Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Point-St.-Charles Nightmare: the 1975 murder of Sharron Prior


The Cold Case Squad and Vidster are teaming up to explore the Canadian cold case of Sharron Prior.

We read the website that was made for Sharron and all the newspaper articles. Below are our observations and initial reactions.

What happened?

Sharron (16) disappeared on March 29, 1975 after leaving from her home around 715pm. She was going to meet some friends (including a boyfriend) at Marina’s Pizzeria.
The restaurant is about five minutes by foot from her home. She never arrived. Sharron was found dead on April 1st, 1975.

Who was Sharron?

All the people quoted in the papers described Sharron as reliable, friendly, cautious girl who stayed out of trouble. She was sportive, well-behaved, and athletic. Her mother Yvonne Prior stated that Sharron went out Saturday nights but was usually back home by 11pm or at the latest by 1am. Sharron always called home if she thought that she was going to be late. There is no evidence that Sharron might have had plans to run away. She left her bus pass and money at home.

According to her twin sisters Doreen & Moreen, Sharron wanted to become a veterinarian. Vidster wonders whether Sharron had been looking into going to college. Did she visit any colleges in the Montreal area? Did she meet any college students or any people older than her usual high school friends? Did Sharron ever mention that somebody in the neighborhood was bothering her?

The newspaper spoke about a girlfriend who came to the Prior house before Sharron left for the restaurant. We’d like to see that girlfriend re-interviewed. Why didn’t she want to go to the pizzeria with Sharron? Did Sharron tell her everything such as secrets? Did Sharron ever say anything about an older boy other than her boyfriend who was asking for a date? Did this girlfriend later on go to the pizzeria anyway? Did she suspect anyone was involved?

The Gap in the Time Line

What this case needs first and foremost is a tightening of the time line. Only then will we be able to check where Sharron might have been or held captive before she was found.
There is a huge gap between the time Sharron left her home at 715pm on March 29, 1975 and the day that she was found, April 1, 1975.

What can we do?

In order to make a full evaluation of any case, a cold case investigator would have to see the crime scene photos, investigator’s case folder, hand written notes, laboratory reports, medical examiner reports, evidence list, etc. We can only provide an assessment from what we read in the papers and online and base it on our professional experience in these matters. The reason behind all of this is to shake the proverbial bushes in the hopes of spurring new leads in the murder of Sharron Prior.

Both Joe and I want to see confirmation that Sharron was expected in the restaurant and indeed, never showed up there. Did her friends really expect her or was it a casual date as in “I might stop by later!” If her friends were expecting her, what did they do when she did not arrive? Did they make phone calls? Did they walk over to Sharron’s house? It was after all, only a five minute walk. What did her boyfriend do when she did not show up that night? Did he call her home? Did he talk to her mother? Did he went out looking for her and if so, how? On foot, by car, with friends, with a parent?

The boyfriend and the foster brother

According to the papers, Sharron’s boyfriend at that time was John McAleer. Did John drive a car? How old was John? Did John have older brothers? Was he ever officially cleared as a suspect?
Also according to the papers, the Prior family was home to a foster child named Steven. How old was Steven when Sharron was murdered? How long had he been in the Prior family? Where was he previously? Is there any chance that his former guardians or biological parents had anything to do with this? Were they all interviewed and cleared as suspects? What happened to Steven after Sharron’s death? Did he remain in the Prior family or not? Was he cleared as a suspect?

Circumstances under which Sharron was found

Sharron was found in a field at Chemin du Lac and Guimond Boulevard by a beekeeper. The beekeeper supposedly lived nearby and kept hives in season besides the field. “He went to investigate when he heard that the gate leading into the field was open.” WHO told him that the gate was open? Why did they not just lock it for him? Was that person cleared as a suspect? Was the beekeeper cleared as a suspect?
The padlock was hanging on the gate but was not hooked. I’d like to see a photograph of that. Police found that the open Yale lock had been tampered with but there were no traces. Does this hint at someone who knows how to pick a lock or someone who had a duplicate key? There supposedly were 2 sets of keys. Who had keys and were they all cleared as suspects?

When police arrived, the body was clothed only in a three-quarter length suede Leo’s Boys Sports jacket, a sweater and shoes and socks. Her jeans and panties were about 6 feet from her body, the underwear hanging from a tree branch. Police think the clothes were thrown out of the car when they were driving away.”

Vidster disagrees. The pants might have been thrown out the car window as the car was driving away but the panties…such light fabric, they were not thrown out. They were hung on that branch as a flag marking territory or as a symbol of triumph. I hope that there is a picture of the jeans on the ground and the panties hanging on a branch. I might change my mind after seeing the picture but for now my gut feeling says that the panties were hung there as a flag. I wonder whether the date of April Fool’s Day has anything at all to do with the murder as well…

Police found a tire track about15 feet from her body in the snow. The track came from a new radial tire. I hope that the track print was preserved. What exact brand was it and who was the manufacturer? Was it commonly sold in the area or not?

Police also found a footprint next to the gate post that was made by a heavy person wearing a shoe size 8, 5. I guess that they think that the person must have been heavy due to the depth of the imprint. Is it possible that the print was made by someone of average weight who stood still there for quite some time? We would like to see those prints to get a better idea what type of shoe made that print. Was it a sneaker, a leather boot, or a casual dress shoe?

The papers stated that there was a blood trial from where the car was parked running towards Sharron’s body. We assume that blood was collected, typed, and preserved. It would be interesting to see whether there is enough to draw a DNA sample!

Sharron apparently did not have mud on her shoes when she was found indicating that she was carried out of the car and lowered on the ground. She thus never walked through the snow in that field. Were there any other traces on her shoes? On her socks? On her jeans? On her panties?

Near Sharron’s body, police found a man's shirt size 17 collar with 34 inch sleeves indicating a man of approximately 6 feet. Police believe that the shirt was used to bind Sharron. Was the shirt ever tested for DNA? If it was worn it would possible have hair in the neck area, chaffed skin in the neck and armpit areas, and we might even be able to get DNA from the shirt!

Last, Sharron had partly chewed tape dangling in her hair indicating that she had been gagged. Were any fingerprints found on the tape? Was her hair examined for other pieces of tape or foreign materials?

Autopsy and crime scene

Sharron died a violent death: she was raped, beaten, and died of asphyxiation.

According to the doctor, she had been dead for at least 20 hours when she was found and most likely died on Tuesday afternoon. The asphyxiation was caused by blood in her lungs. Police said that she probably hemorrhaged internally when her assailant crushed her chest with his knee. This is not easy to do so we are not only looking for a heavy person. This was a strong person as well!

The autopsy showed that Sharron was beaten around her head. She had several bruises on her face and two fractures on her jaw, on both sides of her mouth. Her nose was broken and there was a hole in one cheek probably caused by a tooth that was loosened during the struggle.

Most cruel is that Sharron was still alive when her body was dumped. When she was found, she was clutching a branch…

We would like to know whether any scrapings were found underneath her fingernails. Any semen collected from the rape? If well preserved, we should have it examined for DNA. Is familial DNA allowed in Canada?

From the articles we know that Sharron’s last known meal was stew and despite the fact that she did not like it, she ate some of it. During an autopsy, stew should then have been her last meal. If anything else was found that she did not eat at home that day, we would have more leads to find out where she could possibly have been held captive. We would have to examine the digestive track but for that, we need the autopsy report. Most importantly, did the medical examiner at that time examine her digestive track?

If any biological materials were found, we’d like to see them tested for familial and mitochondrial DNA. Was Sharron’s whole body swapped for biological materials? Were there any bite marks?

Police believe that more than one person was involved in the attack.

Here Joe and Vidster differ in opinion:
Vidster thinks that there were at least two people involved in Sharron’s murder. The shirt indicates a man weighing about 200 pounds and approx 6 feet tall. That does not correspond with the shoe size 8,5 found at the gate. A 6 feet tall man of 200 lbs is more likely to wear a shoe size 10 or 11. So I see it as an indication that at least to two people involved.

Joe’s first instinct is that the perpetrator lived in the area. “I say perpetrator because I believe there is only one. I don’t buy into the two perpetrators theory.  Based on the prior attack during the day of another woman, the man is in his late twenties and probably still lived at home with his parents. The first attack would be the closest to the perpetrator’s home.”

We would suggest conducting a re-canvass of the neighborhood, especially Favard Street where the tip from and focus on men in their late twenties who had previous experience with the Criminal Justice System. The suspect knew the area well – he knew where he could do this without being detected. He knew where he could dump the body and go undetected – he even thought the body wouldn’t have been discovered until the weather would warm up.

The perpetrator came prepared with a knife. This would indicate that he tried this before and failed so he now knows that he needs some “help.” Even still, he had a problem which showed that he had not quite honed his craft yet – a bit amateurish. I would surmise that he may have a minor record with the police. However, aside form this I would be looking into the following: how many cases (attempted sexual assaults) were there previously in the area? Where there any report about peeping toms? Were any burglaries committed where odd items were taken?

The garage

In July 2004, police acted on a tip and searched a garage behind an apartment hoping to recover Sharron’s DNA and maybe that of Sharron’s killer(s). Where did the tip come from? Did it get in through a crime line, crime stoppers or, was it directly given to a detective? Was it documented? If the person who gave the tip was known, was that person cleared as a suspect?

Three DNA samples were found in the garage on July 28, 2004, but they proved negative for Sharron. However, were the samples from males? Can they be compared to any of the biological material found on Sharron’s clothing and body?

Other case/similar cases in that neighborhood

We need to explore one more time whether there is a connection to the murder of Norma O’Brien in Chateauguay, in the summer of 1974. She was only 12 years old, was found raped and mutilated in a field not far from her home. We’d like to find a photograph of Norma to compare to Sharron.

Another case is Cheryl Roy’s who faced an attempted sexual assault with a knife on Saturday March 29, 1975. She described an attack by a man with a mustache and who was armed with a knife. He was about 6 feet tall, weighed approximately 200 lbs, and he spoke English. He had blue eyes and the mustache was squared at the corners of his mouth. He was dressed in blue jeans with cuffs, a dark blue ski jacket, and black shoes with pointed toes. Cheryl did not smell any signs of liquor on his breath and he spoke in a low and calm voice. This was obviously not his first attack! We’d like to compare a photograph of Cheryl Roy with Sharron’s as well. Also, see Joe’s notes about the attacker in this article above.
Last, was ViCap used to conduct a survey of similar cases?

The list of 38 people who were interviewed

Who is in jail now and for what kind of crimes? Do we have post-conviction DNA samples of any of those men and was their DNA compared to the DNA strands found in the garage? Since the crimes in the area stopped, we need to know who on that list went to jail around that time and for what kind of crimes. Were any of the 38 also on volunteer list of people willing to help in the search for Sharron? Did any of them spent time with the beekeeper or did any of them have keys of that padlock? Are any of the 38 people on parole? Who moved away and who is dead now?

As you can see, we have many questions and all this just comes from reading online articles and websites. We will keep digging into this case.

Should you have any information that you wish to share with us, any memories, please contact us by using the contact page on DCC or the CCS on Facebook..

Joe Giacalone
Vidster

Joseph L. Giacalone is the author of The Criminal Investigative Function: A Guide for New Investigators published by Looseleaf Law Publications Inc. Now Available

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