Police who investigated 1977 waterfront death to meet with family

The Charlottetown police officer who responded to the scene where Mary Francis Paul was found dead 41 years ago will meet with her family in an effort to provide closure and answer questions about her death and the police investigation.

'The least we could do is meet with the family, attempt to give some of the answers'

Testifying before the national inquiry on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls last week, Barbara Bernard raised questions about how police handled her mother's death. (CBC News)

The Charlottetown police officer who responded to the scene where Mary Francis Paul was found dead 41 years ago will meet with her family in an effort to provide closure and answer questions about her death and the police investigation.

The body of Mary Francis Paul was found on the Charlottetown waterfront in 1977. Her daughter Barbara Bernard, then 16, last week told the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls that the family has for decades had questions about how her mother died and how police handled the investigation.

It may offer some closure, to be able to bring them to that site … and hopefully will start the healing process for them.— Brad MacConnell

"It felt like they didn't think my mom's life was worth anything and that hurt, and that's what made me decide to come here and tell my story for my mom," Bernard told the inquiry in Moncton, N.B.

"My mom matters. My mom was a human being. And I just need to know [what happened]."

The family was told Paul, who struggled with alcohol, had fallen and broken her neck, Bernard said.

'Nobody ever really told me anything'

Bernard told the inquiry when she went looking for more information 12 years later, an officer told her her mother's body was found stuffed inside a metal drum.

"That's not what they told me when I was younger," she told the inquiry. "Nobody really ever told me anything that happened with my mom, and I think that's one of the things that bothers me today."

Paul's death was not ruled to be suspicious at the time, according to Deputy Chief Brad MacConnell of the Charlottetown Police Service, and he said there's nothing today to suggest anything different.  

The police file was destroyed years ago as part of a routine purge, MacConnell said. 

While there's no longer a file, police have requested a copy of the coroner's report from 1977 and MacConnell believes that record should still exist.

Retired officer volunteers to meet

In the meantime, MacConnell said, one of the officers who attended the scene still remembers details of the case. That officer is now retired. 

Brad MacConnell, Charlottetown deputy police chief, says meeting with family and trying to answer their questions about Mary Paul's death 41 years ago is 'the least we can do.' (Brian Higgins/CBC)

When contacted by police, the officer volunteered to meet with Paul's family, MacConnell said.

"Certainly I think the least we could do is meet with the family, attempt to give some of the answers to their questions," said MacConnell.

Watching Bernard's testimony from the inquiry, MacConnell said he was struck "by how much pain she and her family still have because of the unanswered questions."

MacConnell said police are prepared to take family members to the location where Paul's body was found.

"It's our intention to give them accurate information from a first-hand account from an involved officer," MacConnell said, in the hopes that "it may offer some closure, to be able to bring them to that site … and hopefully will start the healing process for them."

About the Author

Kerry Campbell

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Kerry Campbell is the provincial affairs reporter for CBC P.E.I., covering politics and the provincial legislature. kerry.campbell@cbc.ca