Gary Poignant has always felt comfortable talking with people, no matter what the circumstances.
As a former reporter, Poignant spent the bulk of his career as a crime reporter at The Edmonton Sun.
He grew up in Maple Ridge from 1958 to 1980, attending Maple Ridge secondary, and got his first taste of journalism as a reporter at the Maple Ridge Gazette from 1977 to 1979, beside his father, who was a well-known cartoonist at the paper.
Back then, Poignant was the only reporter in the newsroom, located just south of Fuller Watson, overlooking the funeral chapel.
Crime writing had always been his passion.
“I really found an affinity for it. When I would call people, I would have no problem at all, even though some of it was really difficult, talking to people after tragic events, either a car accident or a homicide,” said Poignant.
“A lot of the people in the newsroom, when I was a young reporter, didn’t want to do it. And, for whatever reason, I don’t know, I really found it was something I was quite comfortable with,” he explained about connecting with people.
He would always put himself in the other person’s shoes.
“Being sincere is so important. Even though people say you’re just trying to get the salacious details. Well yeah, I guess so, but I also care about what I’m writing about because someone is gone and this is the last time we’ll hear about them until the funeral,” said Poignant.
But after a 34-year career at The Edmonton Sun, first as a crime reporter and finally as an editor, Poignant was laid off.
After several months, he decided to return to what he loved doing the best. He went back to writing, this time a book.
“Editing is a lot of fun. It’s just great to be in a newsroom. But I did not get a chance to write much later in my career at the Sun. So, doing this I had a passion for it,” said Poignant.
Poignant’s first book is about an unsolved double homicide that took place in Edmonton in 1983.
Murray Sparrow was only 21 when his body was found dumped outside a downtown parkade.
The same day his pregnant girlfriend’s fully-clothed decomposed body was discovered in the bathtub of the apartment that they shared.
Kathy Gilligan appeared to have been suffocated, according to a judge who had conducted a fatality inquiry, and Sparrow had been stabbed more than 50 times.
Murray was a small-time drug dealer and two people who saw him shortly before he left to go downtown thought that he might have had $3,000 in cash on him.
But when his body was found, there was no money on him and the keys to his apartment were gone.
The motive appears to be a drug deal gone wrong, said Poignant.
At the time, his mother was told by police that there were two people of interest in the case. These two people were tracked by detectives in the 1980s to Long Beach, Cal., where they were given polygraph tests.
The results were inconclusive.
Poignant first wrote about the case for the Sun in 1984 after meeting Florence Sparrow, Murray’s mother, for the first time, five months after the horrific murders.
Sparrow asked Poignant to come to her house.
“I didn’t really want to because you usually just work the phones,” he said.
But he eventually found time.
“I go to her house and I ring the doorbell, she opens the door and her arms are spread apart like she wants to hug me. And I’m going, ‘Are you kidding me?’”
But, he found out soon enough, that’s just the way the loving and giving mother, and now grandmother to 24, communicates. She would hug everyone.
Poignant and Sparrow became quick friends and over the decades he would revisit the case for the newspaper, hoping the help the grieving mother see justice.
When he was laid off, he decided to revisit the case in more detail.
“The only reason I did this is because his mother, who is now 77 years old, still hasn’t seen the killers of her son or her future daughter-in-law brought to justice,” said Poignant.
He is hoping that his book will re-ignite a case that shocked the city.
“You would think it would be hard to keep it secret for 34 years,” said Poignant.
• His book, 11-21-83 is available at Black Bond Books in Haney Place Mall for $12.