The day she drowned, Rona put on a blue shirt, three pairs of earrings, and six gold bangles. A colleague in the major crimes unit briefed him about the car full of corpses at the Kingston Mills locks, and asked him to come in as soon as possible.
A few minutes after he arrived at police headquarters, three people showed up at the front counter to file a missing persons report: Mohammad Shafia, the girls’ father, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, their mother, and Hamed Shafia, their 18-year-old brother.
Rona, it turns out, was simply a convenient throw-in, the infertile first wife who died as she lived. “They committed treason from beginning to end,” Shafia declared, during another one of his intercepted rants.
“They betrayed kindness, they betrayed Islam, they betrayed our religion and creed, they betrayed our tradition, they betrayed everything.” His daughters died because they were defiant and beautiful and had dreams of their own. But the two words at the heart of this sensational case—“honour killing”—do not tell the whole twisted tale. And it’s a story about a custom-built courtroom, where father, mother—but not son—took the stand to proclaim their innocence.
Their initial stories, videotaped for accuracy, were essentially the same. Shafia, Tooba and Hamed all told the detective that they had stopped at a Kingston, Ont., motel on the way home to Montreal, and that Zainab grabbed the car keys to retrieve some clothes.
Why would these women, after a six-hour road trip from Niagara Falls, pile into the Nissan for a middle-of-the-night joyride?
Why did an eyewitness tell on-scene investigators that he saw two cars at the water’s edge that night?
Detectives would later find a note she had scribbled to Sahar, full of hearts and red ink: “i Wi SH 2 GOD DAT Ti LL i M ALIVE I’LL NEVER SEE U SAD! Rona Amir Mohammad was slouched in the middle back seat, her soaked black hair rubbing against Sahar’s.
At 52, she was the eldest of the dead: the girls’ supposed “auntie,” but in fact their dad’s first wife in a secretly polygamous Afghan clan. It was June 30, 2009, the morning before Canada Day. Geoff Dempster was supposed to work the afternoon shift, two ‘til midnight, but his cellphone rang a few hours early.