At 70, is Dennis Melvyn Howe still alive?
by Robert A. Waters
The crime Dennis Melvyn Howe committed on the afternoon of January 23, 1983 was a stain on humanity. At about four o’clock that afternoon, he stepped outside his boarding house in downtown Toronto, walked about a hundred yards, and slithered into Jean Sibelius Park. It had been raining off and on all day, and just one lone child was playing there, a nine-year-old girl named Sharin’ Morningstar Keenan.
Somehow, no one saw Howe and Sharin’ walk back through the neighborhood and climb the stairs to his second-story room. What ruse he used to get the creative, intelligent girl to accompany him is unknown. That night, the child was reported missing. Hundreds of investigators and volunteers searched the park and the row houses surrounding it. They spoke with neighbors, checked nearby businesses, and even drove through the streets with a megaphone urging tipsters to come forward. For nine long, depressing days, cops and a stunned public searched for the missing child.
Then detectives got a call from the landlord at 482 Brunswick Avenue informing them that one of her tenants had unexpectedly dropped out of sight the day after Sharin’ vanished. Investigators entered the boarder’s drab room and noticed shelving from the refrigerator lying on the floor. When they opened the door, a half-frozen body spilled out.
The scene was so horrible, so gruesome, so surreal that ten days later, one of the detectives who found the body quit the force. (The second, never able to forget that heart-grinding scene, killed himself a few years later.)
It seemed almost beyond belief. In the heart of Toronto, a child had been kidnapped, raped, and strangled to death. In one fell swoop, the innocence of a city was lost.
The boarder turned out to be a parole violator living and working in the city using an alias. Dennis Melvyn Howe had spent most of his adult life in prison. He’d recently been paroled from Prince Albert Penitentiary in Saskatchewan after serving 17 years. His 20-year rap sheet included theft, armed robbery, unlawful imprisonment, indecent assault on a thirteen-year-old girl, kidnapping a woman and holding her hostage, as well as dozens of other crimes. Many questioned why this obviously dangerous felon was out on the streets at all.
After murdering Sharin’, Howe borrowed $200 from his employer and bought a bus ticket. A day later, he arrived in North Bay. Howe is then thought to have continued to Winnipeg, a city of a half-million souls. After that, he vanished.
Investigators were confident that the fugitive would soon be captured. Yet Dennis Melvyn Howe somehow escaped. Twenty-eight years later, he is still Canada’s most wanted fugitive. In those years, he has been featured on “America’s Most Wanted” and other television shows. A $100,000 reward has been in effect for many years. Cops have checked out thousands of leads over the years, all to no avail. A newspaper campaign called “Nowhere to Hide” was launched by the Canadian Community Newspapers Association in 1998--it was an attempt to get an age-enhanced photograph of Howe to ten million Canadians.
How did the career criminal who was unable to avoid being arrested for more than a few weeks while out of the streets manage to evade cops for decades? Is he even still alive? At 70, time is ticking away for cops to bring him to justice. A few years ago, the current lead investigator, Detective-Sergeant Jim Crowley, said: “There are those who think Howe may be dead, but I don’t think so. After so many years in this business, you get gut feelings. I figure he is in a small out of the way Western town or lumber camp. He may have found a safe haven with female company.” Wayne Oldham, another investigator who was once involved in the search for Howe, said: “Presuming he’s alive, and with each passing year that assumption dwindles a little, I can see him in a rural setting, essentially a recluse, employed in a menial job where identity is not critical.”
A great deal is known about Howe. He was born on September 26, 1940. Howe is five feet ten inches tall and at the time of Sharin’s murder weighed about 170 pounds. His hair was brown when he fled, but now would be gray or white. His eyes are brown. He has a scar under the left side of his chin and short, crooked fingers. Howe is left-handed and has a hairy chest, hairy arms, and square shoulders. He walks quickly and is a heavy smoker.
He goes by many aliases, all common names. A few of his known aliases were: Michael Burns; Wayne King; Ralph Ferguson; and Jim Meyers.
At the time of Sharin’s murder, Howe’s teeth were black and abscessed. Due to the constant pain he endured, investigators believe Howe would have been forced to get dental assistance. It’s possible that he now has dentures. In fact, after the murder, Royal Canadian Mounted Police published Howe’s dental charts in the Canadian Dental Journal with the hope that a dentist would spot the killer.
Howe’s DNA has been linked to Sharin’ Morningstar Keenan. It is available to law enforcement officials in North America.
While most Canadian investigators think Howe would never have left the country of his birth, it is possible that he fled to the United States. (What better way to throw the hounds off your tracks than to go somewhere totally unexpected?) While Howe was estranged from most of his family, he had a brother who occasionally loaned him money. In the years following the murder of Sharin’, cops learned that his brother made a dozen trips to Montana and Washington. After being questioned about the reasons for those visits, they suddenly stopped. His brother died several years ago, taking any secret he may have had to his grave.
Is Dennis Melvyn Howe still alive? Is he hiding in plain sight, maybe in some small town, cared for by a wife and children? Is he languishing in a nursing facility, his identity unknown?
To me, the most likely scenario is that he died shortly after the murder, while still on the run. Otherwise, with his deviant sexual compulsions and anti-social personality, he would have quickly come into contact with law enforcement officials, either in Canada or the United States.
Wherever Howe is, Hell will be his final destination.