Life Sentence, A Mother’s Grief

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Kimberley's killer in our midst

(with Sherri’s feature on Evelyn Thompson, whose daughter Kimberley was murdered by her neighbour Harold Smeltzer Jan. 24, 1980.)

I consider my exclusive true crime feature series, Life Sentence: A Mother’s Grief, a poor man’s magnum opus. The reporting and sleuthing took nearly two years and bordered on obsessive. I worked on most of it during month-long nightshifts: the perfect time for thinking and blinking and connecting dots.

I was just a little kid when Kimmie Thompson was murdered a few neighbourhoods away. Her name came up again when her autopsy photos were shown during a college criminology conference I attended as a journalism student. Flash forward about a decade to a slow newsroom nightshift that found me cleaning out drawers and finding the dusty clipping file on Harold Smeltzer, Kimmie’s killer. He was coming up for paroUntitledle so I applied for his records. Weeks later, the documents arrived and I was stunned to learn Smeltzer had admitted to attacking 40 girls and women before and after the murder. They deserved to know he was trying to get out of prison. The fire ignited.

Tracking down Kimmie’s divorced mother Evelyn Thompson was hard enough. Getting her to talk was another story. Words haven’t been invented to describe her trauma. It was because of the care her good-hearted friend Marianne took listening to my plea that it came together. I couldn’t wait to get on the airplane to meet Evelyn face to face. I liked her instantly and will never forget laying eyes on the school portrait of Kimmie hanging on the wall. It gave me goosebumps.  

The series ran in two waves: the first as a three-page Observer package, and the second during Harold Smeltzer’s parole hearing six months later. I received an avalanche of reader feedback – including a thank you call for the head’s up from Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall – but the praise I took to heart came from the sources themselves who asked, “How did you find me?”

Smeltzer remains on day parole living and working as a custodian in a halfway house. Officials can’t do much with him. No one will hire him, and his requests for overnight privileges and other freedoms keep getting turned down. That changed in September 2016 when the Parole Board of Canada ruled Smelter is now receiving one weekend overnight pass (with supervision) each month. This story is far from over. 

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Twenty-eight years ago, Evelyn Thompson‘s daughter Kimmie was snatched off the street on her way to kindergarten by a rapist and drowned in a bathtub. Now, he’s applying for day parole and Thompson is fighting back.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
Sherri Zickefoose
Calgary Herald ©

Dateline: GABRIOLA ISLAND, B.C.

Evelyn Thompson covers her Gulf Island living room wall with prized photos of her children, marking major milestones in their lives.There’s son Brad at his high school graduation, and daughter Tina with the family’s first grandchild.

And then there’s the one child who never grew up.

Youngest daughter Kimmie is frozen in time, a grinning five-year-old girl with dark, curly pigtails.

The sun-faded school picture is her final portrait, taken months before the tiny Calgary schoolgirl was randomly abducted and murdered by a neighbourhood rapist in 1980 — still one of the most horrifying crimes in the city’s history, according to veteran homicide investigators.

“The loss of her is the worst thing that could ever happen. It takes a toll on your whole life,” Evelyn says.

“For years, I pushed it away by thinking of what it did to my kids more than to me. I think I’m paying for it now.”

The 54-year-old former Calgarian has spent the better part of three decades struggling to overcome feelings of guilt and anguish due to her daughter’s death.

Dark circles under her eyes never fade. Tears come easily.

Under the long shadow of the crime, Evelyn Thompson and her family remained imprisoned by the memories of 28 years earlier — when she was accused by some of playing a role in Kimmie’s death, ostracized and eventually forced to abandon Calgary.

And while she lives with a painful past, her daughter’s killer is now thinking about his future.

Twice a week, Harold Smeltzer leaves the confines of his minimum security jail in Prince Albert, Sask., to work at a local thrift shop, part of a bid for day parole to be heard by authorities this summer.

Forgiveness remains a long way off from Evelyn, though.

She wants Smeltzer to stay behind bars indefinitely and is preparing for the battle to keep him in jail.

For the first time, Evelyn is writing a victim impact statement to the National Parole Board and is coming to grips with the crime that unfolded on a snowy street in Altadore almost three decades ago.

She is ready to let her voice be heard in one of Calgary’s most horrible crimes, committed by one of its most infamous criminals.

“He put us in a prison, too. People say it’s been a long time, let it go,” Evelyn says.

“But I don’t get parole. She doesn’t get parole. She’s in the ground.

“I can never get out. Why should he?”

Smeltzer

Evelyn Thompson, waits for news of her missing daughter Kimberly. She is pictured with her daughter Christine, 10, and son Brad, 8. Harold David Smeltzer, now 52, is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder in the killing of five-year-old Kimberly (Kimmie) Thompson in Calgary. Smeltzer was 24 when he snatched Kimmie on her way to kindergarten in Altadore on Jan. 24, 1980. Photo: Calgary Herald file photo — January 25, 1980

The morning Evelyn sent Kimmie walking to kindergarten alone for the first time, she had an uneasy feeling.

It was Thursday, Jan. 24, 1980.

Altadore Elementary School was six blocks from home. Kimmie’s teacher had said she was immature for her age and needed to be more independent.

Despite nagging fears, Evelyn bundled her little girl into a snowsuit for the five-minute stroll and kissed Kimmie goodbye at 8:40 a.m.

The young child didn’t get far before she caught the eye of 24-year-old Harold Smeltzer.

He lived a block away with his elderly parents, had only completed Grade 5, and was regarded as slow. Like Kimmie, he was a neighbourhood fixture, playing soccer with young kids on the block and roaming the streets on his bicycle.

He also had dark secrets: for five years, he’d been molesting dozens of children and honing his skills as the neighbourhood rapist. By his own account, he sexually assaulted 40 women and children.

In December 1979, police warned parents about a man they believed was responsible for about 20 attacks on neighbourhood children.

One was a five-year-old Altadore schoolgirl held at knifepoint and molested in a garage after a Brownie meeting.

Two months earlier, Smeltzer attacked a 27-year-old school cleaning woman at night. He also dragged a 17-year-old girl off her back porch, making her wear swimming goggles covered with duct tape. He forced her to perform oral sex.

When he attacked another woman leaving the Alexander Calhoun public library, the goggle strap broke. He ran away.

What drove his deviant sexual desires is unclear. In his mid-teens, he had several run-ins with authorities.

Psychiatrists later diagnosed him a pedophile and said Smeltzer suffered from an anti-social personality disorder.

The one meaningful relationship he had as a teenager left him heartbroken, and with an estranged child. His daughter would have been about five, around the same age as Kimmie –a little girl Smeltzer recognized from the neighbourhood.

When he saw Kimmie playing in the snow that Thursday morning on his way to the Marda convenience store to get a pop, Smeltzer was struck. “I could get her and have sex with her,” Smeltzer said to himself, according to his lengthy confession to police.

Smeltzer followed her until she was near a lane behind his parent’s house on 18th Street S.W., where the young child stopped to make snowballs.

He checked to make sure no one was watching and then made his move, running up and grabbing Kimmie from behind.

“I’m going to be late for school,” she yelled at him.

To calm her, Smeltzer told the girl he would drive her to class. Instead, he took her by the hand and led her into his parents’ home.

He undressed her down to her underpants and took her into the master bedroom where his parents slept.

As Kimmie cuddled and played with the family dog, Mitzi, the man with an IQ of 77 struggled to come up with a plan.

“I didn’t know what to do with her,” he said.

If he let Kimmie go, she would be able to show police where he lived. He thought about shooting her, or stabbing her — but that would have made too big of a mess and his mother was expected home soon.

“I didn’t want her to suffer. She had to die gently,” he said in his confession.

“She’s in the tub playing with the water. She’s got nothing on, so I got undressed and got in, too,” he later explained to police.

“I can make it like a game and gently push her head under water.”

As Kimmie struggled, Smeltzer, using both hands, held her head under water until she went limp.

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Evelyn Thompson has spent the past quarter of a century waiting for Harold Smeltzer to be set free.

She hasn’t heard a word from the National Parole Board, the body responsible for deciding his future, since he was handed a life sentence for first-degree murder with no chance for parole for 25 years.

That was 27 years ago.

“I knew it was coming, I know what 25 years is. I was told I would be kept up to date with anything that happened, but after the trial, there was nothing.”

For many years and in many ways, she didn’t want to know anything else about the man who took away her child.

Evelyn remained silent for decades. After the five-day murder trial in April 1981 where Smeltzer unsuccessfully pleaded insanity, she eventually ceased talking about Kimmie and her killer.

“I stopped saying anything because nobody gets it,” she explains.

“I would start a conversation and I would be cut off. Nobody wanted to hear about it. It nearly killed me. That’s why I didn’t make friends. You tell them, ‘This is how I lost my daughter,’ and they look at you like you have your head screwed on backwards.”

Indeed, Evelyn has been serving her own life sentence since burying her youngest child.

When first contacted last August to talk about Smeltzer‘s bid for day parole, her first reaction was fear.

She was in no hurry to speak publicly about the case or re-live the painful ordeal.

But months later, Evelyn felt compelled to talk, ready to unshackle herself from decades of victimization, heartache and regret.

Now, she has a mission: Unable to protect her daughter 28 years ago, Evelyn Thompson is fighting to keep the killer imprisoned.

“My baby doesn’t come out of the grave and he wants out, it’s just not fair,” she says.

“I need to be heard now. I found my voice.”

Smeltzer

A policeman searches for clues in the death of Kimberly Thompson. Harold David Smeltzer, now 52, is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder in the killing of five-year-old Kimberley (Kimmie) Thompson in Calgary. Smeltzer was 24 when he snatched Kimmie on her way to kindergarten in Altadore on Jan. 24, 1980. Photo: Calgary Herald file photo — January 25, 1980

By the time Evelyn was fixing lunch for her children and their cousins, her niece was the first to notice.

“Where’s Kimmie?”

Evelyn’s eyes snapped to the kitchen clock. It was 12:15 p.m. Kimmie was late.

Evelyn searched the streets and schoolyard. Door knocks and phone calls to neighbours failed to produce any sign of the little brown-haired girl with the missing front tooth.

The kindergarten teacher said Kimmie didn’t make it to school. With a cold snap blowing in, Evelyn grew frantic.

She phoned her sister, the only number she could remember.

“It’s time to call the police,” Evelyn said.

Police began retracing Kimmie’s steps and learned she woke her best friend’s mother, Hana Sebestyen, on her way to school.

Sebestyen was still half-asleep from her nightshift at the Tropicana bar when she opened the door.

“Pauline’s already gone. You’d better hurry,” Sebestyen told Kimmie.

“If I had just looked when she left. He was on the next corner. I felt so bad. Why did I go back to bed? Why didn’t I watch her go through the window?”she recalled in a recent interview.

Every available police officer joined the neighbourhood hunt. City garbage crews looked under porches, in garden sheds and dog houses.

Smeltzer watched from the street as an investigator with a tracking dog sniffed near Kimmie’s house.

“I decided I had to get rid of her fast,” Smeltzer later told police.

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As the hunt wore on, he scooped the body into a garbage bag and carted it away in a toy wagon he carried up from the basement.

Nobody noticed Smeltzer walking down the street, pulling the covered wagon through the freshly fallen snow.

He pulled it for two blocks before dumping the girl’s lifeless body into a trash can.

He then erased the wagon tracks in the snow and returned home.

At the same time, the search for Kimmie took police with dogs to the shores of the Elbow River at nearby Sandy Beach.

Evelyn’s boyfriend enlisted his army buddies to scour the cliffs and dense brush at River Park.

A citizen band radio club and four-wheel drive groups flooded the police command post, offering help. Kimmie’s older brother Brad joined the army searchers along the ridge. The dark-haired Grade 3 boy called out his little sister’s name over and over as night approached.

The temperature began dropping, dipping down that night to -12 C. Evelyn numbly sat at home waiting for word.

“I’ll never forget that night,” said Evelyn. “It was so cold. It was snowing. I just had a feeling.”

Kimmie was never coming home.

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Evelyn Thompson‘s only grandchild is a bright spot in an otherwise forlorn life.

She lives for the two-year-old dimpled boy’s visits. She laughs as he runs and plays, chasing her little dogs.

As a grandmother, Evelyn can relax. It wasn’t so easy raising her two remaining children, Brad and Tina, after Kimmie’s killing.

Throughout Evelyn’s life, her daughter’s murder left her feeling isolated and fearful for her other children.

“I was so afraid that something would happen to the other two. They actually lived in a prison because of my rules and my fear. Mostly my fear,” says Evelyn.

“They always had to be with someone, they could never be alone, they had to be together. Even in high school they had to call me wherever they went. I went into a state of panic.”

Her oldest daughter Tina recalls living in fear.

“You couldn’t trust even people that you might know. I thought that no person besides your family was 100 per cent safe,” says Tina, 38.

“I suffered from nightmares for the longest time after it happened. I no longer would sleep in the room that we shared. I was too afraid he knew where I was and would come for me.”

For years, Tina contemplated not having her own children because of her baby sister’s death. But the birth of her son two years ago has brought the family closer together.

“He will never walk to school alone. And I will most likely be very aware of who he plays with and what he is doing. I will no doubt be overprotective,” she said.

“That comes from fear.”

Smeltzer

Constable Mike Akins visits the Glenmore swimming pool to place one of 500 posters city police are blanketing the Altadore area community with. The posters are a message from Mayor Ross Alger asking the murderer of young Kimberly Thompson to surrender to police. Harold David Smeltzer, now 52, is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder in the killing of five-year-old Kimberley (Kimmie) Thompson in Calgary. Smeltzer was 24 when he snatched Kimmie on her way to kindergarten in Altadore on Jan. 24, 1980. Photo: Calgary Herald file photo — February 13, 1980

A couple walking in the neighbourhood found the dead child at noon the next day.

Kimmie’s body was naked and frozen solid, her wet brown hair stiffened into icicles.

The frozen girl’s remains offered only the barest of clues.

The medical examiner had to wait a day for the 43-pound body to thaw, and even then, there were no tell-tale bruises or signs to show how the child died.

An autopsy shed less light — even though she’d drowned, there was very little water in her lungs. The medical examiner concluded she died of asphyxiation.

But two tiny clues spoke volumes to lead homicide detectives Darrell Wilson and his partner, Sid Shields.

A forensic garden flourished inside the green plastic trash bag, linking the killer to the victim.

Little brown dog hairs clung to Kimmie’s skin.

And a traceable production serial number was stamped on the garbage bag’s seam.

With no suspect or witnesses, the detectives felt the pressure from both police brass and a panicking public to solve the case quickly.

“It consumed my life,” said Wilson, then a three-year veteran of homicide investigations.

As the city grew more alarmed by the random child murder, Wilson was clocking non-stop days in the hunt for the killer.

But the officer had another reason to make the collar. His middle daughter was around the same age and bore a resemblance to Kimmie.

Altadore went under lockdown as the days passed into weeks following the slaying.

Parents were terrified. They kept their children indoors and walked them to school. A local father of two immediately donated $200 to a growing reward fund, saying “Who the hell knows where he’s going to hit again?”

Smeltzer worried. He knew he had to get rid of the evidence and moved Kimmie’s clothes around to various garbage bins. A week after the killing, he settled on a dumpster outside a supermarket.

“The clothes the police are looking for are out behind the store in the blue bin,” Smeltzer said to Allwest junior assistant manager Roy Phinney on Jan. 30.

A tiny pair of girls’ panties were found inside a bag.

Police examining the clothes found human hairs, dog hair, and carpet fibers.

Evidence was starting to stack up against Smeltzer – an unemployed 24-year-old still living with his parents.

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“The killer wouldn’t have left her and the clothes so close to home if he wasn’t in the area, too,” concluded Wilson.

Now, police had to find a house with a brown dog. Under the guise of checking for unlicensed dogs, bylaw officers and university students whittled down a list of 480 dogs in the area to 100 brown ones.

Detectives began the arduous task of door knocking in Altadore. As they asked questions, they squatted to pet every single brown-haired dog. Then, they carefully walked back to the car and bagged the pet hair samples off their sleeves or pant legs.

With a vicious killer on the loose and no arrests forthcoming, public sympathy evolved into rampant speculation about Evelyn and her boyfriend, Don Irwin — that somehow they were responsible.

The rumours were so persistent police had to publicly discount them.

Yet, suspicion oozed down into Brad and Tina’s school. The kids were taunted so badly by classmates, Evelyn sent them to live with relatives in Saskatchewan.

The South Calgary Community Association refused to hand over the cash donated to help the grieving mother.

After a public backlash, though, the association relented and left the $2,000 cheque on Evelyn’s doorstep. She used it to buy Kimmie’s grave marker and inscribed it with her nickname, Chicky, and the words: “Our darling little angel.”

February went by with no arrests. Then March, April and May passed and pressure built on police.

By June, officers tracked the production number on the garbage bag to a mom-and-pop grocery shop a few blocks away from the crime scene.

Detectives were more convinced than ever that the killer was right under their nose.

They had seized hundreds of garbage bags and plastic clips from homes, including Smeltzer“s. However, that serial number was misread by a co-ordinator and never matched up.

Police, however, were back at Smeltzer‘s door, collecting hair from his family’s dog, Mitzi.

But instead of being sent to the Edmonton crime lab, the sample sat ignored in a desk drawer, another in a series of police missteps.

On June 18, police received more bad news.

Two little girls – ages 10 and 11 – had been raped at knifepoint.

The assaults took place in Altadore.

brad-evelyn

To this day, Evelyn Thompson counts the months following her daughter’s killing as the worst in her life.

Losing her child was shattering, but being accused of murdering Kimmie was unbearable.

The single mother’s bond with her youngest had always been deep and emotional. Evelyn’s husband abandoned her when she was six months pregnant with Kimmie.

“I was the only one she had,” says Evelyn, who later found love and agreed to marry Don the month before Kimmie died.

By the time the five-day murder trial began in April 1981, Evelyn’s family was all she had in the world.

Evelyn sat on one side of the courtroom, while Smeltzer‘s mother sat on the other; neighbours and mothers divided by evil.

Smeltzer pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Evelyn went on the stand and defended herself as the accused killer’s lawyer tried to make her out to be a neglectful welfare mom.

When it was all over, a fresh start with a new life on the West Coast seemed like the answer. Her children, scarred by childhood tormentors and the loss of their baby sister, agreed.

They all thought it would be a new beginning. But life without Kimmie equalled anything but freedom.

Eleven-year-old Mary was silently staring out her mother’s car window when she spotted him.

She could never forget the face of the man who dragged her and a friend off their bicycles and into the bushes a week before.

On June 18, 1980, Smeltzer raped both girls at knifepoint.

“Do whatever I say,” he said, holding a knife to the tiny blond girl’s throat while he clamped a hand over her mouth.

“He came out of nowhere,” said Mary.

The girls were agonizingly close to home.

He forced them into the bushes and put a towel over one girl’s eyes while he raped the other child. Then he blindfolded her and assaulted the other girl. He ordered Mary to perform oral sex on him. He told both girls if they opened their eyes and looked at him, he’d kill them.

“I peeked,” said Mary. “It didn’t stop me from telling.”

What she saw stays with her to this day: his pimply skin, fleshy round face, and unclean curly hair. The sickening smell of his sour body odor made her retch.

Now, seven days after the attack, as Mary and her mother drove along Elbow Drive near Mission, there he was — walking along the river with his older sister.

“That’s him, that’s him!” The words ran together as Mary found the breath to say them.

She reached into her back pocket for a policeman’s business card; since the rape, she’d carried it with her every day like a talisman.

Her mother called from a payphone and police cars raced up.

Smeltzer was arrested on the spot. Mary and her mother watched from a distance as Smeltzer calmly climbed into the back of the police car.

smeltzer-arrest

Downtown at police headquarters, the new arrival in the interrogation room piqued the curiosity of homicide detectives Shields and Wilson.

“What’s this guy look like? Where does he live?” Wilson asked his colleagues.

The homicide detective knew the moment he looked through the peep hole in the door. “This is our guy.”

With Wilson playing the role of good cop, the homicide detectives sat down and took a turn questioning Smeltzer.

He readily confessed to raping the two elementary school girls on their bikes the week before. Shields followed his gut and pushed further: “Well, you know, we have to talk about Kimberley.”

“Yeah, I know,” Smeltzer answered, confirming himself as the little girl’s killer.

Smeltzer‘s surprise confession erupted into a marathon — it was eight handwritten pages long.

“If you interrupted, he’d say, ‘Wait a minute. I’ll get to that in a minute.’ He wanted to tell it the way he wanted to tell it,” said Wilson.

“He remembered every detail of what he did. He was fairly proud of it.”

To the officers who’d spent countless hours tracking Smeltzer, only one question remained: Why kill Kimmie?

“I couldn’t let her go. She would tell you where I live,” Smeltzer told them matter of factly.

When news of the arrest reached Evelyn’s family, Kimmie’s brother Brad began weeping.

“Don’t be mad,” he told his mother through tears. “I was playing soccer with him in the park a little while ago.”

Mary, meantime, would later receive the reward money for leading police to Smeltzer‘s capture.

Her rape was worth $38,098.

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At home, Evelyn sits at her computer in a room the size of a cell. She often stares out the window into her back garden, imagining the white lillies that will soon spring up.

They remind her of the daughter that never grew up, the innocence of childhood matched by the purity of the flower petals.

The tiny room offers a quiet place to write the parole board, a plea to keep the man she despises behind prison walls.

Summing up a lifetime of heartache is harder than it sounds.

But she hopes that keeping her child’s killer behind bars will help free her from years of guilt and grief that began in an Altadore alleyway in 1980.

Evelyn recently took medical leave from another low-paying job. She rarely sleeps through the night. Anxiety and gloom exact a toll.

“He knew what he’d done and he sat in that house. They were blaming everyone . . . they were blaming me, and he didn’t come forward,” she says.

“I carried guilt for years because I couldn’t protect her.”

After nearly three decades of maintaining silence, Evelyn is finally ready to be heard.

“I’m going to do everything and anything I can to keep him in prison,” she says.

“If it takes until my dying breath I will fight him. He will not be out if I can help it, I tell you.”

‘Why was I the lucky one?’
Sherri Zickefoose
Calgary Herald

A young girl who was raped by child killer Harold Smeltzer — and then led police to his capture — now braces for the day she’s been dreading for 28 years: his shot at freedom.

“I always wondered how old I’d be when he got out. I used to think, ‘I hope my name’s different when he gets out,'” says Mary, who was attacked by Smeltzer in Calgary in 1980.

Now 38, married and raising a young daughter, Mary leads a fulfilling life. While she’s kept the incident a secret, her painful past simmers just below the surface.

The reward cheque and time have done nothing to ease the psychological terror Smeltzer holds over the woman, who turned him in at age 11 after spotting him strolling down a Calgary street one week after the attack.

“There’s not one thing I don’t remember,” she says, grimacing at the flashback.

“I remember his face, I’ll never forget his face. For a long time, I even remembered his smell.”

Mary spent her youth morbidly wondering why she escaped Smeltzer‘s murderous clutches with her life, while five-year-old Kimmie Thompson ended up dead.

“Why was I the lucky one? What made me so special?” she whispers through tears.

Even though she led police to Smeltzer, Mary feels no pride for playing a pivotal role in a killer’s capture.

“I never felt like a hero. I don’t like being called that.”

Instead, she harbours guilt over keeping enough reward money to use for a down payment on her first house. She wishes she’d donated the fund to Kimmie’s mother, Evelyn Thompson.

“I hated that money. I didn’t deserve it,” she says.

“I’m alive and sure it’s affected my family. But their family’s been ripped apart forever. What I’m going through is nothing compared to what’s been done to them.”

When she turned 18, the funds became hers.

“It was blood money. I blew it and gave it to anyone who wanted it.”

Mary has never completely recovered from her rape. When she went back to elementary school, boys taunted her about enjoying sex.

Her siblings were jealous because of the attention she received at home. Her parents bought her a brand new bed after she was attacked, hoping it would make her feel safe.

Cousins and brothers weren’t allowed to roughhouse with her any longer. It left her feeling isolated and lonely.

“They called me the golden child because I was given everything I wanted.”

The childhood trauma Smeltzer inflicted on Mary by raping her and a friend at knifepoint has also shaped her adult life.

“I’m the most paranoid person, especially now that I have a daughter,” she says.

“I don’t trust anyone. I’m so afraid someone will take her.”

Mary has spent a lifetime bottling up the hurt, never discussing the attack with anyone, not even her husband.

But upon learning of Smeltzer‘s bid for day parole, and his claims of sexually assaulting dozens others he was never prosecuted for, Mary has much to say now.

“There’s just no way he should be out.”

Terrible crimes haunt killer’s family
Sunday, May 18, 2008
Sherri Zickefoose
PRINCE ALBERT, Sask.
Calgary Herald

Twice a week, Harold Smeltzer toils in the cramped back room of a downtown thrift shop.The 52-year-old sorts and cleans furniture, lamps, and other donations for resale. The work experience is preparing him for the future — one free of incarceration.

His family says they remain torn apart by his past and the shame of his terrible crimes.

Almost three decades ago, he was convicted of killing five-year-old Kimmie Thompson, after randomly snatching the child off a Calgary street.

“We haven’t even told the next generation about this,” says one Calgary relative, who didn’t want to be named. “It’s not something that goes away after 25 years.”

Smeltzer‘s only living supporters are his mother and sister, who live in Ontario. He regularly telephones his widowed mother, now in her 90s.

“He is our flesh and blood. Especially my mom — she had to stand behind him . . . that’s a mother’s thing,” says Smeltzer‘s sister, who doesn’t want her name published. “You either disown him or you remember he’s your child and love him as much as possible.”

Smeltzer has not replied to repeated Herald requests for an interview.

The National Parole Board will decide his fate during a hearing to address his application for day parole this September.

Openness and remembering his past are a means of preventing him from committing any further acts of sexual deviancy, the National Parole Board wrote in a recent review of his case.

The board has assessed Smeltzer as a “low risk to reoffend.” Smeltzer says he “no longer becomes sexually aroused when seeing children.”

“Factors that affected Mr. Smeltzer at the time of his index offense are presently in remission,” an institutional psychologist wrote March 15, 2005.

“You describe yourself as a different person today realizing that you will always have to monitor yourself in order for you not to reoffend.”

However, he continues to face “issues related to loneliness” and requires a “high level of supervision,” the board wrote.

Smeltzer served the first 23 years of his life sentence in Prince Albert’s Saskatchewan Penitentiary, a medium-security federal prison. In March 2003, he moved a couple dozen metres over to Riverbend Institution, a minimum-security housing complex.

Smeltzer‘s troubles began when he was growing up in Montreal, the youngest of four children. He claims he was sexually abused when he was eight, according to the parole board report.

His problems escalated shortly after the family moved to Calgary in 1972. He had repeated run-ins with authorities.

At age 17, Smeltzer got a 14-year-old girl pregnant before their two-year relationship ended.

When his family moved to Altadore, he turned the middle-class neighbourhood into a sexual hunting ground.

Although family members say Smeltzer‘s mother tried to get help for her troubled son, it wasn’t enough.

Smeltzer‘s crimes have had a long-lasting impact on his own family.

“He does have remorse. It’s something he does not like but something he can’t turn back. It’s something we all have to live with for the rest of our lives,” says his sister.

Family to face killer at parole hearing; Girl’s mother protests offender’s bid for freedom
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Sherri Zickefoose
Calgary Herald
Dateline: PRINCE ALBERT, Sask.

A Calgary child killer and rapist making a bid for day parole will be facing his victim’s family as he fights for his freedom.Today, Harold David Smeltzer is appearing before the National Parole Board after serving his jail sentence.

In 1981, Smeltzer was convicted of first-degree murder in the killing of five-year-old Kimberley Thompson and rapes of women in south Calgary.

Evelyn Thompson hasn’t faced her daughter’s killer since his trial 28 years ago, but she is prepared to protest his chance at freedom for the first time.

“I’m terrified. It isn’t going to be easy. My stomach is already in knots,” she said from her home on B.C.’s Gabriola Island.

Thompson and her family are travelling to read victim impact statements — the family’s first — at today’s hearing.

Smeltzer was 24 when he snatched Kimmie on her way to kindergarten in Altadore on Jan. 24, 1980.

He drowned her in his parents’ bathtub and stuffed her naked body into a garbage can a few blocks from her home.

After a massive search, her frozen body was found the next day.

Thompson’s 1980 murder shocked the city and stumped police for five months — Smeltzer eluded capture although he was living just blocks away from his victim.

He was arrested after an 11-year-old rape victim recognized him walking on Elbow Drive.

In court, Smeltzer pleaded guilty to two counts of rape, two counts of attempted rape, acts of gross indecency, break and enter during an attempted rape, and possession of a weapon.

Among his victims were a 17-year-old high school girl, a 27-year-old librarian and a 27-year-old school custodian.

Smeltzer has also admitted terrorizing his Altadore neighbourhood between 1975 and 1980.

He has gone on record claiming responsibility for sexually assaulting 40 victims in a south Calgary neighbourhood during the mid- to late 1970s, according to National Parole Board documents obtained by the Herald.

He was sentenced to life imprisonment with no chance of parole for 25 years.

He has been serving time at Riverbend Institution, a minimum-security prison in Prince Albert, Sask.

Smeltzer was never convicted for his claims of sexually assaulting dozens of others between 1975 and 1980.

“You have admitted to sexually assaulting more than 40 young girls over a five-year period,” the board wrote in 2006.

Calgary police sex crimes detectives investigated Smeltzer‘s claims, but have not laid any further charges.

  Calgary child-killer granted day parole; Five-year-old’s last hours revealed at hearing
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Sherri Zickefoose
Dateline: PRINCE ALBERT, Sask.
Calgary Herald

Evelyn Thompson learned chilling new details of her daughter’s last moments shortly before her killer was granted day parole.On Wednesday, she shook and wept as Harold David Smeltzer told the National Parole Board he snatched five-year-old Kimberley Thompson off a Calgary street in 1980 because he is a pedophile “attracted to little girls” and was preparing to sexually assault her.

Thompson broke down in tears as the board granted a measure of freedom to the man who said he ordered her child “to take off her snowsuit. . . . I wanted to kiss her. . . . She was crying. She was worried about what her mother was going to think.”

Smeltzer ended up drowning the girl in the bathtub and hiding her body in a back alley garbage can in the dead of winter.

At an emotionally charged three-hour hearing at the minimum-security Riverbend Institution, Smeltzer insisted to the parole board, that although he is a pedophile and violent sexual offender, he poses no risk to children.

“I know I took something precious from the Thompson family,” said Smeltzer, 52, who is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder and rapes. He has served 28 years.

“Parole is a second chance at life. It’s giving me the opportunity to change, to go on with my life and not hurt anybody. No more victims.”

After deliberating for about an hour, the board granted him day parole for six months at a Regina halfway house. A written decision will be made available, but the board said it is satisfied Smeltzer has a good understanding of his risk areas. He must continue his sex offender programs and counselling.

“I want him to stay in prison, I don’t want him to see the light of day. She doesn’t get a second chance. Why should he?” a distraught Thompson said after the hearing.

“Life is life. Not 10 years, not 20, not 25. Life means you’re dead when you come out of that place.”

Thompson has not faced her daughter’s killer since his Calgary trial 28 years ago, but she travelled from her Gabriola Island, B.C., home to attend the hearing with six members of her family to read victim impact statements.

Evelyn’s son, Brad Thompson, said he was sickened by Smeltzer‘s apparent lack of remorse.

“He barely even acknowledged his part in her death,” said Brad, who was eight when his sister Kimmie was killed. “He barely even referenced her. She’s dead and he gets to walk.”

Brad said Smeltzer‘s answers were what the board wanted to hear.

“He manipulates people. He’s done it for years. How do you think he got away with it for so long?”

The board questioned Smeltzer‘s apparent lack of remorse following the girl’s murder because he never came forward to admit his crime. Residents even accused Evelyn of killing her own daughter, but still, Smeltzer said nothing and his sex assault spree continued. It only ended because he was caught after raping two elementary school girls at knifepoint five months later.

“I feel it has always affected me, I just didn’t show it at the beginning,” Smeltzer explained. “(In time) I started feeling more of the impact of what my behaviour caused.”

Dressed in a tan-coloured checked shirt and running shoes, Smeltzer kept his hands folded in front of him. The victim’s family, seated behind him, wept as they read their emotional statements. Tears came to Smeltzer‘s eyes occasionally as he listened. He dabbed a tissue to his eyes a few times.

He described in detail how he spotted Kimberley the morning of Jan. 24, 1980, as he was walking to the store.

“Kimberley said hi to me. I walked down the end of the block. I grabbed her,” he said. “I’d taken her into the house and asked her to take off her snowsuit. I said I wanted to kiss her.”

As they sat on his parents’ bed, the little girl began crying. Smeltzer lost his nerve.

“I got her a drink of water and we started talking. I asked her where she lived. I realized what I did — I grabbed somebody from the community,” he told the board, adding he began to fill with fear and panic. “Obviously I didn’t want to get caught and go to jail.”

Soon after, he filled the bathtub with water, lifted her into it and gently held her head under until she went limp.

“I couldn’t believe I was capable of taking someone’s life. It upset me to know that I’d done that,” he said.

He said after drowning the little girl, he became “very paranoid and scared and didn’t leave the house a whole lot unless I was with my mom or sister.”

Smeltzer told the board he was sexually abused by his older brother and his deceased father was a verbally abusive alcoholic.

“Do you still have sex fantasies?” a board member asked.

“No, I don’t,” he replied.

“None at all?”

“No, I don’t. I have fantasized but not to do with children,” he said.

Smeltzer later admitted he was first attracted to a school friend’s nine-year-old sister when he was 14 years old because she “cuddled up to me.”

He confessed that while watching five minutes of Degrassi Jr. High on a prison television, he had to fight urges.

“Do you consider yourself a pedophile?” the board asked him.

“Yes I do. I’m attracted to little girls.”

However, support group peers said Smeltzer was honest and had a desire to change.

“When I leave the institution, I plan my day and the first thing I tell myself is ‘I am a sex offender, I am a pedophile.’ Basically, that’s how I prepare my day.”

Victim relives horror of assault
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Sherri Zickefoose
Calgary Herald
Dateline: PRINCE ALBERT, SASK.

She was walking home from the Killarney outdoor rink in the dark, the plastic guards of her white figure skates crunching the snowy sidewalk, when he struck.A 10-year-old girl, just a block from home, tackled by a grown man.

She couldn’t run away. The skates. The snow.

“He had a little jackknife,” the woman, now 39, remembers of her November 1979 attack by a stranger.

“When he was finished, he told me he knew where I lived and, if I told my parents, he would kill them and me.”

She did tell her parents, and they told police.

Still, weeks later, five-year-old Kimmie Thompson turned up dead in a garbage bin.

“When Kimmie was killed, I thought maybe he thought she was me because we both had long brown hair. Maybe he killed her because I told on him,” she said.

Even though her attack was one of dozens of police files of indecent exposure and rape in the Altadore area between 1975 and 1980, she never got justice.

“The police have no records of the incident ever happening. My parents have passed away, so I don’t even know the exact date. It feels like I have to prove that it even happened.

“It is a re-victimization. It’s like it never happened.”

Smeltzer was caught five months after the murder. He was spotted by an 11-year-old rape victim a week after he dragged her off her bicycle within eyesight of her house.

For years, police knew there was a predator in the neighbourhood, but Smeltzer eluded capture even after dumping his victim’s body in a back alley garbage can a few blocks from his own home.

Smeltzer later admitted attacking up to 40 girls and women during his reign of terror between 1975 and 1980, but he is fighting for his freedom now that his life sentence has been served.

Justice remains far off for his victims, however.

“Child-killers should be made automatically dangerous offenders,” the woman says. “The laws need to be changed for the protection of children and their families.”

She would also like to see parole hearings better publicized to alert victims. Although the National Parole Board has a registry for the public to receive notice of its decisions, Kimmie’s mother Evelyn Thompson was not automatically informed. She was unaware of her child’s killer’s bid for freedom until contacted by a Herald reporter.

The oversight is an indignity that should never be repeated, the woman says.

“Victims’ families need to know what’s happening.”

While Smeltzer says he’s ready to rejoin the outside world, his victims are shackled by the pain of his crimes.

“I know that he will hurt another child again if given the opportunity,” says Thompson. “Why the justice system takes chances with child killers and rapists is beyond my understanding.”

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Murderer’s parole shocks childhood sex assault victim
Saturday, November 8, 2008
Sherri Zickefoose
Calgary Herald

Monique was so frightened when Harold Smeltzer told her what he was going to do to her as he led her to a darkened garage, the 10-year-old asked him to hold her hand.

It has been nearly 30 years since police investigated the terrifying attack on her by then 22-year-old Smeltzer. Two years after he grabbed her off a South Calgary street in 1978, he snatched and killed five-year-old Kimberley Thompson.

Since Smeltzer‘s first-degree murder conviction, and guilty pleas to two rapes and two attempted sexual assaults in 1981, Monique receives sombre brown envelopes from the National Parole Board, informing her of its decisions regarding his life sentence. But news of the parole board’s decision to set free the man who stole her childhood came as yet another shock.

Monique, whose real name cannot be used, was never informed of his Wednesday hearing. The 40-year-old mother was driving down Deerfoot Trail on Thursday when she heard about her attacker’s release over the radio.

“I’m 10 years old again. I’m so angry about this,” said Monique. She receives updates on the board’s decisions about her attacker, but didn’t know the onus was on her to apply in writing to learn about his parole hearing.

Evelyn Thompson, the mother of Kimberley, was not registered for either updates, and only learned of Smeltzer‘s upcoming bid for freedom when contacted by a Herald reporter last year.

“I would have gone to that hearing. The idea that this poor mom had to be there without any other victims at her side. . . . There are a lot more of us out there than the public knows about,” said Monique.

Smeltzer has confessed to up to 40 attacks on Altadore-area women and girls between 1975 and 1980.

The parole board’s decision to release him to a Regina halfway house after serving 28 years of his life sentence has been met with anger from politicians, victims, the public and Monique’s family.

“He’ll never do his time. Monique is doing her time as a result of this. Where does the parole board get off not asking us?” said her Calgary mother.

“I was so grateful to him that he didn’t kill her. Monique is alive, but I think he killed pieces of Monique. We need to revamp the justice system.”

Saskatchewan Justice Minister Don Morgan this week wrote federal Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan, expressing his government’s “grave concern” with the board’s decision.

Morgan asked the federal government to look at implementing tougher sentences for offenders who commit crimes against children, consecutive sentences instead of concurrent sentences for certain serious offenders and stricter registration and reporting requirements for sexual offenders.

Van Loan’s office has no jurisdiction over parole board decisions. It is an independent administrative tribunal whose members are appointed by Public Safety. Any changes to its procedures or restrictions to its powers must be brought in as part of the federal government’s proposals to get tough on crime.

The board has exclusive authority under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to grant, deny, cancel, terminate or revoke day parole and full parole.

It also requires victims of crime to register themselves in writing to receive updates for its decisions on inmates. If they wish to observe parole hearings, they must sign up separately for that.

According to the board, more than 6,500 people, including victims and journalists, have attended parole hearings in the past five years.

More than 22,000 parole decisions have been sent to the public in the same time.

Monique’s family can’t believe that an offender with Smeltzer‘s background met the parole board’s satisfaction.

“Thirty years later, it’s so vivid. We’ve been really private about this for 30 years. We are like every other family,” said Monique’s mother.

The family hopes that more victims Smeltzer claims to have attacked will come forward. Although Calgary sex crimes detectives are aware of Smeltzer‘s claims, there are very little reports on file to match up to him.

“There are more like us. If nothing else, I hope people are indignant enough to do something,” Monique’s mother said.

Monique can pinpoint the date her childhood ended. On a January night in 1978, shortly after the family had spent New Year’s Eve in Disneyland, the Grade 5 girl was having a sleepover at her mother’s friend’s house.

She was walking back with two dogs from a corner shop after buying a box of Kraft Dinner as a treat for supper.

Just half a block from her destination, Smeltzer intercepted and asked if the dogs bit. She said no, and he started walking with her and struck up a conversation about where she lived, she says.

The questions scared her and she lied, saying she lived down the street. Smeltzer scooped her and took off down an alley. He led her away for blocks, ending up at a garage.

“He told me he wanted me to kiss him. I remember gagging,” she remembers.

After it was over, Smeltzer told her to count to 100. The terrified girl walked in the dark to the safety of busy 14th Street, far from where she was staying. She saw a woman get off a bus and asked her for help.

When she arrived at the house, the police were waiting. The dogs had come home without her and her mother’s friend called for help.

It’s a nightmare night that has never ended for her family.

“It’s a lifelong event. It doesn’t mean you don’t go on, but every now and then, your life stops as a result of this,” her mother said.

“It’s affected all of us.”

Sister stands by released killer; ‘I can’t hold it against him forever’
Saturday, November 8, 2008
Sherri Zickefoose
Calgary Herald

She was with him the day police swooped in to arrest child-killer and rapist Harold David Smeltzer, and now that he is being freed from prison, his sister says she’ll continue standing by him.Nearly 30 years after her brother was convicted of murdering a five-year-old neighbour girl and of the rapes and attempted sexual assault of others, Smeltzer‘s only living immediate family member says she knew this day would come.

“I kind of thought he would one day. They know him more than we do right now. He’s been there for 28 years, and they know him inside out,” said his sister Dorothy, who doesn’t want her full name publicized.

“I’m very, very upset with what he did. But I can’t hold it against him forever. I am his flesh and blood.”

Smeltzer is now 52. He was 24 years old when he snatched kindergartener Kimberley Thompson off an Altadore sidewalk intending to sexually assault her. She was crying and his mother was returning home soon. He drowned her in his parents’ bathtub and stuffed her body into a garbage bag. Her frozen remains were discovered in a back alley garbage can the next day. Smeltzer remained at large for five months, even when public support for Kimmie’s mother, Evelyn Thompson, turned to unfounded suspicion she had killed her own child. Smeltzer was arrested a week after he attacked two elementary school girls riding their bikes near the Glenmore dam in June 1980. His 11-year-old victim spotted him walking with Dorothy and her children near the Elbow River in Mission and cried out. The little girl was carrying a police detective’s business card in her pocket like a talisman and her mother called police.

Dorothy, now 67, remembers the terrifying day vividly. It changed her family’s lives forever.

“I feel really bad for Evelyn Thompson. But we’ve suffered all our lives, too. He’s our family and he did it. And we felt like we were kind of in prison because we were scared to go out for fear that they would talk about us, even though we didn’t tell him to go out there and do such a thing. It divided our family in Calgary. We never got visits or phone calls. They shied away from us.”

Smeltzer was born in Quebec. His elderly parents were already raising three brothers and his sister, Dorothy. The family moved to Calgary in the early 1970s. His father was a machine operator and his mother worked as a laundress at a nursing home.

Soon after arriving here, Smeltzer was getting into trouble with the law for break-ins and theft.

They were not an affluent family and food was tight sometimes, Smeltzer told the National Parole Board on Wednesday before he was freed. His father was a verbally abusive alcoholic and didn’t show him much affection or take him to ball games, he said.

He alleges one of his older brothers molested him starting when he was eight years old.

As troubled as he was, Dorothy remembers her brother as an ordinary boy.

“He was a fairly happy kid. He was actually good.”

But after a failed three-year relationship with a 14-year-old girl he began dating when he was 17, he turned the family’s Altadore neighbourhood into his sexual hunting ground. During his parole hearing, Smeltzer admitted he is a pedophile.

“Maybe some people think I’m silly for doing this. I feel so, so bad about this. But I do have to kind of support my brother. We don’t go along with what he did. But we loved him in a certain way.”

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4 comments

  1. […] Now 55, Smeltzer remains low-functioning. No one in Regina will hire him (a combination of his lack of employable skills and a firestorm of publicity surrounding his forgotten case, courtesy of moi). […]

  2. […] first wrote about the convicted child killer and southwest neighbourhood rapist here, the result of nearly two years of sleuthing to find sources and unnamed victims of sex […]

  3. […] Now 55, Smeltzer remains low-functioning. No one in Regina will hire him (a combination of his lack of employable skills and a firestorm of publicity surrounding his forgotten case, courtesy of moi). […]

  4. Stephen Boissoin · · Reply

    I recently learned about this horrific crime and now the crime against Evelyn and society with Smeltzer being granted weekend releases. What can be done to partner with whomever might be working against Smeltzer’s parole? Is there anyone heading something up? Any direction would be appreciated. If there isn’t anyone I will write my own letters and let my disgust and outrage be known.

    Steve Boissoin
    Kelowna Canada

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