Much more than 1,000 human being would to visit her funeral, and also when a speak asked how plenty of careers she had actually influenced, half the people in the room raised their hands.
Bridget and Bill to be an inseparable unit, she fiery passion balanced by his cool, stable presence. World were attracted to your warmth and also generosity. Relatives joked that they can have charged consulting fees for their guidance ~ above education, careers and also relationships.
Bill and Bridget Harrison to be married because that 40 years, regularly dispensing advice to friends and also family on everything from careers to relationships.
Unable come have kids naturally, Bridget and Bill pursued adoption. Caleb concerned them in 1973 as a sweet 6-month-old babe v pudgy cheeks. Together a child, he had actually insatiable energy and also a tendency to find trouble. “He to be a tiny rascal,” said Elizabeth Gallant, his aunt. “Dangerously curious,” stated Nicole Gallant, his cousin. “There to be no shortage of near-heart strikes for any type of adult who was watching him.”
Caleb struggled in school. He to be teased for having actually Tourette syndrome. The acted out and challenged teachers, i m sorry was challenging for Bridget. She to be patient, yet had the high requirements one would suppose of an educator. “She supposed her boy to attend school and also do well,” her brother said. Bridget and Caleb loved each other, but their personalities sometimes clashed. Invoice was the peacekeeper, a calm male who rarely lost his temper. He to be the bridge between them.
Caleb and also Bridget Harrison, through Fluffles the family dog, in Niagara drops in the at an early stage 1980s.
Nine years prior to the an initial suspicious fatality on pitch Pine, Caleb Harrison met his future mam at a doll warehouse.
Caleb to be 27. A witty guy, fun to it is in around. He had gotten in the workforce straight out of high school. Methodical, pedantic and driven by routine, he found his calling in the shipping and receiving company just together e-commerce was picking increase steam.
My Favourite Doll was a specialty keep that marketed collector Barbies, v a warehouse and showroom in a sprawling Mississauga commercial park. In 2000, while working in the shipping department, Caleb’s attention caught on a young mrs behind the front desk.
Nineteen year old, Melissa Merritt to be an animal lover with blushing skin, highlighted hair and also girl-next-door appeal. She’d grown up in a law-enforcement family, v a father who was a Toronto police officer and a brother that would follow in their dad’s path. Merritt turn her attention to Caleb as she broke an engagement v her high institution boyfriend, that wasn’t prepared to clear up down. She want a home and also a husband. Many of all, she want children.
Caleb Harrison met his future wife, Melissa Merritt, in 2000 at a doll warehouse where they were both employed. He to be 27, she was 19.
Within months, Caleb said his parents they were planning to start a family. Merritt had actually lost an ovary as result of a medical condition, he said, and might one day need to have the other removed. They want to have youngsters while castle could. Together an adopted child who struggled with unanswered questions about his birth parents, Caleb was eager to begin a family.
Within three and a fifty percent years, they were married with two kids and a residence in Georgetown, a 30-minute journey from their family members in Mississauga. The relationship soon became strained over money, the responsibilities of household life, Caleb’s drinking and, follow to one affidavit Caleb filed in family court, Merritt’s record of “making increase stories.” In the spring of 2004, Merritt told their family and also friends she had ovarian cancer, Caleb said.
“I recognize to embellishing a wellness problem and also causing concern for my and (Caleb’s) family,” Merritt responded in one affidavit. “I was being treated for a cyst and also I embellished the instance which caused my and (Caleb’s) household fearing the I had actually cancer.” She denied claiming she had lost one ovary.
In June 2005, Merritt referred to as police to report the Caleb had struck her in your home. He was arrested, charged and eventually judge of residential assault. Merritt said in a family court affidavit that he “put me in a headlock and hit me repetitively in the head.” Caleb said, “I defended myself after the respondent attacked me, gouging and also scratching.”
The relationship was over. Caleb moved back with his parents. Merritt stayed in Georgetown and also would not let him watch the children. One month later, Caleb drove residence drunk from a party in Milton and slammed head-on into a taxi, killing the driver and injuring 4 young passengers. Bridget and also Bill were devastated. Charged with drunk driving bring about death, and also recovering from serious injuries himself, Caleb to be released ~ above bail with the problem that the live through his parents.
Weeks later, Merritt report a home invasion come Halton police, speak she’d been struck in her backyard. Halton cops came looking for Caleb at his parents’ house. In an affidavit, Caleb said Merritt was “obviously unaware” that he had actually been serious injured, and that the “could no walk there is no crutches and also could not possibly have actually been involved in the home invasion.”
Merritt report several more home invasions roughly the exact same time. No charges were laid. “I to be 100 per cent persuaded she was making up the totality story,” a Halton cop said Peel homicide detectives year later. Caleb alleged in family members court that Merritt “deliberately misled” police policemans “in her ongoing attempts come implicate me in action of abuse” and also “create suspicion around me.” Merritt was never charged.
In October 2005, a referee granted Caleb accessibility to his kids on Tuesdays, Thursdays and also every other weekend, through a need that the abide by his bail terms, which had living v his parents.
That winter, Merritt met 28-year-old Christopher Fattore online. Fattore was six-foot-four and also built choose a linebacker. Raised in one Italian neighbourhood in phibìc Toronto, he had graduated high school and also worked as a Hooters kitchen manager, nightclub bouncer and also handyman. He tried beauty beauty school, however dropped out.
Melissa Merritt met Christopher Fattore in 2005. The proposed much less than a year later.
Fattore propose on his birthday in October 2006. Nearing your spring wedding, a trouble arose. Merritt to be still married to Caleb. “I make a mistake as soon as I thought that after two years that separation that you were immediately divorced,” Merritt later told police. They went ahead with the ceremony in ~ Fantasy farms banquet room in Toronto, “but the wasn’t a actual wedding,” Merritt said. Castle would have actually four kids over the next five years, making Merritt a mother of six. Sporadically employed and also “horrible at controlling money,” Merritt stated later, they often relied on society assistance and also loans native family.
As Merritt began her 2nd marriage, a judge granted Caleb 50/50 custody. His kids would currently spend fifty percent their time living on key Pine, and also the rest with your mom and her brand-new husband, who had moved into a residence in Mississauga.
Bill and also Bridget relished their functions as Nanna and Poppa and became energetic in the children’s lives, control them to school, taking them come activities, helping v homework. Merritt resented their involvement. “If Caleb is no caring for the kids no one other than myself must be,” she wrote in an email to the Harrisons that came to be an exhibit at trial.
Over the next two years, Merritt made five “unsubstantiated” claims that Caleb or his parents had attacked the children, a premium Court judge composed years later in a bail decision. After ~ one claim, investigators “concluded the the youngsters had to be coached by Ms. Merritt.”
By December 2008, Merritt wasn’t allowing the Harrisons to check out the children. Three days prior to Christmas, a referee ordered she to stop interfering through Caleb’s access.
In March, Caleb started serving an 18-month prison sentence for the drunk-driving death. Bridget and Bill were granted their son’s share of custody when he remained in jail. The judge who made the decision claimed “it is important and also in the ideal interests that the youngsters to preserve the atmosphere they are offered to.”
Facing money troubles and also unhappy through the custody arrangement, Merritt and Fattore chose to fill up the kids and get the end of Mississauga. Without informing the Harrisons or their very own parents, lock planned a hasty move.
The house was dark when Bridget Harrison pulled right into her driveway just prior to 9 p.m. Top top April 16, 2009. Returning from a school board meeting, Bridget meant to uncover her husband at home, yet when she stepped right into the foyer she heard just the short hum of the television in the living room. A half-eaten takeout meal satellite on the coffee table.
“Bill?” she said.
No answer. Bridget checked the second floor, however Bill was not in bed. Earlier downstairs, she i found it the powder-room door was closed. “Bill?” she called out again. The door to be locked. Bridget choose the lock v a pin and found her husband top top the restroom floor, slumped against the far wall. She called 911.
The operator inquiry Bridget to inspect his crucial signs. Bill was cold and also stiff, and also she struggled to relocate his body.
“He’s no breathing,” Bridget said the operator. “I can tell.”
“He’s not breathing?”
“He’s not breathing,” she said. “Oh mine God.”
Paramedics arrived and also confirmed what Bridget currently knew. She husband was dead.
Speaking come police at the scene, Bridget said she found it unusual that the toilet door, which might be secured from either side, to be locked. Why would a man house alone stroked nerves to execute that? She likewise found the strange that the house lights to be off.
Police room meant come treat all sudden deaths as homicide scenes until otherwise determined. Follow to a Peel police directive, officers must “vigorously investigate all sudden deaths with a view to creating the cause and circumstances, and where culpability can be established, to apprehend and charge those responsible.” amongst their an initial tasks is to speak to a coroner.
Arriving in ~ the Harrison residence at 10:50 p.m., coroner Dr. Reuven Jhirad check the human body and noted abrasions ~ above Bill’s neck — thin red marks throughout his throat that he believed “may have actually been due to the victim’s necklace,” a police officer later on testified. Jhirad wanted them documented, so policemans from Peel’s forensic identification solutions unit took photographs.
Despite the locked door and also neck abrasions, investigators did not take into consideration the fatality suspicious. It to be sudden and unexplained, yes, however such deaths room not unusual. In their final moments, people often feeling an advice to go to the bathroom, which makes it a common place to die.
“The death appears to it is in natural,” the police report said. “The coroner had no more concerns about further police investigation.”
The coroner’s statement attributed the exact same conclusion to police. “The scene to be reviewed through the police that felt there were no concerns,” Jhirad, who has since become one of the province’s deputy chief coroners, created in his report. Yet with no clear cause of death, Jhirad bespeak an autopsy.
In Ontario, autopsies are performed by pathologists and also forensic pathologists, no coroners. Pathologists are professionals in the examine of disease. Forensic pathologists are experts in an illness and injury. Your opinions assist coroners recognize the reason of death and also the manner, which have the right to be natural, accident, suicide, homicide or undetermined.
Pathologist Dr. Timothy Feltis was assigned to carry out Bill’s autopsy at credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga. Having actually heard from the coroner that there to be no concerns about foul play, and that police would certainly not to visit the autopsy to take it photographs, Feltis approached his job with the very same understanding. The this was no a suspiciously death.
Bill Harrison passed away at a key time for death investigations in Ontario, a couple of months ~ Justice Stephen Goudge exit his damning report ~ above pediatric forensic pathology. The Ontario federal government commissioned the Goudge inspection in the wake of revelations about flawed child fatality investigations through Dr. Charles Smith, once considered a leading skilled in his field. Smith offered false and also misleading testimony that led to innocent civilization being incorrectly convicted or doubt in the deaths that children.
The inquiry uncovered Smith had small forensic specialization and, in his own words, “woefully inadequate” training. He had reached his condition primarily because no one else was willing or able to do the work. In ~ the time, Canada walk not have its very own forensic pathology training program and there was a serious shortage of specialists in Ontario. The inquiry coincided with the launch of Canada’s very first training regime at the college of Toronto, and it caused the establishment of the Ontario Forensic Pathology Service.
The Goudge inquiry made 169 recommendations, an essential among lock a guiding principle the “the forensic pathologist should ‘think truth’ rather than ‘think dirty.’ ” Goudge cautioned versus overstating findings, and stressed that proof must be it was observed accurately and also followed where it leads, “even if that is come an undetermined outcome.”
In the pre-Goudge era, non-forensic pathologists routinely performed forensic autopsies. Dr. Timothy Feltis to be one. His absence of training and certification was no unusual offered that it wasn’t accessible in Canada. Forensic pathology is a relatively new field that has actually been evolving with the development of science. Goudge underscored the need for an arranged evolution.
After Goudge, Dr. Michael Pollanen, Ontario’s cook forensic pathologist, developed a registry that matched pathologists to cases suitable to their level that experience. He also issued one order that all suspiciously deaths in the area need to be sent out to headquarters in downtown Toronto, where he could ensure a top-quality autopsy to be performed by a forensic pathologist. If pathologists functioning in community hospitals got a suspiciously case, the body to be to be re-streamed and sent downtown.
The trouble was, nobody flagged Bill’s fatality as suspicious.
Examining Bill’s body, Feltis discovered no evidence of natural death. There to be no heart abnormalities, no indicators of disease. “No definitive anatomical or toxicological cause of death,” that wrote. What that did find were several injuries, consisting of the neck abrasions, a large scalp bruise and, most concerning, a broken sternum. Year later, in a preliminary inquiry, Ontario’s cook pathologist would certainly say this was “an astonishing finding” that should have raised red flags.
Speaking through the coroner, Feltis learned Bill had been put on a slim gold chain, which, he provided in his report, may have caused the abrasions. Seek an explanation because that the broken sternum, Feltis asked if there was a sharp edge Bill might have fallen on, and also the coroner claimed yes, the toilet vanity. The pathologist to be never shown the police image taken at the scene.
Feltis concluded the the injuries could have been led to by “a suddenly collapse together the result of an acute cardiac arrhythmia, through a fall striking the head and chest.” It could have occurred the other way around, he added, v a punch to the chest indigenous a fall causing the love to stop. His last report opined the the reason of fatality was “acute cardiac arrhythmia.”
This to be the type of conclusion the Goudge Inquiry had cautioned against. There was no evidence to assistance a heart problem and, as Pollanen would say in ~ trial, acute cardiac arrhythmia is no a cause of death. It means that a person’s heart has stopped, however does not describe why. It was “a bit misleading,“ a prosecutor would certainly say in ~ trial.
Bridget go not check out the post-mortem report until months later. When she lastly read it, she to be floored. “The autopsy usually said, here’s a healthy and balanced human being,” Blackwell, she brother, stated in a police interview. “There was no reason for him to die.”
The job after Bridget found her husband’s body, more misfortune awaited the Harrison family. Caleb’s kids were missing. It take it a few days to confirm what Bridget feared: Merritt had taken off v them.
Bridget visited police, but officers would not take action without one updated household court order. Days passed before she could appear before a judge. ~ above April 23, she obtained temporary single custody of the children, i m sorry led police to issue an arrest warrant because that Merritt.
Peel Const. Michael Young led the abbot investigation. Sitting in a police interview room on may 6, 2009, Bridget outlined the household history. She told Young the her boy was in jail, that she and her husband had actually been granted his re-publishing of custody, the Merritt to be unhappy, the her husband had passed away — “completely unexpected, and also so suddenly” — and the youngsters had not been in school the following day. She claimed the coroner had actually not yet provided a reason of death.
Young pursued the abduction, yet never looked into the scenarios of Bill’s death, he later on testified. That didn’t happen to him the two events might be related. He functioned in the same department together the officers who’d investigated Bill’s death, yet none of them ever made the connection, and neither walk the coroner’s office. Had police investigated further, castle would have learned that Merritt and also Fattore left Mississauga on April 16 — the exact same day bill died.
Feltis, the pathologist, did not find out around the abduction till years later. Had he well-known at the time, he stated in one interview, he would certainly have considered it a suspicious circumstance and also sent the human body downtown. “If I’d had actually all the information,” he said, “I would have done points differently.”
“Some people think in coincidences, some do not,” Bridget Harrison wrote on April 19, 2010, two days prior to she to be murdered.
She was referring come the time of she husband’s death and the loss of her grandchildren, writing a victim affect statement for a listening in which Merritt was meant to plead guilty to child abduction. Bridget took her suspicions no more than the allusion come coincidence. Instead, she created of the pain she had endured, taking care of her husband’s death and also the loss of her grandchildren, fearing for their safety and also worrying she’d never ever see castle again. “The most desperate seven and also a fifty percent months of mine life,” she wrote.
During those months, Merritt and Fattore had taken the children throughout the country. They’d driven to Calgary, climate travelled east in search of cheaper rent. They settled in Nova Scotia, whereby Merritt provided birth come her 4th child. Quickly after, police to be tipped off about their ar after Fattore, who’d been making use of an alias, gave a rent cheque v his actual name. In November, Merritt to be arrested, fee with son abduction and returned to Ontario in the custody the Peel police.
“Some people believe in coincidences, some perform not,”
— Bridget Harrison, refering come the time of her husband\"s death and also the disappearance of your grandchildren.
Bridget flew to Halifax and took she grandchildren home to pitch Pine. With Caleb released at an early stage from jail on good behaviour and the kids back in school, something resembling a normal life resumed because that a while, though mother and son continued to suffer Bill’s loss, and without him roughly to act as a buffer in between them, your relationship prospered strained.
Merritt was released ~ above bail through the problems that she not have actually unsupervised contact with the youngsters or leaving her residence without authorization. Top top April 10, Merritt and Fattore journey to key Pine, violating the court order. Merritt remained in the vehicle, parked down the street, if Fattore checked out the door. Once Bridget answered, the handed her a letter and also photos he said he’d involved deliver come the kids. In ~ the same time, Caleb arrived house with the children and also saw Merritt in the van. Spooked, Bridget referred to as police. Merritt was arrested and also charged through breaching bail. She spent three work in jail.
On April 21, the day before the abduction hearing, Caleb’s 8-year-old kid rode his bicycle house from school, pulled open up the prior door and saw his Nanna lying at the bottom the the stairs. The ran come a neighbour’s house. For the 2nd time in a year, an ambulance raced come the Harrison residence and police tape stretched approximately the house, fluttering in the feather breeze.
A autumn down the stair became an early theory in Bridget’s death investigation, however the family members didn’t buy it.
“There’s no way anyone falls down the stairs and ends up in that position,” Caleb called his cousin, Nicole Gallant. “It doesn’t watch right. The doesn’t make sense.”
Bridget to be lying challenge up, eight at she side, head resting on the bottom stair, her eco-friendly eyes open and vacant. Year later, her family and friends would check out photographs the the scene on a courtroom projector and grip your seats or the hand of your companions, holding earlier tears since emotion in the public gallery is prohibited.
Arriving at the scene, coroner Dr. Robert Boyko was concerned about abrasions and bruising ~ above Bridget’s chin and also neck. She body was sent downtown for the full forensic autopsy the her husband never received. This to be a suspiciously death.
In a situation conference two days later, forensic pathologists described to police the the injuries come the prior of her neck, combined with petechial hemorrhaging — a smattering of red dots top top the skin and eyes, brought about when blood ship break throughout a push buildup — said neck compression, meaning she may have actually been strangled. But she likewise had broken bones in the ago of her neck, not generally seen in neck compression cases, which supported the loss theory. “At this time the is unknown just how (she) endured this combination of injuries,” police composed after the meeting.
That afternoon, in a second conference at the coroner’s structure downtown, the earlier crew was joined through Dr. Michael Pollanen, the chef forensic pathologist. Pollanen had actually learned this was the second death in the house and also was concerned about the similarities. That told police the Bill had died with numerous unexplained injuries, including the fractured sternum and also throat abrasions. Pollanen would certainly say at trial that Feltis, the pathologist, had actually not performed a layered neck dissection to further investigate the point out on Bill’s throat. Pollanen want to exhume the body for a thorough autopsy, yet that wasn’t possible. Bill had been cremated.
Dr. Michael Pollanen, the chef forensic pathologist because that Ontario, was concerned around the similarities in between Bill and also Bridget Harrison’s deaths. Andrew Francis Wallace/Toronto Star file photo
According to a Peel police plan directive, all instances of homicide or doubt homicide are to it is in investigated by the homicide bureau. Once it’s a suspicious death, the bureau decides whether to take it the instance or not.
If the fatal defect in Bill’s instance was the fail to send his body downtown for a full forensic autopsy, right here was the an essential mistake in the second investigation: the homicide bureau did not take Bridget’s case. Detectives indigenous the bureau attended the instance conferences, but left the investigation to the neighborhood division’s criminal investigations bureau. Police would certainly not say who made that decision and also why.
From the work Bridget died, the family members raised concerns around Merritt and also those close come her. Caleb speak to Const. Robert Boyer ~ above camera hrs after her body was discovered. He described his history with Merritt and also said the timing of his mother’s fatality seemed weird.
“I would certainly ask where Melissa and also Chris were, personally,” he said.
Boyer, a strapping young cop v dark hair, was a small officer, six years right into his policing career, who had actually recently join 11 Division’s criminal investigations bureau. He became the record co-ordinator. Acting Det. Gregory Amoroso, a 17-year veteran, to be the officer in charge.
Early on, police homed in top top Caleb, who was well-known to have actually a daunting relationship with his mother. His uncle, Doug Blackwell, claimed that when it turned out Caleb had actually a heavy alibi — he’d been working — the investigation showed up to stall.
Police interviewed Merritt, who said she’d gone to home the work Bridget died, caring because that a kid whose parents had signed up because that the home daycare she and Fattore were trying to obtain started.
Melissa Merritt speaks to police complying with the death of Bridget Harrison, informing the interviewer the Bridget\"s son, Caleb, had actually a troubled partnership with his mother.
Police interviewed Fattore, who claimed he’d been to run errands and also working in his backyard. Boyer retrieved monitoring footage indigenous Sobeys, confirming Fattore had actually been there, however police failed come corroborate a key element the his story. Fattore said he’d unable to do to Merritt’s grandmother’s house to choose up a north kit. Police never ever spoke come the grandmother.
All told, police spent about two weeks investigate Bridget’s death. In early May, Amoroso to be reassigned to a unique command team for the G20 summit in Toronto that summer. ~ that, “I yes, really didn’t have actually too much an ext involvement,” the testified. Amoroso can not say who, if anyone, ended up being the brand-new officer in charge. Boyer, the junior guy, testified the he had no involvement in the investigation after the finish of April, yet he would certainly be the one come close the case months later.
“I would ask whereby Melissa and Chris were, personally,”
— Caleb Harrison to police hrs after his mother was found dead.
After a final situation conference ~ above June 10, pathologists presented their findings come police and also explained “possible mechanisms of injury,” the coroner wrote in a report.
Police climate presented findings from their own investigation. “No proof of ‘foul play’ to be discovered,” the coroner wrote. “The injuries, however, cannot be explained by a single mechanism.” The coroner share the death as “undetermined.”
Who finish there to be no evidence of foul play? year later, Pollanen, the chief pathologist, available his take it in court: “Police room the ones who make investigations about foul play, no coroners.”
Dr. Michael Pickup, the forensic pathologist that performed Bridget’s autopsy, created “neck injuries” as the cause of death. His last report explained the findings supporting each concept — strangulation vs. A loss down the stair — but did not explicitly favour one. “This is among those instances that can not hinge top top the pathology,” he composed to a colleague.
Source: 2010 post-mortem report that forensic pathology Dr. Michael Pickup
Experienced detectives have a speak that as soon as your pathologist won’t commit, you’ve got much more work to do. The didn’t occur here.
Elizabeth Gallant remembers the Boyer was sympathetic, yet told she the family’s suspicions were no enough. Police urged them to offer proof. “It make no sense to united state to have to provide the police with proof,” Gallant said. “That’s the whole point of an investigation.”
Bill Harrison with his sisters, Sharon Hohmann, centre, and also Elizabeth Gallant, right. Gallant recalls an investigator telling her the family should market proof of their suspicions in connection with the Harrisons’ deaths.
On Sept. 2, 2010, Boyer created a final situation note. “After an extensive investigation into this matter there has actually been no evidence to indicate (Bridget) Harrison was the victim of foul pat or any type of other criminal act. The coroner has actually concluded that the cause of fatality in this issue is ‘asphyxia’ and also the device of fatality is unknown.”
The situation was closed, “pending the receipt of further information.”
With a post-mortem report relenten Bridget’s neck injuries, that “should have been clean to the police — yet obviously was not — that could have been proof of foul play,” Crown lawyer Eric Taylor stated in one objection in ~ trial year later, when a defence lawyer want Boyer to review the case-closure statement.
“Suggesting the there to be an ‘extensive’ examination here, i think, is inappropriate,” Taylor continued. “Extensive,” that said, to be Boyer’s opinion. “And i think a lot of civilization would disagree v that.”
There were no find warrants sought, Taylor said. No surveillance. No wiretaps. No production orders for cellphone records. No attempts to collection DNA discard. “All the the things,” Taylor said, “that we eventually know occurred after Caleb Harrison.”
Elizabeth Gallant arrived on Pitch jaw Cres. Top top the afternoon of she nephew’s death and saw the home wrapped in police tape, feather the very same as it had actually when her brother died, and also the very same as it had when she sister-in-law died. Three death scenes, and she’d been to all of them. She’d comforted Bridget when they lost Bill. She’d comforted Caleb once they lost Bridget. Now there was no one left. Hands shaking, Gallant dialled a number she’d preserved with she for three years. Const. Robert Boyer answered.
“Caleb is dead,” Gallant said. She to be sobbing.
As native spread, horrified relatives and also friends lower upon key Pine. One shouted in ~ a police officer, “How might you let this happen?” Cruisers lined the streets and also detectives began a feverish door-to-door canvass, in search of witnesses and also video.
When one autopsy revealed the Caleb appeared to have actually been strangled, it changed the means police viewed his mother’s death. Finally, the homicide squad take it over. Det. Sgt. Randy Cowan, not involved in the previously investigations, told reporters police to be looking right into all three deaths to identify if they to be connected. “To placed things earlier together once records have been deleted, when video has to be rolled over,” Cowan said later, “those type of things make an investigation like this basically favor a cold case.”
LEFT: The master bedroom where Caleb Harrison’s body to be found. Peel local Police photo/Court exhibit
RIGHT: The entranceway the 3635 key Pine Crescent, photographed after ~ Caleb Harrison’s death. Peel local Police photo/Court exhibit
Despite the mistake of Caleb’s past, family and also friends explained him as a specialized father. “He was every in, completely focused ~ above the kids,” said his cousin, Nicole Gallant. He’d had actually sole custody due to the fact that Merritt pleaded guilty to son abduction after his mother’s death. Merritt had access every 2nd weekend. Approaching the summer of 2013, Caleb had agreed to a short-lived schedule, wherein the kids spent every other week v their mother.
Merritt want the plan to continue. On July 10, she filed an applications for common custody. “I have communicated with Caleb on countless occasions over the previous 12-18 months, in an attempt to with an agreement with that on the children spending much more time through me,” Merritt wrote. “Caleb has been unwilling to entertain any increase in time, contradictory to the children’s best interest, uneven I agree to his child support demands.”
Caleb go not paper a response. The was eliminated the night prior to the custody schedule to be to adjust back to restricted access because that Merritt.
Each fatality on pitch Pine Cres. Death synchronized with a an essential moment in a bitterness custody fight with Caleb Harrison\"s ex-wife, Melissa Merritt, over their two children.
Two weeks after his murder, Merritt filed an applications seeking sole custody the the children, explaining the her ex-husband had died. “This news to be (and is) tragic and really shocking,” she wrote. The application was granted.
Within weeks, she and also Fattore to be headed because that the East coastline again with all 6 children. This time, police were watching their every move.
On a grey morning in January 2014, fifty percent a dozen police vehicles drove under a nation road in Nova Scotia and pulled approximately a house in the sparse community of Italy Cross, whereby Merritt and also Fattore had actually been living since November. They were handcuffed and charged v the first-degree murders of Caleb and Bridget. That night, after ~ a 13-hour interview with a Peel detective, Fattore confessed.
LEFT: Christopher Fattore is watched in a Halifax court in January 2014 adhering to his arrest on first-degree killing charges in the deaths of Caleb and also Bridget Harrison. Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press file photo
RIGHT: Melissa Merritt, escorted by Peel local Police, complying with her arrest in January 2014. Kris So/Toronto Star document photo
Head in hands, Fattore said that in April 2010 he saw the Harrison residence v a note, pretending it was for the children. As soon as Bridget answered, he required his method in and also attacked her. “I hit her a pair of times,” he said. “I climate proceeded come squeeze she neck.” Here, he began to cry. “Until she stopped breathing and also laid top top the floor.”
He stated he believed killing Bridget would certainly level the play field between Merritt and Caleb and give his wife a much better chance in ~ custody. He said Merritt had nothing to perform with it.
Christopher Fattore confesses to death Caleb and also Bridget Harrison adhering to his arrest in January 2014. He later said the falsely confessed after a 13-hour police interview because he thought he was making a transaction that would watch Melissa Merritt freed to be with their children.
Three years later, Fattore said, the drove to key Pine again under sheathe of darkness, wearing black color gloves, shoes purchased native Walmart and also a hoodie with a baseball bat tucked increase the sleeve. The let self in with a vital stolen from Caleb’s son, adhered to the sound of the bedroom fan, stood over his wife’s ex with the bat elevated high and also struck him in the chest. When Caleb sprang up, how amazing him, Fattore threw him into a shelving unit and also strangled him. Again, that insisted Merritt knew nothing till later.
Days after ~ the confession, police placed Merritt and also Fattore in a room with each other at the Halifax airport. Believing they were alone, they started to talk. A record of their three-hour conversation would be play at trial, in addition to months that intercepted communications from their residence in Italy Cross, wherein police had actually installed wiretaps.
A whispered conversation began after police shut the door. “I’m acquisition the rap because that it ... To provide you accessory ~ the fact,” Fattore said.
Merritt told Fattore that his parents had spoken to police. “They referred to as me Karla Homolka,” she said.
In their rush to leaving Mississauga ~ Caleb’s murder, Merritt and also Fattore left countless of your possessions behind in a trailer also rickety for the roadway trip. Inside, police found a laptop containing comprehensive internet search background — proof that might have been easily accessible to investigators years earlier if they’d sought search warrants after Bridget’s death.
Two months before Bridget to be murdered, there was a find for “what if a grandparent has actually legal custody and they die.” 3 weeks before she to be murdered: “how long does it take to die indigenous choking” and also “how long does the take for a human being strangled to happen out.”
The month prior to Caleb’s death: “easy methods to kill and also get away with it.”
The laptop to be a yellow mine because that police, but there was a problem. Because Merritt and Fattore common the computer, the searches could not it is in attributed to one or the other. Police test to match the queries with activity in the suspects’ email accounts, to see if they might prove Merritt was utilizing the computer. In act so, policemans made many unauthorized searches and seizures of evidence.
Peel Police detectives lug bags of evidence from 3635 key Pine Cres. Days after Caleb Harrison’s death. Vince Talotta/Toronto Star document photo
In a pre-trial application to exclude the evidence, defence lawyers suggested police searched very first and seek authorization later, then engaged in “deliberate cover-ups” to hide the activity. Prosecutors suggested the Charter violations to be “the product of ethical errors do by policemans grappling with a large scale and complicated investigation” together laws concerning the seizure of digital data were evolving.
Superior Court justice Fletcher Dawson sided with the defence, finding evidence of “disreputable, misleading and negligent police conduct” the in his view enhanced the Charter breaches. “I finish there have been do the efforts by senior officers come cover up and also minimize the nature and also extent the the problematic conduct of location and paper investigators,” that wrote.
The net searches to be “reliable data,” Dawson ruled, and also the evidence was crucial to the case against Merritt. “The search queries include, ‘If a grandparent has actually legal custody and also they die, which of the parents gets the kids.’ It can be inferred from this content and also the other circumstances that the situation that Ms. Merritt is an ext likely than Mr. Fattore to have authored this query.”
“Easy methods to kill and get away through it.”
— internet search police uncovered on a laptop mutual by Melissa Merritt and also Christopher Fattore.
Dawson break up that ruling the proof admissible would bring the management of justice right into disrepute. Weeks before trial, the computer system searches to be thrown out.
On the opening day of she murder trial, Melissa Merritt was nearly unrecognizable. Her hair had actually grown long and also dark after 4 years in jail. A pantsuit hung loose on her tiny frame. At 37, she showed up to be withering away, fifty percent the dimension she’d been once arrested. Dwarfed by the high Plexiglas wall surfaces of the witness box and the hulking figure of Fattore beside her, she held a tissue and cried together she stood come plead no guilty come the charges.
The prosecution’s opening statement on Sept. 27, 2017, linked the dots between the son custody battle and also the death of all three Harrisons in a narrative the made it difficult to imagine exactly how the previously investigations walk nowhere.
Eric Taylor and also Brian McGuire, a team of jar prosecutors, argued that Merritt and Fattore conspired come murder her ex and also his mother, if Fattore alone committed the acts, which made them both guilty the first-degree murder.
“She was not just an accessory after the fact,” Taylor stated in an opening statement come the 14-member jury, anticipating the defence argument.
In Bill’s death, Fattore alone faced a 3rd count of second-degree murder. The pleaded not guilty come the murder charges, however attempted to plead guilty to manslaughter in Caleb’s death. The Crown rejected the plea.
Fattore, 40, had actually shaved his thinning hair and also dropped several of the heft he when carried. The wore a tie and also thick-rimmed eyeglasses and also sat hunched forward, rubbing his goatee, in ~ times acquisition notes. He had a new tattoo that a wedding band on his ring finger.
The custody fight formed the communication of the Crown theory, yet prosecutors likewise argued the couple believed they stood come inherit millions native the Harrison estate.
Police had amassed abundant evidence versus Fattore. His DNA to be under Caleb’s fingernails. He’d left a pair that gloves comprise his and Caleb’s DNA in the rubbish at his very own home, along with shoes he’d purchased at Walmart hours prior to the murder.
Shoes worn by Christopher Fattore the night he eliminated Caleb Harrison were discovered in the trash at the residence he mutual with Melissa Merritt. Peel local Police photo/Court exhibit
On the witness stand, Fattore claimed he falsely confessed out of issue for his family, believing he was making a deal that would see his wife released to be with their children. He denied having anything to do with Bridget’s death and also admitted death Caleb, but said the he only meant come “rough him up,” to buy a couple of extra days v the children. He stated he had actually nothing to carry out with Bill’s death, and that of every the Harrisons he chosen him best.
Bill’s murder was a tougher instance to make, v nothing placing Fattore at the scene. Dr. Michael Pollanen, a vital witness because that the Crown, testified that he believed Bill was assaulted before that died, taking heavy blows to his head and also chest. Pollanen might not reach a conclusion top top the reason of death due to the fact that of the constraints of the autopsy, however said he might not exclude neck compression.
The Crown presented proof that shortly prior to Bill died, that learned from a friend that Merritt and also Fattore were planning to take off v the kids. Prosecutors suggested Bill must have actually been eliminated in a confrontation v Fattore around that plan.
Fattore’s defence lawyers referred to as as an skilled witness their own forensic pathologist, who testified that the original theory that a organic death finest fit the evidence. But the expert’s opinion relied greatly on the presumption that CPR defined the broken sternum, also though the ambulance speak to report said there’d been no CPR.
The case against Merritt was circumstantial, v nothing directly tying she to the crimes. She lawyers said the Crown’s instance proved that at worst she to be an accessory ~ the fact.
Prosecutors said that Fattore would not have actually killed the children’s grandmother and father there is no Merritt’s support. He essential an alibi in advance and had too much to shed if she discovered out and also didn’t assistance what he’d done.
Among the vital questions for the jury in determining Merritt’s involvement to be whether she drove Fattore come Walmart to buy the shoes he wore the night he eliminated Caleb. Both left Walmart the end of their comprehensive police statements around their tasks the night prior to the murder.
What can be heard in the wiretaps to be contested. The defence suggested the police transcripts included errors that readjusted the meaning of what was said. In the airport intercept, after ~ Fattore called Merritt he’d confessed, Merritt said, “You shouldn’t have actually said anything come them,” and also then, ~ a muffled comment, “the audiotapes would have actually f---ed us anyways.”
Warning explicit language: listen to clips that wiretapped conversation in between Melissa Merritt and Christopher Fattore.
Prosecutors viewed the statement together an admission of guilt, yet Merritt’s lawyers suggested the i can not understand comment sounded like “they think.” together in, police think “the audiotapes would have f---ed united state anyways.”
In the very same airport conversation, Fattore stated he’d called police Merritt knew nothing about his crimes until after Caleb was dead. He stated he’d confessed to her the week after Caleb’s death, “the work after i did my video clip statement” through police.
“The day after, you’ve already told me around Bridget and also Bill?” Merritt asked.
“Bridget and Caleb,” Fattore said.
Prosecutors pointed to this excerpt as proof of Fattore’s involvement in Bill’s death. The defence said that it to be a hurried, confuse conversation, and that nothing could be drawn from the comment.
After 3 months that testimony and also four work of jury deliberations, the verdicts came on a freezing Saturday afternoon in January. The jury foreman yielded them in a whisper, so the everyone in the pack courtroom had actually to lean forward to hear.
Fattore to be guilty that murdering Caleb and also Bridget. The was no guilty of murdering Bill.
Merritt to be guilty that murdering Caleb. A mistrial was asserted on her fee in Bridget’s fatality after the jury could not reach a verdict, and also the Crown issued a continue to be of proceedings.
Both room appealing the verdicts.
In one interview after ~ the trial, Dr. Timothy Feltis, the pathologist that performed the autopsy top top Bill, claimed that year of experience“probably should have actually twigged me that something wasn’t right” with the damaged sternum. Feltis no longer believes that a heart arrhythmia is the most likely cause of Bill’s death, though it remains a possibility in his mind. “Given hindsight,” Feltis said, “I suspect that he to be the victim of foul play.
“I might have done points differently, but I can’t readjust it now. And also as much as I’m concerned, offered the details I had at the time, ns did the ideal I could.”
From the outside, 3635 pitch Pine Cres. Looks much the same as that did when the Harrisons live there, but the house has been sold, the inside gutted by new owners and also renovated past recognition. The making it through Harrisons have lost the people who associated them and also the ar they considered home.
Twenty-five of them gathered in court because that the sentencing listening in January, a repertoire of siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and also close friends who, unified by Bill and also Bridget, are prolonged family. In victim influence statements, they spoke of losing the essential an interpretation of your family and the heritages that bound them together. They spoke of trauma, depression, anger, recurring violent nightmares around their love ones’ final moments, visions of autopsy photos. They speak of guilt and regret, the wishing they’d demanded much more of authorities that failed to take it their pertains to seriously. Some spoke of fearing because that their very own safety and also fearing the Merritt, from behind bars, would proceed to manipulate her children and turn them versus the staying Harrisons.
Family members and friends that the Harrisons gathered recently in Mississauga at the residence of Elizabeth Gallant, front and also centre. Bridget’s brother, Doug Blackwell, to Gallant’s right, claims the household is focused on acquiring answers. Richard Lautens/Toronto Star
Over five years, Caleb Harrison’s kids lost your Poppa, Nanna and their dad, and also watched police arrest your mother and also charge her v murder. The kids are not with the Harrison next of the family members — despite Caleb’s wish, outlined in his will, the his cousin be their legal guardian in the occasion of his death, and also despite his cousin’s initiatives to honour the wish. (To protect the children\"s privacy, the Star has actually chosen no to reveal the identities of their guardians at this time.)
Merritt and also Fattore got mandatory sentences of life in jail without the opportunity of parole until 25 years have actually passed. Two sentences for Fattore, but served concurrently.
On that last day in court, as Merritt and Fattore rose to leaving the room one last time, the Harrisons was standing together, shoulder to shoulder, and watched as police led castle away. The verdicts lugged a little measure the justice, yet the family members remains haunted by what occurred to Bill, Bridget and Caleb, and also united in their search to gain answers from the authorities the failed them.
“We’re no going to back down since we don’t desire this to happen to any kind of other family,” claimed Doug Blackwell, Bridget’s brother.
In the weeks the followed, their mission would offer them a renewed sense of purpose. They would compare attempt notes. They would research police and coroners’ reports. They would certainly write letter to authorities, repeating the story that what happened to the Harrisons, and also asking, “What action will you take?” They would gather in Mississauga at Elizabeth Gallant’s house, travel from across the district and abroad to be together, simply as they when were on key Pine Crescent.
The reporting in this story originates from dozens that interviews, court testimony, attempt exhibits and also thousands that pages of records from the preliminary hearing and pre-trial motions released in an application brought by the Star before a premium Court judge.
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The records obtained include police briefing notes, event reports and also emails; manufacturing orders and also “ITOs,” or informations to achieve a find warrant; coroners’ examination statements and post-mortem reports; exhibits including video statements, wiretaps and also crime scene photos; family court decisions and also affidavits; transcripts of police interviews and case meetings.