Two years before he suddenly vanished and decades before his body was finally identified, David Nixon was brutally beaten in an assault while walking home from a Hamilton bar, CBC News has learned.
Hamilton police are now re-examining the case as they try to figure out just how Nixon died, and whether the two incidents are connected.
“That is one aspect of the investigation we’re looking at,” Det. David Brady told CBC Hamilton.
Two men assaulted Nixon back in 1982 after he left a now-defunct bar called the Hotline Tavern in the east end. Both men were convicted of assault, and have been interviewed by police about his disappearance. But Brady wouldn’t say when those interviews occurred or talk about the circumstances of the assault.
He did say police were aware of the assault when he took over Nixon’s missing person’s case eight years ago — but the details were never made public.
“Right now, we’re trying to determine whether foul play was involved or not,” Brady said.
Though police won’t comment on the specifics of their investigation, Nixon’s family does believe foul play was involved. His body was pulled from Lake Ontario about a month after he went missing in 1984.
Circumstances don't make sense, sister says
Nixon’s sister Janis told CBC Hamilton she doesn’t understand how her brother could have ended up in Lake Ontario. He didn’t have a car, had no reason to be in Scarborough, and wasn't suicidal, she said.
He was fully clothed when he was pulled from the lake, she said.
An official cause of death in the case has not been released.
“It’s hard, and it’s hard to relive it,” she said. “For 30 years we’ve all had hope – and now that hope is gone. Now we just hope for justice.
“So much of this doesn’t make sense to us.”
For decades, Nixon’s body was in an unmarked grave in Toronto, while his family in Hamilton agonized over what could have happened to their brother and son.
Finally, in October, Ontario Provincial Police contacted Hamilton police and told them that they had a DNA match for Nixon from a body that was pulled from Lake Ontario near Bluffers Park.
Why did it take decades to make connection?
His sister says she doesn’t understand why no one was able to make a connection between the body and her missing brother back then. “Do you not go to every jurisdiction that borders Lake Ontario and ask if they’re missing someone?” she asked.
Though Hamilton police detectives are currently handling the case, Toronto police would have had jurisdiction over it when Nixon’s body was first discovered back in 1984. Representatives from Toronto police could not immediately be reached for comment.
Brady says it’s “obviously very concerning” that the dots were never connected back then. “But realistically, I can’t judge policing back in 1984.”
Because Nixon’s body had been in the water for a few weeks, it had decomposed pretty badly. The autopsy conducted at the time pegged Nixon as having been 30 to 40 years old and balding – which didn’t fit the description of the 24 year old at all.
The water itself would have distorted his features and body as he decomposed, Brady said.
“Now our forensics are better and perhaps now we’d look at things differently,” Brady said. While police at the time usually would have used dental records to identify a body, Nixon never had any cavities and didn’t have any dental records on file, his sister said.
More than anything, she just wants anyone who has information on her brother’s death to come forward to police – not just for her, but also for her elderly parents.
“My mom’s having a really tough time,” she said.
“Her faith has always given her hope and some kind of peace – and now that’s gone.”