Left and Center: Tania circa, 1983
Right: Age Progressed to age 33
Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance
Missing Since: January 20, 1983
Missing From: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Classification: Non-Family Abduction
Date Of Birth: June 20, 1976
Age: 6 years old
Height and Weight: 3’2″ – 3’6″ and 45 pounds
Distinguishing Characteristics: Caucasian Female, Blonde hair, Brown/Hazel eyes, Tania’s ears are pierced; the hole on her left ear was said or be higher than the one that was on her right ear, and she has a birthmark the size of a quarter on her right temple
Clothing/Jewelry Description: A blue winter coat with a white fur collar, a black t-shirt with a Harley Davidson Insignia on it, white bikini panties, green cord knickers, and a pair of high brown boots
NCMEC Number: RCMP8414267
Details of Disappearance
Tania was last seen in Edmonton, Canada on January 20th 1983. She was a first grade student at Grovenor Elementary School at the time of her disappearance and she was last seen leaving the school at approximately 11:10 am. She was returning home which was located at 10345 144 St. to have lunch. She said goodbye too two of her friends and left the building. Tania’s house was only a short distance away from the school at the time, approximately a block and a half away. She never made it home and was never seen or heard from again.
Tania’s younger brother, John, was five years old and a kindergarten student at Grovenor Elementary School in 1983. John told authorities that Tania would normally wait for him so they could walk home together to eat lunch. On this day, Tania didn’t wait for him so he walked to their home alone thinking she would be there already. It was later learned that the last person to see Tania was a teacher who saw her walk out of sight. The children’s aunt, Vera Stortz, was babysitting for them at the time and was preparing a meal for him and Tania.
When Tania didn’t come home by 11:20 am, Vera became frightened that something had happened to the child while she was walking and began to search for her. It was unusual that Tania didn’t come home within that ten minute time span. She was said to be reliable and prompt with returning home for lunch. She questioned John about Tania’s absence and he stated that other students told him Tania had gone to a friends house for lunch. Vera went outside and searched the streets looking for her niece. She called Tania’s name out but she never found her.
Vera called Tania’s parents, Vivian and Jack Murrell, who were both at work at the time their daughter disappeared and they rushed back home to look for Tania. They scoured the area for any clues as to her whereabouts but they found nothing. They both said when Vera called them to announce Tania never made it home, they had a bad feeling as well and were frightened something bad had happened to Tania as she walked home. Vivian hoped that Tania had simply gone to a friends house but that wasn’t the case.
Vivian went to the school to check and see if Tania had returned to her class but she wasn’t there. Tania had never made it back to class and her seat remained empty. According to most of Tania’s classmates, no one had seen her after she left. Friends of Vivian and Jack reassured them that Tania would surely return home from school. She didn’t return home and as a result, Vivian contacted the police to report her daughter as missing.
The police officer who arrived at the scene couldn’t do much of anything at that point. However, he did ask for a photograph of Tania and a description of what she was wearing that day. He started going door to door and asking people if they had seen the child that day. Things became more worrisome when Tania didn’t come back to the house by that evening. Her parents hoped maybe she was having an unannounced sleepover at a friends residence.
Having a sleepover unknown to her parents was unlike Tania but they hoped this was the case. However, Tania did not show up for school the next morning and many began to believe something horrible happened to her the previous day. Investigators initially didn’t know what to make of the child’s disappearance. They eventually concluded that Tania was abducted by a non family member while she was walking.
A search was commenced to find the little girl. Hundreds of city blocks were checked for any trace of Tania. Concerned citizens scoured the entire city looking for her and helicopter searches also took place. Posters depicting Tania and her description were put up all around the area and in store windows. A private donation was also held which garnered $30,000 which was used as a reward for the safe return of Tania. The search for Tania is said to be by far the biggest in Edmonton history.
According to reports, over 1,900 square blocks were searched by police and between 300 and 400 volunteers and these searches even includes alleys and ravines in those areas. The door to door search for Tania is said to be one of the biggest as well. Despite the extensive search efforts and the reward, no trace of Tania or any evidence of what happened to her was ever found. The only thing found was her Safeway bag which was at school. News stations quickly picked up on the case, Tania’s case made national headlines and international headlines in the United States. Her case was also the subject of several television shows which did segments on unsolved cases.
While it was suspected that Tania was abducted, her parents were the focus of the investigation for quite some time. They were both at work at the time she went missing. Vivian worked at a bakery which was located approximately a miles distance away from the Murrell residence and Jack worked as a carpenter and built new homes for Alldritt Homes on the south side of Edmonton. They were eliminated as suspects in the onset due to their strong alibis but investigators felt someone in their life may have been responsible for the disappearance. They were also given polygraph exams and passed and were open to any and all interview requests given to them.
Jack and Vivian were described by acquaintances as “party hard folk” who lived booze, pot, rock music, and their Harley Davidson motorcycles. One family acquaintance called the two “everyone’s our friend people.” Rumors regarding Jack circulated and spread around. The rumor stated he owed a small time drug dealer hundreds of dollars for some marijuana he purchased. It was considered that Tania might’ve been taken in retaliation for the unpaid debt but investigators don’t believe this to be the reason for her disappearance.
Investigators do not believe Tania was abducted for ransom. The family was not rich and this made them an unlikely target for this type of crime. However, the family was targeted by cruel phone pranksters. One man from Ontario called Tania’s family and said he would return the child safely in exchange for $40,000. The man was located and he was not involved in the case. He was charged with attempted extortion and was sentenced to three years in prison for the crime.
Most investigators suspect that Tania was taken by a sexual predator and probably murdered afterwards. A man who was formerly an acquaintance of the Murrell family is considered the primary suspect in Tania’s abduction. The man was an alcoholic at the time and was 31 years old in 1983. He is described as being violent since he once smashed a mans face with a beer bottomless while playing cards. He also once tuned off the ignition in the Murrell family’s station wagon which resulted in the car going into a ditch.
According to her family and those who knew him, he took Tania and John camping with just him and the two children. He also at one point wrote a poem about a love that could never happen just prior to her disappearance. According to police reports, the man does not have a solid alibi. He was allegedly working outdoors on the morning of January 20th but he can’t independently prove where he was at the time of Tania’s presumed abduction. He and his wife moved away from the area to Ontario a few months after the abduction.
The man later had a daughter whom he named after Tania. At one point, police interrogated the man for approximately 11 hours regarding his possible involvement in her disappearance. He apparently didn’t deny abducting Tania but he is reported as saying “Fuck you, you ain’t got a body.” He was also given a polygraph exam which was deemed inconclusive. Police said that at that point, they had had enough evidence of file criminal charges. They offered the man a plea deal of second degree murder but he refused the deal.
He never faced any criminal charges for Tania’s disappearance because police felt that while they did have enough evidence to file murder charges against the suspect, they felt they lacked the proper evidence to gain a conviction in the case. Investigators also consider him as a person of interest in the 1979 death of Kevin Reimer. Kevin was 9 years old when he disappeared from the Elk Island National Park in Alberta on June 29th 1979. He went missing after he wandered away from his family’s campsite.
A few years after his disappearance, Kevin’s remains were located in a wooded area not too far away from where he was last seen. His death was ultimately ruled an accident at the time. However, RCMP officer, Ken Chambers, who was part of the initial investigation into Kevin’s disappearance said that the location where the boys remains were eventually located was searched before hand and the body was not there. He said that most of the searching officers walked shoulder to shoulder and poked the ground with long sticks.
Ken believes Kevin’s body was placed in the location after the searches occurred. A detective who worked on the Murrell investigation attempted to contact the RCMP after hearing about Kevin’s case and wanted to gain more information from the file. He found that the so called “Good Samaritan” who contacted the police in 1979 about Kevin’s family frantically searching for him was the same man suspected in Tania’s disappearance. The suspect also worked at the park in 1979. It’s unclear if this is true or not. The man has not been named a suspect in the case.
Vivian and Jack refused to believe the man was involved in Tania’s disappearance and that he was not capable of harming the child. Friends of Vivian reported that they would tell her not to let this man near her two children but that she didn’t feel he was capable of doing anything malicious to her kids. However, in the 1990s, Vivian told her friends she has since changed her views of the man and wishes she would ever have met the man near her children. She also said she felt the man might’ve been ultimately responsible for Tania’s fate.
The man passed away from cancer in August of 2016. His wife stated that while they were estranged from each other, she refused to believe he had anything to do with Tania’s disappearance and believes he is innocent of any involvement or crime he’s accused of doing in relation to her disappearance. He is the only suspect in her disappearance who hasn’t been ruled out.
Tania’s family does not believe she is deceased. Most of her relatives and family members believe she was taken by someone who couldn’t have a child of their own. Investigators have stated that they too have to accept it’s possible Tania is still alive. Vivian believed someone abducted her and may have taken her across the border into the United States. It was considered a possibility that Tania was taken into the country for purposes such as prostitution, pornography, or simply for couples who couldn’t bear a child of their own
Vivian said that Tania’s abductor would’ve had to take her by force because Tania wouldn’t even get into a friends car without her parents permission. Investigators said that based off Tania’s size, she could’ve been taken by anyone. But whether it was someone she knew or a complete stranger remains to be seen. There were two possible sightings of Tania that were given to police after her disappearance. One was from the same time that Tania is believed to have been taken.
The sighting was reported by a realtor and he told police he might of seen Tania in the company of an elderly woman that day. The woman and child were witnessed crossing 144th Street near 104 Avenue and according to the man, the child appeared to be unwilling to go with this woman. He said the child appeared to fall constantly and that the woman was dragging or helping the child constantly. The woman and child have never been located and it’s considered an unsolved lead in the case. Some students in the elementary school recall seeing a girl getting chased by a German Shepard on the same day.
Investigators don’t know if the girl being chased was Tania or not. Tania’s family continues to believes he is alive and will come home someday. It’s possible she was brainwashed into believing she wasn’t wanted by her family so her abductors could keep her. Vivian and Jack were extremely committed and devoted to finding their long lost daughter. They contacted over 30 missing children’s organizations across North America. A month after Tania was abducted, they created the Tania Murrell Missing Children’s Society. It was the first agency in Canada to deal with the issue of missing children.
The organization was to help assist families of missing or abducted children. The ways in which it would help included providing expertise to families, public support, and funding for the searches. The organization helped to spread the photographs of missing children by plastering them to the sides of shampoo bottles, milk cartons, and posters which were spread around the continent. By 1986, about 100 missing children had been located with the help of the organization. It was federally incorporated as a non-profit organization in October of 1985.
Due to financial issues and the stress of Tania’s disappearance, the organization went defunct in the late 1980s. The issues arose after the society attempted to advertise photos of missing children on gift boxes of mixed nuts. The organization ended up getting stuck with 36,000 boxes of unsold boxes of nuts. Tania’s family moved to Kelowna, British Columbia and in November of 1985, Vivian gave birth to Elysia Murrell. Tania’s disappearance essentially destroyed her family. Her parents tried to find solace in drinking and using drugs. They ended up contracting hepatitis C which would cause major health problems for them later in life. They also moved away due to nasty rumors about them which were untrue.
Jack and Vivian divorced from one another in the 1990s and Jack moved to Ontario with Elysia. He lost a leg as a result of his health problems and passed away from kidney failure in 2005. Vivian continued to hope for her daughters return until she ultimately passed away in 2011. John Murrell was deeply affected by his older sisters disappearance. The two were extremely close to one another and after she went missing, much of the attention went towards finding Tania and he was basically neglected. He was in and out of jail multiple times during his life due to a bad drug habit. He passed away in 2015.
Elysia continues to search for her sister whom she never got the opportunity to meet. She believes that Tania is alive and was brainwashed into another family. She has two children of her own whom she has taught about stranger danger. She works as a nurse and every year on the anniversary of Tania’s disappearance, she and her children go to Niagara Falls and they throw a red rose over the falls. She says she will continue to do this until Tania returns home.
Investigators have stated that the search for Tania is ongoing and open. They have stated it will never be closed until she is located. In the summer of 2008, a basement was excavated and searched for any trace of Tania. The house in which the basement existed was located approximately 20 blocks away from where Tania’s house was located in 1983. A tip sent to police indicated that the woman who lived there was a playmate of the child and that she became suspicious of a hole in the basement floor. Searches turned up nothing.
In 2013, a friend of Tania’s came forward to say that Tania had approached her on the day she went missing and said she was going to the nearby 7-11 convenience store for lunch since she had some spare money at the time. The store was in the opposite direction of her house in 1983. The friend said she last saw Tania walking alone in a southwest direction towards 144th Street and towards Stony Plain Road at 147th Street. This would mean that Tania was never walking home but towards the store.
At the time of her disappearance, Tania was described as a smiling, happy girl who was liked by everyone and took care of her brother. She used to love putting on her moms high heels and dressing up. She was said to be quiet and content but was also known to love dancing and singing. She would often be seen playing in the sandbox in her backyard or with her Barbie dolls. She was also a good swimmer at the time of her disappearance. She loved animals and hoped to become a veterinarian when she grew up. Her abduction remains unsolved.
If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:
Edmonton Police Service 780-421-3382
Kidnapping, Murder, and Mayhem
Byron Christopher: What Happened to Tania?
Porchlight Canada for the Missing and Unidentified
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