CBC News has obtained newly-unsealed documents, photos and video that show the shocking living conditions Betty Anne Gagnon suffered.

Documents also show that the government agency responsible for her care failed to follow up on warning signs of threats to the developmentally-disabled woman's safety, almost a year before she was found dead on Nov. 20, 2009.

The evidence was entered at the preliminary hearing of her caregivers, Gagnon's sister Denise Scriven and brother-in-law Michael Scriven, who were charged with assault, unlawful confinement and manslaughter.

While the couple admitted to beating and caging Gagnon, they eventually pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of failing  to provide the necessities of life, which carries a maximum of five years in prison.

Denise and Michael Scriven sentenced

The pair was sentenced Oct. 31 for failure to provide the necessities of life.

The photos, taken by RCMP investigators, show the Scriven property east of Edmonton where Gagnon lived in filth and squalor.

Photos taken inside a derelict school bus converted to a camper show where Gagnon spent the last night of her life. The floor is cluttered and dirty. A soiled sanitary napkin sits on a table.

Other photos show a cage encased in jagged chicken wire with a stained mattress lying to one side and a toilet filled with kitty litter.  


A note found on the property reads "I didn't feed BA. I didn't want to have a bad day by talking to her." (RCMP)

"It's just disgusting, it's despicable," said Suzanne Jackett, a friend and Gagnon’s former paid caregiver, who recently saw the photos for the first time.

Gagnon lived with Jackett and her partner Heather O'Bray for many years. They wanted to see the evidence for themselves, to know just what their friend went through in her last days.

"This is murder, pure and simple," said O'Bray. "The reality is, there was a vulnerable person put into the care of someone who was supposed to be a nurse and a family member, and she had an awful last year of her life, and she did not deserve it."

Betty Anne Gagnon’s friends describe her as a gentle soul, who hated housework, dreamed of a trip to Paris and loved reading entertainment magazines.

Her developmental disabilities meant she required support, but they didn’t stop her from holding a job and buying her own groceries at one time, with help.

After she moved in with her sister on an acreage near Sherwood Park, Alta., however, her life took a dark turn.

Crisis flagged months before death

But what may be more disturbing is how the province was unable to save Gagnon.

Both Michael Scriven’ mother and Gagnon's niece noticed something was wrong at the Scriven property and tried to warn authorities ahead of time, a previous CBC investigation found.

Documents reveal that the Alberta government agency Persons with Developmental Disabilities (PDD) knew of serious problems at the Scriven home more than nine months before Betty Anne Gagnon’s death.

Signals that Gagnon’s caregivers were struggling escalated sharply in February and March 2009. Those signals came from Denise and Michael Scriven themselves.

Denise Scriven left a voicemail with her PDD worker on Feb. 11, 2009, saying she was at her limit.

"She has been caring for Betty Ann [sic] for three-and-a-half years without support and (says she) can't do it any longer," wrote the case worker in the contact notes from Gagnon’s file.

When the pair met a week later, Scriven told the worker she was in a "state of emergency" and that she wasn't able to care for her sister anymore.

Scriven asked that her sister be set up in a group home "as soon as possible."

Further signs of struggle

Two days after her emergency meeting with Denise Scriven, the case worker phoned the Robin Hood Association, a Sherwood Park non-profit dedicated to helping people with disabilities, looking for space for Gagnon.

The agency told her nothing was available, but warned of a strange call for help from Michael Scriven himself.

About six weeks earlier, Scriven had phoned the association, irate and threatening to drop Gagnon off at its doorstep.

Soon after, the worker had another urgent talk with Denise Scriven.

The notes from that conversation describe a desperate woman who had trouble completing simple tasks.

According to the file, Denise Scriven told the PDD worker that she had severe depression. She also said she cried “all the time” and had trouble coping -- “cannot even make phone calls.”

Previously-released court documents tell us that at that time, Denise Scriven was on disability leave from her job as a nurse for depression, stress and anxiety. Those documents also show she suffered a miscarriage early in 2009.

Scriven had sent her sister away to stay with their brother for six weeks in Ontario and didn't want her back.

"Denise is insisting Betty Ann [sic] cannot return to her home," wrote the PDD worker.

At first, efforts to find Gagnon a new home reflected that urgency.


The newly-released photos show the conditions that the family kept Betty Anne in -- sleeping in an unheated bus and sometimes kept in cages scattered around the property. (RCMP)

In an email to a colleague a week later, the case worker described Gagnon as someone "in desperate need of residential supports."

A flurry of emails and phone calls followed. An agency called Independent Counselling Services (ICE) found a promising new home placement for Gagnon on Mar. 31, 2009.

That was the same day Gagnon was expected home from her brother’s -- a return Denise Scriven had made clear she didn't want to happen.

'Not a whole lot more we can do'

The PDD worker left a voicemail at the Scriven home about the potential new placement on April 6, 2009. Her call went unanswered.

A week later, a second call also went unanswered and, for the first time, no voicemail was available to leave a message. The file shows further efforts to get in touch with the Scrivens went unanswered.

"I have left three messages to Denise with no reply," wrote the ICE worker in an email to PDD on April 15, 2009.

"I am not sure why she is not returning our calls," PDD replied. "I guess there is not a whole lot more we can do until we hear back from her."  

PDD stopped trying to call until four months later, when, in July 2009, a second opportunity arose to move Gagnon to a new home.

The PDD worker phoned the Scrivens about the new space available at the Robin Hood Association.

But again, there was no answer and no voicemail.

That same day the worker left a voicemail for Gagnon’s father, which also went unanswered.

The next entry in the file is a notice that Betty Anne Gagnon’s file will be closed.

That happened on Sept. 23, 2009. Two months later, Gagnon was dead.

The abuse prevention and response protocol for Alberta’s Ministry of Human Services requires PDD workers to investigate all complaints from family, neighbours - anyone who suspects problems with the care of a person with developmental disabilities.

If complaints are serious enough, PDD is expected to pass those complaints along to police.

But it’s not known why PDD failed to visit the Scriven home when the family in crisis stopped answering phone calls.

CBC News asked the agency for an interview, but a spokesperson said it will not comment.

Instead, PDD sent a policy explanation stating, "PDD can arrange an inspection of a family home - if they think something's wrong.

"While PDD regularly inspects the homes of persons with disabilities living with paid worker, they are not required to visit the homes of clients living with family."

The Alberta government will hold a fatality inquiry into Gagnon's death, now that court proceedings are over.

The results of the inquiry will be made public.

TIMELINE: Warning signs ignored