The deaths of a father, mother and son in the same Mississauga house over four years were first seen as strange coincidences, but after a cross-Canada police investigation, two have now been classified as homicides linked to the same alleged killers.
Police charged Melissa Merritt and Chris Fattore on Tuesday morning in Nova Scotia on two counts of first-degree murder in the 2013 death of Caleb Harrison, Ms. Merritt’s ex-husband, and the 2010 death of Bridget Harrison, Mr. Harrison’s mother. Police say both died from asphyxiation.
Mr. Harrison’s father, Bill, died in the Harrison family’s home on Pitch Pine Crescent in 2009 and police say they have changed his cause of death from “natural causes” to “unknown causes.”
“When Caleb Harrison was found, we were going to do a complete 360 on his life and the life of the family and that investigation led us to where we are today,” Inspector George Koekkoek of Peel Regional Police said at a news conference.
Ms. Merritt and Mr. Fattore will appear in a Halifax court on Wednesday and they will be transported to Brampton on Friday to appear in court there.
The Harrisons, Ms. Merritt and Mr. Fattore had a complicated history marked by many tragedies and run-ins with the law.
Ms. Merritt, 33, and Mr. Harrison, 41, began dating in their 20s and had two children together more than a decade ago, according to a report in The Toronto Star. They married in 2003 and split in 2005, the same year Mr. Harrison was convicted of domestic assault. Two years later, Mr. Harrison killed a taxi driver one night when he was driving under the influence of alcohol and, after his conviction for the death, spent a year and a half in jail.
In 2009, Ms. Merritt abducted the children and left Mississauga for several months. She was convicted of parental abduction, according to news reports, but served no time in jail. At that same time, Insp. Koekkoek said, Mr. Harrison’s father, Bill, was found dead in the house, though his death was not ruled suspicious.
“Forensically, there’s nothing we can do to determine Caleb’s dad’s [cause of] death,” Insp. Koekkoek said.
But he added that it, along with Ms. Harrison’s death, had been reinvestigated after evidence was unearthed following Caleb Harrison’s death in 2013.
Mr. Harrison and Ms. Merritt’s two children lived with Mr. Harrison in the family home until his death, police said. Since then, they had been living with Ms. Merritt and Mr. Fattore.
In March, 2012, the Merritt-Fattore family lost their home in Stratford, Ont., in a fire, according to local news reports. A crowdfunding page was created by a “Christopher Fattore” soon after, soliciting monetary donations to recover from the loss.
In a thank-you note posted on the page, “Christopher Fattore” wrote: “Just to keep everyone up to date on how things are going, we are still living out of a motel and have not been able to find a home yet. We are trying hard and all the stress of it is taking a toll on Melissa and the baby.”
Four to five months ago, the family of eight, which includes Ms. Merritt and Mr. Harrison’s two children and four children of Ms. Merritt and Mr. Fattore, moved to the East Coast, police say. With the assistance of RCMP and Halifax police, Ms. Merritt and Mr. Fattore were tracked to Bridgewater, N.S., where they were arrested.
In a personal blog entitled “A Day in the Life of Chris Fattore,” a writer assumed to be Mr. Fattore wrote a post last November about “starting over” and moving his family “from the big city in Ontario to a small rural community in Nova Scotia.” He said they would be avoiding most technology in their daily lives but using the Internet to blog and share home videos.
On a YouTube channel believed to be Mr. Fattore’s, the family is seen doing the Harlem Shake dance in their home. Another video, which Mr. Fattore purportedly made for Ms. Merritt on Mother’s Day in 2013, cycles through dozens of family photos.
“This is all sort of new to us, so we will be using our life as example for anybody else who wants to leave the big city but doesn't think they can do it,” Mr. Fattore wrote in his blog.