WARNING: The details in this story are graphic and may be disturbing to some readers.
A convicted sex offender pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder in the 2021 deaths of a 24-year-old woman and her 16-month-old child in Hinton, Alta.
Robert Keith Major was originally charged with second-degree murder in the September 2021 deaths of Mchale Busch and her son Noah McConnell. Last December, those charges were upgraded to first-degree murder. Major was also charged with two counts of interfering with human remains.
Major pleaded guilty to the murder charges in court on Monday morning. Prosecutors said charges of interfering with human remains will likely be withdrawn at a later date.
According to an agreed statement of facts, Busch and her son went to the playground on the morning of Sept. 16, 2021. They returned home just after noon.
Shortly after 12:30 p.m., Busch had a conversation with the building manager about dirt and mud located on the floor in the hallway and stairwell outside her family’s apartment. The building manager believed the mud was from the work boots of Cody-Lee McConnell — Busch’s fiancé and Noah’s dad.
The building manager asked Busch to clean it up. The agreed statement of facts states Major overheard this conversation and offered to clean it up, which Busch accepted because she was taking care of Noah.
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At about 2 p.m., Busch was preparing food in the kitchen and Noah was sleeping in his crib.
The agreed statement of facts said it’s unknown how, but Busch ended up in Major’s apartment shortly after.
Major lived in the apartment adjacent to the family. At about 2 p.m., Major “intentionally killed Mchale Busch by strangulation,” according to the agreed statement of facts. He also sexually assaulted her and mutilated her body.
“Major’s attack was sexually motivated,” read the statement, adding Busch tried to escape and defend herself.
Moments later, Major intentionally killed Noah, according to the document. The boy’s cause of death was asphyxiation.
Major placed the toddler’s body in a garbage bag and deposited it in one of the building’s dumpsters, court heard through the agreed statement of facts.
Just after 6:20 p.m., McConnell returned home from work and could not find his fiancée and son in the apartment. After seeing the uncooked food, Busch’s vehicle parked outside and Noah’s stroller in the apartment, McConnell became worried.
After asking someone in the building if they had seen Busch and Noah, McConnell called Busch’s mother who had not heard from her. Busch’s mother then reported the pair missing to the RCMP.
The bodies of Busch and Noah were found less than 24 hours later. On Sept. 17, RCMP arrested Major.
Family and friends sat in court Monday, taking up one side of the courtroom. Sobs could be heard as soon as Major appeared via CCTV.
Verna Sand spoke on behalf of the McConnell family outside court after the proceedings. She said they are grateful for the guilty plea and that they don’t have to go through a trial.
“She was a very bright, strong girl. He was a beautiful boy,” Sand said, holding back tears.
“They were innocent victims. Cody is an innocent victim. All he did was try to do best by his family every day. He brought them here to work to provide for them and he provided a wonderful life for them. They were innocent.”
Sand said they would like to see changes made to the sex offender registry in Alberta, including that repeat offenders never have their restrictions removed and that they are monitored for life.
“We believe that if that were in place, we would not be here today,” she said. “I just want our justice system to know that we were failed. No, Mchale and Noah were failed and we need to step up and protect the innocent.”
The family has started a petition in hopes of pushing for change. Information on the petition can be found on a website the family created.
Major is scheduled to be back in court on Nov. 22 for a sentencing hearing.
Justice Marta Burns said the sentencing is to be held at that time to await the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision on the constitutionality of consecutive parole ineligibility periods in sentences for multiple murders.
Robert Major, 53, of Hinton, Alta.
— with files from The Canadian Press.