NEW GLASOW – Kevin Martin. Lynn Oliver. Alex Penney. All very different people, who lived in different times and circumstances.
But they do have one thing in common – their lives were ended far too soon, under mysterious circumstances, making them some of the oldest cold cases in Pictou County.
Police are still trying to find the answers to what happened to Lynn, Kevin and Alex; their lives have not been forgotten and they still have files with the respective police agencies and rewards are being offered for information.
Here are their stories:
Lynn Adel Oliver
It was a hot Saturday morning in late August, and 22-year-old Lynn Oliver was impatiently waiting for her lunch break so she could run home to see her baby boy. She called for a ride, but when she found out she’d have to wait, she decided to walk from her job at Quality Cleaners in New Glasgow to her mother’s home in Stellarton.
She never made it home.
That was more than 30 years ago, on Aug. 25, 1979. Lynn walked out of the drycleaner’s just after 11 a.m. and was never seen again, her body never found. She never went back to Quality Cleaners to pick up her cheque, her social insurance card has never been accessed, her bank account never touched. By all accounts, she simply vanished that summer morning.
Her mother, Lois, was first alerted that something was wrong when one of Lynn’s co-workers called her at 1 p.m., after she’d failed to return from her lunch break. She’d warned them to contact her family if she didn’t return, because Lynn was having problems with a local man who had been harassing and threatening her.
Lynn’s connection with the man was tenuous at best; she’d met him through his mother, who was ill. Lynn had volunteered to run errands and help the woman however she could – and somehow, the woman’s son felt that meant Lynn should be available to him, too.
Lynn’s family believes she set out on the Stellarton Road towards their home and suspects she might have tried to hitchhike, something she was known to do. But her family says she never would have voluntarily gotten in a car with the man who had been harassing her. They believe he had help, that he grabbed her, murdered her that day, and dumped her body somewhere, possibly the old landfill in Priestville.
Although her body has never been found, police believe Lynn is dead.
A banker’s box, filled with files, is flipped through weekly by Sgt. Steve Chisholm with the New Glasgow Police major crime unit. In May, he travelled to Hamilton, Ont., to administer a polygraph test to a person police believed might have had some information on the case, but it didn’t produce any more information.
However, he hints that a new development may be coming in this case and says that it remains at the forefront for the New Glasgow Police.
“Every week, I get a phone call or I talk to somebody else on this, I’d like to do more interviews,” Chisholm said. “I’m pretty sure people do have information – we certainly haven’t given up on this.”
One person, he said, contacted the Help Line with information in the case, but didn’t leave their name. Police have been unsuccessful at identifying that individual, who they believe might be crucial to breaking this case.
The provincial cold case rewards program is offering a $150,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in Lynn’s case. Chisholm is hoping someone will eventually take advantage of the incentive.
“Lynn’s mom is still alive, her son is here,” Chisholm said. “I’d like this chapter of the story closed for them, at least we could tell them what happened to her.”
He suspects people don’t want to talk because they fear retaliation, but with last year’s arrests in a cold case in Colchester County, he’s hoping that something similar will one day happen here in Pictou County as well.
“I hope it will,” he said. “With any cold case – and there have been cases this old that have been solved – it just takes the right person coming forward. Maybe someone knows something and the guilt is eating away at them, they’ve had a change of faith, whatever, and will come forward. But every year this case remains unsolved is another year her family is going through this, not knowing what happened.”
Kevin Wesley Martin
Kevin Martin was a thin, dark-haired boy just a few months shy of his 14th birthday when he disappeared from his home in Stellarton on May 19, 1994.
The boy’s file speaks of a boy who had seen his brother die in a house fire in 1987, a boy who ran away from his mother and step-father’s house twice before his disappearance, of a boy police describe as “not a bad kid.”
On May 19, Kevin had been returned to his mother’s home after running away and being located in the Thorburn area. He disappeared that same day.
For a time, it was hoped that Kevin was hiding out. People in the area had indicated they’d seen or spoken to him. Into the winter of 1994, police checked out numerous locations, camps and woods throughout the county.
But by early 1995, the reported sightings petered off. After Kevin failed to walk down Foord Street on July 23, 1996 – his 16th birthday, when no one could force him to return to his troubled home – police began fearing that Kevin was dead.
In November 2000, everything changed. Commercial loggers working deep in the woods, 20 metres from a remote logging road in Burnside, discovered human remains in a shallow grave near the Pictou-Colchester county line. In March 2001, after extensive forensic work by the RCMP, the body was identified as Kevin’s.
Although visual identification was not possible, RCMP investigators immediately determined the remains were the victim of foul play.
It’s believed that Kevin died shortly after he disappeared and his body was taken to the woods in Burnside to be disposed of after he’d been killed.
The murder scene has never been determined and the cause of death has never been revealed because it’s evidence only the murderer or a witness to the murder would know.
Shortly after Kevin’s body was identified, his mother, Bonnie Thomas, confirmed that her husband, Danny Thomas, was one of the people under investigation by the RCMP for the murder, but said she did not believe he was in any way involved with Kevin’s murder and was in a cast with a broken leg at the time of Kevin’s disappearance.
The RCMP has never named an official suspect in the case and has never confirmed that Danny Thomas was a suspect.
There’s been conflicting information from Kevin’s family and police authorities as to who the last person was to see Kevin alive – Bonnie Thomas says she and her parents had picked Kevin up from a friend’s house in Thorburn, and after they returned to Stellarton, Kevin got out of the car, jumped a fence and ran off, ignoring her calling him to return; police have said information provided to them indicated that his stepfather was the last person to see Kevin alive.
John William Alexander Penney
Nineteen years after he disappeared, Alex Penney’s remains were found in an abandoned copper mine in Pictou County.
Penney’s remains, which were identified through DNA analysis, were removed by an RCMP extraction team in September 2002 after being discovered by local amateur mineral explorers inside the old copper mine, located on private property a short distance off the New Lairg Road near Gairloch.
The remains were located about 15 metres (50 ft.) inside the mine and down a vertical shaft approximately nine metres (30 ft.) to 15 m deep.
Penney's vehicle, a 1972 GMC Jimmy, had been discovered in December 1983 on Matheson Road, about three kilometres west from where the remains were found.
Little else is known about the man at the time of his disappearance, however. Rumours in the county indicated that Penney might have been involved in the drug trade and biker activities. Some have insinuated that he ripped off someone shortly before he vanished.
At the time, family members had assumed that he had just taken off for parts unknown, something he’d always talked about doing, although they, too, had heard rumours about his possible involvement in the drug trade.
He was reported missing on Nov. 18, 1983. Just 5’4” tall and approximately 130 lbs. when he disappeared, he had recently turned 39 years old.
“Both Kevin Martin and John William Alexander Penney are still open, active investigations,” says Sgt. Brigdit Leger, RCMP media relations officer. “Both are in the process of being submitted to the Nova Scotia Major Unsolved Crimes Program.”
That program, which already includes Lynn Oliver, offers up to a $150,000 reward for a conviction.
“We have received tips on both these files, but our focus right now is that we really want to bring this back to the public. Anyone who has any information, it is never, ever too late to come forward. A person might have a little tidbit of information that could crack these cases wide open.”