Secret murder: RCMP said Shirley Parkinson homicide a private matter

Shirley Parkinson, 56, was killed by her husband near Unity, Sask., last month, but for weeks, until CBC News did stories about the homicide-suicide, RCMP were calling the case a private matter.

Nurse's mother says the facts of her daughter's death should be public

Public health nurse Shirley Parkinson, 56, was killed by her husband, but the RCMP are calling the case a private matter. (Facebook)


  • RCMP issues statement Oct. 15 calling deaths 'homicide and suicide'

Shirley Parkinson was killed by her husband near Unity, Sask., last month, but for weeks, until CBC News did stories about the homicide-suicide, RCMP were calling the case a private matter.

The deaths of Parkinson, 56, and her husband, Donald, 60, happened on the couple's farm Sept. 10.

Initially, RCMP said they were investigating "the sudden deaths of two adults."

Five days after the deaths, RCMP said autopsies had been completed but they would not disclose any details about what happened and added their investigation was complete.

The Mounties remained silent on the homicide until Wednesday night — just hours after CBC News released stories about the case.

At that point, just before 7 p.m. CST, the RCMP issued a written statement saying their investigation led them to conclude the deaths were due to "homicide and suicide."

Previously, without official confirmation, Parkinson's homicide was never reported as such in the media. A local pastor told CBC News that he thought the couple died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Others suggested it was a double suicide. It wasn't.

Before the RCMP issued their most recent statement, Saskatchewan's chief coroner and the victim's mother confirmed to CBC News that Parkinson's death was a homicide.

Murder isn't private, researcher says

"I'm hoping this is not something that is swept under the rug," Sonia Salari, a leading researcher in the United States on murder-suicides in intimate relationships, told CBC News.

The sociology professor explained that dubbing a crime as "two sudden deaths" ignores the seriousness of domestic violence, disrespects the autonomy of the woman as a victim and robs society of the ability to address patterns and take steps to prevent similar crimes.
The RCMP released a photo of the Parkinson farm and later said the 'sudden deaths of two adults' was no longer a police matter. (RCMP Saskatchewan)

"It needs to be recognized and there needs to be an awareness of the danger of this kind of family violence," according to Salari.

Privacy vs. public interest

In her community, Shirley Parkinson was a well-known public health nurse who immunized many of the children in her small town, advised new mothers on breast-feeding and volunteered as a Brownie leader.

When CBC News recently asked the RCMP about the case, and the reference to "sudden deaths," a spokeswoman said officers must follow protocols relating to privacy.

RCMP Saskatchewan spokeswoman Mandy Maier told CBC News then that the federal Privacy Act prohibits the RCMP from releasing an individual's personal information without consent, unless the public interest outweighs any invasion of privacy. Maier argued that since there wasn't a suspect at large or a pending criminal trial, there was no reason to release detailed information.

However, this interpretation of the Privacy Act has been applied selectively by RCMP in the past.

In 2012, for example, RCMP released a statement confirming that Darren Wourms killed his wife, Hayley, 23, their son Cayden, 2, then himself near St. Walburg, Sask. The statement said the deaths of Hayley and Cayden were homicides.

And while the Parkinson family requested privacy to grieve, Shirley's mother, Naden Hewko, told CBC News that the bare facts of the case should be known.

We need more education on mental health.[Donald] was sick. He did love his wife.- Naden Hewko, mother of homicide victim Shirley Parkinson

Hewko said she believes Donald Parkinson had mental health issues far worse than anyone in the family realized and that what happened was a tragic consequence of that.

"We need more education on mental health," Hewko told CBC News. "[Donald] was sick. He did love his wife."

Suicidal baby boomers 

The results of a study of 729 homicide-suicides in the United States involving intimate partners should raise alarms, according to Salari, who authored the study.

Salari relied largely on media reports to collect information because many police databases record homicides and suicides separately, even if they are linked.

Some of her findings about homicide-suicides include:

  • 97 per cent of perpetrators are men.
  • 31 per cent of killers are 60 or older.
  • 87 per cent use a gun.

She also found that while a younger man's motive was most often homicidal, men over 60 were found to be primarily suicidal but then they rationalized killing their spouse.

"In some cases, there may be this thought of 'Well, what will this person do without me?' or 'This will hurt this person, so I'll just bring them along,'" Salari explained. "They're refusing to acknowledge the autonomy of that person."

Shirley and Donald Parkinson were married for 27 years. (Facebook)

Salari said her research shows health workers and law enforcement agencies should be aware that men over 60 with suicidal thoughts pose a risk to their spouses.

"With the increased suicidal tendencies of the baby boom generation, IPHS [intimate partner homicide-suicide] could come to play a larger role for women's health and public health in general."


Bonnie Allen

Senior reporter

Bonnie Allen is a senior news reporter for CBC News based in Saskatchewan. She has covered stories from across Canada and around the world, reporting from various African countries for five years. She holds a master's degree in international human rights law from the University of Oxford. You can reach her at


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