What happened to Ella? N.S. Mountie haunted by decades-old cold case
As a Nova Scotia family pleads for help in solving an old murder mystery, a veteran Mountie is also speaking out about the case, which he says has haunted him for decades.
At 100 years old, Harold Searle is one of the oldest-living RCMP veterans in Canada. His celebrated career started in 1941 and he retired as a sergeant in 1966.
His life as an RCMP officer started and ended at the detachment in Windsor, N.S., and he still lived in the town until just a few years ago.
While many cases have had an impact on Searle, he says one case in particular has always hung over him like a dark cloud.
“Well, that it was a murder, first of all -- very rare in rural Nova Scotia -- and also that I knew the area,” says Searle.
Ella Margaret Taylor was running errands in Pembroke, N.S. on June 29, 1955 when she disappeared.
Investigators determined the 19-year-old woman had stopped at the post office along what is now Highway 215 and then paid a visit to a girlfriend on the way home.
But Taylor never made it home.
The night she disappeared an old cabin went up in flames. Human remains were found in the rubble the next day and dental records later confirmed that the remains belonged to Taylor.
However, investigators determined that she didn’t die in the fire.
Witnesses were interviewed and a coroner’s inquest concluded that Taylor died “an unknown violent death by means unknown.”
Police interviewed potential suspects, but they never had enough evidence to lay any charges.
Taylor’s murder was big news in Hants County, but Searle was assigned elsewhere at the time. The case was already seven years old when he was posted in Windsor again.
“But, of course, my curiosity was aroused by it and also the fact that it had not been solved,” says Searle. “That, of course, was kind of a challenge.”
The case had been a challenge for police from the beginning and it eventually grew cold, but Searle never forgot about Taylor, and he wasn’t alone.
“Dr. Hines and I used to talk it over,” recalls Searle. “He had a plan.”
Dr. Arthur Hines was well-known in the community; his faded portrait still hangs in the school that bears his name.
Searle says Hines was determined to get a deathbed confession from one of the main suspects in the case -- an older man Taylor would routinely visit to drop off mail.
“Dr. Hines was going to wait until he was quite sick, maybe on his deathbed, and he was then going to ask him,” says Searle.
“But, as it happened, this man, he was taken to the hospital with supposedly a minor ailment, but he died suddenly, and Dr. Hines never got his chance to do that, so he was thwarted there.”
While the case is 63 years old, and at least one of the suspects is long gone, the RCMP say the Taylor file remains open and they’re asking anyone with information to contact them
“An unsolved homicide remains open until we find the answers to what happened, or find the evidence to lay a charge,” says RCMP Cpl. Jennifer Clarke. “Please come forward and help us get the information and perhaps provide some closure to this family.”
Taylor’s parents died without learning the truth about what happened to their daughter, but now her remaining relatives are bringing the case back into the spotlight in the hopes of finally solving the mystery.
They worry time is running out, especially for Taylor’s last-surviving sibling, Verna Mae Atwell, who is elderly and in failing health.
“Mom was 91 in April, so this summer we didn’t make it down to come to the graveyard, but we came in spirit and mind,” says Connie Sheppard, Taylor’s niece.
“I just wish that we could have some closure. Maybe it’s too late, maybe it’s not.”
Searle wishes he too could have some closure in a case that has always left him troubled. He also wants Taylor’s family to know he never forgot about the young woman.
“After 60 years your chances are very slim. Memories have dimmed and people have died, so you just gotta speculate,” he says. “I would just offer regrets and apologies that we did not solve it for them.”
With files from CTV Atlantic's Bruce Frisko