Saskatoon

Sask. man who insisted his wife died by suicide pleads guilty to murdering her with poison

Michael MacKay killed his wife Cindy by serving her a cup of strychnine-laced Gatorade in February 2020. On Monday, he was sentenced to life in prison.

Michael MacKay sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 10 years

A man dressed in a black hoodie and handcuffs is escorted by police.
Michael MacKay pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, admitting to poisoning his wife Cindy at their farmhouse. MacKay is seen walking with an RCMP officer at Court of King's Bench in North Battleford, Sask., on Nov. 20, 2023. (Heywood Yu/The Canadian Press)

Warning: this story contains distressing details.

Michael MacKay told police officers that his wife Cindy probably died by suicide, but the truth is he served her a lethal dose of poison concealed in a mug of Gatorade.

Cindy fell severely ill at her rural home on Feb. 7, 2020, and died in the hospital a few days later. Her husband Michael was charged with first-degree murder more than a year after her death, although he repeatedly told police he was not to blame. 

Now, the story of what Michael actually did to Cindy has come out.

Michael pleaded guilty to second-degree murder on Monday at the Court of King's Bench in Battleford, Sask.

"It has been nearly four years since Cindy was murdered and today we finally got some justice. The terrible things [Michael] did to her are finally being told," said Cindy's brother, Tyler Mack, after the hearing.

"He has told many lies to many people about what happened to Cindy, so it is a great relief to all of us that the record is finally being set straight." 

A woman sits on a bench holding a baby. She has her arm wrapped around a toddler who is standing beside her.
Cindy MacKay's relatives said she was full of love for her children and wanted to create a perfect life for them. CBC has blurred the children's faces to protect their identities. (Submitted by Tyler Mack)

There was no trial because of Michael's guilty plea, but details of what happened were revealed in an agreed statement of facts.

Cindy and Michael got married in 2005 after meeting at a Saskatoon church. The couple had three children and in 2015 they moved to Cindy's family farm, where she had grown up. 

Cindy continued to work as a registered nurse after they settled on the farm, until her youngest daughter suffered a "freak accident."  After that, she became a full-time caregiver and homemaker while Michael handled the cattle operation on the farm.

Ominous messages before murder

While they seemed like a typical small-town family from the outside, investigators found that Michael had been foreshadowing Cindy's fate to some of his female acquaintances.

In December 2019, Michael told a close female friend he would need a place to "lie low" come February 2020.

A few months before Cindy died, Michael started having sex with a woman he met on a "hookup site." On Feb. 6, 2020, the woman texted him inquiring about Cindy's health.

He responded saying "goodbye will likely be in the next few days."

'We finally got some justice': Brother of woman who was fatally poisoned at her farmhouse says she was a devoted mother

6 months ago
Duration 2:37
Cindy MacKay, 38, was killed in 2020. MacKay’s husband Michael pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, admitting to poisoning her at their farmhouse. In several victim impact statements, Cindy’s family members expressed intense anguish and anger over the loss of their loved one. They say she was a devoted mother to three children, who loved her kids, her animals and her community.

On the morning of Feb. 7, 2020, Cindy was feeling unwell so Michael took two of the kids to school. When he returned home, he grabbed a mug from the pantry and mixed Cindy a drink from a powdered Gatorade container. He added "an unmeasured but lethal amount of strychnine."

The poison had been on the farm because Cindy's parents used it for pests. Doctors say it is a very painful way to die.  

Shortly after downing the laced drink, Cindy went into severe medical distress and Michael made frantic, emotional calls to 911. Their youngest daughter was told to wait outside while Cindy screamed in pain and arched her back as her muscles contracted.

She was taken to the hospital in Battleford, then airlifted to a hospital in Saskatoon, but never recovered. She was taken off life-support on Feb. 12, 2020. 

A woman stands, grinning, with a bird perched on her arm.
Cindy MacKay loved to travel and she loved animals. Her brother said she was known for getting too attached to foster cats and taking them in as her own. (Submitted by Tyler Mack)

Hospital staff called the police, saying the death seemed suspicious. Michael suggested to police that it may have been suicide.

According to Oryn Holm, senior Crown prosecutor, murder by strychnine is extremely rare.

There was no direct evidence, like eyewitness testimony, but the Crown developed its theory based on a series of circumstances that were suspicious, ultimately charging Michael with first-degree murder.

He pleaded to the lesser offence of second-degree murder. 

Michael MacKay spoke briefly in court. 

"I acknowledge all of my many failings, as a husband, as a father, and I just want the court to know that I am truly sorry."

Justice M.L. Dovell accepted a joint sentencing submission from the defence and Crown, ordering a sentence of life in prison, with eligibility to apply for parole in 10 years.

"Ten years isn't even close to enough time to repay what he has taken from us. He should be in prison for the rest of his life," said Mack, Cindy's brother.

A woman is pictured outdoors with her three children.
Cindy MacKay was a devoted, loving mother to her three girls. CBC has blurred their faces to protect their identities. (Submitted by Tyler Mack)

The tragedy has deeply affected Cindy's loved ones and their community.

On Monday, dozens of people attended the court hearing to show support for Cindy and her family — so many that several had to listen from the hallway and others sat in the jurors box. Many were dressed in red, Cindy's favourite colour.  

"Cindy was a truly great person and a wonderful mother to her three children. She was kind and compassionate. She loved animals and adopted as many as she could. She was well liked in the community," said Mack. 

"The world was a better place with her in it."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kendall Latimer

Journalist

Kendall Latimer (she/her) is a journalist with CBC News in Saskatchewan. You can reach her by emailing kendall.latimer@cbc.ca.