Murder of Zachary Turner

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Zachary Turner
Zachary Andrew Turner

(2002-07-18)18 July 2002
Died18 August 2003(2003-08-18) (aged 1)
Conception Bay South, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada
Cause of deathDrowning
Resting placeParson's Pond, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada[1]
ResidenceSt. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada
Known forMurder victim
Parent(s)Andrew David Bagby
Shirley Jane Turner

Zachary Andrew Turner (18 July 2002 – 18 August 2003)[2] was a boy from St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada who was killed by his mother, Shirley Jane Turner, in a murder–suicide on 18 August 2003. Turner drugged the infant and jumped into the Atlantic Ocean.[3] At the time, Turner had been released on bail and awarded custody of the infant, even though she was in the process of being extradited to the United States to stand trial for the murder of Zachary's father, Andrew David Bagby. The case led to a critical overview of Newfoundland's legal and child welfare systems as well as Canada's bail laws.

A 2006 inquiry found serious shortcomings in how the province's social services system handled the case, suggesting that the judges, prosecutors, and child welfare agencies involved were more concerned with presuming Shirley Turner's innocence than with protecting Zachary Turner. The inquiry reached the conclusion that Zachary Turner's death was preventable.[4] The case led to the passage of Bill C-464, or Zachary's Bill, which strengthened the conditions for bail in Canadian courts in cases involving the wellbeing of children.

The deaths of Andrew Bagby and Zachary Turner later became the basis for the 2008 documentary Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father, directed by Kurt Kuenne.[5]


Shirley Jane Turner
Shirley Jane Turner

(1961-01-28)28 January 1961
Died18 August 2003(2003-08-18) (aged 42)
Conception Bay South, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada
Cause of deathSuicide
Known forMurder-suicide
Children4 (1 deceased)
VictimsEx-boyfriend and son
Span of crimes
CountryUnited States, Canada
State(s)Newfoundland, Pennsylvania

Shirley Jane Turner (28 January 1961 – 18 August 2003) was the Canadian-American daughter of a U.S. serviceman and a local woman from St. Anthony, Newfoundland. Turner was raised with three siblings in Wichita, Kansas, but moved to Newfoundland with her mother after her parents separated. Her parents later divorced.[6] In 1980, Turner enrolled at Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John's, seeking to embark on a medical career.[7]

Marriages and children[edit]

Upon becoming pregnant, Turner married a long-time boyfriend during Memorial University's 1981 winter recess. The child, a boy, was born on 9 July 1982. Turner's husband raised the child as a stay-at-home dad while Turner continued her studies. In 1983, Turner moved to Labrador City and worked as a science teacher. Two years later, she gave birth to a daughter.[8] During this period, she resumed a previous relationship with a fisherman from Corner Brook, Newfoundland.[9] Her first marriage ended on 29 January 1988, leading her to marry her boyfriend from Corner Brook the following July.[10] Turner gave birth to another daughter on 8 March 1990, one year before she and her second husband separated. Turner completed her undergraduate education while raising her children with help from her second husband.

In October 1993, a man boarding with Turner confided to his therapist that he had witnessed her physically and emotionally abusing two of her children. Newfoundland social workers interviewed the children, who stated that their "disciplinarian" mother punished them with spankings and beltings. Turner's second husband, in his own interview, claimed that Turner only used the belt as a threat. The case was closed on 11 January 1994 without Turner herself ever being interviewed. Three years later, Turner divorced from her second husband and was granted custody of their daughter. Within days of the ruling, however, Turner sent her daughter back to live with her father in Portland Creek while her other two children were sent to Parson's Pond to live with their paternal grandmother.

Since 1982, Turner had taken out "baby bonuses" for her children from a scholarship fund with the expectation of sending them to university. However, in the summer of 2000, Turner confessed to a relative that she had spent the baby bonuses on her own living expenses as well as her doctoral education. Turner insisted, however, that she would earn "big money" after completing her post-residency training and would pay for her children's post-secondary education.

Medical residencies[edit]

Turner received her undergraduate degree from Memorial University in May 1994; four years later, she earned her MD degree. Between 1998 and 2000, she served as a medical intern or resident physician at teaching hospitals across Newfoundland. Her performance during a 1999 residency period at a family practice in St. John's drew harsh assessments by her supervising physician, who stated she would become "quite hostile[,] yelling, crying, and accusing me of treating her unfairly." During her remedial second residency period in early 2000, Turner missed nine days of her three-month rotation and falsified clinical reports. One patient refused to return to the practice after an encounter with her. The staff became "so concerned about Shirley Turner's approach to confrontation and the truth that we would never give her feedback or hold any major discussion [with her] alone." These incidents left the supervising physician with the impression that:

I felt I was being manipulated whenever I spoke with Shirley Turner. When negative items would come up she would change the topic to one of my failings. She could be charming[,] friendly and lively but when caught in an untruth she would become angry, accusatory and loud. I always felt Shirley Turner was putting on a show, as if she were playing the role but had no feeling for her work. I cannot recall a trainee like Shirley Turner in that her approach lacked personal commitment and her relationships with people seemed, at least to me, to be superficial when compared to the over 400 residents I have supervised during the past 21 years.[11]

In a later interview with an assessment officer of the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate, the supervising physician described Turner in hindsight as "a manipulative, guiltless psychopath." The experience with Turner led the St. John's practice to make "constructive changes" in its residency evaluation process. By the summer of 2000, Turner completed the requirements of her residency training and became qualified to practice medicine.

Stalking case[edit]

In March 1996, Turner began a relationship with a St. John's resident who was thirteen years her junior. After the man broke up with Turner and moved elsewhere in Newfoundland, she inundated him with phone calls. In November 1997, Turner confronted him in Halifax, Nova Scotia and struck him in the jaw with her high-heeled shoe. After consulting with his parents, the ex-boyfriend moved to Westtown Township, Pennsylvania, United States in 1998. However, Turner followed him and left threatening voicemails over the following year. Turner began traveling to Pennsylvania to make unannounced visits to the ex-boyfriend's apartment. On several occasions, he summoned state troopers to convince her to leave. He expressed fear to police of "what Dr. Turner would do next."

On 7 April 1999, the ex-boyfriend found Turner lying semi-conscious outside of his apartment. She had ingested a combined 65 milligrams of over-the-counter drugs in what may not have been a sincere suicide attempt. Turner was wearing a black dress, and carried a bouquet of red roses and two suicide notes on her person. One was addressed to the man and the other to her psychiatrist; the latter read, "I am not evil, just sick." Turner was rushed to a hospital, where her stomach was pumped. The following day, the man found a voicemail by a female caller – likely Turner disguising her voice – who said, "Dr. Turner died last night."

Andrew Bagby murder[edit]


Andrew David Bagby
Andrew David Bagby

(1973-09-25)25 September 1973
Sunnyvale, California, United States
Died5 November 2001(2001-11-05) (aged 28)
Latrobe, Pennsylvania, United States
ResidenceUnited States
Known forMurder victim
ChildrenZachary Turner (2002 - 2003)

Beginning in early 1999, Turner began dating Andrew David Bagby (25 September 1973 – 5 November 2001), an American medical student studying at Memorial University for his third year. Bagby came from Sunnyvale, California and was the son of Kathleen Daphne Bagby (née Barnard) a registered nurse and midwife from Chatham, England, UK; and David Franklin Bagby, a former US Navy serviceman and computer engineer.

In August 2000, Turner moved to Sac City, Iowa to begin work for the Trimark Physicians Corporation. Meanwhile, after graduating from Memorial University in May 2000, Bagby landed a surgical residency at the State University on New York Upstate Medical University at Syracuse, New York. Despite the distance between states, Turner and Bagby initially tried to maintain a long distance relationship.[12] By Turner's account, she visited Bagby's residence in Syracuse seven times while he visited her once in Sac City. During one of these visits, Turner is believed to have burglarized Bagby's apartment. In the fall of 2001, Bagby moved to Latrobe, Pennsylvania and began his residency at a family practice under the supervision of Dr. T. Clark Simpson.

On 10 July 2001, less than a year into her ten-year contract with Trimark, Turner left their Sac City clinic and moved to Council Bluffs, Iowa, where she was hired by Alegent Health System of Omaha, Nebraska. In October 2001, Turner obtained a permit to buy a firearm and purchased a Phoenix Arms HP22 handgun and .22 ammunition, which she used during firearms lessons. Meanwhile, Turner exhibited possessive behaviour towards Bagby and harassed him over the phone. On 13 October, Turner told Bagby that she was three months pregnant. Bagby agreed to talk with her about the baby during a wedding that Bagby was scheduled to attend. When Turner visited him in Latrobe in late October 2001 – immediately after the last of her firearms lessons in Omaha – the two frequently argued over his relationship with a new girlfriend. On 3 November 2001, Turner confessed that she had been lying about her 'pregnancy' in an effort to remain with Bagby permanently. Furious about this, Bagby drove Turner to the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport and broke up with her over lunch, sending her on a plane back to Iowa.

Murder and investigation[edit]

On 4 November 2001, Turner made a total of three phone calls to Bagby's residence in Latrobe. At approximately 1:00 p.m. local time, Turner embarked on a 16-hour, 1,523 kilometre (946 mile) drive to Latrobe with her gun and ammunition inside a gun box in her Toyota RAV4. In the early morning of 5 November 2001, she confronted Bagby at his residence, located across the street from his practice. Bagby arrived at work in an "agitated" state and told Simpson about her appearance, but dismissed his advice to not meet with her in private; Bagby subsequently promised to visit Simpson's house after talking to Turner that evening, but he never showed up. Turner later drove home and left a message on Bagby's answering machine.

The following morning, Bagby's body was found in a day-use parking lot at Keystone State Park in Derry Township, Pennsylvania. He had been shot five times in the face, the chest, the buttocks, and the back of the head with CCI .22 bullets. Acting on statements by Simpson and others, the Pennsylvania State Police contacted Turner. Despite her claim to have been in bed sick on 5 November, cell phone and Internet records showed that she had made cross-country calls both to and from Latrobe, accessed eBay and Hotmail from Bagby's home computer, and used his home phone to call in sick. When confronted with this evidence, Turner claimed that she met with Bagby at Keystone State Park, but that he put the gun in his trunk. Turner alternately told her shooting instructor that her gun had been stolen.

Investigators interviewed Turner's shooting instructor, who explained that her handgun ejected live rounds during lessons; this was consistent with an unspent round recovered near Bagby's body. Later, a Derry resident traveling through the park reported seeing Bagby's Toyota Corolla parked next to Turner's RAV4 ten minutes after Bagby made his last phone call to Simpson; the resident later saw the Corolla parked alone the following morning. The lot number on a box of condoms found in Turner's Council Bluffs apartment matched a box purchased by Bagby in Latrobe on the night of the break-up. Also in Turner's apartment were Mapquest printouts for road directions to Latrobe. Despite the evidence gathered, Turner had fled the country by the time authorities obtained a warrant for her arrest.

The Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador; Shirley Turner's extradition proceedings were conducted here.

Legal proceedings[edit]

On 12 November 2001, Turner abandoned her residence in Council Bluffs and flew to Toronto, eventually resettling in St. John's with her oldest son. Acting in collaboration with the Pennsylvania State Police, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary's Intelligence Unit conducted surveillance on her movements. On 2 December, the Unit seized her trash and discovered printouts for an ultrasound taken on 29 November, showing a fetus that was conceived with Bagby the previous month.

The RNC arrested Turner on 12 December, the same day extradition proceedings commenced against her. However, Newfoundland Justice Gale Welsh believed Turner, 41, wasn't a threat to society, despite the murder charges awaiting her in Pennsylvania.[13] In exchange for her freedom, Turner was required to post CAD$75,000 bail, turn in her passports, pay weekly visits to the RNC, promise not to leave the area, and make no attempt to contact Bagby's family.

Turner posted bail with help from her psychiatrist, Dr. John Doucet, a former co-worker from Memorial University.

The news that Turner was pregnant with Bagby's child turned the extradition case into one involving child custody, and subsequently led to a complicated legal saga.[14] David and Kathleen Bagby moved to St. John's, Newfoundland, in order to fight for custody of their son's child, while Turner eventually moved into her own apartment on Pleasant Street, St. John's.

Custody case[edit]

After Zachary's birth on 18 July 2002, Turner persistently refused to allow David and Kathleen Bagby to see their grandson, fearing they would kidnap him. She went so far as to discharge her family law lawyer because of his positive attitude towards the Bagbys.

On several occasions, it was noted that Zachary was unusually detached from his mother and preferred the company of other adults, especially the Bagbys. This preference was made especially clear during Zachary's first (and only) birthday party at a St. John's McDonald's, after which Turner said to them, "He obviously loves you more than me, so why don't you take him."[15]


Conception Bay South, where Shirley Turner drowned herself and her son Zachary.

On 4 July 2003, Turner met a young man at a bar in St. John's. The pair dated and were intimate on two occasions afterwards. The man broke off the relationship after learning from friends about Turner's connection to Bagby's murder. Turner subsequently made a total of 200 threatening phone calls to the man over the following month. Turner claimed to have gotten pregnant by the man, but no evidence was ever found showing this to be the case. The man contacted the RNC on three occasions to complain about Turner's harassment, which violated the terms of her bail and would have been grounds to lose custody of Zachary. Because the man did not identify himself and declined to file any criminal complaint against Turner, no investigation was launched by the RNC. When an RNC constable contacted Turner's lawyer about the harassment, Turner denied the allegations.

On 18 August 2003 – a day Zachary was scheduled to be in his mother's custody – Turner purchased thirty tablets of Ativan from a St. John's pharmacy.[16] She then drove with Zachary to nearby Conception Bay South, where her former boyfriend lived. There, Turner parked her car near his house and left photographs of herself and Zachary, as well as a used tampon, on the front seat; police concluded that she was attempting to frame the boyfriend for the impending murder-suicide. After spiking Zachary's baby formula with Ativan and ingesting it herself, Turner strapped the infant to her chest and jumped off a fishing wharf into the Atlantic Ocean. Both drowned. It was determined that Zachary Turner was rendered unconscious by the Ativan and did not suffer.[citation needed]

Subsequent events[edit]

Investigations and findings[edit]

On 3 May 2006, a disciplinary board convened by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Newfoundland and Labrador found Dr. John Doucet guilty of professional misconduct for his involvement in helping post Turner's $75,000 bail. Doucet was ordered to pay a fine of $10,000 – covering one third of the $30,000 incurred by the College for the inquiry – and was ordered to undergo psychiatric counselling. Doucet said he was "disappointed" by the verdict, while David Bagby stated that he was happy with the precedent his case would be setting.[17] According to filmmaker Kurt Kuenne, Doucet later left Newfoundland and relocated elsewhere in Canada.[18]

In October 2006, Winnipeg-based coroner Peter Markesteyn released the Turner Review and Investigation, which concluded that Zachary Turner's death was preventable and criticised Newfoundland and Labrador's social services system for failing to protect the child from his mother, stating, "Nowhere did I find any ongoing assessment of the safety needs of the children." Markesteyn specifically cited poor communication between social services officials, who worked on the presumption of Shirley Turner's innocence throughout the case and became more concerned for her welfare than for Zachary's. Markesteyn ultimately concluded that internal disagreements between case workers and managers weren't openly discussed, and that an intervention by an outside office should have been made.[19] The provincial government of Newfoundland and Labrador accepted the report's conclusions and its twenty-nine recommendations.

Bagbys' activism[edit]

On 23 October 2009, Scott Andrews, then a Liberal MP from Newfoundland and Labrador, introduced Bill C-464, or "Zachary's Bill", which would change the Criminal Code of Canada to allow the courts to justify their refusing bail to those accused of serious crimes in the name of protecting their children. The bill received unanimous bipartisan support in the Canadian House of Commons, and received support from Liberal Senator Tommy Banks. It was finally signed into law by Governor-General David Johnston on 16 December 2010. Andrews later said that the law "gives [the Bagbys] some sense that someone has heard their cries so this will not happen again, to change the law to make sure something this tragic will never happen again."[20]

David Bagby penned a book about the case titled Dance with the Devil: A Memoir of Murder and Loss. It was published in 2007.[21]

Dear Zachary film[edit]

Written and directed by Kurt Kuenne, MSNBC Films and Oscilloscope Laboratories released Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father on 31 October 2008. The film is partly composed of home movies Kuenne and Bagby shot together as teenagers in California, and features interviews with Bagby's parents, extended family, friends, classmates, and colleagues both before and after Zachary's murder. A portion of the film also shows Kuenne meeting Zachary in Newfoundland in July 2003 to celebrate his first birthday, one month before his death; Shirley Turner is present during the visit, but Kuenne avoids her. The film premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival, and was broadcast by MSNBC on 7 December 2008.

The National Board of Review of Motion Pictures named the film one of the five top documentaries of the year for 2008. Among those who named it one of the best films of 2008 were Time Out Chicago, The Oregonian, the Times Herald-Record, Slant Magazine, and WGN Radio Chicago.[22] The website Film School Rejects place the film in third place in their "30 Best Films of the Decade" list.[23] The Film Vault included the film on their "Top 5 Good Movies You Never Want to See Again."[24]

The Chicago Film Critics Association nominated Dear Zachary for Best Documentary. The Society of Professional Journalists presented the film with its Sigma Delta Chi Award for Best Documentary, it received the Special Jury and Audience Awards at the Cinequest Film Festival, it was named an Audience Favorite at Hot Docs, it received the Audience Awards at the St. Louis International Film Festival and the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival, and it was named Best Documentary at the Orlando Film Festival.[22]


  • 13 October - After months of relentless harassment, Shirley Turner tells Andrew Bagby that she is 3 months pregnant.
  • 20 October – Approximate date of Zachary Turner's conception, during Shirley Turner's penultimate visit to Andrew Bagby in Latrobe.
  • 3 November – Shirley Turner tells Andrew Bagby that she lied about being pregnant. Infuriated, he breaks up with her. Turner flies from Latrobe, Pennsylvania, to her home in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
  • 4 November – Turner begins a cross-country drive back to Latrobe, making cell phone calls from Chicago, Illinois; South Bend, Indiana; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, along the way.
  • 5 November –
    • 5:30 a.m. – Turner arrives in Latrobe and shows up at Bagby's house, saying that she wants to speak with him in private at Keystone State Park in Derry Township that evening.
    • 7:30 a.m. – Bagby goes to work at his practice across the street while Turner remains in his house. She accesses eBay and Hotmail on his home computer, falsely calls in sick to work on his home phone, and apparently steals the box of condoms he purchased on 3 November.
  • 6 November – A park ranger discovers Bagby's body lying face-down in the parking lot of Keystone State Park. He had been shot in the face, the chest, the buttocks, and the back of the head by what ballistics experts later determined were CCI .22 bullets from a Phoenix Arms HP22 handgun.
  • 12 November – Turner abandons her apartment, possessions, and vehicle in Council Bluffs. Traveling on her Canadian passport, she takes a flight from Omaha to Toronto, Ontario. She reunites with her eldest daughter at a Toronto motel.
  • 20 November
    • Acting in conjunction with the Pennsylvania State Police, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary's Intelligence Unit opens a file on Shirley Turner.
    • Turner attends Bagby's memorial service on the Memorial University campus. RNC officers conduct surveillance on Turner at the gathering.
  • 28 November
  • 29 November
    • The Intelligence Unit puts Turner on their database, noting "suicidal tendencies."
    • Turner keeps an ultrasound appointment.
  • 12 December
    • The RNC arrests Turner in St. John's for Bagby's murder.
    • Justice Gale Welsh releases Turner deeming her not a threat to society, despite the murder charges awaiting her in Pennsylvania. Doucet pays most of her CAD$75,000 bail.
  • 18 July – Shirley Turner gives birth to Zachary Turner; David and Kate Bagby are in the hospital during the birth, but Turner refuses to let them enter the delivery room to see their grandson.
  • 18 August – Shirley Turner drugs herself and Zachary, and then jumps into the ocean. Both drown.
  • 31 March – The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Newfoundland and Labrador find Turner's former psychiatrist, Dr. John Doucet, guilty of professional misconduct, ordering him to pay a CAD$10,000 fine and undergo psychiatric counselling.
  • 4 October – The Turner Report and Investigation is released, finding that Zachary's death was preventable and that Newfoundland and Labrador's social services system did not adequately act to protect him from Turner. The provincial government of Newfoundland and Labrador accepts the report and its twenty-nine recommendations.
  • 7 December – Dear Zachary premieres on the US cable news channel MSNBC.
  • 23 October – Liberal MP Scott Andrews introduces Bill C-464, or "Zachary's Bill", for the purpose of strengthening Canada's bail requirements.


  1. ^ Fegan, Matt (14 October 2004). "Murder-suicide funeral: An assignment to dread". King's Journalism Review. 10. Retrieved 3 March 2014.
  2. ^ Markesteyn, Peter H. and Day, David C. (September 2006), Turner Review and Investigation, Office of the Child and Youth Advocate, Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, p. 79
  3. ^ Gazarik, Richard (20 August 2003). "Turner, infant son found dead". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Archived from the original on 7 April 2010. Retrieved 4 November 2010.
  4. ^ "No need for Zachary Turner to die: death review". CBC News (Canada). 4 October 2006.
  5. ^ Mullowney, Tara (11 December 2008). "Dear Zachary hits chord with viewers". The Telegram (St. John's, Newfoundland). Archived from the original on 4 February 2013.
  6. ^ Turner Review, p. 80
  7. ^ Turner Review, p. 84
  8. ^ Turner Review, p. 85
  9. ^ Turner Review, p. 86
  10. ^ Turner Review, p. 87
  11. ^ Turner Review, p. 101
  12. ^ The Best Man, Dateline NBC, 26 July 2010
  13. ^ "Canadian judge let Turner free despite U.S. advice". CBC News. Retrieved 29 December 2017.
  14. ^ Why Was an Accused Killer Free to Kill Again? The ‘Dear Zachary’ Story, TruTV Crime Library, 20 January 2013
  15. ^ Turner Review, p. 454
  16. ^ "I had the moral right to kill Shirley Turner". National Post (Canada).
  17. ^ "Turner psychiatrist ordered to pay $10,000". CBC News (Canada). 31 March 2006.
  18. ^ Kurt Kuenne (2 December 2008). "Ask the filmmaker a question about 'Dear Zachary'".
  19. ^ No need for Zachary Turner to die: death review, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 4 October 2006
  20. ^ Daniel MacEachern (16 December 2010). "Bagby bill becomes law". The Telegram. Retrieved 30 March 2011.
  21. ^ "After Canadian mother killed herself and their only grandchild, U.S. couple started 10-year fight to change Canada's bail laws". 9 August 2013.
  22. ^ a b Dear Zachary official website
  23. ^ FSR Staff (22 December 2009). "The 30 Best Films of the Decade". Film School Rejects. Archived from the original on 8 February 2010.
  24. ^ "Top 5 Good Movies You Never Want To See Again". The Film Vault. Retrieved 21 July 2012.

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