UPDATE: On Dec. 14, 2021, RCMP announced charges against Major were upgraded. Details here.
The shocking deaths of an Alberta mom and her 16-month-old toddler have unraveled their family’s faith in the justice system and spurred them to push for reformation.
Mchale Busch, Cody-Lee McConnell and their son Noah had moved to the western Alberta town of Hinton less than two weeks before the pair vanished.
The man accused of their deaths shared a wall with the young family’s apartment.
At first, the extended family of Busch and Noah found strength in silence. A moving vigil was held outside an Edson courthouse on the date of the accused’s first appearance in court in September.
Cody McConnell’s coworkers encompassed the family, their pipeline worksite was shut down for a few hours so employees — clad in their overalls, safety vests and work gear — could attend.
Being an advocate was never McConnell’s dream — being a dad was. But now, he is finding strength in speaking out about his search for justice.
Mchale Busch was feisty and fiery. She was a natural athlete, with a love for figure skating.
Busch and McConnell began dating after they met at a party — she reached out over Twitter a short time later.
“Modern love,” McConnell laughed.
“We went on a date. Three days later we were [officially a couple]. We were together for seven and a half years.”
The couple got engaged shortly after they discovered Busch was pregnant.
Noah McConnell was born April 18, 2020.
“What did you want to be when you grew up?” McConnell asked, his voice breaking.
“I wanted to be a dad. It was short and sweet.”
Noah, was known for his bubbly personality. Even when the toddler was crying, somehow a smile still got through.
“It was during the start of COVID-19… it was just us in the hospital. He was our first child… it was hard on us,” McConnell said. “When we got out of hospital, we spent every day together.”
Around the same time, McConnell had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). He had taken a leave of absence from his work at Midwest Pipelines — the construction contractor for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion between Edmonton and Jasper.
“Mchale was my rock, Noah was my best friend,” McConnell said.
“He changed my life. I was being hard on myself. He came into my world and gave me a reason to live.”
McConnell had just gone back to work, which took the couple from Grande Prairie, then home to Camrose. The family spent some time outside of Edson for work, and then McConnell’s job working on the pipeline later brought them to Hinton.
On Sept. 16 around 6 p.m., Hinton RCMP responded to the report of a missing 24-year-old woman and her 16-month-old toddler.
The bodies of Busch and Noah were found less than 24 hours later. On Sept. 17, RCMP arrested Robert Keith Major.
Major, 54, is charged with two counts of second-degree murder and one count of committing an indignity to human remains. The charges have not yet been proven in court.
Busch was home in the couple’s apartment on Sept. 16. According to the family, she had an discussion with a maintenance man in the hallway, because McConnell had been tracking mud on his boots into the apartment complex.
Busch was on the phone with a friend around noon when there was a knock on her door, according to family friend Verna Sand. A man was heard over the phone, offering to help vacuum up the mud.
Busch sent a final text at 2:21 p.m. on Sept. 16.
Sand traveled to Hinton on Sept. 19 and joined a group of family and friends to support McConnell as they waited for autopsy results.
“We don’t know everything,” Sand said. “But it was a short timeline, when Cody wasn’t home.”
Investigators said the victims were killed in Major’s apartment. McConnell said his son’s body was found in a dumpster near the property.
“It’s a part time thing for everybody else. It’s a full time thing for me. I deal with this day in and day out,” McConnell said.
“They were my best friends. We spent every day together. It’s hard to feel whole.”
Robert Major’s past
In 2013, Major was sentenced to four years in prison for aggravated sexual assault and banned from owning firearms for life.
Four years ago, the Edmonton Police Service warned residents that Major, a convicted sexual offender, would be living in the Edmonton area.
Upon release in 2017, Edmonton police issued a warning about Major, saying he was being closely monitored by the EPS behavioural assessment unit and investigators had reasonable grounds to believe that Major would “commit another sexual offence against a female, including children, while in the community.”
Court documents obtained by Global News show Major was subject to a number of court-ordered conditions, including a curfew and not being allowed to leave Edmonton without written consent.
He was also ordered by the courts to stay away from places where children under the age of 18 were likely to spend time and he was forbidden from purchasing any children’s or women’s undergarments.
Major was also banned from owning, viewing or possessing any materials that depict children in “any state of dress, whether it is on paper, video, computer discs, hard drive or any electronic media.”
Alberta Justice does maintain a online list of high risk offenders.
However, the website says an offender’s information will be removed when they have not been convicted of an offence for 12 months, and are no longer under court-ordered supervision.
McConnell said the justice system failed them, by not letting them know a convicted sex offender — who Alberta Justice says has a criminal record dating back to the early 1990s and has been convicted of sex crimes — lived in their apartment building.
McConnell said if he had known Major’s history, he never would have moved in with his family.
“It’s all bikes. All kids, everywhere. There’s a school right nearby. A lot of young families, because it’s lower income. It’s a cheaper place to live,” he said. “His apartment faced the parking lot. He could see everything.”
Hours after Busch and Noah were found — family friend Verna Sand said they were given the accused’s name from RCMP.
“We were told to Google his name,” Sand said.
“It took seconds to find out he was a convicted sex offender.”
McConnell said that key information should have been available to them from the start.
From this conversation, the family conceptualized “Noah’s Law.”
“This is for the repeat offender. The people who police say will offend again. That’s what we want Noah’s Law to be part of,” Sand said. “If you were sentenced under Noah’s Law, you would be monitored. It would be a life-long monitoring.”
Sand outlined that Noah’s Law would mean a registered sex offender would be required to update personal information, like their address, every month.
They also want a database so a landlord could check with police if a potential renter was flagged in some way.
“We are not against rehabilitation. We are not against reintegration. We believe there are individuals who make mistakes and they deserve [those things]. That’s not what we are fighting against.”
The family is currently drafting a petition of Noah’s Law to send to the House of Commons. Sand said two federal MPs attended Busch and Noah’s funeral.
“We are all so traumatized.”
What comes after rehabilitation?
Arthur Dyck works for a community safety program that offers social support to sex offenders who have been released from prison and are at high risk to re-offend.
Dyck said most individuals who meet that criteria are under some form of supervision.
“Either through a long-term supervision order or another order called a ‘Section 8-10’, where they are under the direct supervision of the EPS for two years. That’s renewable.”
When someone who is deemed to be a danger to society is discharged without any conditions at the end of their sentence and Edmonton police or judicial system still considers them to be at risk of reoffending, police can go to the court and ask for an 8-10.
The RCMP noted Major had not been subject to any of the conditions of his release since July of 2020.
Dyck said Edmonton Circles of Support and Accountability is one of the tools that is used to keep tabs on an offender — even if the legal system is no longer involved.
“Somehow you have to strike a balance about how you keep somebody safe in the community and keep the community safe at the same time.”
“The more people they have in their lives that are positive influences and aren’t paid to be there, the better off the person is going to be. The safer society is going to be.”
He cautions that too much attention on offenders can make the rehabilitation even harder.
“It leads to extra stress. That can lead to depression and these can lead into a crime cycle that can increase the probability to reoffend. It’s a vicious cycle.”
Leslie McMechan is the executive director of the Calgary John Howard Society. The Canada-wide organization works with a wide-range of offenders as they transition back to the community.
She said housing is one of the most key components of successful re-integration back to the community.
“We understand that it is difficult sometimes to accept individuals who have broken the law back into the fold. It’s a lot easier said than done,” McMechan said.
McMechan said there is a wide-range of criminal activity that fits under the label of “sex-offender.” She said it’s important when discussing broad laws or legislation to understand the widespread impact it could have.
“Lots of laws we want to catch the worst of the worst. Sometimes the broad laws catch everyone, when we don’t intend that. The consequences of those laws could do more harm than good,” she said.
“We need to be really careful about what it is we are asking for, to make sure we achieve the goal.”
Dyck said that the concept of ongoing monitoring could also be continued through social supports within the community, rather than the pursuit through the legal system.
“The goal everyone wants is that these people come into the community, live safely and be productive citizens. But it’s a long journey to get there,” he said.
The family of Busch and McConnell said they are working to find a balance between both the public and the convicted offender’s rights within Noah’s Law.
Sand said she is hopeful that the thousands of people who signed their original petition, will now mark their name down for the final draft to be sent to the House of Commons in December.
McConnell said the family is hopeful they can give community members a first look at those who got a second chance.
“I just want to make a change for Mchale and Noah. It’s all I can do now.”
— With files from Karen Bartko, Global News