Wife opens up on husband’s Detroit killing 31 years ago

George Hunter
The Detroit News

She changed her name and left Michigan in 1990, tired of answering questions about her husband’s murder, a tawdry case that made headlines.

After years of keeping her past a secret, the woman formerly known as Jan Canty says she’s finally ready to publicly discuss her side of a story that shocked her Grosse Pointe neighbors and forced her into hiding.

“Over the years I realized I was paying an enormous price for leading a redacted life,” she told The Detroit News.

Her late husband, Alan Canty, was a respected psychologist. In July 1985, after his body parts were found in northern Michigan, police revealed he had been living a double life as the suitor of Dawn Spens, a Cass Corridor prostitute whose pimp bludgeoned Canty to death and dismembered him.

During his two-year relationship with 18-year-old Spens, Canty gave more than $100,000 to her and her boyfriend/pimp, John “Lucky” Fry, 18 years her senior.

Both were heroin addicts who scammed Canty until Fry killed him by hitting him in the head with a Louisville Slugger baseball bat. Fry dismembered him and scattered his body parts across Michigan.

Similar to Jane Bashara’s 2012 killing, orchestrated by her husband Bob, the Canty case was heavily covered by the media, in large part because it involved a prominent Grosse Pointer whose sexual obsessions led him to live a double life.

Now, nearly 30 years after her husband was killed, Jan Canty is opening up about the impact of the crime on her life, how she discovered the lurid details surrounding her spouse’s secret life and whether she forgives him. Canty said as part of her personal therapy she is writing a book about the incident and is shopping the manuscript around to publishers.

Canty said she was angry after learning of her husband’s secret.

“Initially I was in a state of shock. I felt numb; like I was sleepwalking. I felt like a robot. It took a long time for what happened to really sink in. Once it did, I went from baffled and confused and sad that he had died, to angry as hell.

“I wasn’t really mortified when all the details of his double life started coming out, because I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong,” said Canty, 65, a psychologist working in another state under a different name she did not want to reveal.

“More than anything, I was mad. How dare he do this to himself and his family?”

After former Detroit News staff writer Lowell Cauffiel wrote a best-selling book about the case in 1988, “that stirred up the whole thing again,” Canty said. “I was tired of being known as the widow; tired of people feeling sorry for me. I figured the only way out of this mess was to change my name and leave the state, which I did.”

Canty said she remarried, adopted two children, and enjoyed a successful career. Despite the success, she said she recently realized she couldn’t run from her past.

“I was sitting at a lecture at work, and the speaker made the point: When you have a secret, or seal off a part of your life, it takes a toll,” she said. “That was a factor that prompted me to open up and tell my side.”

Cauffiel, now a television and movie screenwriter, said he became fascinated with the case, which he covered for The News’ Sunday magazine, before writing his book.

“Here, you had a psychologist who healed people, but he could not heal himself,” said Cauffiel, who is writing the foreword to Canty’s book. “That to me was the ultimate irony of the case. The result was, he launched into a Jekyll and Hyde lifestyle.”

Lies and suspicions

Canty said she was infatuated when she first met the man she would marry.

“He was 18 years older than me, and I was impressed by him,” she said. “He was the kind of man who needed to be the authority; he needed to be Big Daddy. The women he was drawn to, including myself, were women without resources, who weren’t very sophisticated. He wanted to be needed and admired.

“The more I grew into an independent, educated woman, the less interest he had in me,” she said. “So he sought out others.”

Canty said that after they were married about 10 years, she began to suspect something was amiss.

“He started canceling lunch dates with me. He was evasive; short. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew he was holding something back. I’m thinking, ‘Is he gambling? Is there another woman?’ I knew there was a black box somewhere.

“I confronted him, and he denied there was anything going on,” Canty said.

It was a lie.

Alan Canty often left his office in the Fisher Building and drove a few blocks south to the Cass Corridor, where he trolled for prostitutes.

“I found out later there were many others; all women in their early 20s with dark hair parted down the middle,” Jan Canty said.

He became smitten by Spens, a thin brunette who had left her middle-class home in Harper Woods to live in the Corridor with her boyfriend, a man named Don who abused her.

Spens eventually left Don and began dating Fry, turning tricks to raise money to feed their heroin habit.

Police said Spens and Fry scammed Alan Canty out of thousands of dollars. Canty visited Spens almost every day, although the two rarely had sex. He paid her handsomely for her time, and would also pay Fry to let them spend time alone.

Canty bought Spens a car, and paid for her and Fry to move from their apartment into a small house in southwest Detroit. Spens used Canty’s credit card to furnish the house.

Trail of body parts

Jan Canty said months before his murder, her husband was hospitalized for six weeks after suffering what she called a “psychotic break.”

“As I was driving him to the hospital, he was saying nonsensical things like, ‘Have I been bad?’ and ‘Cass Corridor.’ He kept saying, ‘Did I stand tall,’ which is something his mother always said.”

While her husband was hospitalized, Canty said she cleaned up his office. “I saw all these unpaid bills, one of which was hospital insurance,” she said. “I’m thinking, ‘why are we behind on all these bills?’ ”

At about 3 p.m. on July 13, 1985, Canty said she had a brief telephone conversation with her husband. They talked about the weather, and he said he would be home about 6. Her last words to him: “Be safe.”

The psychologist never made it home.

A few days later, Canty was asked to come to Detroit Police Headquarters at 1300 Beaubien, to meet with homicide Inspector Gil Hill, who had just appeared with Eddie Murphy in the blockbuster movie “Beverly Hills Cop.”

Hill told Canty her husband’s torched car had been found in southwest Detroit. Hill asked if there were money problems, and told her his instinct told him her husband had been killed.

Canty wrote in her manuscript: “I was unaware detectives had more than ‘hunches’ ... Fry bragged of his deadly intentions to several threadbare acquaintances and left a trail of evidence a police cadet could unscramble.”

After Canty’s body parts were found spread out over 250 miles — including a portion of his leg on Interstate 75 in Auburn Hills; and his head, hands and feet near a cabin in Alanson, about 10 miles north of Petoskey — Fry and Spens were arrested.

“The prosecution alleged it was an extortion attempt gone bad,” Cauffiel said. “But Lucky told me, ‘why would I kill the goose that laid the golden egg?’ He told me he simply exploded because Al had pushed him during an argument.”

The argument, Cauffiel said, was over Spens’ drug use. Fry supposedly wanted to help her get clean, but Canty discouraged it so she would remain dependent on him.

Jan Canty said she believes that theory. “He needed people to depend on him,” she said. “That was his nature.”

Fry was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. He died in 1995. Spens was charged with dismemberment and was given probation. She reportedly has been drug-free for years, married and raised children, and is living in Michigan.

Jan Canty said she is still recovering from events more than 30 years ago. “You don’t get over it like a cold. For the most part, you move on with your life. But there are certain things that jar you back into it.’

“For instance, I was watching ‘The Sopranos,’ and there was an episode where they put a guy into a bathtub and they were going to cut him up. I couldn’t sleep that night.”

When asked if she ever forgave her husband, Jan Canty said: “No.”

“I believe forgiveness needs to be earned,” she said. “I do not wish to give more to someone who already took too much from me.”