Remembering Jackie: Detective who helped catch killer looks back on 1995 case

Every June, when Mike Richard drives by the Ring Road in Fredericton, he can't help but think about Jackie Clarke. It was the last place the little girl was seen before she was brutally murdered more than 20 years ago.

Jackie Clarke, 8, of Fredericton was raped and strangled in woods 23 years ago

Retired Fredericton detective Mike Richard is shown during an interview for The Detectives. Tonight's episode on CBC-TV focuses on the murder of eight-year-old Jackie Clarke in Fredericton 23 years ago, and the efforts to catch her killer and make sure he was convicted. (The Canadian Press/CBC)

Mike Richard thinks about Jackie Clarke when he drives by the Ring Road in Fredericton, the last place the young girl was seen before she was murdered more than 20 years ago.

The eight-year-old Jackie and two friends were looking for tadpoles after supper on June 3, 1995, when she was taken into the woods near her north side neighbourhood, raped and strangled.

For the first time since her killer was convicted, Richard, a retired detective with the Fredericton Police Force, is sharing his story of the Jackie Clarke case and his role in the investigation.

"This case is the only thing that evokes a visceral or emotional reaction in me," Richard said Wednesday in an interview with Information Morning Fredericton.

"I think it was the weight of the case, the weight of the community on your shoulders. It was a missing person that turns into a sexual assault and homicide of the worst kind."

Murray Edward Lyons drove Jackie away from her friends on an ATV and into woods near McAdam Avenue School. When she didn't return, a search was launched, and her body was eventually found in the woods, buried under rocks and  branches.

Hiding behind a memory

Police didn't have much to go on. They knew there was a man on an ATV and he had a beard. 

"The investigative aspects of that case worked out perfectly, almost beyond logic the way things fell into place," said Richard, who retired from the police force in 2000.

"Finding Murray was an accident. We were sent to the trailer park on the Kingsley Road looking for a completely different person."

Jackie Clarke was taken into the woods on the north side of the city, where she was raped and then strangled by Murray Edward Lyons. (Photo: GoFundMe)

Lyons was later identified in a photograph by Richard's nephew, who was playing with Jackie when she disappeared and who was the most reliable witness.

"We had to get [him] out of bed," Richard said. "He just looked at the photo and he began to shake, it was 100 per cent a positive ID."

For years, Richard dealt with the case by blocking it off from family, friends and colleagues.

He never spoke about it to anyone. 

Couldn't speak about case

"It's really to compartmentalize it and put it in a place in your mind that's safe," he said. "You just don't look in there very often.

"The facts of the case are just a little too gruesome to speak to family and friends about."

Today, he said, the case is a part of him and all the other officers involved in the investigation. 

"This case bothered me more than I knew."

Reaching into the past

Now, the story of how the lead detective interrogated Lyons will be featured on the CBC docudrama series, The Detectives, which will be broadcast Thursday at 9 p.m.

Back in February, Richard received a call from the show's producer about sharing his story.

The former detective wasn't sure how to respond, but he knew one thing for certain: He wouldn't "dig up the past" unless Jackie's mother "was fully onboard." 

"I hadn't talked to her in 23 years," he said.

After a phone call, Jackie's mother agreed, and Richard shared his story.

You see things in police work that you should never see and things you can never unsee, every manner of death that you can possibly imagine. -Mike Richard, former detective

After Jackie's death, Richard remembers spending days working on the case with fellow police officers.

"It's Fredericton, New Brunswick," he said.

"I've worked on some homicides before in a sense, but this one was so far beyond what I could comprehend in terms of motive, the way it was done."

When Lyons was arrested at a trailer park on the north side, he was taken to the police station, where he was questioned.

For more than an hour, Lyons denied any involvement with Jackie Clarke.

Had a feeling

But Richard persisted.

"It wasn't a knowing, it was just a feeling," he said.

During the questioning, Richard said, he was forced to befriend Lyons to find out the truth about Jackie.

"He's not going to tell his deepest darkest secret to a guy he doesn't like or a stranger," he said. "There was a lot of rapport-building with him."

A partial admission

After an hour and a half, Lyons finally admitted to taking Jackie for a ride on his ATV but said he eventually let her go.

"On many levels that's ridiculous," Richard said. "You're letting a young child … in the middle of the woods at nine at night. We knew at that point it was him and he was lying."

Lyons eventually admitted he'd killed Jackie.

He was charged with first-degree murder, and his trial in 1996 hadn't gone far when the court heard about the confession, which police videotaped on June 14 the year before.

Lyons changed his plea to guilty and was sent to prison.

Four years later, Lyons was strangled in his cell at the Atlantic Institution in Renous by another inmate, Michael Robert Smith. 

'Things you should never see'

"It was a strange feeling because I would've thought that I would have been happy and I wasn't," Richard said.

"It was just more tragedy on top of tragedy."

Two months ago, tragedy rocked the New Brunswick capital again. Four people, including two police officers, were killed in a shooting on the north side of the city.

Richard is hoping his story will help humanize police officers in the public eye.

"You see things in police work that you should never see and things you can never unsee, every manner of death that you can possibly imagine," he said.

"When you think you've seen it all, you haven't."

With files from Information Morning Fredericton