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Secret murder: RCMP say Shirley Parkinson homicide is private

10/15/2014 05:00 EDT | Updated 12/14/2014 05:59 EST
Shirley Parkinson, 56, was killed by her husband near Unity, Sask., last month but RCMP refuse to publicly acknowledge that she was a homicide victim. 

The RCMP insisted, then and now, on simply calling the death of the mother-of-two a "sudden death."

Parkinson's husband, Donald, 60, also killed himself in what is usually referred to as a murder-suicide on the couple's farm near Unity on Sept. 10.

But without official confirmation, Parkinson's homicide was never reported in the media. A local pastor told CBC News that he thought the couple died from carbon monoxide poisoning. Others suggested it was a double suicide. It wasn't.

Saskatchewan's chief coroner and the victim's mother have confirmed to CBC News that Parkinson's death was a homicide.

Murder isn't private, researcher says

"I'm hoping this is not something that is swept under the rug," said Sonia Salari, a leading researcher in the United States on murder-suicides in intimate relationships

The sociology professor explained that dubbing this crime as "two sudden deaths" ignores the seriousness of domestic violence, disrespects the autonomy of the woman as a victim, and robs society of the ability to address patterns and take steps to prevent similar crimes.

"It needs to be recognized and there needs to be an awareness of the danger of this kind of family violence," according to Salari.

Privacy vs. public interest

Shirley Parkinson was a well-known public health nurse who immunized many of the children in her small town, advised new mothers on breast-feeding, and volunteered as a Brownie leader.

So, why won't RCMP acknowledge that she was a homicide victim? Privacy.

RCMP Saskatchewan spokeswoman Mandy Maier told CBC News that the federal Privacy Act prohibits the RCMP from releasing an individual's personal information without consent unless public interest outweighs any invasion of privacy. She argued that since there wasn't a suspect-at-large or a pending criminal trial, there was no reason to release information.

However, this interpretation of the Privacy Act has been applied selectively by RCMP in the past.

In 2012, for example, RCMP released a statement confirming that Darren Wourms killed his wife, Hayley, 23, their son Cayden, 2, then himself near St. Walburg, Sask. The statement said the deaths of Hayley and Cayden were homicides.

And while the Parkinson family requested privacy to grieve, Shirley's mother, NadenHewko, told CBC News that the bare facts of the case should be known.

Hewko said she believes Donald Parkinson had mental health issues far worse than anyone in the family realized, and that what happened was tragic.

"We need more education on mental health," said Hewko. "[Donald] was sick. He did love his wife."

Suicidal baby boomers 

A study of 729 homicide-suicides in the United States involving intimate partners should raise alarm, said study author Sonia Salari.

Salari relied largely on media reports to collect information because many police databases record homicides and suicides separately, even if linked.

Some of her findings abut homicide-suicides include:

- 97 per cent of perpetrators are men.

- 31 per cent of killers are 60 or older.

- 87 per cent use a gun.

Strikingly, she found that while a younger man's motive was most often homicidal, men over 60 were found to be primarily suicidal but then they rationalized killing their spouse.

"In some cases, there may be this thought of 'well, what will this person do without me?' or 'this will hurt this person, so I'll just bring them along with'," explained Salari. "They're refusing to acknowledge the autonomy of that person."

Salari said her research shows health workers and law enforcement agencies should be aware that men over 60 with suicidal thoughts pose a risk to their spouses.

"With the increased suicidal tendencies of the baby boom generation, IPHS [intimate partner homicide-suicide] could come to play a larger role for women's health and public health in general."

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