Dartmouth man admits killing girlfriend, can't remember where he left her body

·4 min read
Owen Patrick Nelson told the court he killed his girlfriend. He then lied to friends and family to make it seem like she was still alive.  (Facebook - image credit)
Owen Patrick Nelson told the court he killed his girlfriend. He then lied to friends and family to make it seem like she was still alive. (Facebook - image credit)

The mysterious disappearance of a 40-year-old Dartmouth, N.S., woman has been solved with her boyfriend admitting to killing her.

Karen Lee MacKenzie was last seen alive on Feb. 25, 2018, on security video from the north-end Dartmouth apartment building where she lived with Owen Patrick Nelson. Despite extensive searches, her body has never been found.

Nelson was to go on trial next month on charges of second-degree murder and performing an indignity to human remains. But instead of a jury trial, Nelson appeared in Nova Scotia Supreme Court Friday to plead guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter. He also pleaded guilty to the indignity charge.

In an agreed statement of facts read into the record, Nelson's relationship with MacKenzie was described as "tumultuous," with the pair fighting frequently. MacKenzie had called 911 on Nelson on at least two occasions and he was on probation for a previous assault at the time of her disappearance.

Killer says he remembers crashing waves

Exactly what happened to MacKenzie is still unclear. Initially, her disappearance was treated as a missing person's case. Court was told that Nelson used both his cellphone and hers to exchange text messages after Feb. 25, as though she was still alive and they were communicating.

Police determined that both cellphones were in the same apartment at the time of the exchanges. He also posted appeals about her whereabouts on Facebook and asked friends and acquaintances about her, suggesting she'd left after they'd argued over her drinking. Court was told that both Nelson and MacKenzie abused alcohol.

Nelson told police different versions of events surrounding MacKenzie's death. He claims not to remember many details. His memory problems may have been caused in part by a suicide attempt he made just days after her death, using a combination of prescription drugs and alcohol. Police found him in the apartment and he spent days in hospital in an induced coma.

Elizabeth Chiu/CBC
Elizabeth Chiu/CBC

At one point he told police that he came home from work to find MacKenzie dead in bed. He later admitted to striking her. In yet a third revision of his story, he said he had a memory of hearing waves crashing and believed he may have placed her body in the riptide near Lawrencetown Beach on Nova Scotia's Eastern Shore.

Security video from the apartment building never showed Nelson carrying MacKenzie's body out of the building.

Woman's family speaks in court

Four members of MacKenzie's family gave victim impact statements.

Her sister Laura spoke of Karen's last moments. "I believe she wasn't comforted," Laura MacKenzie told the court in a halting voice.

Submitted by Halifax Regional Police
Submitted by Halifax Regional Police

"I believe she was experiencing the highest level of fear and pain."

Laura MacKenzie said she could not forgive Nelson, but "I hope he knows that whatever happened to him to cause the pain in his life is not his fault."

Karen's other sister, Tanya MacKenzie, described her death as "an unpardonable sin."

Sharman MacKenzie spoke directly to her dead daughter in her statement: "You never deserved this." The mother said she needs to see a body for closure.

Alan MacKenzie said his daughter's death has taken the joy from his life and that he was merely existing now.

"My life is meaningless now," he said. He also said he worries constantly about the safety of his other two daughters.

When it came his turn, Nelson addressed the MacKenzie family directly. "I cannot express how horrible I feel for the loss of Karen," he said. "I know I can never repair the damage I caused."

Five more years in prison

Nelson said he's also undergoing therapy in the hopes he can recover more memories and perhaps fill in the gaps in Karen MacKenzie's disappearance.

Justice Jamie Campbell apologized to the MacKenzie family, saying there was nothing he could do in sentencing Nelson that would help them in their grief. The judge then spoke about the power and emotion of the victim impact statements.

"He [Nelson] should never, ever, ever forget what he heard here today. He should have the image of these people sitting in that chair baring their souls and sharing their grief in his mind for the rest of his life."

Campbell sentenced Nelson to a total of seven years, nine months for the two offences. With credit for the time he's already spent in custody, he faces another five years in prison.


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