The Sting

Police were convinced Alan Dale Smith killed his neighbour, so they set up an elaborate scheme to nail him for the murder. It failed completely. The inside story of a brutally botched undercover operation

Two weeks before Christmas 1974, in the hamlet of Raglan, north of Oshawa, someone murdered Beverly Smith. She was 22 years old, slight and breathtaking with strawberry-blond hair and a bashful smile. She lived with her husband, Doug, in an old brick farmhouse with a big maple tree out front and a picket fence. She had an identical twin sister named Barbra, who looked so much like her that even their mother could only tell them apart by the little freckle on the tip of Beverly’s nose.

Doug worked the line at General Motors in Oshawa and dealt marijuana on the side to supplement his income. When he left for the plant on December 9, Beverly waved goodbye to him from their window, with their 10-month-old baby, Rebecca, on her hip. Then she sat down at the dining room table to sign some Christmas cards. She never got to finish. That night, someone walked past the maple tree and picket fence and into the kitchen and shot her in the back of the head.

At 8:30 p.m., Doug called to check in on his family, but the phone just kept ringing. Concerned, he called their neighbour, Linda Smith (no relation), who lived across the street with her husband, Alan Dale Smith, and their own baby girl. The couples were friendly, and Doug would occasionally sell weed to Alan and Linda. Doug stayed on the phone while Linda ran across the street to check on Beverly. She peeked through the window and saw Beverly lying on the kitchen floor. Baby Rebecca was in the living room.

Beverly Smith was 22 years old, with a 10-month-old daughter, when she was murdered in her home

Linda ran back home to Alan, and they told Doug to come home immediately, then called for an ambulance. Alan, who worked for the Humane Society as an animal control officer, drove his van across the street into Doug and Beverly’s driveway and turned its roof lights on so the EMTs would know where to go. When the paramedics arrived, they tried the locked door, then knocked it down. They took Rebecca and placed her into Linda’s arms for safekeeping.

There were dozens of lights—Alan’s, acting as a beacon, and the cops’ and the ambulances’, almost festive. Within minutes, Beverly was pronounced dead, just shy of her daughter’s first Christmas. Her body was taken to the hospital for an autopsy. The results showed she had been killed by a .22-calibre bullet, fired from no more than five feet away and stuck in her brain with no exit wound. Six ounces of Doug’s marijuana had vanished—along with his wife’s killer.

This would be the first murder investigation by the newly formed Durham Regional Police Service. In a catastrophic case of bad timing, the officers who responded that night were coming from their department’s Christmas party, and Doug remembers smelling booze on some of them. Few photographs were taken, and witness statements were lost. One cop even butted out a cigarette in Beverly’s ashtray, contaminating the crime scene as he surveyed it.

In the days that followed, the police interviewed anyone they thought might know something. They settled on the theory that Beverly had let her killer in, left him in the kitchen, gone upstairs for the baggies of pot, then got shot when she came back down. All they needed to do was find the murderer. They sniffed around Doug’s suppliers and his clients. One guy looked good to them—someone who’d fronted Doug a pound of pot before the murder, and who drove a car like the one neighbours had seen parked in front of the house the day Beverly was killed—but he was later cleared. They opened up some wiretaps, trolling for leads. Nothing came of them. They looked for anyone who might have had access to a .22 rifle, which turned out to be dozens of people in the 1970s in Durham Region. They never found the gun. And so in 1975, the department’s first murder case went cold. But the police never forgot about Beverly Smith, or stopped trying to find her killer.

The only thing Alan Dale Smith ever wanted was a real friend. Born in 1950, he’d failed Grade 5 and left school after Grade 10. He’d hear voices that weren’t real, and see things that weren’t there. He tried to fight them, sometimes with the help of doctors, sometimes on his own. He claimed once to have used his imagination to catch one of the voices, imprison it and leave it in Scarborough. He’d received multiple psychiatric diagnoses from several hospitals over the years, including mood disorders and depression. He drank every day, smoked weed and did coke and pills when he could find them. He had chronic headaches and a sour, ulcerated stomach. And his teeth kept falling out. It was just like the anxiety dream, only he’d wake up and the nightmare was still happening. By the time he was in his late 50s, his marriage to Linda had long since fallen apart, and he was living on a government pension in his daughter’s basement in Cobourg.

Mostly, Alan was lonely. He’d written that he was sad his psychiatrist didn’t spend more time with him. There are records of at least three times he tried to kill himself—the first time with pills, then by hanging himself, then with pills again. He wrote during therapy, “I seem to belong nowhere. I am very lonely, unhappy.” When he was alone with his imagination, he was afraid. The one thing that made him happy was fishing, but he had no one to go with.

In the meantime, life went on for Beverly’s family. Her husband, Doug, remarried, then got divorced. To her daughter, Rebecca, Beverly was a stranger, a rumour, someone else’s dream they share with you in the morning. When Rebecca was 10 years old, it was Beverly’s twin sister, Barbra, who told her the details of her mother’s murder. Rebecca went on to become a personal support worker, and she eventually married and had three kids. Every few years, the police checked in with the family to update them on the case, but they had nothing concrete. One day in 2006, Barbra strode into the office of David Kimmerly, who was about to take over the major crimes unit. Over coffee she told him, “I’m losing my hope. Can you hold on to it for me?” She handed the inspector a little stone with the word “Hope” engraved on it. He kept it by his desk.

Barbra and Beverly were identical twins. They looked so much alike that even their mother could only tell them apart by the freckle on the tip of Beverly’s nose

Not long after, there was a break in the case. In 2007, David Maunder, an old friend of Alan’s, was interviewed for the first time. He told the police that the evening of Beverly’s murder, he’d called Alan looking to score pot, which Alan said he could get from his neighbour. The next day, Alan had called to say the drugs were ready for pickup. Maunder also mentioned that Alan had a .22-calibre rifle.

In February 2008, the police hauled in Alan’s ex-wife, Linda, and told her what Maunder had said. Linda had been interviewed in the initial investigation, but suddenly she was changing her story, at first ever so slightly. Under intense questioning, she admitted it was possible Alan briefly left her sight on the night in question. A week later, police interviewed her again. This time, she told them that on the night of Beverly’s murder, Alan had left their house for an hour. While he was gone, she said she heard what she thought was a car backfiring, but it could have been a gunshot. Then she saw him put a rifle in his Humane Society van. Linda kept changing her story, so she was charged with obstruction. But despite the glaring holes in her account, it was enough, as far as the Durham police were concerned, to charge Alan with the second-degree murder of Beverly Smith.

In jail, police placed an undercover officer in Alan’s cell to try to elicit a confession. Alan vehemently professed his innocence. In a statement, he wrote, “I am not guilty of this horrible happening.” Police knew about Alan’s extensive psychiatric history, so they sought his files from the doctors who’d treated him over the decades. They wanted to see if he’d ever confessed in therapy to murdering Beverly. A judge approved the warrants, but the files were to remain sealed. The prosecution and defence came to an agreement: if there was no confession in Alan’s files, the Crown would withdraw the murder charge.

The detectives retrieved Alan’s psychiatric records from various hospitals, including one in Alberta, where Alan spent some time in the ’90s. On the plane ride home, they opened the files. They pored over every page of Alan’s mental misery and discovered that he had never, not once, confessed to killing Beverly. Defeated, they withdrew the murder charge.

But the police stayed focused on Alan. He was their main suspect, their one hope of solving Beverly’s murder. And by studying his mind—his tenuous grip on reality, his crushing loneliness, his desire, more than anything, for a buddy to go fishing with—they had learned enough about him to try something radical: a Mr. Big sting. It’s a kind of play, a guerrilla theatre whose proscenium is the unsuspecting mind of a Canadian citizen, and it’s been staged hundreds of times since the RCMP developed the current incarnation in the 1990s. The Mr. Big sting is one of the most controversial tactics police use—so much so that it’s banned in many other countries.

Here’s how it works: you need at least two undercover police officers for the main operation, plus dozens of other cops in supporting roles. The first officer meets the target—in this case, Alan—and befriends him. The hope is that the first undercover cop will lure the suspect into committing increasingly serious crimes. Then he introduces him to Mr. Big, another undercover officer, posing as the head of a crime family or a drug kingpin, who can offer the suspect protection, money or even friendship in exchange for a confession to the worst thing he’s ever done: the crime they’re trying to charge him with. Conjuring and executing a Mr. Big turns officers into actors and bureaucracies into belletrists, trading forensic science for fiction. From the whole cloth of this world they fashion another one, invent their characters, deploy their plots.

To develop their fiction in the Alan Dale Smith sting, the detectives relied on fact: Alan’s psychiatric history. They mined his imagination and weaponized its vulnerabilities. They focused on his love of fishing, his loneliness, his longing for a real friend. A plot was taking shape. They called their production Project Fearless, and Detective Sergeant Leon Lynch, who’d taken over Beverly’s file in 2003, would oversee the whole thing. Given the macabre drama that was about to unfold, you couldn’t make up a better last name for a showrunner.

According to Jeff Mitchell, a journalist for Metroland who covered the case extensively, Alan got a knock on his door in early 2009. In exchange for answering a few survey questions, he’d be entered into a sweepstakes with several potential prizes, including an all-expenses-paid ice-fishing trip on Lake Simcoe. Hoping to win the trip, he entered the contest, not knowing that Durham police were behind the whole thing. One of their officers had moved into Alan’s neighbourhood in Cobourg and helped set up the entire ruse. His name is under a publication ban, so I’ll call him Skinner.

A few days later, Alan got a call letting him know he’d won the ice-fishing trip. It was placed by an officer in a Durham Region police station, who had to hang up suddenly when an announcement blared over the intercom, paging officer so-and-so, almost dropping a spoiler in the first scene. In early February, a van picked Alan up and headed for Lake Simcoe. It was driven by an undercover officer, and its passengers were three other cops, one of them Skinner, all posing as the lucky winners. On the way, Skinner struck up a conversation with Alan. He said he was a carpet cleaner, and that he’d just moved to Cobourg. As they fished, Alan couldn’t yet imagine which end of the rod he was on, the handle or the hook. Skinner downed some beers, and Alan, who had quit drinking for the sake of his grandchildren, smoked weed all day. He had fun. At the end of the trip, Alan gave Skinner his phone number—a big thing for him—and they made plans to go fishing again.

During the sting, Skinner would start each day by turning on his body pack, which transmitted and recorded everything that happened around him. It would document what became a rather lopsided love story. Within days of that first fishing trip, Skinner and Alan had become the best of friends. They would hang out or talk on the phone every day. They got coffee and drove around in Skinner’s truck. Skinner lent Alan money, bought him cigarettes, brought him food. And they fished. They gave each other nicknames, after the places they’d been together—Nipigon and Temagami. They made plans to buy a fishing hut together. Alan suggested they could make a reality TV show about it and call it Inside the Hut. “Love ya,” he’d say into Skinner’s body pack every time they parted ways.

After a few weeks, Skinner said he had a confession he wanted to share with Alan. They went out driving, and Skinner told Alan that 30 years ago, a girl he liked had crashed her car while driving drunk, and her passenger had died in the wreck. In an act of criminal gallantry, he said, he’d hauled the dead man into the driver’s seat to save his girl from going to jail. You do that sort of thing, he told Alan, for the people you really care about. Of course, it was all make-believe. Skinner was doing his own kind of fishing—he wanted Alan to confess to Beverly’s murder, in solidarity, in reciprocity, to his best buddy. But Alan didn’t say a word. On the way home, Skinner even drove them past the house where Beverly was murdered, dangling his lure. The only thing Alan would offer was his sympathy.

The murder scene: Beverly and Doug’s farmhouse in Raglan, north of Oshawa. Photo by Walter Passarella

Skinner knew he had to take the sting to the next level, and soon he was involving Alan in other crimes. He’d pick Alan up, they’d pack all their fishing gear into the truck, then Skinner would tell him they weren’t going fishing, but to deal drugs. It was all imaginary, with the buyers played by more undercover cops. But Skinner would pay Alan with real money, a couple hundred bucks, for his time.

By April, Skinner still hadn’t extracted a confession from Alan. It was time to bring in Mr. Big, played by another undercover officer. Skinner drove Alan to meet Mr. Big in Newmarket, his body pack listening the whole time, and Alan watched while the two men pretended to do a drug deal. Another time, they stole a boat so a fake guy could commit fake insurance fraud. Alan was transfixed by the boat, imagining what mischief he and Skinner could get up to with a beautiful rig like that. Mr. Big told Alan he was the one running the show, that he had a big marijuana grow op, and he’d just blown $10,000 at dinner in Toronto. To impress Mr. Big, Alan bragged that one of his relatives was in the mafia, and that he’d been arrested on a murder charge, which he called “utter and sheer fucking hell.” He wanted to sue the cops, he said. “Not only that,” he told Mr. Big, “I didn’t do it, man.” When Mr. Big hired Skinner to help him with a deal at a strip club, where he sold imaginary drugs to imaginary people, he told Alan to watch Skinner’s back. Mr. Big even bought Alan a lap dance. That at least was real.

One day in July, Skinner picked Alan up in his truck. Mr. Big had a plan for them: he was going to sell 40 pounds of pot to some dummy—another undercover officer—then Skinner and Alan were going to steal it back. Afterwards, they’d all go fishing at a cottage on Pigeon Lake in the Kawarthas.

They met Mr. Big in a Costco parking lot, where he handed 40 pounds of weed to the supposed buyer, then Alan, Skinner and Mr. Big followed the guy back to his hotel, a nearby Comfort Inn. Mr. Big handed Skinner a sawed-off shotgun. It was go time. They told Alan to wait 30 seconds then bust into the room and grab the dope. From the truck, Alan watched Skinner run up on the guy with the shotgun, point it at him with his finger on the trigger and order him to the ground. Then Alan ran in, grabbed the pot and ran out. They dropped the drugs off to Mr. Big, who told them he was excited to see them at his cottage the next day.

A little after 1 a.m., Skinner knocked on Alan’s window. Alan thought they were starting their fishing trip early, so he got into Skinner’s truck with a cup of coffee. They stopped at an industrial park in Vaughan, where they found Mr. Big covered in blood. “We got a fuckin’ problem here.” In the back of his truck were a pair of blood-soaked boots and a body, wrapped in a tarp. It was the guy they’d stolen drugs from earlier that night. “He’s no longer around,” Mr. Big told Alan.

It wasn’t really a body—it was a weighted mannequin, a big action figure, and the blood was from a sheep. Mr. Big ordered Alan and Skinner to dispose of the body, bury the boots, destroy his cellphone and burn Mr. Big’s clothes. Alan panicked. He thought maybe he could leave his best friend and jump out of the truck, but he realized he didn’t have money for a cab, and he didn’t even know where he was. When they loaded the body into Skinner’s truck, he begged and pleaded with Skinner: “Get me out of here.” He started to shake and couldn’t stop. He thought he was going to throw up. Skinner made him unload the mannequin and push it down a hill into oblivion. They smashed the phone with a hammer and threw it out the window as they drove through the dark to the cottage where they were supposed to go fishing. It was dawn by the time they arrived.

The police convinced Alan Smith that this weighted mannequin, spattered in sheep’s blood, was a dead body

Alan wanted to go home. He was afraid Mr. Big was going to kill them both. Desperate for some rest, he went off on his own to lie down. What he didn’t know was that while he was sleeping, Skinner snuck out of the cottage to meet with Mr. Big and several others on the side of the road. They agreed that no one was leaving until Alan confessed to Beverly’s murder 35 years earlier. Skinner told Mr. Big, “I had to try to get him some fuckin’ sleep, ’cause fuck he is old and he has been up like a thousand hours now.” The men talked about how best to go about interrogating Alan, whether to confront him alone or together, and how the latter option might displease a judge when the case made it to court.

When Alan woke up, Mr. Big and Skinner returned to the cottage. Mr. Big explained that he’d had to kill the guy they’d robbed. The guy had had the gall to confront Mr. Big, who worried he had a knife. So he shot him. Now, he said, he needed Alan and Skinner to confess to something equivalent. It was blackmail, insurance against implicating him in the supposed murder. “It fuckin’ stays here, and we’re goin’ to our fuckin’ graves with what we talked about,” Mr. Big lied. Skinner told the make-believe story about the girl’s drunk driving incident, then he left the room. Alan asked to go outside for a cigarette, but Mr. Big said no. He ordered Alan to take off his glasses, then he picked up a knife. “You’re staying here with me,” Mr. Big bellowed. Afraid Mr. Big would kill him if he didn’t talk, Alan finally confessed that he’d been involved in Beverly Smith’s murder. He said he had stolen 40 pounds of marijuana from her house while his old buddy David Maunder shot her in the kitchen. “I was in on it,” Alan admitted.

There are as many false confessions as there are reasons for giving them: people confess because they’re mentally ill, misapprehending or coerced by police. They confess if they don’t have a lawyer, don’t know their rights or are denied them. They confess in misbegotten bids to save their own skin, to explain it all away, to get less time or because they’re tired of being interrogated and fold at the promise of a few hours’ sleep. They confess to save the people they love, even if it means they’ll have to leave them forever.

The Innocence Project, a non-profit that helps clear the wrongly convicted, has found that a full quarter of prisoners who were later exonerated by DNA had copped to crimes they had nothing to do with, going so far as to describe in exquisite detail the smell of the gun smoke that had never curled around them. Juries love confessions. The suspect signed the statement, swore to it in testimony, so why should 12 of his peers quibble with him? Yet confessions are the worst kind of evidence, because there is no empirical truth to them. They have to be checked against what actually happened, corroborated, otherwise they’re just words. Nouns and verbs don’t stick under a victim’s fingernails, don’t fluoresce like blood under luminol. The human mind is as pliable as plastic.

The law is supposed to protect us from ourselves. Under Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the section called “Life, Liberty and Security of the Person,” Canadians have the right not to incriminate themselves. When the cops come knocking, we have the right to look at their badges, lock the door and decide to say absolutely nothing at all. They need to do their own work—match the bullet to the gun, petition judges for production orders and warrants. And that’s not just to protect the suspect. Evidence derived by compulsion or deceit, or under duress or torture, is famously unreliable. Not only does it put innocent people in jail, it keeps guilty ones out.

A Mr. Big investigation, like the one Skinner was running on Alan, circumvents the protections of the constitution. The technique’s modern incarnation arose in British Columbia in the 1990s, after two Supreme Court rulings reined in the police’s ability to use undercover techniques while suspects were in custody. But out in the free world, when a suspect isn’t in custody, Mr. Big can do whatever he wants. It’s state-sponsored deception. Between 1997 and 2004, there were at least 180 Mr. Big investigations in Canada. There is no manual for how to run one—officers just use their imaginations. And because of the secrecy the state affords undercover officers, studying these stings in any meaningful way is next to impossible. As one study from York University put it: “In light of the invasiveness of the technique, its inherent coercive nature and the strong inducements held out to elicit confessions, there is a real concern that the technique may cause innocent people to falsely confess, giving rise to a risk of wrongful convictions.”

Alan Dale Smith had confessed, but according to the cops, it wasn’t the right confession. He wasn’t getting the details right. Whoever killed Beverly Smith had stolen her weed, but there couldn’t have been more than six ounces. Alan was saying there was 40 pounds—he got that number from their own make-believe drug deal a couple of days earlier. None of this would stick.

After the confession, Alan refused to see Mr. Big—the man scared him—and he told Skinner that what he’d said at the cottage was bullshit. He said he’d confessed to Mr. Big because he didn’t want to leave in a body bag. But Mr. Big wouldn’t leave him alone. Alan was led to believe that Mr. Big had hired a private investigator to check out his confessions and dig up dirt on him. He was petrified that Mr. Big’s snooping would put the Durham police back on his case. So he got a crazy idea: he was going to rat on Mr. Big and enter witness protection. Okay, Skinner played along. They’d take on Mr. Big together.

In November, they met Mr. Big in the parking lot of a truck stop in Bowmanville. They frisked him, then he got into Skinner’s truck. This time, Alan insisted he didn’t have anything to do with Beverly’s murder. “Where does that leave us, then?” Mr. Big asked. As the conversation continued, Skinner turned on Alan, pressuring him to tell the truth, over and over. He threatened to end their friendship if he didn’t, and Mr. Big reminded Alan that he’d killed someone. He told Alan that he wanted them to all leave the meeting happy, but he was afraid that Alan might go to the police.

Alan was unravelling under the pressure. Finally, to end the conversation, he gave in. “Look,” he said. “If I tell you this for fuck sakes, [Maunder] had nothing to do with it. It was me. I did it all myself…I sold the pot off quietly, bits and pieces.” Into Skinner’s body pack, he confessed that Beverly had let him into her house. She never saw his gun. She went to go warm up baby Rebecca’s bottle, and he shot her, once, in the back of her head. Then he got the 40 pounds of marijuana and played dumb about it for the rest of his life. Mr. Big said, “It is over. It is done.”

Skinner and Alan met up again in December. Skinner said he was asking around about an ice-fishing hut for them. By the way, Skinner asked, how did Alan hide his rifle from Beverly? Once again, Alan changed his story: it was behind his back. Actually, it was in a big winter coat he was wearing. Actually, it was down his pant leg. Another thing, Skinner asked: was Alan sure it was 40 pounds of weed? That’s 10 garbage bags. “Believe it or not,” Alan said, “there was 40 pounds in one garbage bag.”

The police chose December 10, 2009, to make the arrest—35 years plus a day after Beverly’s murder. Alan and Skinner were together in Skinner’s truck. The cruisers closed in on them as they were talking about Christmas presents. They arrested Skinner, too, one last bit of make-believe. Mr. Big strode up and told them he was a police officer—that the body dump was never real. “Thank god,” Alan said.

As the prosecution prepared for trial, Alan was remanded to jail. He stayed there, still an innocent man in the eyes of the law, for four and a half years. He gained a colossal amount of weight. The Mr. Big sting had employed 40 police officers, including Skinner, whose entire existence, his fake apartment, the furnishings, his rent, his utilities, the fishing trips, the recording equipment, the cash he doled out to Alan, was all paid for by taxpayers. There were dozens of wiretaps, months’ worth of tapes and thousands of pages of records.

It took months for Alan to accept that his best friend had fooled him. Skinner testified at the preliminary hearing, and even when the guards marched Alan into court to hear the testimony, Alan refused to believe it. No—no. It couldn’t be. Skinner couldn’t be a cop. He was Alan’s best friend. They had been through so much together. They were brothers. No.

Two years into Alan’s imprisonment, the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador made a judgment that had the potential to change the rules under which Mr. Big evidence was to be considered in this country: it would be much more onerous for the government to rely on confessions derived by such imaginative deception. Alan’s case turned on this decision, which was later upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada, and his lawyers filed a motion to strike the Mr. Big confessions. Beverly’s family—her sister, Barbra, and her daughter, Rebecca—went to court almost every day. At first, Rebecca didn’t believe Alan’s confession, but his detail of the bottle of milk he said Beverly had prepared, that’s what convinced her that he’d done it—he’d murdered her mother. Rebecca asked her aunt Barbra if she ever felt sorry for Alan. No, she said. “Alan is a fucking murderer.”

Rebecca Smith was 10 months old when her mother was murdered. Photo by Richard Lautens

On June 27, 2014, Superior Court Justice Bruce Glass threw out the confessions, determining Alan had made them under duress. His decision was scathing: “[Alan’s] account of the 1974 murder of Beverly Smith had many holes in it. One might say that you could drive a Mack truck through the accounts to the point that you would question whether this was nothing more than a pack of lies.” The year-long Mr. Big production, the judge ruled, amounted to detention, with Alan as a captive audience.

Over the months, Rebecca had grown close to Mr. Big. She’d nicknamed him Bigsie, and on Valentine’s Day, she brought the detectives and Crown attorneys Mr. Big chocolate bars in court. The moment the judge threw out the confessions, Mr. Big cried into her shoulder. Through her own grief and shock, she consoled the weeping, exhausted actor who’d tried so earnestly to be someone who wasn’t real, to catch a liar with a lie. Skinner never cried—he just sat there, his expression sphinxlike. He turned to Rebecca and said: “I’m so sorry. I tried my best.” But without the confession, the Crown conceded, there was no case against Alan. As the judge explained in his decision, “there is no editing method to salvage part of the confession and remove part.” The following month, the Crown elected to call no evidence, and Alan was acquitted.

Once he realized he’d been deceived, Alan sought revenge. He sued the cops, including Skinner and Mr. Big. He sued everyone who’d helped them, the Crown attorneys, the Ministry of the Attorney General—all the actors in his theatre troupe, the stagehands and their managers. His lawyers filed the suit in Superior Court, to the tune of $19 million. The whole world was a hallucination, but Alan was made to feel like he was the crazy one. Then the Durham police sued the Crown for giving them permission to try the Mr. Big sting. Alan watched it all go down as if it were a dream. The Court of Appeals later ruled that the Crown attorneys couldn’t be held responsible, but all of Alan’s other lawsuits are before the courts. Mr. Bigs, these kaleidoscopes of misery and madness, are still playing out across the country.

I did my best to find out what happened to Beverly, but the criminal court file, which should be open to the public, was deemed off-limits by the Ministry of the Attorney General. I asked to talk to the Crown attorneys, and they turned me down. So did the Durham police. They were all named in his long-threatened lawsuit. I’m sure their lawyers told them all to shut up—the good advice Alan was never afforded.

Rebecca grew up not knowing much about her mother. She joined a Facebook group for people interested in Oshawa history, begging anyone who may have known Beverly to describe what she was like. Ever since her 22nd birthday, she’s thought to herself, I am older than she ever got to be.

Most nights, Rebecca falls asleep listening to true-crime podcasts, which she considers a kind of group therapy. She puts her earbuds in and lies down, drifting off into the consolation of someone else’s darkness. As she falls asleep, she thinks about her kids. She wonders what to tell them about their grandmother, Beverly Smith, the girl with the freckle on her nose, whose life was stolen, and who must live on in them through make-believe.