Mr. Big is the shocking true story of a murder investigation in Newfoundland and Labrador that forever changed the face of the Canadian justice system.
On August 4, 2002, three-year-old twin girls Karen and Krista Hart drowned in Gander Lake. They had gone there with their father. He said it was an accident, but the police were convinced Nelson Hart had killed his daughters that day.
With not enough evidence to make an arrest, the RCMP launched a $500,000 “Mr. Big” sting operation to try to get a confession. This book examines the dramatic events that unfolded over the four-month period when Nelson was flying back and forth across the country working in what he believed to be an organized crime syndicate.
Central to this story is Jennifer Hicks, who reveals for the first time her life with her now ex-husband, Nelson Hart, and the events surrounding the deaths of her daughters. Together with television journalist Colleen Lewis, who closely followed Hart’s murder trial, Jennifer has reconstructed the tragic story of an abusive relationship and a mother’s worst nightmare.
Finalist for the 2016 Arthur Ellis Awards, Best Nonfiction Book Category
#10 on the Globe and Mail (Canadian Non-fiction) Bestseller List (October 10, 2015)
#6 on the Globe and Mail (Canadian Non-fiction) Bestseller List (October 17, 2015)
#6 on the Globe and Mail (Canadian Non-fiction) Bestseller List (October 24, 2015)
#10 on the Globe and Mail (Canadian Non-fiction) Bestseller List (October 31, 2015)
“Why don’t we get out of town for the day,” he said. “I’ve got enough money to drive into St. John’s.”
“What are we going to do in there?” Jennifer asked.
But Nelson never really answered the question. Instead, he said he was going to gas up the car. “I’ll be back in a while, so be ready to go.”
Jennifer wasn’t really up to travelling, but she didn’t ask any more questions. She just did as she was told. It had only been a few weeks since the girls had died, and already there was no food in the house. There wasn’t even enough money to wash clothes at the laundromat downstairs. The Salvation Army had brought food a few days ago, but that was gone. People from all over had sent money to the funeral home, but Jennifer had no idea what had happened to it. And she didn’t have the strength to worry about it all, because the pain had become too much to bear. It didn’t matter where she was anymore, because her children weren’t there.
She packed a small bag.
“Do you have enough money to go to St. John’s?” Jennifer asked. “This morning you didn’t have enough to give me for laundry.”
“I have money,” he said. “Don’t worry about it.”
Jennifer wasn’t surprised. It certainly wasn’t the first time Nelson had a secret stash of money she didn’t know about. She got in the car, and as they drove, there wasn’t much in the way of conversation. Jennifer had taken a sedative, and she was content to watch the world slide by through the side window. Nelson wasn’t in the mood for talking, either. There were times when she wondered why he wanted to make the four-hour drive to St. John’s, but she didn’t have the energy to try and retrieve an answer from him.
When they finally arrived in the city, Nelson drove straight to the Avalon Mall. Jennifer assumed there was something he was looking for, until he drove to an empty parking area and parked their car in the middle of the empty spaces.
Instead of getting out of the car, he did something she didn’t expect.
“I don’t have any money,” he admitted.
“Well, what the hell are we going to do now?” she said. “You mean to tell me we’re out here with no money? Not even enough for gas to get back?” she questioned.
Nelson didn’t say anything. He just sat staring straight ahead, and Jennifer had never felt so alone in the world.
Jennifer drifted in and out, until it was finally dark. She reclined her seat and went to sleep.
When she woke the next morning, she nearly had to fight for her breath. The air in the car was hot with the morning sun, but it was also humid. She had never felt so messed up. She couldn’t get the window down fast enough.
There wasn’t enough air to make her feel better, and she badly needed to stretch her legs. Not to mention the fact that she really needed to find a washroom. But the mall was still closed.
She reached for the door handle.
“Don’t touch it,” said Nelson.
Jennifer could tell right away, by the look in his eyes, he hadn’t slept at all. She could see the stress in his face, and she knew there was something serious going on in his mind.
“You’re staying aboard this car,” he said. “I’m not getting out, and you’re not getting out, either.”
Jennifer didn’t believe he could last like this much longer. The car was uncomfortable and they were hungry. So she didn’t say a word. She waited and watched as the sun climbed higher in the sky, and eventually people began making their way to and from the mall.
It was the only thing she could do. She watched the teenagers waiting at the bus stop. None of them seemed to be in a hurry to go anywhere, and she kind of admired them for it. But her daughters would never get to be teenagers. They would never get to hang out like these kids. Then there were the women. Women carrying bags of items, some pushing strollers, and some with their children skipping along at their sides. It was too much for her. She snuggled down in the seat. The hunger finally passed and she fell asleep.
When she woke, it was nighttime. Theirs was the only car in the mall parking lot.
Maybe now would be a good time to get out and stretch. But no, Nelson wasn’t about to let that happen. When Jennifer looked over, he was sitting up and looking straight ahead.
For the first time since they had parked here, Jennifer was genuinely beginning to worry about what he had planned. He couldn’t keep her here forever. What was the point of this? Was he going to starve her to death?
She wiped everything from her mind, reclined her chair, and went back to sleep.
The next time she woke up, it was daylight again. This time there were people all around, but she didn’t have the strength to watch them. She felt sick, and the situation was getting desperate. Fortunately, she no longer felt the urge to pee, but she wondered what her body was doing with the fluid.
“Nelson,” she said. “Let me call someone in here. Mom’s got two brothers and a sister who live in here. Let me call them, and they’ll help us out.”
“No,” was all he said.
“They will give us money for gas,” she pleaded. “Let’s at least call them for some food, or to let us wash up.”
The next morning, Jennifer was starting to feel very sick. “Nelson, can I at least get into the back seat where I can stretch out?” she asked. She knew that if she didn’t soon get food she would end up in the hospital, or worse. She barely had the strength to move.
Nelson got out of the car and opened the door for her to climb into the back.
The feeling of her feet on the pavement felt so good she felt like running, but she knew there was no way she’d have the strength. So she lay on the back seat and watched Nelson.
He was thinking about something. She was sure of that. And whatever it was, it was really making him anxious. Jennifer wondered if he had even closed his eyes to nap for the past four days.
But as she watched him, she noticed that his head was dropping forward from time to time. She suspected he was more tired than she thought. Suddenly, she saw his head slump forward. He was asleep.
Quietly, she opened the door. Her hand trembled as it grasped the plastic lever. She was very weak, and she hoped she wouldn’t have to go far for help, because she didn’t know if she was strong enough to stand upright.
She paused as her feet rested flat on the pavement, and then, with a push, she did stand. And as she looked inside at Nelson, she realized that he was not going to wake up any time soon.
She looked around the parking lot. Desperate. What could she do?
Suddenly, she spotted an older man who looked to have a friendly face. He had spotted Jennifer first. With the way he was staring, she wondered what she must look like. His jaw literally dropped as she walked toward him. For a moment she thought he was going to run.
“Hi,” she said. “I’m really hungry. I’ve been here in this car for the past four days, and my husband won’t let me leave. I . . . I’ve been looking at that Chinese restaurant right there. Can you go get me something to eat?”
Jennifer wasn’t sure if the man wanted to help her, or if he was afraid of her. But she’ll never forget the way he looked at her that day.
“I don’t have any money on me right now,” he said. “But I have to come back here at seven o’clock tonight. When I do, I will bring food for you.”
Jennifer struggled back to the car. The man watched as she got into the back seat and lay down.
Little did she know, the police had been searching for her and Nelson for the past four days. When the man called the police that afternoon to report what he had witnessed, it didn’t take long for them to show up on the scene.
Jennifer was taken to the police station in the first cruiser. Nelson was put in handcuffs and put in another car.
At the police station she was given food and a chance to wash up. With the first couple bites of her hamburger, Jennifer thought she was going to be sick. The whole ordeal had been a lot harder on her body than she realized. Then the police officers sat down to give her an update.
“Nelson had a couple of seizures while we were on our way here from the parking lot,” the officer informed her. “We have taken his driver’s licence, so you’re going to have to drive him back to Gander. That is, if you’re comfortable going back with him.”
“Are you sure you are feeling well enough,” the officer asked.
“Yes,” she said, “but I don’t have any money to buy gas.”
The officers gave her enough money to make it home. When she was walked toward the car, Nelson was already sitting in the passenger seat.
For a moment, Jennifer dreaded getting back into the car. But she knew the police were keeping an eye on them, so she got in.
Nelson was reading a letter the police had given him.
“How did the police find us there?” he asked. “Was it you? Did you tell them?”
Jennifer denied finding help, and for the next four hours she listened endlessly to Nelson complaining. He was furious that his driver’s licence had been taken because of the seizures. And he blamed Jennifer.