Globe and Mail

Trial hears voice from grave

Cherrylle Dell, charged with killing her husband, listens to videotaped accusations by her now dead ex-lover, ERIN ANDERSSEN writes

Erin Anderssen
The Globe and Mail
Tuesday, November 21, 2000

PEMBROKE, ONT. -- The poisoning of Scott Dell began with his wife's cat, which in the summer of 1995 slurped up enough antifreeze to rot its insides and kill the pet, found gasping on a neighbour's lawn.

That's how Cherrylle Dell first cottoned onto the idea that antifreeze might make an effective poison for an unwanted spouse -- or so goes the story as passed on to police by Ms. Dell's former lover.

What Nancy Fillmore told a detective in a video statement was that Ms. Dell had been talking for months about killing her husband, from whom she had been separated for several years and with whom she shared custody of their children. She spoke at first, according to Ms. Fillmore, about making it look like a hunting accident: steal a shotgun and lure her husband out to an empty field, which Killaloe, their Ottawa Valley village had in abundance. But the cat clinched things, and soon Ms. Dell was pretending to be a homecare worker and calling a poison hotline to find out just how much antifreeze she might need to knock off a man her husband's size.

In Ms. Fillmore's version, passed on to police some 15 months later, and played in a Pembroke court yesterday, the first attempt failed. Ms. Dell shooed her lover away for the day and invited her husband over. She prepared to serve him a mix of deadly orange juice; he insisted on coffee instead.

But Ms. Dell allegedly tried a second time, a few days after Christmas, by luring him over with a promised gift of a bottle of wine. She'd had a dream, Ms. Fillmore says she told him, that if he drank the wine, it would release visions about their future together.

He loved her still, Ms. Fillmore said, this woman whose beauty at that time is still much remarked upon in Killaloe, and so off he went, home with the bottle of Piat d'Or. Ms. Fillmore said she knew the name of the wine because she had purchased it and then watched Ms. Dell blend it with antifreeze and wipe away the fingerprints. This is the way God wanted him to go, she reportedly told Ms. Fillmore; this was her parting gift to him since he was battling cancer and wouldn't want to waste away.

That night, as he drank the wine, Scott Dell phoned his wife several times, Ms. Fillmore says. Ms. Dell asked her husband if he was having visions yet, and then she sat on the couch with a friend watching a movie.

Around 4 a.m., he phoned for the last time, said he felt sick, and was going to bed. He was found dead the next day, half-naked on the floor of an upstairs bedroom, the record player spinning, the wine opened on the table downstairs.

"I don't know if she's a sociopath," Ms. Fillmore volunteered to the police. "I don't think so. God, I hope not. She just doesn't understand the effect she has on people."

Ms. Fillmore's statement amounts to a voice from the grave because five months later she was dead, trapped inside her apartment as it burned to the ground. The issue now before the judge trying Ms. Dell for the first-degree murder of her husband, is whether it can be admitted at all, since Ms. Fillmore cannot be cross-examined.

And this is what makes this already curious case ever more so. Charged with a second count of first-degree murder, Ms. Dell is accused of instructing a teenage boy to set that very same fire, ostensibly to silence her chatty ex-lover.

Now Ms. Fillmore, as Crown Prosecutor Peter Barnes concedes, may not be the most reliable witness, given that she had motive to lie "if she was disappointed in love" and still smarting from her breakup with Ms. Dell three weeks earlier.

On the day she gave her statement to police about Mr. Dell's death -- which had until then been ruled a suicide, even if a rather suspicious one -- she had called the OPP earlier for help to remove her belongings from Ms. Dell's residence.

Ms. Dell had refused her entry and sent out garbage bags filled with snotty rags, dirty diapers and dog food.

They had been together for about two years after meeting through the personals. Ms. Fillmore told police that she had found Ms. Dell's voice alluring and enticing on the phone.

On their first weekend together, she stayed overnight and they became lovers.

By the fall of 1995, she had moved up to Killaloe from Ottawa, and not two months later, she claims to have watched her lover turn wine to poison and send her husband home with it.

She would tell police that she didn't come forward before only because Ms. Dell had threatened to finger her for the crime. She said repeatedly on the videotape that she didn't want Ms. Dell sent off to jail. "I know she'll hate me," she says. "She'll probably never speak to me again. But she needs help."

So it happened that on March 18, 1997, Ms. Fillmore decided to talk. On tape, she is plain and plump, hunched in a pillowy brown coat, ready to weep over the dead cat and for Ms. Dell's children, but stoic when detailing Mr. Dells demise.

This is though, her second telling. She had, hours earlier, gushed out the sordid tale, standing at the door of a police cruiser, bawling before the OPP constable who had come to help retrieve her belongings.

And it was her second police videotape that day alone.

Earlier that morning, as if warming up, she had detailed a chilling tale about Ms. Dell's attempts in 1996 to acquire a black baby girl -- to the point where she falsely reported a baby missing to Child Find, though one never existed, and even made plans to kidnap a newborn from a Kingston hospital. ("Well, they could have another one," Ms. Dell reportedly told Ms. Fillmore when asked about the stolen baby's parents.)

When the police became suspicious, she said, they both lied. Ms. Fillmore told them she'd delivered the baby herself and that the father had run off with the infant.

Ms. Dell is now facing a mischief charge in relation to the case, along with about a dozen other fraud-related offences, which have been put on hold until January.

Ms. Dell listened to all of this, quietly from the prisoner's box. With her long, curly auburn hair, she looked like a tired, pale sister to country singer Bonnie Rait.

For the third time, Ms. Dell celebrated her birthday in jail -- her 46th -- last week.

She would have been prepared for screening of the videotapes by her lawyers. Only when Ms. Fillmore spoke of her ex-lover's children, and their loss of a father, did she bend her head and cry.

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