Sunday, January 23, 1983 was the last day of 9-year-old Sharin’ Morningstar Keenan’s life. She disappeared at around 4 p.m. from Sibelius Park in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood, a particularly artistic community. Sharin’ had gone to the park to play that Sunday afternoon. After her abduction, city-wide searches were conducted, however her body wasn’t found until nine days later, on February 1, very close to the park. She had been stuffed inside a refrigerator in a rooming house on Brunswick Avenue. A man eventually identified as Dennis Melvin Howe was named the perpetrator by police. Howe lived under several aliases and fled the area the day after the murder, after receiving an advance on his pay cheque. Since then, Howe has been on the run. Some believe he may still be alive in Canada, the United States, or Mexico. In this slideshow program produced by the CBC news, Sharin’s mother Lynda comes forward publicly for the first time in nearly 20 years to work with David Ridgen on the case to explore the evidence and help memorialize Sharin’, her young aspiring artist. The Annex was a perfect neighborhood for little Sharin. Even the occasional graffiti was worth framing.
On the day of Sharin’s abduction, a neighbor, Doug Baptie, noticed Sharin’ standing on an ice rink in the rain, talking to a stranger Baptie had never seen around the neighborhood. The two began walking and passed by Baptie; Sharin looked at him. Baptie didn’t respond and continued to walk home. Two decades later, the elderly man remains haunted by his failure to notice something was amiss. “I could have intervened in some way. “whoa, it’s not a very nice day for skating,’ any intervention I think….” When the search began, police took Baptie’s account as a starting point and focused the search on the houses in the area. On February 1, 1983, little Sharin’ is found inside a working refrigerator inside a house on Brunswick Avenue. She had been raped and strangled to death. The man who had lived in this apartment on the second floor was not Michael Robert Burns. He went by multiple identities. Eventually police identify him from an arrest photo as Dennis Melvin Howe. Unfortunately, the photograph is not released to the media in the search for Howe. Police release a different photograph that bears only a slight resemblance to Howe at the time of the murder. Not only did Howe use aliases, he changed his appearance with chameleon-like ability, to escape detection. Police hoped Howe would seek dental assistance for a severe gum disease that caused him considerable pain. It was a vain hope.
Howe grew up in Regina, Saskatchewan on 728 Robinson Street, known as the 7th block Robinson. His parents divorced when he was an infant and he was raised by his mother,a severe-looking woman, who had died in the mid-1960s. Howe had spent 20 years in prison before he settled in Toronto, for sexual assault, armed robbery and unlawful confinement. Howe was released on Mandatory Suspension, on February 17, 1982, in Prince Albert. However he skipped town and became a fugitive of justice, and remains so today. There are three possibilities where Howe is concerned:
- he is in prison somewhere in the world (least likely)
- he is still on the lam
- he is dead (one hopes – and violently)
It has been exactly 30 years since little Sharin’s murder and the hunt for Howe continues. It will never be a cold case so long as Howe is alive and on the run. I was sixteen years old when Sharin was murdered and I remember discussing the case with my mother. We were both heartbroken. I was fixated in a horrific way on the fear and suffering the little girl must have gone through. At that time, no one knew who her killer was, which made her murder somehow even creepier. One of the police officers who discovered Sharin’s body committed suicide, presumably unable to live with the sight of the dead child in his mind. The only comfort that can be had in the case is knowing that police know her killer’s identity. Interpol is used by every major police force in the world. It is only a matter of time, yes, more time, until Howe’s whereabouts are finally discovered and Sharin’s case can finally be closed.