If I go missing ‘you will know who did it,’ a prominent Toronto doctor said. Her husband killed her days after she filed for divorce

Dr. Mohammed Shamji has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of Dr. Elana Fric, his wife of 12 years and the mother of their three children.

Original Article: Toronto Star  |  Stefanie Marotta & Alyshah Hasham  |  April 8, 2019

"If I ever go missing, or if something ever happens to me, you will know who did it," Dr. Elana Fric-Shamji confided to a friend amid escalating physical and emotional abuse as she considered divorcing her husband, Toronto neurosurgeon Dr. Mohammed Shamji.

Two days after Shamji, 43, was served with divorce papers in November 2016, he strangled his wife in the bedroom of their home and dumped her body in the Humber River, according to a brief summary of facts read in court.

On Monday, days before the start of his trial for first-degree murder, Shamji pleaded guilty to killing Fric-Shamji, a prominent and beloved family doctor at Scarborough General Hospital and the mother of their three children, now aged 14, 11 and 5.

Shamji entered his plea to second-degree murder in a downtown courtroom filled with his wife's friends and family, all wearing purple ribbons signifying a stand against domestic violence.

At his appearance, Shamji's two eldest children saw their father for the first time since his arrest — although the 11-year-old left the courtroom with her grandmother, Ana Fric, when the agreed statement of facts was read by the prosecutor.

"Justice will never be for us. Never," Fric said after the court hearing concluded. "The only justice we will have is if she can come back. And she will never come back."

The Frics' lawyer, Jean DeMarco, said the family was satisfied with the plea, in part because it meant that Fric-Shamji's eldest daughter and mother would not have to testify during the five-week trial. DeMarco also noted that it is very difficult to prove the premeditation element of first-degree murder. While Shamji was committed to trial on first-degree murder after a preliminary hearing, the judge said there was "formidable" evidence to suggest that the killing was not planned or deliberate.

According to the summary of the facts, Fric-Shamji reported verbal, emotional and physical abuse during her 12-year marriage to Shamji. Testimony from the preliminary inquiry from family members, friends and neighbours of the couple describes years of abuse by Shamji, including a previous instance of choking her until she passed out and repeated sexual assaults.

In May 2005, the couple separated for eight months after an incident that resulted in Shamji being charged with assault and uttering death threats, according to testimony during the preliminary hearing. A friend of Fric-Shamji at the time observed her injuries and said she had been concerned about being able to safely end the relationship. Those charges were resolved through a peace bond and the couple reconciled.

In May 2016, Fric-Shamji confided in friends that she was concerned Shamji was cheating on her again with a woman he'd previously had an affair with, according to the preliminary hearing ruling. She told one friend, "if I apply for divorce he will try to destroy me."

She posted a message anonymously on a Facebook group for physician mothers asking for advice.

"I'm living each day as though it is normal but I am dead inside," she wrote of learning her husband had reconnected with his mistress. "My husband is better connected than I am, he is adored by all and makes much more money. I'm feeling so many things right now. Anger, sadness, shame, most of all embarrassment. I am embarrassed that I once believed I was worthy of love in the first place."

Around this time, she consulted with a divorce lawyer, telling her about a recent incident where Shamji choked her into unconsciousness.

That month, she initiated divorce proceedings but Shamji resisted and pleaded for reconciliation and "more time to better himself in the marriage," prosecutor Henry Poon said. She abandoned the divorce proceedings but the marriage continued to deteriorate.

Fric-Shamji decided to end the marriage for good but Shamji continued to resist any talk of separation.

In October 2016, she began an affair with a fellow doctor and formally retained her divorce lawyer. She did not want the abuse she experienced to be public, in part because she hoped the separation could be amicable and wanted to protect her children from knowing "their father is a monster," according to her lawyer's testimony from the preliminary hearing.

Shamji wanted her to wait until after the holiday season for the sake of their children and she again agreed.

Around this time, Shamji confirmed his wife was having an affair.

The man she had an affair with testified at the preliminary inquiry that Fric-Shamji was "deathly afraid" of the time when Shamji would be presented with the divorce papers, though he also said she did not think he would significantly physically harm her.

Shamji was served with divorce papers on Nov. 28, 2016. "He is having a hard time accepting things but there is no violence currently," Fric-Shamji wrote in an email to her lawyer.

In the next days, Shamji attempted to change her mind, according to the agreed facts.

Two days later, the couple got into an argument in their bedroom while their three children were sleeping in the home.

Their oldest daughter, then 11-years-old, was awakened by the arguing. "She heard banging, her mom scream, then silence," according to the agreed facts.

Shamji hit Fric-Shamji several times, causing her serious injuries all over her body and then strangled her to death, Poon said. Testimony from the preliminary inquiry suggested Shamji, who was trained in jiu-jitsu, used a "rear naked chokehold." Her neck and ribs were broken.

Their daughter then entered the room.

According to a summary of her evidence from the preliminary hearing, she said she saw her father pull up the quilt to cover something and said he seemed shaky and panicky. She didn't see her mother in the room. She said her father ordered her to go back to her room and she did. She said she then heard banging from the closet where the suitcases were kept and went ask what was happening. She said her father told her that her mother was out for a walk.

According to the agreed statement of facts, Shamji put his wife's body into a suitcase and dumped it into the Humber River. The suitcase was found the next afternoon.

Within five hours of killing Fric-Shamji, he began texting her phone pretending he did not know where she was, according to evidence from the preliminary inquiry.

"Good morning. Not sure where u are. I guess I will get kids ready and take them to school. Pls call," said one message.

Shamji also told Ana Fric that her daughter had packed a suitcase before going to see her lover.

As he continued to perform surgeries he "lied to just about everyone he came into contact with as to his missing wife's whereabouts," according to the agreed facts. He also tried to shift suspicion onto his wife's lover, according to the agreed facts.

In pretrial motions last week Shamji said he would be conceding that he caused his wife's death and suggested that he might be putting forward a controversial partial defence of provocation, which could reduce the murder charge to manslaughter.

In order for such a defence to be successful, it would have to be proved that the victim's conduct must be an indictable offence and that an ordinary person would be deprived of the power of self-control in the moment.

Shamji was arrested on Dec. 2, 2016, and has remained in custody since. His application for bail in August 2017 was denied. A sentencing hearing is set for May 8. Shamji faces an automatic sentence of life in prison, with only a period of parole ineligibility between 10 and 25 years to be determined by a judge.

Of 311 cases reviewed between 2003 and 2017 in Ontario, 67 per cent involved a couple with an actual or pending separation.

Where there is a history of domestic violence, including emotional abuse, controlling behaviour and threats, the time between when a woman starts considering separation and several months after a separation is when she is at most risk of being killed by her partner, experts say.

"Often domestic violence is about one person trying to control or dominate their partner and when she says, I'm leaving, I'm gone, I'm out of here, he may present the most significant risk at that point in time when he recognizes that he is losing control," said Peter Jaffe, the academic director of Western University's Centre for Research & Education on Violence against Women & Children.

"This terrible murder is a textbook case of what we already know. This is when women are most likely to be killed," said Pamela Cross, the legal director at Luke's Place, adding that for many women it can be hard to believe that their partner is capable of murder.

And while assumptions are often made about who becomes a victim of domestic violence, the reality is that it remains a problem across all economic circumstances, cultural backgrounds and education levels, she said.

This tragedy "is yet another illustration that as a society we have failed to address this problem in a way that protects the victims, most of whom are women, and children," Cross said.

Fourteen women and children were killed by current or former intimate partners in the GTA last year.

If you or someone you know needs help you can call the Assaulted Women's Helpline:

1-866-863-0511 (Toll Free)

1-866-863-7868 (TTY)

416-863-0511 (Toronto)

Alyshah Hasham is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and court. Follow her on Twitter: @alysanmati

Alyshah Hasham is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and court. Follow her on Twitter: @alysanmati