It was a parent’s worst nightmare come true. On the afternoon of Jan. 23 last year, Sharin’ Morningstar Keenan, a dimpled, nine-year-old Toronto girl with a flair for art and drama, failed to return home for dinner after playing in a park near her downtown home. Nine days later police found her body in a rooming house refrigerator. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled. In the 21 months since that gruesome discovery, police have carried on an intensive search—including unprecedented, Canada-wide poster and videotape campaigns—for a murder suspect, Dennis Melvyn Howe, a garment worker who was the tenant of the room in which Sharin’ was found. But they have failed to track down Howe, a 44-year-old drifter from Regina. Said Sgt. Wayne Oldham of the Metropolitan Toronto Police, who, along with Staff Sgt. David Boothby, has worked on the case since the day after Sharin’ disappeared: “It is just a mystery to me why we have not apprehended him by now. It is frustrating.”
Police have followed about 10,000
leads from across Canada, but none has led to Howe.The elusive man, who spent more than half his life in prison for offences ranging from armed robbery to the indecent assault of a 13-year-old girl, has effectively disappeared.
Oldham and Boothby have sent the suspect’s photograph, description and fingerprints to every police force in Canada, as well as to the FBI and the international police agency, Interpol. Police have also interviewed Howe’s relatives in Regina and Winnipeg and have sent his dental g charts to dental journals, H so that any dentist who Howe: eluding
treats the suspect will be -
able to identify him.
Last June, Oldham, 39, and Boothby, 40, reinforced their dragnet with a poster offering a $100,000 reward—up from the $50,000 that police were previously offering—for a tip leading to the fugi-
tive’s arrest. Mediacom Inc. of Toronto, which owns bus shelters and shopping mall billboards across the country, donated space for the posters in 170 sites. The poster campaign, the first of its kind in Canada, has yielded more than 500 calls from concerned citizens to police forces throughout the country and still keeps the two Toronto officers busy for several hours a week. But so far, all the tips have led nowhere. Said Boothby, who with Oldham has solved some of Toronto’s most challenging murder cases, such as the sexual killing in 1980 of lawyer Barbra Schlifer in Toronto’s Beaches area: “We are disappointed for sure, but discouraged—no.”
As well, the Metropolitan Toronto Police recently stepped up their manhunt by sending 600 videotapes describing the suspect to police stations, television stations
and cable TV networks
across Canada. Boothby and Oldham are confident that the five-minute videotape, which Graham Cable TV-FM of Toronto produced without charge, will yield some promising leads.
The tape consists mainly of an interview with Boothby, who describes several of the suspect’s habits and mannerisms, such as his penchant for lining up cigarettes end-to-end while sitting at a bar. It even includes footage of Oldham imitating Howe’s distinctive walk, which resembles rapid military marching. Boothby and Oldham say there is a good possibility that Howe is hiding in the United States and they are attempting to convince some American stations to air the videotape. But Boothby said that clues have already begun to pour in from parts of Canada where viewers have seen the videotape on television. Said Boothby: “The tape has generated a lot of interest again in the case. Given the fact that it is a year and a half old, it is phenomenal that we are getting public response.”
The two Toronto officers, who have spent many hours both on and off duty on the case, say that Howe may have altered his appearance, but they are still confident that people will recognize such distinguishing traits as the small gap between Howe’s front teeth, the scar under his chin or his tendency to describe both people and things as “turkeys.” For the grief-stricken parents, Lynda Keenan and Brendan Caron, there is reassurance in the innovative methods the police are using, but there will be no peace until their daughter’s murderer is brought to justice.
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