PANAMA CITY, FL - David Turenne was down on one knee when the first solid blow from the hammer struck him, fracturing his skull and knocking him to the ground.
Wounds on his hands showed Turenne continued to try to fend off his attacker. He would be unsuccessful. Turenne would be struck 10 more times, many of the fatal blows coming while he lay defenceless, face down on the grass.
Sgt. Randy Squire of the Panama City police was one of the first on the scene. Turenne's body lay near a gate leading to the backyard of his rented brown brick bungalow. Sunrise was still 30 minutes away, but Squire cold see the area around the body was soaked in blood. The damage to his head was so severe that Squire first thought it was a gunshot wound.
"We didn't know if there was a gun under him, we didn't know if it was a suicide," said Squire, now a lieutenant. "We had no idea what we had when we first got there . . . It was not the kind of neighbourhood where you would expect to find that kind of crime."
It was 5.45 a.m. on Friday, February 9, 1996. A dense fog covered Lynn Haven neighbourhood where Turenne, a Canadian air force major, his wife, Monique, and their two children had made their home since moving from Canada two years earlier. In less than an hour the house would be swarmed by police, forensic analysts, U.S. and Canadian military personnel and the media. All desperate to discover how a well-liked career officer from Winnipeg could be bludgeoned to death in his own yard.
There were some clues about what had happened. Near the body , police found a leather work glove and a blue ski mask. Under the body, they found a man's Nike running shoe and a pair of women's tennis shoes. One of Turenne's blue deck shoes was missing. In Turenne's pants pocket was a receipt from a local 24-hour food store where three hours earlier he had purchased some Midol, a medication for menstrual discomfort, and a stomach remedy. Police would never find the murder weapon.
What they ultimately pieced together is a tale of adultery, greed and murder. The main characters include a former U.S. air force master sergeant, Ralph Crompton, and the woman he claimed was his love, Monique Turenne, David's wife. Police believe Crompton killed David Turenne to free Monique from her marriage and share in the proceeds of nearly $600,000 in insurance and death benefits.
However, while the theory was tidy, there is little direct evidence to support it. Not surprisingly, Crompton and Monique Turenne deny they plotted a murder. Crompton has admitted to an affair, but claimed he was set up by Monique to take the fall for a murder he did not commit. He also said it was Monique, and not him, who delivered the fatal blows to her husband.
Monique gave Winnipeg police a statement admitting to the affair and a plan to "rough up" David. In a series of exclusive interviews with the Free Press, she now says the confession was coerced and that she had no relationship with Crompton. Moreover, Turenne claims there were at least two other people in the house that night who were involved in the murder. It is a story she has never told to police on either side of the border.
Despite the conflicting stories and near absence of hard evidence, Crompton was convicted of first-degree murder in November 1996. The state sought the death penalty but the court chose instead life in a maximum-security prison east of Tallahassee.
Monique Turenne is in Winnipeg, fighting extradition to Florida. Panama City Police believe she will be extradited and tried for murder. They have waived the death penalty to aid in her extradition.
Even with one man in prison and a woman facing extradition, Panama City police and prosecutors concede there are still a lot of questions surrounding Turenne's murder.
"I'll agree wholeheartedly that there's still a lot of mystery in this thing," said Bay County State Attorney Jim Appleman, who oversaw Crompton's conviction. "This is as bizarre as it can be. . . I've been at this for 20 years and this is probably the most unusual case we've ever had."
In the spring of 1993, David Turenne won the military's version of the lottery when he was transferred to NORAD system support at Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, a sleepy community on the Gulf of Mexico, deep in the heart of the Florida Panhandle. For 10 months of the year, Panama City's 35,000 permanent residents live an especially quiet life featuring perpetually clear skies and an average temperature of 22 C. Each February and March the community experiences a brief transformation when the luscious white sand beaches and emerald water of the Gulf attract more than 750,000 college students on spring break.
The Turennes rented a large, brick bungalow with an enormous swimming pool in a modern, upper-middle-class neighbourhood. The children were enrolled in good schools. David got used to the idea of playing golf year-round. Monique worked full-time and realized a dream by attending nursing school in the evenings. But neither the weather nor the lifestyle could patch their shaky, hasty marriage.
David and Monique met one night at the Silver Heights Restaurant in late 1989. They were engaged in April, 1990. Monique was fresh off a bitter divorce and financial woes that forced her into personal bankruptcy. By her own admission, she was looking for someone who could take care of her and her son Daniel. "You know, you've been looking for somebody and you want to settle down," Monique said in an interview. "I wanted stability, a home life and that was what he offered me."
Following the marriage, Turenne, a computer software specialist, was almost immediately transferred to Canadian Forces Base North Bay, Ont. Life on an isolated base was a struggle while David and Monique adjusted to a new marriage and family. David embraced Daniel and together they had a second boy, Michael. And yet, Monique said tensions were building in the relationship. When David was offered the chance to move to Florida, they jumped at an opportunity to start over again.
David Turenne provided little insight to close friends and family about his reasons for getting married. The wedding itself -- there were two ceremonies, one civil and one religious -- wasn't well-attended by his friends and family. In fact, only one of Turenne's three brothers and sisters was invited. Those who were not, such as sister Pat Turenne, never confronted him about that decision. "(David) hadn't said anything about wanting us to go," she said. "I phoned him at the Silver Heights Restaurant to congratulate him. He just never called and asked me. It wasn't a bitter thing; he just didn't. It was very unusual."
Pat Turenne said she could not see the attraction between Monique and David. Monique was petite, slim and often wore short dresses and tight clothing to show off her body. David, at 5-foot-9 and nearly 200 pounds, did not cut a particularly dashing figure. Plus, Pat said, he did not have much experience with women. There had been girlfriends, but the relationships were brief. Once, David rekindled a romance with a woman he had known in high school. She had returned to Winnipeg with a child and was on welfare when she reunited with David. He responded by buying a house and renting it to her at a cut rate. When he found out she was seeing someone else behind his back, he ended all contact. He did not, however, ask her to move from the house.
"I thought she (Monique) was his friend, his wife, his lover, just on the basis that she would have married him," said Pat. "But when I thought of them together, I often thought, 'What does she see in him?' She seemed very flamboyant, not very sophisticated but streetwise."
Most of those who worked with David, or with whom he socialized on and off base, said they got little insight into Turenne's private life. In Florida, the Turennes hosted parties at their spacious bungalow, and attended all the base holiday functions, all without attracting too much attention to their troubles.
Monique, on the other hand, was more demonstrative about her unhappiness. Friends and co-workers said she frequently complained about money problems. And with good reason. David and Monique had been living a dream lifestyle, but it was one they could hardly afford. The large home with a pool, big-screen television, a power boat and two cars put the Turennes in a deep financial hold. At the time of his death, he was more than $70,000 in debt. Many of his half-dozen credit cards were at their limits from thousands of dollars of cash advances each month.
Monique's complaints, however, did not stop at money, often venturing into the most intimate subjects. It was not unusual for her to blurt out that she and her husband rarely had sex, that he was impotent (perhaps as the result of a botched vasectomy) and that he slept in a separate bedroom. According to Monique, David had little time for the children. She also told many people in Florida and Winnipeg that David had a serious drinking problem. During off-work hours, Monique said, he was either passed out in his room or out carousing in local strip clubs and taverns. According to Monique, David would sneak in and out of the house through the window in his bedroom.
Monique said the heavy drinking began to reveal itself in North Bay, where David would spend hours in the base officers' club. She tells tales of David being carried home unconscious by junior officers, or of him arriving under his own steam but in various states of sloth and undress. To most friends and colleagues, David was a responsible officer and family man, Monique noted. Few, if any, saw his dark side. "He had a secret life that no one but me knew about," she said.
If he had a secret life, he was successful at keeping it secret. Co-workers, close friends and family in Winnipeg and Florida deny the allegations. Some angrily claim the suggestion of a secret life is nothing more than a smokescreen to take attention away from Monique's role in the murder.
Retired major David Kiley worked with Turenne in both North Bay and Panama City, and sponsored the Turennes when they were transferred to Florida. Kiley said Turenne had a professional reputation as a solid, competent officer, and a reputation as an easygoing sort who rarely tipped his hand about his home life. And while Turenne was no teetotaler, Kiley said he saw no evidence of a drinking problem.
"During that time, yes, he drank some. But I can honestly say that I've never seen him drunk. We would go to the Canadian Club after work, have a couple of beers, but that was it."
U.S. air force Capt. Mike Thomas not only worked with Turenne in Panama City, but shared an office with him. Thomas said although he could tell there was some tension between David and Monique, he saw no signs of alcoholism or undue stress. "There were no red flags that anybody was ever in any danger."
Ralph Crompton's prison uniform reeks of a career in the military. His white cotton shirt and pants are wrinkle free, with razor-sharp creases along the sleeves and pant legs. His belt buckle gleams, as do his black shoes. His thick eyebrows are still dark but his hair -- what is left of it -- is a soft grey.
Crompton is a resident of the North Florida Reception Centre, a state prison located in the heart of north-central Florida, just east of Tallahassee. The region is a hotbed of prison activity, with a half-dozen other prisons and correctional training facilities located nearby.
The prison is a squat, cinder-block warehouse surrounded by a thick garland of gleaming razor wire. On most days, the prison is surrounded by clouds of inmates who prune the shrubs, cut the grass and tend to small patches of farmland. Other inmates man a carwash in the parking lot for the benefit of prison staff.
Crompton lives in a dormitory unit that holds 72 inmates. Four times a day, prisoners are restricted to their bunks for head counts which take anywhere from 20 minutes to three hours. The rest of the time, Crompton works as a certified law clerk, providing legal assistance to other inmates. It is an occupation that affords Crompton certain benefits. First, because he offers a valuable service, he is respected and protected in the general population. Second, his growing familiarity with the law has allowed him to take over some of his own basic legal needs. "I'm preparing my own divorce papers," he noted sheepishly.
In fact, Marilyn Crompton had asked for a divorce some eight years earlier. But Ralph, ever the family man, wanted to work things out for the sake of their four children. They tried counselling but it did nothing to repair a marriage that by 1995 had become unsalvageable.
In May, 1995, Crompton claimed he began a sexual affair with Monique Turenne. Although Monique flatly denies this claim, Ralph told the Free Press the two were looking for comfort and a diversion from unhappy marriages. "I wasn't getting the comfort, the love and affection from my wife and she told me she wasn't getting it from Dave. It was like two ships passing at night during an open storm."
Crompton, who was originally from Massachusetts and still carries more than a hint of Boston in his accent, had a good job in the U.S. air force, leading teams of engineers and technicians all over the world to test airport runways to see if they could handle U.S. military aircraft. The job sometimes required him to lead covert missions in Latin America and the Middle East. He earned numerous citations and decorations. By 1995, Crompton was getting ready to retire from the military and move into the private sector where the work was similar but the paycheques were much bigger. Crompton said he first met Monique in 1994 when he was working part-time at West Building Supplies in Panama City. He desperately needed the extra money to bolster his military pay. Crompton's wife had decided to quit her job to take care of the kids. Crompton said he and Monique became friendlier over the months they worked together. And because of Crompton's military connections, he started socializing with the Turennes. Several times he visited the Turenne house for parties, or to borrow tools or videotapes.
It wasn't until April 1995 that the idea of an affair came to mind, Crompton said. At that time, Crompton was fast approaching retirement and had already received a job offer from Applied Research Associates, a private lab located on Tyndall Air Force Base. By coincidence, Monique left West Building Supplies to take a secretarial job at the same firm. Crompton said because the two had known each other previously, they began to hang out together at work and then, later, after work.