The couple charged with first-degree murder in the 2013 death of an Ontario man and the 2010 death of his mother appeared briefly on Wednesday in Nova Scotia provincial court.
Melissa Merritt, 33, and her common-law husband, Chris Fattore, 36, were remanded for six days to allow Peel Regional Police to transport them back to the Greater Toronto Area, where the deaths occurred – and where they will face their charges.
Ms. Merritt is the ex-wife of Caleb Harrison, 41, who died at his Mississauga home from asphyxiation in 2013. His mother, Bridget Harrison, died three years earlier at the same house on Pitch Pine Crescent, also from asphyxiation.
Ms. Merritt and Mr. Fattore, who recently moved to the Bridgewater area on Nova Scotia’s south shore, looked tired and dishevelled as they sat in the courtroom.
Judge Barbara Beach asked them if they had been able to speak to a lawyer. Mr. Fattore, a large man, wearing a black T-shirt and grey sweatpants, said that he had. Ms. Merritt, who has long, sandy blond hair, was wearing a green hoodie.
After Mr. Harrison’s death, which was immediately ruled a homicide, police reopened their files on the deaths of his parents.
The death of Mr. Harrison’s father, Bill, in 2009 was seen as an unfortunate event and initially thought to be from natural causes. When Ms. Harrison was found dead at the bottom of the stairs in the house from “unknown causes” in 2010, it was a troubling mystery. The younger Mr. Harrison lived in his family home with his two children until his own death last August, at which point alarm bells went off in the neighbourhood and police looked at any possible connections between the cases.
“I think the community at large was extremely devastated by it,” Inspector George Koekkoek of Peel Regional Police said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon. “The links didn’t become immediately apparent until Caleb’s passing and … that’s what led us down [this path] and shed a light on the other deaths and we were able to investigate those.”
Part of that investigation looked into the two children Ms. Merritt and Mr. Harrison had together more than a decade ago. Custody switched between the two for years and went solely to Ms. Merritt after Mr. Harrison’s death.
Police expanded their investigation to Nova Scotia and, with the assistance of the RCMP and Halifax police, zeroed-in on the Merritt-Fattore home near Bridgewater and arrested the couple on Tuesday morning. They were then transferred to Halifax.