Skip to content

Missing, murdered, unexplained: Sudbury author tells local women's stories

Some cases forgotten, while others, including Renée Sweeney's murder, still in the news
Local author Sarah May with her new self-published book, “Unsolved Sudbury: Missing. Murdered. Unexplained.” (Supplied)

Sudburian Sarah May said she got the idea of writing a book about local women who were murdered, are missing or whose deaths are unexplained after looking through the missing person database.

She's the author of a self-published book set to be released March 7, “Unsolved Sudbury: Missing. Murdered. Unexplained.”

May, also the author of the 2018 self-published book “Haunted Sudbury: 101 Tales of the Paranormal,” did extensive research to reveal forgotten details of these women's stories, and when possible, spoke to family members.

“I did have to step away from it on a number of occasions, just because it was very emotionally taxing at times,” May said.

Although the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women is in the news right now, none of these local cases actually involve aboriginal women.

In looking through the missing person database, May came across a synopsis of the Pam Harvey case, and was intrigued.

Harvey, a 23-year-old single mother and waitress, was dating Leonard Daoust, a member of the Coffin Wheelers biker gang.

On Nov. 12, 1978, Daoust murdered James Dacey across the street from the Kingsway Hotel. He spent 27 years in jail for this crime. 

Dacey was a rival to the Coffin Wheelers and had blown up their Mountain Street clubhouse five days earlier on Nov. 7, 1978.

Harvey went missing four days after Dacey's murder, on Nov. 16, 1978. She left her four-year-old son, Ricky, with a neighbour with a promise that she would return soon. She has not made any contact with her family in 40 years.

“I remember thinking that's really odd,” May said. “As a mother, that doesn't seem like something a parent would do. No way you would walk out on your kid.” 

It is very likely that Harvey knew details of the plot to murder Dacey. It is possible that she was killed because the Wheelers couldn't trust her to stay quiet about what she knew, May said.

She may have, or they suspected, that she would be approached by police to testify against Daoust at his 1979 trial.

In an attempt to reach out to the Harvey family about the 40-year-old missing persons case, May placed a Kijiji ad asking for them to contact her.

“The ad was about to expire — it had a 24-hour deadline,” she said. “Within that 24 hours, I heard from Pam Harvey's niece Sarah. She reached out and said

'Why don't you write us a letter of intent, and if we decide we want to talk to you, we'll meet.'

“We met almost a year ago … She has two sisters that have always been looking for her. I can't imagine looking for your sibling for 40 years. It's incredible to me

They've never given up hope that there would be some information found.”

As in Harvey's disappearance, several of the cases May delves into are historic.

She writes about the story of Debbie Deagle, a Sudbury native whose 1985 death in Calgary was ruled a suicide, but her twin sister Darlene maintains that's not what happened.

There's also Jane Smith, a 20-year-old Laurentian University student who disappeared without a trace in 1976. Karen Mavin's body was found murdered in a wintry field in Estaire after a night on the town in 1990.

May also tackles more modern and currently high-profile cases. 

That includes Renée Sweeney, whose Jan. 11, 1998 stabbing death is currently in the news after the 2018 arrest of 39-year-old Robert Steven Wright, who is charged with first-degree murder in her death.

The author said she includes details of the case that many people may have forgotten, and has the book updated up to the child pornography charge laid against Wright last month.

She also includes the case of Daphne Kochar, who went missing and was later found dead, her body rolled up in a carpet, in the bush near Estaire on Dec. 27, 2005.

The case was officially deemed a homicide the following March after police found personal items belonging to Daphne in another bush area near Lively.  

May said in both the Sweeney and Kochar cases, she had a personal connection — she grew up very close to the video store where Sweeney was slain, and she went to school with one of Kochar's three daughters.

The most recent cases included in “Unsolved Sudbury” are that of Ashley Jalbert, who was found dead in a Sudbury motel in 2010, and Meagan Pilon, who disappeared without a trace in the summer of 2013.

Although Jalbert's death was ruled a drug overdose, with several strange circumstances surrounding her death, her family maintains she was murdered. Pilon's family has never given up hope she may return some day.

While some cases such as Renée Sweeney's murder have received extensive media attention lately, others, such as the Harvey case, have been forgotten.

That's why she chose to write her book.

“If we don't talk about these stories, they're forgotten,” she said.

A launch for “Unsolved Sudbury” takes place starting at 5:30 p.m. March 7 at Little Montreal on Elgin Street. The location is significant, as it was formerly the Prospect Hotel, where Pam Harvey would hang out with the bikers.

The book will be available at the launch for $20, and afterward at Bay Used Books, Jan Browning Boutique and Sudbury Paint and Custom Framing.



Heidi Ulrichsen

About the Author: Heidi Ulrichsen

Read more