New details revealed in year-old case of alleged indignity to the human body
More than a year after the body of a missing woman from Saint John in the north was discovered, new details about the case have emerged in court documents.
The body of Courtney Dawn MacKenzie, 27, was found in a “closet/storage space” on the third floor of 40 Victoria Street on May 11, 2021, the documents show.
And in the seven days before the body was discovered, someone “interfered inappropriately”.
MacKenzie, the mother of a young son, was reported missing on May 8.
The latest police update on the investigation was released nearly 11 months ago. At that time, they said they were continuing to investigate “the suspicious circumstances” of his death.
“Currently, the Major Crimes Unit is investigating indignity over a dead human body. Homicide has not been ruled out,” a statement said.
An autopsy was performed, but the cause of MacKenzie’s death was never revealed.
“The investigation continues to evolve as investigators diligently interview witnesses, review physical and electronic records, and collect and analyze forensic evidence,” Saint John Police said.
Last confirmed person to have been in contact with the victim
Court documents show police found Terrance Joseph (TJ) Keleher was the last confirmed person to have had contact with MacKenzie on May 4.
He lived in Apt. 3 of the building where MacKenzie’s body was found, according to court documents. Lawrence Keleher and Ashley Stevens also lived in this apartment.
No charges have been laid. Court documents do not identify anyone as a suspect and do not indicate whether police have any suspects.
The investigation is still ongoing, lead investigator Const. Neal Fowler told the Court of Queen’s Bench in an affidavit dated May 31, 2022.
Fowler filed the affidavit in support of a Crown request asking a judge to allow police to keep the items seized in the searches for another year.
About 200 items seized
Police seized about 200 items with four search warrants, two warrants to obtain bodily substances for forensic DNA analysis and one warrantless seizure, the documents show.
The majority of the items were seized as part of an initial search, carried out at 40 Victoria Street between May 12 and 17. The warrant was for Apt. 3, as well as Apt. 2, the front and rear stairwells of the building and the rear yard.
Among the exhibits seized were bloodstains found in a small room and on the front stairs, as well as swabs from several other stains, a fingernail from the back stairwell and used needles.
Police also seized an AR rifle, two gas masks, a box of .22 cartridges and bear spray.
Many other seized items were blacked out from court documents, under an interim sealing order granted by Judge Kathryn Gregory on June 15 to “prevent the disclosure of withheld information that is not publicly known and necessary to protect the integrity of the ongoing investigation.”
MacKenzie’s mother, Beverley MacKenzie, did not immediately respond to an interview request.
MacKenzie’s family announced his unexpected death with “heavy hearts”. The obituary said she would be missed by her young son, the boy’s father, parents, siblings and several other extended family members.
The mourners described her as an “incredible, loving and caring” friend, with a “strong, stubborn attitude”, who made people laugh and gave “the most amazing hugs”.
Huge amount of information
The other police searches were conducted between June 11 and September 29, according to court documents.
At a local impound, officers took swabs from two cars, including stains from the driver’s seat of a Mercury Sable, near the driver’s door latch and the driver’s sun visor mirror. Among the items seized from a Hyundai Elantra were a machete and a red high-heeled shoe.
Some of the other items seized during the searches include:
- Cell phones of TJ Keleher and Ashley Stevens.
- Mouth swabs of Lawrence Keleher, 35, and James Burnside, 38, for forensic DNA analysis. Burnside’s connection to the case is unclear from court documents.
Fowler, the lead investigator, said in his affidavit that keeping the seized items longer would help the investigation and that evidence may be required if the case goes to court.
“There is an enormous amount of data and/or information that has been obtained from the clearances granted,” said Fowler, an 18-year-old veteran of the force. “Given the complexity of this investigation, I have not been able to fully analyze and/or assess all of the evidence.”
I believe that the continued detention of the seized exhibits is necessary for the purposes of this investigation and that it is in the interests of justice to do so.– Neal Fowler, Principal Investigator
The police were initially allowed to keep the items for three months, but Provincial Court judges later extended that to a year from the date of seizure. These orders all expired in May.
Fowler requested an extension until May 10, 2023 or until the material is needed for a preliminary investigation, trial or other proceeding.
“I am satisfied that the continued detention of the seized exhibits is necessary for the purposes of this investigation and that it is in the interests of justice to do so,” he said.
In the June 1 Crown request, prosecutor Jill Knee said detention of the seized items “is reasonably required due to the complex nature of the investigation.”
Gregory granted a maximum one-year extension on June 13.
At the start of the investigation, police asked anyone who spoke to or saw MacKenzie between May 3 and May 11, 2021, or anyone with information about him during that time to contact them.
They were also looking for video security footage in the areas of Victoria Street on the north end, or St. James Street West and Buena Vista Avenue on the west side between May 2 and May 11, 2021.
“Saint John Police would like to thank the family and the public for their patience, as investigations of this nature are often complex and time-consuming,” the September 1 statement read.
Indignity to a dead human body carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.