Victims of ‘Internet Black Widow’ concerned over her release in Nova Scotia

Two men preyed upon by an elderly woman known as the "Internet Black Widow" say they fear for public safety as a Nova Scotia prison prepares to release her at the end of this month.

HALIFAX — Two men preyed upon by an elderly woman known as the “Internet Black Widow” say they fear for public safety as a Nova Scotia prison prepares to release her at the end of this month.

Melissa Ann Shepard, now in her early 80s, was sentenced in June 2013 to two years, nine months and 10 days of jail for spiking her newlywed husband’s coffee with tranquilizers.

Correctional Service Canada says Shepard gets out of the federal women’s prison in Truro on March 20, after being refused early release by the parole board late last fall.

Fred Weeks, who was 76 when Shepard was sentenced, said in a telephone interview from his home in Stellarton that he believes Shepard isn’t trustworthy and he doesn’t want her near his community.

“She’s too smooth of an actor,” said Weeks, now in his late 70s.

“She kept me in the dark for a long time, telling me her stories. Everything was a story. Everything was a lie that she told me. … I wouldn’t want her to come around myself or any friends.”

Shepard pleaded guilty to administering a noxious substance and failing to provide the necessities of life to Weeks after a trial in Sydney in 2013. The conviction came after the Crown dropped a charge of attempted murder, saying there wasn’t enough evidence to prove the case.

An agreed statement of facts released at the sentencing said Shepard had been Weeks’s neighbour in a quiet retirement community, knocked on his door and told him she was lonely and she’d heard he was lonely too.

A civil union ceremony was performed in Weeks’s living room, but the marriage was never certified by the province.

During a trip to Newfoundland after the ceremony, Shepard dissolved a cocktail of sedatives into her new partner’s coffee.

Evidence at the trial said after receiving the drugs Weeks couldn’t distinguish between reverse and drive shifts in his car, and couldn’t start the vehicle when it was time to leave the boat.

The couple returned to North Sydney, N.S., and stayed at a bed and breakfast, where Weeks tumbled out of bed and was hospitalized, with tests showing he had tranquilizers in his blood.

Shepard, born in Burnt Church, N.B., is known as the “Black Widow” or the “Internet Black Widow” because she has prior convictions stemming from her past relationships.

She was convicted of manslaughter in 1992 in the death of her second husband, Gordon Stewart, who she drugged and ran over twice with a car.

In 2005, Shepard — who has gone by several other surnames — was sentenced to five years in prison on seven counts of theft from a man in Florida who she had met online. Alex Strategos, now 83, said she stole $20,000 from him over the month that they lived together.

“I just don’t want her playing this game with some other guy,” he said in an interview from his home in Pinellas Park, Fla., on Tuesday.

A spokeswoman for the RCMP said that the force had been informed that Shepard would move to Halifax.

Const. Dianne Woodworth, a spokeswoman for Halifax police, said officers have met with the community notification advisory committee, which can recommend notification of the public about high-risk offenders.

She says the ultimate decision lies with the chief of police, and “this decision will be made once we know for certain that the individual will in fact be residing in Halifax.”

When the parole board refused Shepard’s release, the decision said she has a tendency to fabricate and deny events to correctional staff, and is unable to link consequences to actions.

The board has determined her risk of reoffending in a violent way was unchanged.

A spokeswoman for Correctional Service Canada said in an email Wednesday afternoon that “research shows that society is best protected when an offender is gradually reintegrated into society through supervised release, rather than released at the end of the sentence with limited controls or support.”

Sabrina Nash said that offenders like Shepard still have parole officers to work with them in the community and a plan is put in place to assist them in their return to the community.

She said inmates released at the end of their sentence are let go during normal business hours on the last working day before the day of their release.

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