It began thirty-nine months ago, on a slow Tuesday morning at the newspaper where I worked as a crime reporter. I was making a round of routine cop checks, as they’re called among journalists. It’s an old fashioned but still useful practice of reaching out to police departments by telephone several times each day, to ask a duty officer or a spokesperson if anything newsworthy is happening. That morning, on June 30, 2009, around 11 a.m., I reached the duty sergeant at Kingston Police. He had something for me, something that seemed at first to be routine, but which would turn out to be the biggest story I had ever covered.
The sergeant told me that my call came at a fortuitous time. He was preparing to send out a news release and this would save him the trouble of sending it to the newspaper. The locks at Kingston Mills, the southern entrance point to the Rideau Canal from the Kingston area, were being shut down and the road closed because a car had been found underwater, he told me. I asked if there was anything notable about the incident. Was there anyone in the car? The sergeant said they didn’t know yet.
When I hung up the phone, I had an odd feeling. It seemed a dramatic step to shut Kingston Mills Road for a sunken car, a likely prank by joyriders who had dumped a stolen vehicle into the shallow water. Thankfully, I followed my instinct and hopped in the car and drove out to Kingston Mills, a 10-minute ride away from the newsroom, to check out the situation for myself.
My spidey sense tingled when I arrived at the Mills. The police response was out of proportion if this was just a submerged, stolen car. Marked police cruisers were blocking Kingston Mills Road, about 30 metres from both the east and west sides of the swing bridge that crossed over the northernmost of the four locks. A constable stationed at the blockade on the west side said he couldn’t tell me anything and the senior officer at the scene was busy. In the distance, I could see a ‘white shirt,’ an inspector, and what appeared to be several detectives. The police officers were huddled together, talking near the triangle of grass on the east side of the lock. Something significant was transpiring to warrant the on-site attention of an inspector and criminal investigators and I was itching to know more.
The uniformed officer at the blockade told me, when I asked, that it was OK to walk south on the property, toward the lower three locks. I figured there might be canal staff, boaters or fishers around who knew more than I did and who were more talkative than police.
At the lower lock, the first encountered by anyone travelling north from Lake Ontario into the canal system, I met a round-faced, middle aged man who was sitting in a small aluminum boat jammed with camping and fishing gear. The man, John Moore, explained that he’d been on a boating and camping trip in the Kingston area with his son and a friend. Moore explained that the trio were making their way through the locks, heading north to their home in Manotick, when they were ordered to turn their boat around. Canal staff had discovered the sunken car was blocking the gates of the northernmost lock.
I said it was too bad they were delayed by the incident and it seemed there was no way to know long the delay would last, since police didn’t yet know what they were dealing with. Moore corrected me. Oh, they know, he said. There’s bodies in the car, he told me.
Moore was a navy diver who had his scuba gear with him. He had descended an hour earlier to the sunken car. He had seen the bodies of at least two young women inside the vehicle.
I had my explanation for the the dramatic police response that I had encountered. What followed, over the next 31 months, was a sweeping, covert police investigation, the arrests of three members of the Shafia family on charges of first-degree murder and a trial that led to their imprisonment.
My account of this remarkable story, including dramatic new revelations, will be available in bookstores October 30, 2012. Without Honour: The True Story of the Shafia Family and the Kingston Canal Murders, is the complete story of the desperate lives of the victims, Zainab, Sahar, Geeti and Rona.
» Available for pre-order from Chapters/Indigo
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