Parents are not supposed to outlive their children, so when a child is murdered, an unnatural order possesses a family. The Fraser family is finally free of it. Thirty-two years ago, Ian Fraser (inset) found his mortally wounded 16-year-old daughter Heather on her hands and knees in a snowy park on a cold January evening in Smiths Falls, a small town in eastern Ontario. Heather had been raped and stabbed. Soaked in blood, she was crawling through snowdrifts, trying to reach a nearby road when Ian Fraser, searching, spotted a shape in the park. When the father held his first-born child, she uttered just one word: “Stabbed.” Hours later, Heather died in hospital. Last month, on May 10, 2017, Ian Fraser died at the age of 88. We must hope that death extinguished the anguish he endured for three decades. His wife Carolyn, Heather’s mother, died in 2014.
Ian Fraser was a vet, a member of the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders infantry regiment. Raised in Morrisburg, Ontario, a small, riverfront village in eastern Ontario, Fraser met and married his wife Carolyn Hollier in 1964 in Ottawa. In 1968, he began working for the agency that operates the Rideau Canal, the historic, 200-kilometre long inland waterway connecting the capital to Lake Ontario. The couple had a second child, Laurie, two years after Heather was born.
In 1975, Fraser’s canal job was transferred and the family moved to Smiths Falls, a picturesque town 75 kilometres south of Ottawa known for its railway roots and a chocolate factory. It likely seemed a safe place to raise a young family.
Heather grew into a remarkable young girl. In Grade 6, she was named outstanding student in her school. In Grade 8, she was president of student council. She was awarded one of the highest honours the Girl Guides bestow.
As a teen, she taught Sunday School at the Presbyterian Church. In high school, Heather joined student council. She won spots on school basketball, volleyball and badminton teams. She was a member of the school band. Her grades were excellent so she was placed in a gifted program.
Outside school, she played ringette and softball and won medals in highland dancing. She worked part time at the canteen at the community centre and the arena. She seemed destined for greatness, until her chance encounter, on January 28, 1985, with one of the town’s angry and aimless young men, high school dropout and petty thief Jamie Giff.
The 17-year-old with a growing record of criminal convictions was burning with rage that night. He was furious that his teenage girlfriend had left him. He was hunting her, so that he could beat or kill her. Instead, he found Heather, walking home alone from a student council meeting. The two passed on the sidewalk along the Abbott Street park. Giff decided that Heather was a suitable proxy for his rage. He threatened Heather with a large knife and forced her to walk to the western edge of the park property, behind an embankment that was not visible from the road or sidewalk. He raped her, mutilated her vagina with his knife and stabbed her twice, once in the upper right chest and once in the back, below her right shoulder blade. Believing he had killed Heather, Giff fled.
The injuries were lethal, but Heather began to crawl toward the lights of the sidewalk and the street. She made it roughly halfway out of the park before her father found her, shortly after 7 p.m.
“She was hunched over on her hands and knees with her head down as though she was crawling,” Ian Fraser later told police. “I turned her over on her side. I asked her what was wrong and she just uttered one word, ‘Stabbed.’ She was deep in shock because her eyes were bulging and wide open. There was sort of a gurgling sound in her throat. After she said, ‘stabbed,’ I had her head in my arm and I could see that her shirt was dark and could feel that it was wet. I’m not sure if I opened her coat, not sure whether I unzippered it or not. I think I unzippered it. Her slacks were part way down, about her hips. I hesitated for 10 to 15 seconds, wondering what to do.”
“Then I saw the lights of two vehicles coming north across the bridge. I jumped in the centre of the street and waved both arms. The first was a half-ton truck; the second was a panel truck. They stopped; both drivers rolled their windows down. I asked for help because my daughter had been hurt. Both drivers came running over to her with me. Three of us picked her up and put her in the panel truck. I got in the back with her, with her head in my arms and she started to moan and struggle a bit and I tried to console her, telling her we would be there shortly.”
Heather was taken to the local hospital but was immediately transferred to a hospital in Ottawa. Ian and Carolyn Fraser followed the ambulance in their own car.
About six hours after Ian Fraser found Heather in the park, she was pronounced dead.
Jamie Giff was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.
In July 2016, Giff was granted full parole, the most permissive form of freedom for a convicted murderer, after the parole board determined he does not present an “undue risk” to society. He can live on his own in the community, without direct daily supervision. He is living in Montreal. In the only interview he has ever given, Giff told me in 2010 that Heather was not his intended victim.
“That day, the rage to kill became uncontrollable,” he said. “[My girlfriend] was the intended victim. Heather Fraser was an innocent victim.”
Ian Fraser was interviewed by the Ottawa Citizen newspaper last year, after Giff was granted full parole, and was asked how he felt on the day that he found Heather.
“I don’t want to remember,” he told the Citizen.