New con­fu­sion emerges over Black Widow

Cape Breton Post - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

CP PHOTO

Melissa Ann Shep­ard, known as the In­ter­net Black Widow, ar­rives at court in Dart­mouth, N.S., in this re­cent photo.

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