Back in February, I wrote about Karissa Paige Bourdreau, a 12 year old girl from Bridgewater, Nova Scotia whose body was found outside of town, by the side of the river. At the time, the police were tight-lipped on the details, only saying it was murder.
I was astounded at the quick spread of rumours as to what, exactly, might have happened to Karissa. Many were sure that her mother, Penny, was to blame. Even with no objective evidence from any credible source to that effect. People seemed to think that they just "knew". I reluctantly admitted that perhaps, unthinkably, we might eventually find out there was some truth to these rumours but that without one iota of credible evidence, I refused to even consider such a thing.
Fast forward four months. Karissa's mother has been charged with the first degree murder of her daughter.
The latest rumour? That Mom's live-in boyfriend, Vernon Macumber, will also be charged. This despite the fact that the police are saying that they aren't looking at any more suspects and that both the boyfriend and Karissa's father will be key Crown witnesses.
They say that a mother killing a child as old as 12 is almost unheard of in Canada. Martin Daly is a professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont. He said he and his wife, fellow psychologist and professor Margo Wilson, were taken aback when they heard Penny Boudreau had been arrested and charged with killing her daughter Karissa.
There are just a handful of murders of children by their mothers in Canada each year, he said. About half of those involve infants killed in their first year of life, "and these are perpetrated primarily by poor, young, single women who have no social supports and didn’t want to be pregnant."Well, if nothing else, Penny can certainly put on a good show. She was publicly and openly heartbroken when Karissa first went missing. As any parent would be. And equally distraught, apparently, at her recent court appearance.
Most of the remaining murders involve preschool-aged children.
Mr. Daly said those are mainly carried out by severely depressed or even delusional women and often as part of a suicide in which the mother may think she is rescuing her child.
"The incidence of homicides by genetic parents of either sex, but especially by mothers, diminishes steadily with the child’s age, such that cases involving victims over about six or eight years of age are almost vanishingly rare," he said.
Mr. Daly said it is also unusual, though not unheard of, for a killer to try to cover up a murder and pretend to be distraught. And when that happens, he said, it tends to be in cases where either the father killed the child or both parents acted together.
So what happened?
I recently heard someone question why, if Penny hadn't "wanted the kid", she hadn't just given her to her father? As I understand it, Karissa's parents were divorced and she had been living with her father. It was only within the past year that she had moved in with her mother.
Mr. Daly and Ms. Wilson wrote that "psychological studies of murderers have repeatedly found a much higher proportion of insane killers among those who murder kin than among those who kill non-relatives" and that "it does appear that identifiable psychiatric syndromes are relatively prevalent among killers of kin."It strikes me that we may never know the whole story as to what really happened, why Karissa's life was ended so tragically at such a young age. But I do know that if and when this matter ever proceeds to trial, there won't just be a family or a community closely watching. There will be an entire province, even a large part of the country trying to figure out what really happened.
In the meantime, I can only repeat my earlier thoughts.
Sleep peacefully, Karissa. And to your family, friends and schoolmates, my deepest sympathies. And my sympathies to all of us who live in a world where we could possibly think, even for a moment, that Karissa might have met her death at the hands of her parents.