March 5, 2001
An evil woman faces new charges
After poisoning her husband, Cherrylle Dell allegedly arranged the murder of her lesbian loverby Marnie Ko
Scott and Cherrylle Dell married when he was 19 and she was 17. Their marriage was turbulent, and in 1992 they separated after more than 20 years together. When Mr. Dell was found dead in his Killaloe, Ont., farmhouse in the early hours of December 29, 1995, it was considered a suicide. His intake of a lethal dose of antifreeze-laced wine was blamed on depression due to the separation and a diagnosis of cancer. But two years later, to the astonishment of the small Ottawa Valley village, Cherrylle Dell was charged with his death. And on January 26 of this year, after a long and bizarre trial, Cherrylle Dell was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Murderess Dell: Allegedly 'got out her witchcraft book and lit candles.'
The story is far from over, however. Next month Dell, an ex-stripper, will again stand trial for first-degree murder, this time in connection with an August 1997 fire that killed her former lesbian lover, Nancy Fillmore. A now-19-year-old boy from the Ottawa Valley who police believe acted as Dell's accomplice in the Fillmore killing will also stand trial, beginning April 2. The boy allegedly had a sexual relationship with Dell, and at Dell's behest set the fire that killed Fillmore.
Dell's first murder trial began in Pembroke, Ont., in November. The Crown presented 50 witnesses who painted Dell as a vindictive, miserable, promiscuous and conniving woman who had a grudge against her ex-husband. There was no jury. After two months of gruelling testimony, Superior Court justice lames Chadwick ruled Dell, now 47, wanted her husband dead and duped him into drinking more than a pint of red wine laced with antifreeze. (About four ounces of antifreeze is lethal.)
Court testimony described Mr. Dell, 44 when he died, as an excellent husband and father. He was diagnosed with throat cancer in the early 1990s, and after his death his estranged wife told police that the cancer had recently flared up again. She claimed she urged him to see a doctor. "He said he wanted to stay home. He wanted to die on the farm," she told police. But the autopsy found no trace of cancer in his body, and witnesses would I later testify in court that he never mentioned suicide. Other witnesses would testify Mr. Dell forgave his wife's multiple infidelities, and harboured no grudge even after she falsely accused him of sexually abusing their young adopted daughter -- allegations which were proven false in court. During her mother's murder trial, the girl testified she accused her father only because her mother told her to. "It made me feel bad because I knew it wasn't true," she said.
Court heard that Mr. Dell continued to love his wife even after she left him for a woman she met at an incest survivors' group. Cherrylle Dell and Gay Doherty were inseparable until Ms. Doherty began to feel suffocated and broke off the affair. She would later testify Dell became emotionally unstable and overdosed on medication after the two split. Still, the women kept in touch and visited sporadically, even after Cherrylle began a new relationship with Nancy Fillmore, the children's nanny. Fillmore and Dell soon became lovers and shared an apartment. One day, while Ms. Doherty was visiting, Scott Dell failed to pick up his children as scheduled. Ms. Doherty decided to check on him and found his farmhouse lights on, the Christmas tree lit, and love songs playing in the background. Mr. Dell was dead, clad only in a blue sweater, his fingers a "really strange blue colour." Pages of handwritten notes were found beside the phone and a half-empty 1.5-litre bottle of Piat d'Or wine rested on the desk. Prosecutors would later allege Dell gave her husband poisoned wine as a Christmas gift, and then kept him on the phone for hours while waiting for him to die, presumably by hinting at a reconciliation.
Mr. Dell's notes provided the only clue to his final hours. "What did you think was going to happen if I drank a bottle of wine, listening to music we used to listen to?" he wrote. "I'm going to think about you and me together. I feel like holding you close to me like never before. I fell like making love to you. I fell like all the bad stuff would go away. I was probably supposed to die [of cancer] but my life was spared. I don't know why ... our lives are going by so fast." Eventually he put his pen down and took his last breath.
Poisoned Dell: The Christmas tree was lit, and love songs were playing.
Meanwhile, Dell and Fillmore continued their relationship until it soured in March 1997. Fillmore was forced to take her former lover to court to retrieve her belongings. Fillmore also alleged Dell locked her children in their rooms, drugged them with sleeping medication and neglected them. Another former friend of Cherrylle Dell's would later testify to the same thing. Kim Knott told court Dell drugged the children with Gravol and cold medicine at bedtime, and that on many occasions Mrs. Knott had to wash the children's sheets after they soaked their beds with urine. In further testimony, Mrs. Knott alleged Dell constantly bad-mouthed her husband and had wanted him dead for some time, once mentioning her interest in hiring a hit man. Mrs. Knott told police Dell wondered aloud how much antifreeze would be needed to kill a human.
It was Fillmore, though, who provided police with the information that led to Dell's arrest. Fillmore told police she purchased wine and antifreeze at Dell's request. She said she watched as Dell mixed the two together and later offered the bottle to her husband as a gift. "I was freaking out and [Cherrylle] kept telling me to shut up," she recalled in a videotaped interview with police. Fillmore alleged Dell told her to keep quiet, otherwise Fillmore might be seen as the jealous lover who poisoned Mr. Dell. After giving her husband the bottle of poisoned wine, alleged Fillmore, Dell "got out her witchcraft books and lit candles and was saying ... weird ... rituals or prayers.
Additional information Fillmore provided resulted in further charges against Dell for fraud, falsifying academic credentials and misleading police.
Fillmore was scheduled to appear as the lead witness in Dell's murder trial. Five months after going to police, however, she was killed in a fire. The judge would eventually rule against allowing videotapes of the deceased woman to be introduced as evidence in court. Testimony by the alleged teenage accomplice in the fire was also ruled inadmissible. Although he later recanted his confessions to police and his parents, at the time the youth provided graphic details about his claimed role in murdering Fillmore. A letter police found, allegedly in his handwriting, described how he found Nancy Fillmore lying on the floor drunk, with candles burning. "So instead of cutting her neck, I flipped over all the tables with the candles and leave," the letter read. The boy will stand trial under the Young Offenders Act and is expected to plead not guilty. At the time of his police interviews, however, he alleged Dell told him to kill Fillmore and offered him $300 and a motorcycle as payment. He allegedly told his mother in a taped phone call from jail that he had been smoking marijuana with Dell and killed Fillmore while he was high because "she was going to testify against someone in court ... she was the star witness."
In his 86-page decision, the judge described Dell as a bitter, conniving woman and said there was no doubt Scott Dell was murdered by poisoning. "I find that from 1992 onward Cherrylle Dell expressed a hatred towards her husband and wished him dead. She wanted the exclusive custody of the children, sole occupation and possession of the farm, and wanted [her husband] out of her life forever," concluded Mr. Justice Chadwick. "There is seldom a case where we hear such strong and consistent evidence about the character of a deceased person. [Mr. Dell] was very positive about his life and his love for his children. He wanted to live."