A husband and wife who were suspects in a 2012 double homicide that took place on Nova Scotia's Eastern Shore have been charged with second-degree murder and related firearms offences.

Elmer Percy Higgins, 65, and Karen Marie Higgins, 49, were arrested in December 2012 shortly after fire officials found the bodies of two men — 22-year-old Matthew Allan Hebb and 59-year-old Earle Clayton Stewart, both from Spryfield — in a burned cabin off Highway 374 in Sheet Harbour.

They were released after the arrests and charges were not pursued.

The couple was arrested a second time in March, and again released without charges.

Pair arrested 3 times

Police announced Thursday the pair have been arrested a third time and are now facing charges in the men's deaths.

The homicides were added in 2016 to a program that offers up to $150,000 to anyone who can provide tips that lead to an arrest in a major crime, and police said information from that program "greatly assisted" in laying the charges.


The bodies of Matthew Hebb and Earle Stewart were found December 2012 in a burned cabin in Sheet Harbour. (Submitted by Kirtley Beaver/Facebook)

"Today's charges represent over four years of tireless investigative work," RCMP Insp. Trudy Bangloy said in a statement.

"Our investigators persevered and in the end, it is our hope that we find answers for the Hebb and Stewart families."

Preliminary inquiry in January

The accused briefly appeared in Dartmouth provincial court Thursday afternoon. Members of both the Hebb and Stewart families were also there, clutching tissues and staring intently at the two accused. Two members of the Higgins family were also in attendance.

The case will return to court in January for a five-day preliminary inquiry.

Don Murray, the lawyer for Karen Higgins, indicated his client will likely be applying for bail in the meantime. Because it is a murder charge, any bail hearing would be conducted in Nova Scotia Supreme Court.

Elmer Percy Higgins is getting a lawyer through legal aid.

Both accused were stooped and shuffling as they were led in and out of court for their brief appearance.


The families of Earl Stewart and Matthew Hebb have put up crosses in their memories. (Submitted by Kirtley Beaver)

The bodies of Hebb and Stewart were found when police and firefighters responded to a 911 call of a burning building on Highway 374. The building was described as a cottage or hunting camp.

The bodies were discovered in the rubble.

Victims were getting Christmas trees

Their deaths were confirmed as homicides days later. At the time, RCMP said they believed the two men were in Sheet Harbour getting Christmas trees.

Following the discovery, investigators searched a residence on Herring Cove Road in Halifax and a property off Highway 374 near Sheet Harbour. According to online records, both properties were owned by Elmer Perry Vincent Higgins and Karen Marie Higgins.


A man and woman are charged in the 2012 homicide that took place in Sheet Harbour, N.S. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

With files from Blair Rhodes