The Crimes of Shirley Turner, Part Four: The Life and Murder of Zachary Turner
When Dr. Shirley Jane Turner returned to Newfoundland, fleeing capital murder charges in the United States for her alleged slaying of her ex-boyfriend Andrew Bagby, she was not alone.
Evidence against Turner was mounting and police were nearly ready to level charges against her; for Andrew Bagby’s shooting death. Police didn’t have the gun, but they had a series of conflicting statements about what had happened to the murder weapon and shell casings that matched bullets used by Turner during her firearms training, as well as live rounds that had been ejected from the gun in keeping with its known tendency to jam and spit out unfired bullets. They also had a box of condoms with a matching lot number from a box Bagby had purchased, which at very least proved Turner had been in Bagby’s home between the purchase date and the murder.
Most importantly, they had a motive. Shirley Turner had a history of violent and unpredictable behaviour and they discovered that Andrew Bagby had in fact broken off their relationship. It would have been no problem to convince a jury using this evidence that Turner was the one who pulled the trigger and killed Bagby. They even confirmed she had seen Bagby on the night of the murder.
Despite the fact they failed to remove the clothes Tuner wore while committing the murder during their search warrant, police were confident that they had their suspect.
But Shirley Turner was not going to roll over now. It’s almost impossible to understand without knowing Turner, or a similarly manipulative person who, to everyone on the outside looking in, is obviously terrible, just how charming she could be. A friend of hers who she had met in med school even offered to take $20 and write Shirley a receipt with the following idea: “in order to become her [Dr. Turner’s] professional consultant so she wouldn’t have to testify [against Shirley].” Even with news coverage beginning to turn on her, Shirley Turner could convince people she was the victim yet again.
After making some arrangements, Turner departed for Newfoundland and as previously mentioned, she was not alone. Shirley Turner was pregnant with Andrew Bagby’s child.
Turner had told several people, including Bagby’s former fiancé that she had a miscarriage but this was another lie. A pregnant Turner called a cab and bought a one-way ticket to Toronto, leaving her car and the bulk of her worldly possessions behind. She told Bagby’s father that she was doing this on the advice of an attorney who advised her to flee to Canada immediately, something I find hard to believe.
While in Toronto, Turner’s family was already beginning to doubt her innocence. Still, she was able to manipulate her way back to St. John’s where she took up residence with her eldest son. While in St. John’s, Turner was perhaps unaware that her flight from Iowa had accelerated the investigation into her involvement with the murder of Andrew Bagby. Police seized her trash on December 2 and just ten days later the RNC arrested Shirley Turner at home, with extradition proceedings set to begin shortly thereafter. Iowa police were anxious to get Turner back in their jurisdiction, as their case was now all but solved. Her lies were now unraveling as investigators finished following up with witnesses, and they were about ready to go to trial. There was one complicating matter, however; Turner’s pregnancy which was causing complications for the extradition process.
The judge, Justice Gale Welsh, perhaps not understanding the overwhelming mountain of evidence sitting in Iowa, felt that Turner was not a threat to society and set bail at $75,000. Conditions were that she post the collateral, turn over her passports, check in weekly with the RNC, stay in the St. John’s area and make no attempt to flee. She was also instructed not to make contact with the Bagby family during this time.
The complicating factor was that Turner’s extradition case was now also a custody dispute. The Bagby’s moved to St. John’s and retained a lawyer to fight for custody of their unborn grandson. David and Kathleen Bagby were said to be convinced entirely of Shirley Turner’s guilt, as was Andrew’s former fiancé and even some members of her family. Many were beginning to recognize, finally, that Shirley Turner was in fact not a sweet, bright young doctor but rather a manipulative sociopath with homicidal tendencies. Unfortunately, many of those people were not in a position to force extradition proceedings.
Zachary Turner was born on July 18, 2002. Shirley Turner refused to let the Bagby’s see the child after he was born, and remained stalwart in her claim that she was a victim of circumstance. She was adamant that she had not killed Andrew Bagby but instead was heartbroken because, as you’ll recall, Turner was telling law enforcement and friends that they planned to “work things out”. She had so much vitriol for the Bagby’s that she fired her lawyer for having too high an opinion of them. Maybe it’s unfair to say in hindsight that someone should have recognized the instability of Turner’s mental state, but it’s certainly fair to say that someone should have been paying more attention to details like this. It could have prevented the second tragedy to come.
It became obvious during Zachary’s first few months of life that he was oddly not affectionate toward his birth mother. He was said in the report to be “detached” and seemed more inclined to be around other adults. While abuse claims against Turner could be inferred, nothing official exists. However, given Tuner’s history with her other children, it would not be much of a mental leap to assume she was at very least unkind to the baby boy. There are reports — though unsubstantiated — that Turner went as far as taunting the Bagby’s during Zachary’s first birthday party, telling them that if he loves them so much maybe he should go live with them.
Keep in mind, this is a year after Zachary was born, and approaching two years since extradition proceedings first began. As a report from a coroner not involved in the case would later state the Newfoundland and Labrador’s social services never once appeared to think of the child’s safety in letting a wanted accused murderer keep custody of him for more than a year.
On July 4, 2003, just two days after Zachary’s first birthday, Shirley Turner met a local St. John’s man whom she dated briefly. The man wisely cut off contact when he learned of the pending charges against her but Turner’s old pattern of harassing behaviour came back full force. The man reported to the RNC a series of some two hundred threatening phone calls that she made to his residence over the course of the next month. This was in violation of Turner’s terms for her bail and thus should have resulted in the revocation of her custody of Zachary, but the man was afraid for his safety and declined to give his name or press charges. Shirley Turner, for what it’s worth, denied the allegations and no action was taken by the courts.
But this was a trigger for her. The common theme for all of Turner’s behaviour was control. When she was not in control of her relationships she lashed out and began to destruct. And this is where the story turns even darker.
On August 18, 2003, Shirley Turner — who was now sharing custody of Zachary with his grandparents — took her son to CBS, where the man she dated very briefly lived. She parked in front of the man’s house and left photos of herself and Zachary along with a used tampon on the front seat of her car. Earlier in the day, Turner had purchased thirty tablets of Ativan from a local pharmacy, which she used to spike Zachary’s baby formula as well as taking some herself. Police suggest that Shirley Turner was attempting to frame the man for what she was about to do.
She then walked to the beach and to the end of a wharf, strapped the baby to her chest and, with a system full of Ativan and an unconscious Zachary, dove into the Atlantic Ocean. Both drowned.
A coroner found that Zachary was unconscious before he entered the water and thus, mercifully, did not suffer.
Shirley Turner avoided standing trial for two murders. She avoided ever facing any consequences for her behaviour. The only person held legally liable was her former psychiatrist, Dr. John Doucet, who was fined $10,000 payable to the College of Physicians and Surgeons which was used to cover a larger fine levied against the College. The events did help set new precedents in cases involving children, and Andrew Bagby’s parents said they were pleased that something like this could never happen again. Broad reforms were made into the investigation and prosecution of cases involving children, and the official report concludes that there were no fewer than five intervention points which could have prevented if not both deaths then at least the death of Zachary.
To read Parts one, two, and three click here.