Canada’s Black Widow—Melissa Ann Shepard
Lonely, elderly men take cover, Melissa Ann Shepard is back in circulation. The 80-year-old is apple-cheeked, white-haired, and a disarmingly charming confidence trickster; although given that she has 30 fraud convictions since 1977 suggests she may not be a particularly skilled scam artist.
She could have been sent from central casting for a production in need of a Mrs. Santa Claus. In her golden years, Shepard hit on the scheme of befriending recently widowed men and then slipping tranquilizers into their food.
Her first marriage was to Russell Shepard. The relationship ended in divorce and Russell emerged from it unscathed. Not so lucky was Gordon Stewart.
In 1991, Stewart of Prince Edward Island fell for Ms. Shepard’s charms and became her second husband. Poor Mr. Stewart succumbed to a lethal dose of benzodiazepine followed by passing under the wheels of his bride’s Chevrolet Cavalier – twice. She played the battered woman defence and got away with a six-year sentence, but she was released after two years behind bars.
She made the most of her case by embarking on a speaking tour telling her audiences about her experience with the battered woman syndrome. She even scored a government grant so she could help other women who are stuck in abusive relationships.
Melissa Shepard discovered that the Internet gave her access to elderly victims by the carload.
In 2001, following contact through a Christian dating site, came the whirlwind romance with Robert Friedrich in Florida; three days to the engagement, one month to the wedding, 14 months to the funeral. There was no autopsy and no charges laid.
After the couple had been on a long honeymoon, paid for by Robert’s savings, Shepard left a voice-mail for one of his sons to absorb and digest. The CBC broadcasted the message in a television documentary: “I have something to share with you this morning. Your father is going to change his will ... you guys are getting nothing, a big fat zero. So try that on for size, and have a nice day.”
This, of course, irked Friedrich’s children who laid a criminal complaint against her. They claimed she had killed their father with an overdose of prescription drugs. Nothing was proven but Friedrich’s sons retrieved $15,000 of their father’s money.
Next up was Alex Strategos who, in 2005, met Melissa. She moved into his Florida condo, drugged him, and relieved him of $20,000. Alex’s son was concerned that his father was being hospitalized frequently and that his savings were trickling out of his bank account. Blood tests followed and it was determined that Alex was getting an unhealthy dose of tranquilizers.
It was impossible to prove that Melissa had administered the poisons but the justice system got her on grand theft and forgery. She was given five years.
A Honeymoon Gone Wrong
Husband number four was Fred Weeks. Fred and Melissa, both in their late 70s, were living in a retirement community in Nova Scotia.
One day, Melissa knocked on Fred’s door and told him she was lonely. Fred, a recent widower, was experiencing the same emotion and felt companionship had just walked into his apartment.
They were married in 2012 and set off on a honeymoon. Fred walked onto the ferry to Newfoundland for the start of their holiday; ten days later he came off the returning ferry in a wheelchair.
At a bed and breakfast in Nova Scotia, he fell out of bed, hit the hardwood floor heavily and had to be hospitalized. Yanan Wang of The Hamilton Spectator writes that “Doctors found him heavily drugged - the result, it was later found, of Shepard spiking his coffee with tranquilizers.”
But, again she dodged heavy punishment as charges were reduced from attempted murder to “administering a noxious substance.” “Two years and nine months” said the judge and the sentence was completed in March 2016.
One of her earlier victims was not well pleased. Alex Strategos told the BBC “I don’t think she should be released. “I don’t know what the judge had in his mind. What she was, she still is – she’s the black widow. Some guys better watch out, that’s all I can say.”
Old Habits Die Hard
Shepard was given some strict conditions as part of her release. She is supposed to report any relationship she might strike up with a man. She is banned from accessing the Internet. If she alters her appearance she must be photographed by police. In total, 22 conditions were placed on her.
The police in Halifax, Nova Scotia issued a media release notifying the public that Melissa Shepard is “a high risk offender is residing in our community.” They added the warning that she “has been assessed as being a high risk to re-offend.”
Within a month of her release she was spotted by a Halifax police officer surfing the Internet in a library. Three charges of breaching the conditions of her peace bond followed. She has entered a not guilty plea and faces trial in February 2017.
Journalist Barb McKenna with The Guardian has followed the Black Widow’s career and has written “She could charm the bark off a tree.”
Outside of genocides and wartime mass executions, Elizabeth Bathori holds the dubious title of the world’s most prolific murderer, either male or female. The Guinness Book of World Records notes that “Throughout the 15th century, she is alleged to have killed more than 600 virgins in order to drink their blood and bathe in it, ostensibly to preserve her youth.” She lived in a castle in what is now Romania.
There are many species of black widow spiders and only one of them practices sexual cannibalism in which the females eat males after mating. Rod Crawford of The Burke Museum writes that, “This myth (which is not totally false, but very far from true) is believed even by scientists, and can be found in many ecology textbooks! It’s depressing; the authors are obviously copying each other and have never actually watched black widows mate in the field.”
- “Canada’s Black Widow: the Rosy-cheeked Killer is Back on the Streets.” Ashifa Kassam, The Guardian, March 25, 2016.
- “Canada’s ‘Black Widow,’ who Lured Lonesome Old Men to Horrible Fates, is Free again.” Yanan Wang, Hamilton Spectator, March 21, 2016.
- “The Internet Black Widow: Is this Canada’s most Dangerous Woman?” Jasmine Coleman, BBC News, March 19, 2016.
- “Internet Black Widow Breaches Three Conditions of Release from Prison, Police Say.” Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press, April 12, 2016.