Halifax Herald (Canada), February 13, 2000
By Susan LeBlanc
Church kept kids away - Waverley man
Arnold Fox has kept it bottled up for 25 years.
He doesn't want to appear crazy.
"People just don't believe that these things take place, and they do," says
The retired Fall River man says the Jehovah's Witnesses had a role in the
1975 disappearance of his wife and two youngest children. Grief-stricken, Fox
paid a private investigation company to pursue the family across Canada.
But he has never seen them again.
It's a startling tale, which Randy Duplak, his lawyer at the time, remembers
to this day.
"It was an unbelievable scenario that people just wouldn't co-operate, denied
knowledge, denied knowing where his wife and children were," says Duplak, now a
provincial government lawyer.
"It was almost like a spy game you see on a TV movie. You didn't see it in
Duplak says he had no reason to doubt Fox's theory, because Fox appeared
credible and had been "an insider" - a Witness - until being evicted from the
group, or disfellowshipped, two months before his family vanished. Fox says
smoking was the reason he was given for being kicked out of the Witness
congregation in Dartmouth's Woodlawn area. Smoking is still grounds for being
Fox had smoked "for a thousand years . . . played the fiddle and drank and
all that good stuff" after running away from his Halifax home, and his Jehovah's
Witness mother, at age 16.
Within five or six years he returned and, on May 11, 1957, he married
Catherine Lilley Brecknell in Bethany United Church in Halifax.
Influenced by Fox's mother, Catherine converted to the Witnesses. Fox got
involved "to a degree," though he says it was half-hearted.
Sadly, his wife suffered from mental illness and attempted suicide twice, he
says. In 1965, she took their young son Terry and left Arnold, aided in hiding
by Witnesses in Toronto, he says. He found her and, "after having to talk to
about 16 bloody Witnesses," brought her home.
Afterwards, they lived what Fox calls "a roller-coaster ride." According to
1974-75 medical records contained in Fox's legal file, and which he has allowed
Duplak to show to The Sunday Herald, the Foxes shared an "unhappy" and even
Duplak says the medical records were obtained to satisfy lawyers that
Catherine wasn't running because Fox was abusive.
In 1975, the couple was living on Bella Vista Drive in Dartmouth and had
three children - Terry, 17, Daniel about eight, and Coleen, about six. "I'd had
enough religion - and that's putting it in very short form - but the last thing
I had said was, 'The children shall no longer attend the Kingdom Hall,' " Fox
He knew that made him vulnerable with the Witnesses, because as the father
and an obvious doubter, he could try to override the group's ban on blood
transfusions if his children were under medical care. Fox was summoned to the
nearby Kingdom Hall to appear before a judicial committee. He went, knowing he
was to be disfellowshipped. Using smoking as the grounds "was a ploy. They had
to use something. . . . The point is, they couldn't have helped (my wife) away
on a permanent basis
On Aug. 24, 1975, Fox returned home with Daniel and discovered his wife had
fled with Coleen.
On Sept. 15, Daniel "was picked up at school, a ticket was put around his
neck and he was put on board a flight to Toronto" to meet his mother, Fox says.
He says son Terry, a devout Witness who would soon marry, admitted that he
and "others" had taken Daniel to the Halifax airport. This story is contained in
Fox's affidavit dated Oct. 28, 1977, which was filed with the courts in the
preliminary stages of Fox's child-custody application. The affidavit was also
used to access telephone records in the search for the family. Fox later dropped
the custody proceeding because he could not locate the children.
The Sunday Herald tracked down Terry Fox at his home in Lethbridge, Alta. He
is still a Jehovah's Witness.
He is hesitant to discuss his father's allegations. But he does not deny
Arnold Fox's version of events. He will only say his father is being unfair
about the role of Jehovah's Witnesses in the affair.
"The family didn't ever split up over religious reasons," says Terry Fox, 41.
"It was such a wild situation. It was so odd and all the rest of it. I don't
feel able to elaborate and lay the rest of it on the table." Terry Fox says he
last spoke with his father in 1977 and "left the ball in Dad's court" as far as
future contact. "I haven't heard from him since." An ex-Witness supports Arnold
Fox's story, saying he knew the elder who helped take Daniel to the airport.
That elder has since died, he says.
By the time Daniel disappeared, Fox had already hired Duplak, a young lawyer
then with the Dartmouth firm Weldon Misener and Covert. The matter was "the
kidnapping of his child, Coleen Heather Fox," Duplak alleged in his Nov. 10,
1977, affidavit filed in the early stages of the child-custody application.
Duplak squirrelled away Fox's file because the case was so intriguing. Inside
are the photographs Fox supplied to help identify his family. One shows a
smiling young girl and an older boy standing outside, barefoot and proudly
holding a fish between them.
Another shows Catherine, with a beehive hairdo and glasses, posing with the
two boys near a lake.
The third photo is a shot of a young Arnold, Catherine and two of the
children huddling against the wind.
The loss of the children left Fox "almost out of my mind with grief and
sadness." He also feared for their safety because he believed Catherine was
He says he went immediately to police, who told him it wasn't a crime for a
mother to take her children. (In 1982, the Criminal Code was amended to make it
an offence for a parent to abduct his or her child, even when there is no court
Fox says police were able to verify that the children were OK, but said they
could do nothing further. Fox asked Duplak to hire private investigators, and
World Investigation Service of Toronto was chosen. (The firm no longer appears
in the telephone directory.)
From November 1975 until October 1976, investigators followed the family from
Toronto to various addresses in Victoria, B.C., always coming up short. Fox had
learned through a friend in airport security, who is now dead, that the
limousine carrying Daniel had gone to a Toronto address, but this was a string
of over 100 townhouses.
Because Fox wanted the search done quietly to keep the family from bolting,
investigators opted against banging on each of those 100-plus doors. In a letter
to Duplak dated March 5, 1976, World Investigation Service reported they had
noticed a Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Hall near the townhouse development, but
"following Sunday services . . . no one resembling the photographs of Mrs. Fox
Duplak says there was little police could do. Fox's file refers to a
Dartmouth police investigation running from August 1976 until Feb. 16, 1977.
Police concluded Catherine and the children might have moved to the United
States. That lead was checked, but the U.S. Consulate in Victoria reported
Catherine Fox had not applied for an immigration visa. Fox even speculated that
the family had changed its name.
In his 1977 affidavit, Duplak stated, "Our investigations show and I do
verily believe that Catherine Fox and Coleen Heather Fox (and Daniel Patrick
Fox) were transported by members of the Jehovah Witness sect . . . (and) are
being harboured and hidden by members of the sect." Today, Duplak still thinks
Catherine had help.
"Somebody had to be helping them, for whatever reason she might have left,"
he says. "It was impossible to trace. It was well done. . . . There were no
Dennis Charland, public affairs director for the Witnesses' governing
Watchtower Bible and Tract Society in Canada, says there would be nothing wrong
with fellow Witnesses helping a woman who wants to leave her husband. Charland
cannot comment on Fox's story, but says, "to suggest that (his family
disappeared) because of the church, well, that's heresy. "We have nothing to
hide," Charland said from Halton Hills, Ont.
In metro, community relations chairman Grant Avery said he does not know the
circumstances of Fox's case.
"We keep those matters (of disfellowship and membership) very confidential,
and the individuals, they know that as well," Avery says. During the three or
four years following the disappearance, Fox also hired police officers in
British Columbia and Ontario to do private sleuthing for him. He says he spent
about $15,000 trying to find his children.
"Quite frankly, I would rather deal with the Mafia than deal with that
organization," he says with bitterness. Fox moved to Newfoundland, trying to
forget. He met Betty, whom he would later marry and have a son with. It was a
new life. But when Fox returned to Nova Scotia around 1980, the tragedy hit him
all over again.
"I folded up for about two months. There were just too many nights I sat in
that old La-Z-Boy of mine and cried my eyes out," he says. "I don't care who the
man is, unless he's made of granite, it literally tears you apart."
In 1983, he started divorce proceedings against Catherine. Not knowing her
whereabouts, he had the papers delivered to her sister in P.E.I. He did not hear
from Catherine, and the uncontested divorce was granted on June 4, 1984.
Fox stated in documents he did not know the children's whereabouts and did
not request custody. Last Valentine's Day, his daughter Coleen telephoned out of
the blue, and they had an awkward 15-minute conversation. He learned his ex-wife
had committed suicide about three years earlier.
Coleen said she was calling from Western Canada, that she was married to an
older man and had children. Fox assumed she was still a Witness. She promised to
write and send photos of the grandchildren he has never seen. She has not
contacted him since.
"There were a lot of things I would love to ask her. I don't know where all
this fear comes from (on her part), because as children ages six and seven, when
I came home, they'd come running to me with open arms, and we had a great
Fox has heard that his oldest son is in Alberta, is married and has children.
He hasn't tried to contact him again, because "it would be to no avail. He won't
speak to me." He has no idea what became of Daniel.