#19 – Small Town Girl – Gail Ryan

The mail was starting to pile for Gail on the hall table. On Wednesday there were 2 letters, on Thursday there was a small parcel and some small mail. But none of the items were picked up. This was odd; Gail always picked her mail. She was supposed to be at work but hadn’t shown up there either. Her workplace called her landlord, asking if he knew where she was. Gerry, her landlord, said he would check on her apartment as she also hadn’t picked up her mail. He went upstairs, and as he knocked on Gail’s door, it swung open, revealing a crime that will be forever engraved in Gerry’s mind. This is Gail Ryan’s story.

Gail Ryan was born and raised in a small town in the Province of NB, in Atlantic Canada, near the Bay of Fundy. Approximately 3000 people were living there the year she moved to Hamilton, Ontario. This was a big change for a small-town girl. Not only was she 1540 Kms (957 Miles) from her childhood home, family, and friends, but she moved from a village of 3000 people to a city of about 300,000 people. After high school, she enrolled and graduated from a business college while continuing to live with her parents and 2 younger siblings. After some encouragement from a friend already living in Hamilton, she packed up her things and moved there around the Christmas of 1972.

She was a happy, outgoing and attractive 20-year-old. And all though was sometimes a bit homesick, loved the different opportunities the city afforded her and really enjoyed her independence. She had been ready to fly on her own and was excited about it. She was working as a file clerk in the credit department at Robinson’s, which was a large department store in the city.

She was finally going to learn how to drive. She felt perfectly content staying in for a girls’ night watching TV in her flat or going out to the bar for a couple of drinks. And she was working hard and had already reserved her flight for the trip back to NB for the Christmas of 1973.

When she first moved to Hamilton, she had lived with the friend that had encouraged her to move, but around April of 1973, she moved in with her boyfriend to a 2-room flat that they rented for 80$ a month. Around the same time, she was hired in the credit department at Robinson’s department store. She had been there for just 4 months. Her boyfriend, a musician who was also from the province of NB in Atlantic Canada. The other tenants described Gail and her boyfriend as a cute couple. They would always be holding on to each other and would often come down the stairs with their arms around each other. The relationship wouldn’t last, though. Gail’s boyfriend found it hard to work as a musician in the area and moved back to New Brunswick at the end of August or the beginning of September.

After her boyfriend left, she started to spend more time with the girls from work; either they would go out or take turns hosting a dinner party.

On Thursday, September 27, after receiving a call from Robinson’s department store to ask about where Gail was as she hadn’t come into to work. Her landlord, Gerry, agreed to check on her apartment. After all, they were getting a little concerned, as well as her mail had sat for almost 2 days on the hall table.

Gerry walked up the stairs to the second floor of the single-family home, to the 2-room flat Gail had been renting and knocked on the door. As he knocked, the door opened, and Gerry saw the terrible fate that became of young Gail Ryan. Gail’s body was lying flat on her back, legs spread, on the floor of her room, she was mostly nude, and she was lying in a pool of partially dried blood. The police were called immediately.

Hamilton Ontario police officers find Gail Ryan lying dead on a partially congealed or dry blood pool on the floor inside the 2-room flat she rented inside the home. Homicide detectives quickly determined that Gail had been murdered and had fought for her life. The struggle was concentrated in the bedroom, suggesting it had started and ended there.

Gail was lying flat on her back. She was nude except for a sweater pulled up over her head, covering her face. Additionally, a pillow was placed over her head. This may signify some sort of emotional attachment to the victim from the murdered. This often suggests that they have some sort of regret after committing the act. The location and position of her body would also suggest that Gail had been sexually attacked before she was murdered.

A broken soft-drink bottle was found nearby, likely used in the attack. A weapon of opportunity. They also recovered a butcher knife with a six-inch blade. Another weapon of opportunity. She lay in a pool of partially dried blood, and her Wednesday mail was not picked up. Gail was likely murdered on Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning. The autopsy results confirmed that she was hit on the back of her head, possibly w. the soda bottle and then stabbed multiple times in the chest and neck.

I visited the location where Gail was living at the time of her murder. Here are some photos of the neighbourhood:

Law enforcement was able to track down her movements leading up to her murder. On Tuesday afternoon, September 25, Gail left work in a good mood. She had a driving lesson with Dominion Driving School at 7:30 PM that day, which she attended. The school was located on Main street west and was only a few KMs from her apartment. The lesson ended at 10:15 PM; she walked across the street from the school and waited a few minutes at a bus stop. An eye witness, who was going into the school to apply for a position as a driving instructor, told police that he saw two men, who had been walking from the direction of the Elmer Hotel at Main Street West and Caroline Street, speaking with Gail and it appeared that she knew both of them. Two other witnesses also confirmed that Gail and these 2 men started walking east along main street west. When they were almost a block away, they all turned around and started walking back towards the hotel. They went into the tavern section of the hotel, located off of Caroline Street. Some patrons of the tavern did confirm seeing the three at a table within the tavern. Tenants in the house where Gail was living informed police that she returned home that Tuesday night at around 11:30 PM with a male visitor. However, they did not see the male visitor could hear that it was a man walking up the stairs to her apartment with her. At approximately 1:00 – 1:30 AM Wednesday morning, the tenant just below Gail’s apartment unit heard a thud, followed by two more thuds. He yelled upstairs for them to be quiet and then didn’t hear anything further. Police were not called. It is believed that this is the moment that Gail was sexually attacked and murdered.

Gail didn’t show up for work on Wednesday, and as her brutalized body lay on the floor or her room, her parents received a letter from her, telling them she missed them, but all in all, she was doing fine and doing well.

The two men seen with Gail on Tuesday night were described as both being in their 20’s. Both were wearing blue jeans and had long hair. One was wearing a t-shirt and the other a jacket. On the subject, acting staff inspector George Frid told a Hamilton spectator reporter at the time, “We feel certain the men know we are looking for them. They’re either involved in the slaying or are afraid of being accused.”

A sketch artist was commissioned to complete a composite sketch of the two men. However, only one was published in the local paper. The sketch accompanied a small article indicating that the man was wanted for questioning with regards to Gail’s case. He had visited Gail 3 times in the week before she was murdered. His last confirmed visit was on Monday before she was murdered. He was described as 6’2, about 210 lbs, between the age of 23-25. He was neat & clean, had long blonde hair and was described as good-looking and strongly built.

Composite Sketch Published in the Hamilton Spectator

I’ve uploaded a copy of the composite sketch to Instagram, and it will be in the crime article on the true crime real time website. I will let you judge how beneficial the composite sketch would have been.

Miraculously, a few tips did come through, but none of them panned out.

She was sexually assaulted, hit and stabbed. Her face was covered by a sweater, and a pillow, which may signify some sort of emotional attachment … they are regretful of getting caught and facing the consequences of their actions. Evidence was left at the scene. There was no forced entry. Weapons of opportunity were used. This would point to a man who knew the victim and possibly had a positive relationship with her that had gone bad. A man who was young and inexperienced in crime.

Who is this ruthless killer, and is he hiding in plain sight?

The case is now cold and has likely been barely touched in the 46 since the murder took place. The Hamilton police do not have a cold case unit; it’s just not in the budget. In fact, it seems as though they could use more resources, officers. Cases are assigned to homicide detectives in the major crime unit, but newer and more pressing cases always take priority. Even when trying to gather information on this case, they simply couldn’t help. It would require the assigned detective to re-review the entire file, taking needed time away from the new cases constantly coming in, to familiarize themselves to be able to answer questions, such as:

  1. Were there any fingerprint or DNA found on the glass bottle or Butcher knife
  2. Was a rape kit completed during the autopsy on Gail Ryan and was viable DNA obtained
  3. Do they have any viable DNA from the crime scene, and if so, when was the last time the DNA was run through the database to look for matches?
  4. Is the male from the composite sketch believed to be one of the males seen with Gail on the Tuesday night on Main Street West and at the Tavern?
  5. Were the two males seen with Gail at the Tavern ever located?
  6. Are there any other composite sketches or updated composite sketches completed?

I was told they simply did not have enough resources, and it would seem that due to lack of resources, these cold cases get pushed to the back of the pile and basically collect dust. In the meantime, the families still don’t have answers, and there is no justice for Gail. Law enforcement would like to have a cold case unit that could be dedicated to these cases, but “it’s simply not in the budget.”

The original $2000 reward through crime stoppers is still in effect. Anyone with information about the assault and murder of Gail Ryan, specifically around the identity of the young man who had visited her 3 times in the week before her death. He would be between 69 and 73 now; please contact the Major Crime Unit with the Hamilton police at 905-546-3829. If you wish to remain anonymous, contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS, that’s 1-800-222-8477, or alternatively, your tip can be made online by visiting crimestoppershamilton.com. Your IP address is blocked.


Hamilton Spectator News Articles – Local Archives – September 28, 1973, to October 30, 1973.

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