New confusion emerges over Black Widow
An elderly woman whose identity shifted before and after convictions for killing and poisoning men is once again at the centre of confusion over what her last name truly is.
Melissa Ann Shepard, who became known as the Black Widow, departed a Nova Scotia prison this month after serving her full sentence for spiking her newlywed husband’s coffee with tranquilizers in North Sydney.
On March 18, the Halifax police issued a public warning on its website about the 80-yearold’s release, stating her identity is Melissa Ann Shephard, with a second “h,’’ but it appears that spelling is not correct.
The release notes she has a history of offences dating back to 1992 that include a conviction for manslaughter of a former husband whom she ran over with a car, and in 2013 for administering a noxious substance to Fred Weeks.
Police spokeswoman Const. Dianne Woodworth says the announcement’s spelling of her name is based on Correctional Service Canada documents.
A spokeswoman for the federal prison service says the spelling is based on a court document from the Nova Scotia Supreme Court that committed Shepard to serve her time at the Nova Institution in Truro.
However, the executive director of the Nova Scotia Judiciary says that when Shepard’s trial was held in 2013, the court used the spelling without the second “h’’.
“I think it was just a clerical error,’’ Margaret MacInnis said in a telephone interview, when asked about the additional “h’’ in the warrant of committal document sent to the federal prison.
“At the earliest stage of the proceeding, the court confirmed the identification of the accused in the case. ... In this case, that name is ‘ Shepard,’’’ she wrote in an email.
The Canadian Press contacted a family member in Pictou, N.S., who also confirmed the spelling of Shepard, the name of her former husband in Prince Edward Island.
In a followup email, Woodworth said if Correctional Service Canada notifies police of an error, “we would be pleased to amend this.’’
Marisa Piccini, a spokeswoman for the agency, said the prison relies on Nova Scotia Supreme Court documents for spelling, but she didn’t respond to an emailed request for comment after the judiciary indicated an error had occurred.
Court documents indicate Shepard has had multiple names over the years.
When her last trial began in 2013, initial court records indicated she was using the last name of her victim, Fred Weeks, who was hospitalized after she slipped drugs into his coffee. It later emerged that Shepard’s marriage to Weeks wasn’t registered and the name change hadn’t occurred.
Shepard has also been known by the last name of former husband Robert Edmund Friedrich, who died in 2002, and by the last name of Gordon Stewart, before her conviction of manslaughter in his death.
Barb McKenna, a Charlottetown Guardian writer who investigated Shepard’s shifting appearance and stories in the 1990s, says it’s important the police, the prison, the Crown and the courts establish her name and its correct spelling.
“She has used so many names in the past ... she could easily say, ‘ That’s not me. My name is spelled differently,’’’ she said.
Mark Knox, the defence lawyer for Shepard, said in a telephone interview on March 21 that sworn police statements in the Crown application for a peace bond have the name spelled with the additional “h.’’ He said he would attempt to contact his client to ask her view.
However, he did not respond to followup requests for an interview last week.
James Giacomantonio, the Crown lawyer in the peace bond case, said in an interview Tuesday that he’s not sure how he’ll deal with the issue.
“I don’t know if we’d bring it up in court. We might bring it up before court. We have an interest in making sure it’s spelled right,’’ he said.
Giacomantonio said the peace bond restrictions include that Shepard report any potential relationship with a man, keep authorities aware of where she is living, and inform police of changes to her appearance.
There are also restrictions on her use of the Internet.
Melissa Ann Shepard, known as the Internet Black Widow, arrives at court in Dartmouth, N.S., in this recent photo.