Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Why Was an Accused Killer Free to Kill Again? The ‘Dear Zachary’ Story

Andrew Bagby. Photo: FindAGrave.com/Family

Andrew Bagby and Shirley Turner aren’t around to tell the story of their disastrous affair; neither is their son, Zachary. But some of the survivors have filed their own accounts. Andrew’s childhood friend, Kurt Kuenne, produced the powerful 2008 documentary “Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father.” And Andrew’s own father, David Bagby, wrote Dance with the Devil: A Memoir of Murder and Loss.

Unsurprisingly, Kuenne and the eldest Bagby and his wife mourn Andrew and Zachary and demonize Shirley Turner. It’s clear to them what happened: Andrew dated an unstable woman, and she flipped out when he left. Shirley allegedly murdered him—the case never came to trial—then killed herself and their young son, thanks in part to the Canadian legal and social service systems’ failure to protect the child. Andrew’s parents had been fighting Shirley for custody of Zachary while waiting for her to be extradited from her native Canada to the United States, where Andrew had been murdered.

Kuenne and the Bagbys blame the Canadian legal system for failing to recognize Shirley as a danger and to respond accordingly. How did it happen that an accused murderer and mad woman was left free and able to kill her child?

Fated Love

He was 28 and she was 41.

Former schoolteacher Shirley Turner was originally from Wichita, Kansas, but she held dual US and Canadian citizenship and had ties in Newfoundland. She’d been married before and had children. In Kuenne’s documentary, Andrew Bagby’s friends describe Shirley as crude and dirty. They make it nearly impossible for the viewer to imagine what would have brought this couple together. He was far from home, he and a soon-to-be-Dr. Heather Arnold had broken up—but his loved ones seem stunned that their perfect boy would have much to do with Shirley.

Andrew had grown up in Sunnyvale, California. He’d been a likable, gregarious, chubby kid, an Eagle Scout who grew  up to be an amateur photographer. He bit his nails and even as an adult it was always hard to convince him to wear long pants instead of shorts. Determined to follow his medical-staff mother into medicine, he applied to medical school when he finished college. He didn’t get in. He tried again, and made it into a school very far from his warm California home, the Memorial University of Newfoundland.

In St. John’s, Newfoundland, Shirley Turner and Andrew Bagby met and dated. His friends say the couple was never serious; in any case, their relationship faltered, and they started drifting apart. Dr. Shirley Turner moved to Council Bluffs, Iowa, but never practiced medicine. Dr. Andrew Bagby moved to Syracuse for a surgical residency, then abandoned that for general medicine in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

On November 5, 2001, a man wearing hospital scrubs was found  in the parking lot at Latrobe’s Keystone State Park.

Murder

Zachary. Family photo.

Andrew Bagby had been shot five times: twice in the back of the head, once in the torso, twice in what a police report delicately referred to as the “rectal area.” He’d been left to die next to his Toyota Corolla.

The spent cases and a live round on the ground matched the ammunition for a .22 caliber gun that records showed that Bagby’s exgirlfriend, Shirley Turner, owned.

When Pennsylvania police called her in Iowa, Shirley told them she’d been sick in bed the past week, and hadn’t seen Andrew since an October visit when he broke up with her. Police asked her to bring her gun to her local authorities; she claimed that she couldn’t remember where it was and she thought that Andrew had it.

Cell phone records documenting her movements easily showed that, rather than being at home as she’d stated on November 5, Shirley drove to Latrobe, then back to Iowa. She’d also called Andrew’s new girlfriend. And one of Andrew’s friends told authorities that Andrew had said “the psychotic bitch” showed up and wanted to talk to him. He agreed to talk to her, and planned to see the friend later and update him on their troubles. But Andrew didn’t show up to see his friends.

While police sorted through the story, Shirley retreated to St. John’s, Newfoundland, just in time to miss the warrant that Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, issued for her arrest.

A Complication

Andrew’s parents, David and Kathleen Bagby, invited Shirley Turner to their son’s memorial service in California, but she had enough sense to stay out of the country where she was wanted for murder.

When Shirley announced that she was pregnant with Andrew Bagby’s child, Andrew’s parents promptly moved from California to Newfoundland  to protect what they tearfully referred to as their “last piece of Andrew.”

Shirley didn’t let her baby’s grandparents into the delivery room. But the parties and their lawyers negotiated visiting rights: Andrew’s parents could visit his son, whom Shirley named Zachary, for an hour a week. The visits had to be supervised; Shirley worried about what Zachary’s paternal grandparents might say about her when she wasn’t around. So, to see their grandson, David and Kathleen had to spend time with the woman charged with murdering their son. When they were granted custody while she was briefly jailed, they had to drive Zachary to see her.

Kuenne’s documentary shows us Shirley calling the Bagbys, and speaking with surprise of what good care they took of little Zachary. And the documentary also shows the Bagbys announcing that Zachary preferred them to his mother, because she was “a fake.”

The Canadian legal system had more faith in her.

Why Was an Accused Killer Free to Kill Again?

By the end of 2002, the Newfoundland court rule that there was enough evidence against Shirely Turner in the murder of Andrew Bagby to hold her pending extradition. Shirley’s lawyers appealed the decision. In the end, Newfoundland Justice Gale Welsh released her and granted her custody of young Zachary over his paternal grandparents’ objections.

Prosecutors in Pennsylvania had warned the Newfoundland judicial system that Turner was potentially violent. Citing Shirley’s 1999 attempt to kill herself after an earlier relationship’s demise, Pennsylvania also noted that she might be a suicide risk. Her last boyfriend had told police that she’d threatened to kill herself on his doorstep. There were 8 restraining orders against her.

But none of this swayed Welsh’s decision. The justice maintained that there was no indication that Shirley had any psychological problem. Further, Shirley’s alleged crime was specific in nature, directed only at the man who’d dumped her—there was no reason to believe that Shirley was a danger to anyone else.

The court released Shirley on $75,000 bail. In a professionally questionable move (he’d later have a complaint filed against him), Shirley’s psychiatrist put up $65,000 of that.

Free for now, Shirley and her lawyers turned their attention to appealing the extradition decision against her. Meanwhile, David and Kathleen Bagby contemplated kidnapping their grandson, but they trusted the system and they waited for the trial.

More Violence

Still fighting extradition, Shirley Turner was trying to put a new life together. In July 2003, her new boyfriend broke up with her after he saw newspaper articles accusing her of murdering former lover Andrew Bagby. According to Kuenne’s film, she told the man that she was pregnant (she wasn’t) and racked up another 200 phone calls to him after the split.

On August 18, 2003, she left photos and tampons near the man’s house, and called a friend to say she was over there. She may have been trying to frame her latest ex for what came next.

That day, Shirley poured a painkiller into Zachary’s formula and fed it to him. She drank some too. She strapped the baby to her with her sweater, then jumped from a Foxtrap fishing pier into the cold North Atlantic off Conception Bay South, Newfoundland.

Both mother and child drowned.

Activism

David and Kathleen Bagby’s trust in the judicial process had been misguided: The woman accused of killing their son had killed herself and their grandchild. Furious, they mounted a campaign to change the way Canada’s Criminal Code deals with suspects of serious crimes.

In January 2004, Lloyd Wicks of the Canadian Council of Provincial Child and Youth Advocates convened an panel to examine how the Health and Community Services Department addressed accused murderer Shirley Turner’s position as caregiver to Zachary.

In 2006, coroner Peter Markestyn submitted a lengthy report blaming Newfoundland’s social services for Zachary’s death, stating that considerations of Shirley’s rights had trumped the province’s duty to keep her child safe.

Newfoundland MP Scott Andrews then introduced a bill to reform bail laws. As of December 2010, the Criminal Code has been changed to permit courts to deny bail to suspects accused of serious crimes if a child under the 18 could be placed in danger by the suspect.

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