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Police announce arrest in 1988 murder of P.E.I. man that shook province 'to its core'

CHARLOTTETOWN — Police in Prince Edward Island say they have solved a 35-year-old homicide case involving a man who was strangled and stabbed in his home by someone who left a message saying, "I will kill again."

Chief Brad MacConnell of the Charlottetown Police Services told a news conference Friday that the use of advanced DNA and genetic genealogy technology led police on Thursday to arrest a 56-year-old P.E.I. man in the 1988 death of Byron Carr.

Todd Joseph Gallant of Souris, P.E.I., was charged Friday with first-degree murder and interfering with human remains. Gallant also went by the name Todd Joseph Irving, MacConnell said.

"We have significant forensic evidence to believe he is responsible for the death of Byron Carr," the police chief said, adding that Gallant was 21 years old and living in Charlottetown when Carr was murdered.

MacConnell described Carr, 36, as a loving son and brother, respected teacher and good neighbour whose slaying shook the province "to its core."

"Unsolved for 35 years, Byron's murder has caused trauma to generations of Islanders," MacConnell said. "No one was more impacted than his family and Byron's friends in the gay community."

The senior police officer said Carr had kept his sexuality a secret "during a dark and unfortunate time" in the province's history.

"Byron's death occurred when members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community did not feel welcome or accepted, forcing many like Byron to socialize in the shadows and take unnecessary risks," MacConnell said.

Asked if the killing was a hate-motivated crime, MacConnell said the "sensational note" left at the crime scene suggested it was.

"We've never been closed-minded to the possibilities .... We're hoping before this is over we will get the truth as to what was behind this crime."

Carr was last seen alive at around 3 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1988. Investigators have said evidence at the crime scene indicated he was killed following a sexual encounter with another male.

They later released a photo of the killer's ominous handwritten note on a wall inside Carr's home.

MacConnell said the accused moved to Texas after Carr was killed and then to Arkansas, but he returned to P.E.I. in 2022.

The key to cracking the case came in the spring of 2022 when investigators subjected DNA evidence from underwear found at the crime scene to advanced genetic genealogy testing, MacConnell said. The DNA profile was uploaded to various genetic testing companies, such as Family Tree DNA, to begin the painstaking process of finding a possible match with the suspect's relatives.

"There's no straight line to the finish," MacConnell said, adding that two companies — Wyndham Forensic Group and Convergence Investigative Genetic Genealogy — were instrumental to the investigation.

MacConnell thanked Carr's family for their patience and support during the investigation.

"We only wish we could have given these answers sooner," he said. "There's still much work to be done, but we hope this arrest will give you some of the peace of mind you've longed for."

Carr's brother John started to sob soon after he approached the front of the room at the Charlottetown police station.

"It's been a long 35 years," he said, his voice cracking as he offered thanks to the investigating officers and the public. "It was amazing how many calls we got; people trying to help."

The police chief said none of the tips police received over the years pointed to Gallant, who has a criminal record in Charlottetown and in Texas.

Meanwhile, MacConnell said a second suspect recently arrested in connection with the case was released Thursday afternoon. "Our investigation continues to determine what, if any, involvement this individual had in activities involving Byron Carr's death," he said.

— By Michael MacDonald in Halifax

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2024.

The Canadian Press