The Crimes of Shirley Turner, Part Two: Tumultuous Times as a Resident

We ended part one with Shirley Turner handing her children off to their respective fathers despite her winning custody of the children in divorce proceedings.

We start part two by talking about Turner's parents. Specifically, her mother.

In 1997, the stressor that would perhaps send Shirley Turner’s controlling and abusive behaviour into overdrive came. The man her mother had been living with took ill at a time when Turner's mother was already in the process of leaving him. The official report states that Turner had developed "a daughter-like bond with this man and maintained contact with him until his death." This relationship breakdown, coupled with her now two failed marriages just may be why we see Turner begin to go off the rails when she was beginning her medical residencies.

In 1998, now living alone, Turner graduated med school and began her residency with a tour on the North Coast of Newfoundland. Reports from that time paint a picture of a patient, caring resident that was eager to not just learn but also apply her considerable intelligence to patients.

From a letter written after her time in St. Anthony was completed:

"Your willingness to undertake part of your training

[with Grenfell] in a fashion that was also a positive

contribution to the delivery of health care to the people

of South East Labrador was commendable. We were all

impressed by your openness to ideas and suggestions

and your cheerfulness."

This appears to be an outlier, however, as the reviews from her residencies in St. John's were anything but positive. From November 1999 to April of 2000, Turner interned with a doctor described as being a "senior and very experienced physician and member of the faculty of medicine" who was operating a family medicine practice in St. John's. Her dealings with this doctor and the two others who worked there could best be described as contentious bordering on hostile.

Turner’s residency, set to begin on the eleventh of November, was delayed because she reported to work two days late. She also came armed with a list of days that were convenient for her to work along with an expectation that she be given priority scheduling over the other residents. Her reasoning was her children who, you may recall, no longer lived with her. On an occasion where the physician was critical of Turner, she demanded that his comments not be included in her residency report. When he refused, she is said to have become confrontational, yelling at the physician while crying and saying loudly that she was being treated unfairly. Twice she called him to discuss the matter, and twice she hung up on him in a rage.

Given her apparent sterling record of service with Grenfell Health the previous year, the physician considered the matter and found that she had hidden some more critical remarks about her behaviour both with staff and patients. He says that Turner would often lie to his face about matters big and small, and would become furious when he called her on it. She was permitted to leave the first period of residency early to visit her children on the West Coast. The physician then saw Shirley at Memorial University the next day, as she never did head West.

The second period of residency (February through April 2000) is described as "remedial in nature." Much of this centred around Turner's constant lying and absences.

From the supervising physician:

"[s]he missed nine days of this three-month rotation

(most residents miss one day per year) using excuses

such as children being sick (they live 500 km from St.

John's), migraine headaches or no excuses at all."

One occasion when Turner used the old "My Kids Who Live Half a Province Away are Ill so I was up all Night" routine to explain why she had come in late, the physician says he reminded that they lived on the West Coast. Turner responded with an elaborate tale of being on the phone until two in the morning, having to rouse a pharmacist awake because the wrong antibiotic was given to the child, and talking the child's father through it all. Both father's confirmed no such thing ever happened.

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During this remedial rotation, several patient concerns were raised. Several long-time patients stopped showing up altogether after dealing with Turner and her behaviour was such that the supervising physicians were afraid to speak with her at all openly. None of them wanted to be alone with her, for fear of what she would say - either immediately or afterward.

This was troubling because, outwardly, Turner was charming and caring and people generally liked her. When things were going her way, she was a delight to speak with. It was when challenged, specifically about her now growing number of lies that she would turn into the screaming rage monster many know.

Once more, from her supervising physician, (emphasis mine):

"I felt I was being manipulated whenever I spoke with

Shirley Turner. When negative items would come up

she would change the topic to one of my failings. She

could be charming [,] friendly and lively but when

caught in an untruth she would become angry,

accusatory and loud. I always felt Shirley Turner was

putting on a show, as if she were playing the role but

had no feeling for her work. I cannot recall a trainee

like Shirley Turner in that her approach lacked

personal commitment and her relationships with people

seemed, at least to me, to be superficial when compared

to the over 400 residents I have supervised during the

past 21 years."

Putting on a show. No feeling for her work. Does that sound like the detached psychopathy many serial killers display? The physician believes so, saying later in an interview with the Office of Child and Youth Advocate that Turner was a manipulative psychopath with no concept of guilt. If you are wondering why his name is left out of this report, it was done so on purpose.

The supervising physician, despite describing Turner as displaying psychopathic tendencies and being a near pathological liar who would try to escalate any discussions about her behaviour into conflict never once thought to send her to a psychiatrist. Remember that long list of systemic failures I mentioned in part one? This is perhaps the biggest one. If her supervisor had forced her to be evaluated, then perhaps all of this gets nipped before anything more egregious happens. His reasoning for never doing this is, “People with major psychosis are usually picked up in Medical School.”

Pass the buck, just like the investigators did when they failed to contact Turner about the abuse allegations. The counter to this is that Turner was by this point beyond helping. Two failed marriages, plus two she witnessed with her mother, added to already malignant mental illness. It makes her crimes seem almost inevitable if you believe she was beyond help. Keep in mind, most psychopaths never kill anyone.

After his assessment, the physician added “[Dr. Turner] was cute, petite, always looked injured. She just fooled everyone, I think.” Maybe this is why no one ever pushed her into being evaluated. Her specific mental health issues did not seem to match her outward appearance. Despite the cancerous nature of her time spent with this supervisor, he still pitied her.

More turmoil followed her residency. It was discovered when her oldest child, now 18, was set to enter university for undergraduate studies that Turner’s many student loans were calculated on the basis that she was living with and caring for her three children while at school. This is why it was so important that she be granted custody, even if she never lived with them.

The issues during this time were not limited to her professional life. Sometime in 1996, after the breakdown of her second marriage, Turner met a man nine years her junior with whom she began a physical relationship. Over the next two years, things would quickly move from innocuous to horrifying.

Shortly after they had met. the man contacted Turner to tell her he was going to be moving for work and that he did not want to keep up a long-distance relationship. Turner’s response to this was to flood the man with phone calls once he had moved and on the occasions, he actually answered the phone the report states that she “talked with intensity and velocity.”

This continued until November of 1997 when the man moved from Western Newfoundland to Halifax for a new job. Turner ramped up her aggressive pursuit of the man and began coming to Halifax to personally berate him.

Worn down by Turner’s constant abuse, he eventually let her into his apartment where she then refused to leave. In lieu of calling the police, perhaps feeling intimidated by the older and ostensibly more mature woman, he gave in and let her stay. This was early summer 1998, and she would remain there for more than  month.

The man, listed in the report exclusively as The Man from Pennsylvania, recounts two particularly upsetting events.

The first was an assault. This occurred after an evening out while the two were walking back to the man’s apartment. Turner, a diminutive five-foot-tall and weighing barely one hundred pounds, was carrying her high heeled, platform shoes in her hands when she abruptly started striking him across the jaw with the shoes. Before this event, the man had never considered the threat of physical violence, given the discrepancy in size. He says this made clear to him her near unlimited capacity for violence.

The second was an emotional outburst. One summer night in Halifax, Turner became overcome, though he cannot remember the cause. He brought her to the emergency room where she was admitted and held overnight for a psychiatric examination. This resulted in her being treated as a psychiatric outpatient while in Halifax. Perhaps the severity of her mental illness was too well hidden or perhaps she was not examined closely enough. Either way, Turner returned to St. John’s late in the summer of 1998 in the prelude to what was to be another horrible incident.

The man moved to Pennsylvania, figuring he would never again see Shirley Turner. He would. Remember the dual citizenship we brought up in part one?

Turner travelled to Pennsylvania. She found the man’s apartment and according to local police, he found her in a black dress with a dozen red roses in her arms. She was slumped lifeless against the doorframe and had with her two letters. One, a suicide note. The other, a letter to her former psychiatrist and friend. Shirley Turner told first responders that she had “taken some pills wanted to die.”

Ominously, the letter to her former psychiatrist – also a close friend – read “I am not evil, just sick.”

Remember, this is all in the summer of 1998, months before her two residencies in St. John’s.

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By the way, Shirley Turner completed those residencies and was given license to practice medicine. Roughly one year after she had concluded her stalking of a man across two countries and attempted to kill herself, Shirley Turner was deemed fit to practice. Despite the concerns documented by her supervisor, who you will recall did not like to be left alone with her, he signed off on this.

In Part Three we will dive into the final half of this story. As always, seek help if you need it and reach out to those who need help. Your mental health is not your fault, but it is your responsibility.