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The Monique Turenne Story

Part 2 of a two-part series: A soldier's murder

Part 1a | Part 1b | Part 2a | Part 2b

The sheer torture of nagging doubt (1)

Dan Lett - Winnipeg Free Press

PANAMA CITY, FL. -- The first time Det. Dan Bates laid eyes on Monique Turenne was just before sunrise on Feb. 9, 1996. Less than an hour earlier, Monique had found the body of her husband, David Turenne, in the front yard of their rented house. Now, sitting in the den, Monique wore the horror of that discovery. "When I first saw her," Bates said in a thick southern drawl, she was visibly shaken, crying and sobbing." As Monique began to compose herself, however, she painted an intimate and unflattering picture of her life with David Turenne.

According to Monique, David had a severe drinking problem, was disinterested in sex and possibly impotent. She recounted how in both North Bay, Ont. and Panama City, David slept in a separate bedroom. One detective reported that Monique commented that it had "been so long since my husband penetrated me sexually, I can't remember."

Free Press Sunday Cover

Monique does not deny discussing the unflattering aspects of her marriage, but claimed it was the result of the police prying into their personal lives. When police discovered David slept in a separate bedroom, Monique said, they interrogated her about their sexual habits.

Senior Canadian military officers who worked with Turenne at a NORAD installation at Tyndall Air Force Base portrayed Monique as distant and unemotional in the aftermath of the murder. "She didn't fit the grieving widow stereotype," said Col. Pierre Forgues, a senior Canadian officer in Panama City, now assigned to CFB Winnipeg. "I don't have a lot of experience dealing with expressions of grieving widows."

Others made similar observations. "I never ever heard her once say, 'Who killed Dave? Who could have done this?'" Maj. David Kiley, who was assigned to see to Monique's needs after the murder, told the Free Press.

"She was more concerned about going back to Canada. She broke down a couple of times, but not as much as we expected."

Monique's behavior may have been unusual, but it was not enough to make her a suspect. In fact, during those first few days immediately after the murder, police had no suspects. Those who knew Turenne could not think of a single reason anyone would want to kill him. Even the method of murder was unclear. The damage to Turenne's skull was so severe, for the first two days police searched the neighbourhood for a gun, theorizing he had been shot. An autopsy revealed he had been bludgeoned. "We were at a dead end, but we didn't have much to go on right there," said Bates.

That would change on Sunday, Feb. 11 -- two days after the murder -- when Bates said he received an anonymous phone call claiming Monique had been having an affair. The caller did not identify the lover, so Bates canvassed co-workers at West Building Materials and Applied Research Associates (ARA), a private engineering firm located at Tyndall Air Force Base, the two places Monique had worked since moving to Florida.

By Monday, Bates said he had been pointed in the direction of Ralph Crompton, a retired U.S. air force master sergeant who had worked with Monique at both West Building Materials and ARA. Bates discovered Crompton was in Aiken, S.C. on assignment with ARA, testing ground samples for radiation. Aiken was more than 700 kilometers away from Panama City and it seemed implausible Crompton could have been involved. Still, with nothing else to go on, Bates contacted Aiken police to check on Crompton's whereabouts over the previous four days. In less than a day, Aiken police discovered Crompton missed work on Thursday and Friday. They even found out he had rented a car, paid cash for it and racked up enough mileage to get to Panama City and back.

Unfortunately for police, Monique and her children were preparing to return to Winnipeg for the funeral. And even with the Crompton lead, police didn't have enough evidence to risk a confrontation with the widow. Monique was interviewed three times before leaving for Winnipeg. At no time did Panama City police indicate they suspected Monique, or ask her if she was having an affair. "Certainly, if we had enough to keep her here, we would have," said Bates. "As I remember, 24 or 36 more hours we would have had enough."

Bates and fellow detectives Joe Hall and MarK McClain set off Tuesday morning for the eight-hour drive to Aiken just as Monique left the jurisdiction on a Canadian forces Challenger jet. In accordance with military practice, Monique was presented with a cheque for $128,000, the first installment of David's death and insurance benefits.

There was no valentine waiting for Ralph Crompton when he answered a knock on the door of his hotel room on the morning of Wednesday, Feb. 14. Instead, Crompton was greeted by a scrum of police officers -- some local and others all the way up from Panama City -- armed with a search warrant.

As Crompton watched the police invade his unkempt room, he had no idea that just three days after David Turenne's murder, many of the details of his involvement had been uncovered. As Bates grilled him for two hours, Crompton denied everything. And each time he issued a denial, he was caught in a lie.

Police had already discovered he lied about being sick the previous Friday, that he had rented a car with cash and put enough mileage on the odometer to get to Panama City and back. At Crompton's trial, prosecutors would tell the jury with glee the accused had told between 35 and 40 lies in that interview, surely the hallmark of a guilty man.

After the interrogation, police ferried Crompton to a hospital and took hair and blood samples. They then took clothing and other personal items out of his room, including a pamphlet from the State of Florida on divorce laws, and a books-on-tape mystery called the 13th Juror, a courtroom drama about an emotionally unbalanced psychiatrist who kills his lover's husband to free her from an abusive relationship.

Police were still not sure they had enough to arrest Crompton and told him to stay put until further notice. After a sleepless night, next morning Crompton discovered two Panama City police officers staked out in the hotel parking lot. At that moment, Crompton said he suffered a complete breakdown. The horror of the murder, the deception and the humiliation all came thundering down, crushing his will.

Crompton sat down at the tiny desk in his room and composed a note to his family: "My whole life has been to protect freedom, now mine is gone and so is my life. Marilyn and kids, I'm sorry. Please don't hate me. I love all of you so much that it hurts. Love, Ralph (Dad)." Crompton ran a bath, took off his clothes and climbed in. Using a Leatherman tool he carried at work, he slit one of his wrists. Less than an hour later, the blood had stopped seeping from the initial wound. Crompton then stabbed himself in the chest, near his heart.

Outside the hotel, Det. Mark McClain was standing vigil to ensure Crompton didn't try to escape. At 6.30 p.m., John Clark, Crompton's boss from ARA, arrived to drive him to the worksite near Aiken. However, Crompton didn't answer the door. Two hours later, when there was still no sign of the suspect, McClain called hotel staff to access the room. In the bathroom, McClain found Crompton in a tub of tepid water and blood. McClain immediately called for paramedics.

McClain, who had been a detective only a few weeks at that point, would later testify that as he waited for the ambulance, Crompton confessed. "He said, 'Monique had nothing to do with it. She was a modern day slave and I did it just trying to set her free.'" As Crompton was loaded on a gurney and taken to hospital, McClain dictated notes about the encounter into a tape recorder provided by another officer.

Crompton was taken to an Aiken hospital, where he spent a few hours in the intensive care unit before being released. In an unusual twist, police later admit they did not arrest him until the next day to avoid being charged for the hospital fees. "He did it to himself and he can pay for it," a spokeswoman said.

When Crompton was finally arrested -- already buried under a pile of circumstantial evidence -- police apprehended him in his rental car. They say his hotel telephone records showed several calls to Monique at work, including one the day before the murder. If the evidence didn't make an iron-clad case, a grand jury held Crompton to stand trial for first degree murder. The state announced its intention to seek the death penalty.

Monique Turenne was preparing to turn in for the night when there was a knock at her parents' front door. Winnipeg police detectives asked her to step outside. It was late, nearly 11 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 14. As she grabbed her coat and a pack of cigarettes, she had no idea that Ralph Crompton in South (---) She was also unaware a Panama City detective and a Bay (---) assistant state's attorney had followed her to Winnipeg.

They took Monique to the Public Building and interrogated her for seven hours. When it was over, the detectives had secured a confession of the affair with Crompton and a plot to rough up David that graduated unintentionally to murder. Monique now claims the confession was coerced and that police forced her to sign a statement they concocted. She said she wrote on the back page of the original hand-written statement: "I do not believe any of this."

The police statement landed like a hand grenade at David Turenne's funeral. On Thursday, Feb. 15, several hundred mourners, including military colleagues from all over North America, had come to pay their respects. After Monique left the reception David's immediate family were summoned to a small room away from the main gathering and Monique's statement was read aloud. Police suggested returning to the home of Turenne's parents to go over the police statement in detail.

Family and a few close friends gasped as the statement was read out. Others broke down in tears. 'The police said it was extremely unusual for to (read the statement), but they said, "You all seemed so convinced she had nothing to do with this,'" recalled Pat Turenne, David's sister. "When I heard the statement, I felt bad about the grief we felt for her when we should have been feeling grief for ourselves."

It is not clear if Monique was ever aware that Crompton had tried to end his life earlier in the day. It is more certain she did not know her statement was being read to the Turenne family. But left alone in her parents' St. Boniface home, Monique wrote a note to her family, took most of a bottle of Tylenol and lay down on her bed.

Monique was discovered by her father a short time later and rushed to St. Boniface General Hospital, where her condition was stabilized. "She's very distraught," Bernard Desautels, Monique's brother-in-law would tell reporters at the hospital. "You would be, too, if you lost someone you love. The pressures of all this questioning have taken their toll on Monique and that's why we're here."

Ralph Crompton

For the whole of his first week in jail, Ralph Crompton was naked. His cell had only a mat and blanket on the floor, and a sink and toilet in the corner. The lights were kept on 24 hours a day so closed-circuit cameras could se if he tried to kill himself again. The second week, they allowed him to wear pants and a shirt.

An early appraisal of Crompton's case produced little cause for optimism. In conference with Crompton's wife and children, the public defender assigned to the case offered a chilling assessment. It was an election year for Jim Appleman, the state attorney, and this was a crime of passion crying out for punishment. "He told them," Crompton recalled, "Innocent men go to prison all the time and your husband is going to be one of them.'"

Realizing the public defender was probably right, Crompton's brothers and sisters scraped together $20,000 to hire a private lawyer -- Waylon Graham. After consulting Graham, Crompton became more hopeful, even telling some friends he had a chance to beat the rap. Most of those friends were skeptical. "All Ralph said was that, 'When I get to trial, the truth is going to come out'" said Gary Wagner, a longtime friend and coworker. He said there was enough reasonable doubt. I guess the O.J. Simpson trial was going on at the same time and he could see how that turned out. I told him, "Ralph, you're not in L.A., you're in Bubbaville. Somebody is going to get convicted for this thing. That's the way it is in the South."

Crompton had to face the fact that Panama City is a lot closer to Birmingham, Ala. than Disney World, both in terms of geography and culture. Located in the heart of the Florida Panhandle only 100 kilometers away from the borders of Alabama and Georgia, Panama City is the capital of what locals call "the Redneck Riviera." In this place, where tiny churches nearly outnumber fast-food restaurants, infidelity is a sin of enormous gravity. The local media had already feasted on the tale of a love-sick adulterer beating his lover's husband to death. Crompton suffered from the added indignity of being from Boston -- a Yankee by any other name and an easy target for a jury of his Confederate peers.

Crompton's lawyer, however, could see first-hand the authorities were having trouble deciding what happened the night of the murder. Before retaining Graham, Crompton claimed he was offered a plea bargain -- a sentence of 10-12 years for manslaughter -- if he would testify that Monique hatched the murder plot. State Attorney Appleman denied making such an offer, but Crompton's claim is backed up by several witnesses, including Crompton's family and Panama City police.

Graham could see other weaknesses in the prosecution's case. Forensic evidence, including blood found in Crompton's car, was ambiguous, if not inconclusive. And prosecutors initially tried to utilize two jailhouse informants who claimed to have overheard Crompton confess. The informants offered detailed descriptions of the plot to kill Turenne, the weapon that was used and how Crompton and Monique planted evidence to lead police off the trail. An inherently unreliable source of evidence, informants tend to arise regularly where prosecutors have trouble making their case.

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