Episode 116: Nadia Gehl

May 13, 2024

When a young woman is gunned down in her own neighborhood, police take desperate measures to hunt down her killer. Who killed Nadia Gehl?

Episode Media
Nadia Gehl (Hamilton Spectator)
Nadia Gehl and Ronald Cyr (CTV)
Walkway between Watercress Court and Ottawa Street South where Nadia was found (CTV)
Gun and clip found wrapped and hidden in ceiling (CTV)
Composite sketch released by police (CTV)
Dennis Zvolensky, Ronald Cyr, and Nashat Qahwash (CTV)
Episode Sources
Episode Transcript

Welcome back to Bite-Sized Crime. This week I’m bringing you a tragic case with many unexpected turns, but one that sadly feels all too familiar. This episode discusses sensitive topics, so listener discretion is advised.

On the morning of February 2, 2009, 28-year-old Nadia Gehl was awakened by the sound of her phone ringing. Her husband of eight months, Ronald Cyr, was calling to make sure she got up so she wouldn’t be late for work. In addition to her job as a veterinary technician, Nadia worked as an assistant manager at Toys R Us to help pay the mortgage on their house in the suburbs of Kitchener, Ontario.

Nadia got out of bed and quickly got ready for the day. She packed her lunch and dressed for the cold winter weather, pulling on a pink wool hat to keep her head warm. Around 8:45, Nadia said goodbye to the dog, grabbed her favorite Tinkerbell backpack, and made her way down the street to her usual bus stop.

Neighbors would later recall hearing three loud pops pierce the morning air, startling them out of their routines. It was an odd time for fireworks, especially with feet of snow covering the ground. They had no idea that a young woman had just been gunned down, only yards away from their front doors.

Around 9:30am, a woman jogging in the neighborhood spotted something in the snow. As she approached, she was shocked to see the lifeless body of Nadia Gehl, her pink hat lying in the snow beside her. The woman flagged down a passerby and told them to call for help, but when emergency personnel arrived at the scene a few minutes later, it was clear that there was no hope of saving Nadia. She was taken to a local hospital where she was declared dead. An autopsy would later reveal that she had been shot in the chest, then again at close range through her left temple. She had died instantly.

Across town, Nadia’s family was frantically trying to figure out where she was, unaware that their lives had just changed irrevocably. When Nadia hadn’t shown up for work and wasn’t answering her phone, the store manager had called Nadia’s parents’ house. Her brother Daniel had picked up and immediately figured out that something was wrong. Nadia would never miss a shift without telling someone. Daniel called Ron to see if he knew where his wife was, but Ron said that after he had called Nadia to wake her up, he had assumed she left for work as planned. Ron told Daniel to drive over to their house to check on her.

When Daniel pulled up to Ron and Nadia’s house on Watercress Court, he found caution tape and police cars blocking off the street. Confused, Daniel approached an officer and asked what was going on. It was then that he learned his sister was dead.

As investigators processed the bloody scene, they discovered two spent bullet casings lying in the snow, consistent with Nadia’s injuries. But when an officer picked up Nadia’s pink hat, a third bullet fell out. It appeared that whoever had killed her had fired a third shot and missed. Investigators determined that the bullets had likely come from a .32-caliber semi-automatic handgun. If they could find the gun, they might be able to find Nadia’s killer.

In the days after Nadia’s death, her family clung to each other for support. Her parents invited Ron to live with them for a while, worried that he would sink into a depression if he had to go back to the house he’d shared with Nadia. They planned the funeral services together, and on February 9, one week after Nadia’s death, they laid her to rest. Hundreds of people gathered at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Kitchener to say goodbye. In an interview with CTV, Ron expressed how much he loved and missed his wife and said, “She was very loved by her family and her friends.”

Early in the investigation, the Waterloo Regional Police released a composite sketch of a possible suspect. While canvassing the neighborhood, officers had spoken to an 11-year-old boy who said he heard gunshots on his way to school, but he thought they were firecrackers. Right after, he saw a man in a green hat running down the street. He provided a description of the man’s face to a sketch artist, and the image was circulated among local news outlets. Police asked the public to call in with any information.

Although police wouldn’t say publicly if the shooting had been a random attack or if Nadia had been targeted, behind the scenes, they had a strong suspicion that someone she knew very well was behind the attack: her husband, Ronald Cyr.

Nadia and Ron had met as teenagers and started dating during Nadia’s senior year. Ron was two years older than Nadia and had dreams of becoming a police officer. After graduating from Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate, Ron took a policing course at a local college and began working out regularly, motivated by the desire to stay in shape for when he eventually took the physical exam. In the meantime, he took a job with Nadia’s father and uncle at their law firm, working as a legal assistant. In 2005, Nadia and Ron bought a house in Kitchener, and three years later, in June of 2008, they tied the knot. They were happy and in love.

But investigators weren’t convinced. Of course, every good homicide investigation starts by looking at those closest to the victim, especially the spouse. But Ron Cyr was a stand-up guy. He didn’t have a drug problem or a gambling addiction, and his record was clean. He volunteered at a local community center, playing basketball with at-risk youth. He wasn’t the type of person who would murder his wife.

Or was he?

In the weeks after Nadia’s death, police officers performing surveillance noticed Ron making multiple calls from payphones around Kitchener and Waterloo. On one occasion, Ron was wearing a hoodie and a ski mask and looking around like he was afraid he would get caught. As far as investigators knew, Ron had a working cell phone, so why was he sneaking around town using public phones?

Then, the day after Nadia’s funeral, an officer witnessed Ron kissing another woman in the front seat of his black Jeep. This discovery led investigators down a brand new path.

When police had first interviewed Ron right after Nadia’s death, he had denied that there was any trouble in their marriage. According to Ron, Nadia was the perfect wife. They were happy together. But now, when confronted with an eyewitness and transcripts of his internet chats, Ron confessed. He had been having an affair with a coworker at the law firm, a law student named Michelle Brown.

Ron told investigators that he and Michelle had been seeing each other behind Nadia’s back for over a year. He claimed that he had ended the relationship before he and Nadia got married in June, but it wasn’t long before he and Michelle were back together. In fact, their chat logs showed that Michelle suspected she was pregnant. She and Ron had even discussed names for the baby.

But being a terrible husband didn’t make Ron a murderer. Besides, he had a solid alibi. At the time of Nadia’s murder, Ron was seen on camera at the bank and later at the courthouse. He couldn’t have been the one who shot Nadia.

Investigators weren’t giving up that easily, though. Digging into Ron and Nadia’s finances revealed that the couple was severely in debt. Between their hefty mortgage and over $25,000 in credit cards, they were struggling to pay their bills every month. However, they did each have half a million dollars in life insurance that could completely wipe out their debt if anything were to happen to them.

By now, investigators were convinced that Ron was somehow behind his wife’s murder. But in order to prove it, they would have to take drastic measures.

When police told Nadia’s family about the affair, Ron was fired from the law firm and kicked out of his in-laws’ house. He managed to find a job at a local furniture store. Also working there was an undercover police officer.

Over the next five months, the officer befriended Ron, covertly recording their conversations. He and Ron connected over basketball and ate lunch together, eventually hanging out after work, hitting up bars and strip clubs. The officer even told Ron all about his horrible ex-wife, how their breakup had been bitter and ugly. He asked Ron for advice – Ron had been married, what would he do if he was in this situation? Little did Ron know that this was all just a cover story. The officer continued to gain Ron’s trust, until one day, Ron mentioned a business venture he was considering.

According to Ron, a local canoe rental business was up for sale and he was thinking about buying it with two of his friends. The officer told Ron he might be interested in investing, but he needed a bit more information. Ron invited him to go visit the property with them so he could check it out for himself.

Ron and the officer met up with Ron’s friends – Dennis Zvolensky and Nashat Qahwash. The trio had been friends for years, having worked together at the Victoria Hills Community Centre in Kitchener. In fact, it was a friend of Zvolensky’s family who was selling the canoe business, so they knew they were getting a good deal. The officer knew that this was his way to the truth. He slowly built up a relationship with Zvolensky and Qahwash, earning their trust just like he had with Ron.

All the while, the officer was feeding the men stories of his “crazy ex-wife”. A female officer posed as the ex, calling him repeatedly and screaming at him over the phone. One day, in June of 2009, after overhearing yet another angry phone call, Zvolensky told the officer that he and Qahwash could solve all his problems. All they needed was a handgun and a silencer, and his ex-wife would be gone. Zvolensky was caught on tape saying that committing murder was “one of the easiest things to… get away with.”

The officer knew that he was officially in the inner circle now. He used Zvolensky’s offer to wheedle more information out of him. As they worked on a plan to kill the officer’s fictitious ex-wife, Zvolensky came close to directly confessing to Nadia’s murder, but he never quite crossed that line.

Ron, on the other hand, wasn’t so careful.

While hanging out together one evening, the officer mentioned to Ron that he and Zvolensky were planning to kill his ex-wife. He asked Ron for his advice – was it a good idea? Could he really trust Zvolensky?

Ron said yes. He had gotten Zvolensky and Qahwash to kill Nadia and no one suspected a thing.

In a stunning confession caught on tape, Ron casually outlined the plot he had hatched with his two best friends. According to Ron, Zvolensky and Qahwash had pulled their car into his neighborhood on the morning of February 2 and waited for Nadia to leave the house. When she did, they attacked, shooting her twice, then driving off before anyone saw them. By the time Nadia was found, Zvolensky and Qahwash were long gone.

By now, investigators knew that when Ron was sneaking up to payphones in the days after Nadia’s murder, he had been calling Zvolensky. Instead of using his cell phone, he’d been trying to cover his tracks.

The officer asked Ron what he had given his friends in return for them murdering his wife – it was a very risky favor. Ron said he promised them part of the life insurance money as soon as it came in. Then, he gave the officer a few more words of advice: have a really solid alibi and act sad when people ask.

Finally, after five months of undercover work, investigators had enough to make an arrest. In August of 2009, Ronald Cyr, Dennis Zvolensky, and Nashat Qahwash were arrested and charged with the murder Nadia Gehl.

After the arrests, police executed a search warrant at Qahwash’s home in Kitchener. Inside a basement closet, wrapped tightly in plastic and hidden in the ceiling tiles, investigators found a .32-caliber semi-automatic Mauser handgun with a loaded clip. Forensic analysis confirmed that it was the same gun used to murder Nadia Gehl. Zvolensky’s DNA was found on the handle of the gun, and Qahwash’s fingerprints were on the wrapped package. Text messages between the two men showed that they had been worried about their fingerprints being found on the spent shell casings left at the scene.

In January of 2012 – almost two years after Nadia’s death – Ronald Cyr, Dennis Zvolensky, and Nashat Qahwash went on trial for her murder. During the four-month trial, prosecutors laid out a mountain of evidence before the jury, alleging that Ron – neck-deep in debt and carrying on a year-long affair – had orchestrated a plot to murder his wife, asking his two best friends to carry it out. Jurors listened to expert testimony about DNA evidence and cell phone data, ballistics and chat logs. But the most compelling testimony was that of the defendants themselves. No one expected them to turn on each other in such a dramatic fashion.

Nashat Qahwash took the stand first, tearfully telling the jury that he had paid $1700 to buy a gun for Zvolensky, thinking he wanted to use it to rob some drug dealers. But when they met up on the afternoon of February 2, 2009, Zvolensky, his best friend since childhood, had confessed that he’d murdered Nadia, all because Ron promised him a big payout. Qahwash said, “I was confused, I was shocked. I didn’t understand why he would do that.”

Under cross-examination, Qahwash denied any involvement in the murder beyond purchasing the gun and later hiding it in his basement ceiling. He told the jury that he had attended Nadia’s funeral and told her father that he was sorry for what had happened. He was devastated by what his best friend had done.

When Zvolensky took the stand, he claimed that Qahwash was the one who wanted the gun, not him. He told the jury that on the morning of the murder, Qahwash said to meet him in the Forest Heights neighborhood, an area just across the parkway from Ron and Nadia’s house. Qahwash had handed him the gun and told him to hang onto it. When Zvolensky heard about Nadia’s murder the next day, he suspected that Qahwash was responsible.

However, the prosecution didn’t buy his story. They mentioned that on the night before the murder, Ron had sent Zvolensky a text that said, “Can you play ball on Tuesday, the game is at 8:40.” The prosecution claimed that there was no basketball game that day, that they were referring to the plan in coded language. Nadia had been shot around 8:45 on Monday morning, it couldn’t be a coincidence.

Finally, Ron took the stand in his own defense. He told the jury that Zvolensky and Qahwash were entirely to blame – he had nothing to do with his wife’s murder. According to Ron, it all centered around the canoe rental business. Zvolensky wanted them to go into business together, but when Ron told him that Nadia was against it, Zvolensky became enraged. He and Qahwash had murdered Nadia to get revenge and had kept the gun to blackmail Ron into the business deal. If he didn’t finance the business, they would frame him for his wife’s murder.

When asked about his affair with Michelle Brown, Ron admitted that he had been unfaithful to his wife, but he told the jury that he still loved Nadia more than anything and would never have been a part of such a horrible plot.

In the end, the jury didn’t believe any of their claims of innocence. In April of 2012, Ronald Cyr, Dennis Zvolensky, and Nashat Qahwash were all found guilty of first degree murder. They received automatic life sentences with no chance of parole for 25 years.

After the verdict, Nadia’s family told reporters that although they were relieved that her killers were finally facing justice, they still didn’t have the answers they truly needed. Her father told CTV, “The thing that bothers me about all of this the most is thinking about what happened that day, my daughter coming out of her house being carefree just like she always was and turning around and seeing some bastard, who she knew, shooting her. And the last thing she saw was that, and then dying in a snow bank by herself.”

In April of 2017, Ronald Cyr, Dennis Zvolensky, and Nashat Qahwash appealed their convictions, but their request was denied by the Ontario Court of Appeals. They are currently serving out their life sentences.

Nadia Gehl will be remembered for her kind nature and loving heart. She was bright and creative, loyal and compassionate. She loved animals and people and wanted to make the world a better place. I hope that her friends and family can take comfort in her memory.