The Disappearance of Tania Marie Murrell

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EARLY LIFE:

Tania Marie Murrell was born on June 20, 1976 to her parents, Vivian and Jack. Vivian worked as a bakery manager, while Jack was a carpenter who built new houses for Allritt Homes on the west side of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. According to those who knew the family, Vivian and Jack were known for their partying lifestyle, their use of marijuana, their love of rock music and for riding Harley Davidson motorcycles.

The Murrell family resided in a small, rented bungalow at 10426-145 Street in Edmonton, an area which is said to have been the home to numerous registered and convicted molesters and rapists.

Tania is described as having been a happy child, whom everyone loved. While quiet and content, she was also known for her love of singing and tap dance. When she wasn’t playing with her Barbie dolls or in the sandbox in the family’s backyard, she could be found in the water, as she was a good swimmer. When she grew up, she’d hoped to become a veterinarian, as she loved animals.

LEAD UP TO DISAPPEARANCE:

At 7:30am on January 20, 1983, Tania’s aunt, Verta Stortz, was dropped off at the Murrell home by her common-law husband, as she would be babysitting the children for the day. To her recollection, Tania and and her 5-year-old brother, John, were eating breakfast, while Jack left the house for work. Vivian is said to have been talking with her daughter before she too left the house at just after 8:00am.

According to her fellow classmates, Tania was last seen leaving her first grade class at Grovner Elementary School at around 11:00am. She was meant to meet up with John and the pair were going to walk home for lunch, where Vera was waiting for them. When John exited the school, he found his sister was not there and assumed she’d went on without him, so he made the block and a half trek home himself.

DISAPPEARANCE:

John arrived home at 11:20am. When questioned by his aunt as to his sister’s whereabouts, he explained that other students had told him that Tania had gone to a friend’s house for lunch. However, when Vera went to check, she found her niece was not at the house.

Concerned, Vera contacted Vivian at work, who automatically knew something was wrong. While she hoped her daughter had simply gone to a friend’s house, she couldn’t shake the feeling and decided to head home. When she arrived, she learnt that Vera had been searching up and down the street for Tania, to no avail. Jack was also contacted and, sharing the same feeling as his wife, immediately returned home to search for his missing daughter.

Hoping to find Tania in class, Vivian went to Grovner Elementary School, but found her daughter’s desk empty. At this point, she phoned the Edmonton Police Service and an officer stopped by the house, where he made note of what Tania was wearing and began a door-to-door search of the area.

Throughout the course of the day and into the night, Vivian and Jack hoped their daughter had simply decided to have an impromptu sleepover with a friend and had forgotten to inform them, but she failed to show up for school the next morning.

She has not been seen or heard from since.

SEARCH:

Initially, those investigating Tania’s disappearance weren’t quite sure how to handle it. However, the police did state they believed she left via the elementary school’s east doors at approximately 11:10am and didn’t wait for her brother’s class to break for lunch.

The story made both national and international news, with outlets across Canada and the United States reporting on Tania’s disappearance. For weeks, her case was the lead story on local newscasts.

The search for Tania involved hundreds of personnel, including police officers, friends, relatives and citizen volunteers. The ground search was the largest up to that point in Edmonton’s history, with hundreds of city blocks, including alleys, ravines and the neighbourhood where the Murrell family lived, checked by those on foot and by vehicle. Despite the extensive searches, her clothing and schoolbooks were never located, neither were any witnesses. Only her Safeway bag was located at the school. According to some of the children who attended Grovner Elementary School, they had seen a girl being chased by a German Shepherd, but this has not been substantiated and it is currently unknown if the girl seen was Tania.

Detectives were flooded with tips about the case, but few turned out to be of any significance. Both of Tania’s parents were ruled out as suspects, as they were both at work at the time of her disappearance. However, due to their drug use and partying lifestyle, investigators were of the belief that someone who was acquainted with the family could have possibly been involved. This theory was further spurred on by community rumours, which said Jack had owed hundreds of dollars to a small-time drug dealer for some marijuana he’d purchased.

Not long after Tania vanished, the family dog, Harley, disappeared. However, foul play was not suspected.

At one point during the investigation, Tania’s parents were the victims of an extortion attempt, a crime for which a man was eventually convicted.

In the summer of 2008, a basement was excavated about 20 blocks from where the family lived in 1983. This search was the result of a tip the lead detective received from a woman who claimed she had been a playmate of Tania’s and was suspicious about a hole in the basement of her family’s home. However, the excavation turned up nothing.

Around 30 years after the disappearance, a former school friend of Tania’s came forward to say the missing girl had approached her on the day in question to say she was going to the nearby 7-11 for lunch, as she had some spare money. The convenience store was in the opposite direction of the Murrell home. According to the woman, she last saw Tania walking alone in a southwest direction toward 144 Street, toward Stony Plain Road at 147 Street.

The case is considered the biggest missing child case in Edmonton’s history. Currently, investigators are of the theory that she was abducted and murdered. Throughout the course of the investigation, they have checked with molesters and rapists who were known to live in the area.

THEORIES:

1) The primary theory in the case is that a man who was known to the family abducted Tania. An alcoholic, he was 31 years old at the time and did not have a solid alibi for the day the young girl went missing. According to those who knew him and the family, he’d taken Tania and her brother alone camping, and around the time of her disappearance, he’d wrote a poem about a love that could never happen. He is also said to have been violent, having once smashed a beer bottle into a man’s face while playing cards, while another time he turned off the ignition of the Murrell family’s station wagon, resulting in the car entering a ditch.

Around the time of Tania’s disappearance, he moved away from Edmonton and would later have a daughter, whom he named after the missing girl.

Investigators interrogated him for 11 hours, and while he didn’t explicitly deny abducting Tania, he is reported as saying, “Fuck you, you ain’t got a body,” and a polygraph test proved inconclusive. The evidence they did have resulted in the police offering him a plea deal of second-degree murder, which he refused. He has never faced any criminal charges in relation to the case because, while detectives believe they have enough for a murder charge, they fear the evidence may not be enough to secure a conviction.

The man is also a person of interest in the 1979 disappearance of 9-year-old Kevin Reimer, who went missing after he wandered away from his family’s campsite in Elk Island National Park in Alberta. The young boy’s body was eventually found not too far from where he was last seen, and the person in question is said to have worked at the park at the time.

According to Vivian, the man was not capable of harming Tania, a stance further backed up by Jack. This was despite her friends warning her to not let him near her children. These friends would report years later that Vivian had changed her opinion of the man and believed him to have killed her daughter.

Currently, the man’s whereabouts and whether he is still alive are unknown. His last known location was Ontario, where he moved in the spring of 1983.

2) A second theory in the case is that Tania was taken by a woman who couldn’t bear her own child. This is a theory held by the missing girl’s younger sister, Elysia, who believes she’s still alive and has been brainwashed. The basis for this theory is a witness who reported seeing a woman dragging an unwilling girl down the sidewalk at 144 Street, near 104 Avenue, around the time of Tania’s disappearance.

AFTERMATH:

Two years after her disappearance, Tania’s sister, Elysia, was born. Unable to bear the stress brought on by the case, the family eventually relocated to Kelowna, British Columbia. Jack and Vivian would divorce in the 1990s as a result of the mental and emotional toll of Tania’s disappearance. They both developed substance abuse issues and have since passed away, Vivian in 2011 and Jack in 2005. Tania’s brother, John, also suffered from substance abuse problems later in life and would eventually die as well.

Tania’s parents set up the Tania Murrell Missing Children Society, which is said to be the first agency in Canada to have a sole focus on missing children. The society dissolved a few years after its creation, due to the toll of Tania’s disappearance on the family, but its legacy is not lost. The case resulted in the creation of the first Alberta chapter of Child Find, and the organization said the case continues to serve as a reminder to parents to ensure their children know what to do in the face of danger, and how to avoid it.

A book – titled What Happened to Tania? – was released about the case.

CASE CONTACT INFORMATION:

Tania Marie Murrell went missing from Grovner Elementary School in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada on January 20, 1983. She was 6 years old, and was last seen wearing a black Harley Davidson t-shirt, a blue and white winter coat with fur trim around the collar, high brown boots and white bikini panties. At the time of her disappearance, she stood at 3’2″ and weighed approximately 45 pounds. She had sandy blonde-to-light brown hair and her eyes are said to have been either brown or hazel. Her ears are pierced, and she has a birthmark on her right temple, which is about the size of a quarter.

Currently, the case is classified as a non-family abduction. If alive, she would be 44 years old.

Those with information about the case are asked to contact the Edmonton Police Service at 780-421-3382 or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police at 1-877-318-3576.

Image Credit: Missing in Canada

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