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1983: Ex-wife of Colin Thatcher murdered

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On the evening of Jan. 21, 1983, prominent Regina resident JoAnn Wilson left a work meeting bound for home. It would be the last time anyone saw her alive. Less than an hour later a passerby would discover her beaten body lying in a pool of blood inside her own garage. News of her death spread fast, thanks in part to her relationship with her former husband, the flamboyant and controversial politician Colin Thatcher. This report from CBC's The National looks at one of the most notorious murder cases in Saskatchewan's history.

JoAnn Wilson and Colin Thatcher were married for 17 years, and had three children together, before they filed for divorce in 1979. In the ensuing court proceedings the truth about their troubled marriage began to leak out, with stories of physical and emotional abuse becoming public during a bitter custody battle for their children. By 1983, Wilson had remarried and was settling into a new life when tragedy struck on a cold winter night.
• JoAnn Wilson, 43, was two years into her second marriage to oil company executive Tony Wilson when she was murdered. Wilson and her nine-year-old daughter Stephanie (from her marriage with Thatcher) were sick at home when she was killed.

• Around 6 p.m. a passerby named Craig Dotson heard screams coming from the family's garage. As he approached the house he saw a man leaving the garage and entered to find Wilson's lifeless body.

• Police reported that Wilson had been attacked as she got out of her car, was struck repeatedly with a sharp object and then shot in the head.

• Police sent copies of a composite drawing of the suspect to police forces across North America, and dedicated more than half their homicide department, to the case. Later in the week, Regina police also offered up a $50,000 reward for the capture of Wilson's killer.

• Suspicion swirled around Wilson's ex-husband, Colin Thatcher, who had resigned from his job as Saskatchewan's minister of Energy and Mines just five days before the murder. Following their separation in August 1979, Thatcher and Wilson were embroiled in a very public legal battle over alimony, property issues and custody of their children.

• They settled out of court in July 1981, with Wilson agreeing to receive reduced alimony payments and to give up custody of their 13-year-old son Regan. (Thatcher already had custody of their oldest son Gregg, while Stephanie was in the custody of her mother). The settlement came three months after Wilson was shot in the shoulder while emptying her dishwasher in her home. No one was ever arrested in the shooting.

• In July 1981 Wilson held a press conference. She explained that she decided to settle after being "terrorized" for months by an unknown tormentor. "My tires were slashed, sugar was put in my gas tank and there were phone calls with nobody at the other end," she said.

• The day after Wilson's murder, her nine-year-old daughter was abducted from the home of a family friend. She was recovered unharmed from a home in Moose Jaw, several hours away. Wilson was buried in Regina on Tuesday, Jan. 25. Thatcher did not attend. A day later, Colin Thatcher and his attorney, Tony Merchant, were arrested and charged in Stephanie's abduction. The charges were later dropped after Merchant pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of mischief.

• On May 7, 1984, following a 16-month investigation, Thatcher was also charged with first-degree murder. He maintained his innocence, saying he was home in Moose Jaw at the time Wilson was killed - a story backed up by his two sons.

• Crown prosecutors presented a slew of damning evidence against Thatcher, including recent credit card receipts in his name found at the crime scene and several eyewitness accounts placing his blue Oldsmobile in the area in the weeks leading up to the murder.

• Investigators relied on the confession of an ex-con named Gary Anderson, who served as an accomplice, buying a gun and silencer for Thatcher. According to Anderson, Thatcher disguised himself with wig, a beard and sunglasses before committing the crime.

• On Nov. 6, 1984, a jury found Thatcher guilty of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to life (25 years) in prison. Thatcher's lengthy appeal battle ended in May 1987 when the Supreme Court rejected his application.

• Thatcher was granted parole in November 2006.

Also on January 21:
1839: Queen's College, renamed Acadia College in 1841, is opened in Wolfville, N.S., with 21 students. It becomes a university in 1891.
1900: A second contingent of Canadian troops - 1,281 men in all - set sail from Halifax for South Africa, to fight in the Boer War.
1910: The Soo Express from Montreal derails and crashes into the Spanish River west of Sudbury killing 42.
1975: Firefighters called to a blaze at a Montreal bar find the bodies of 13 people in a closet. Police say the deaths are underworld grudge killings.
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Jan. 21, 1983
Guest(s): Jim Kane, Ed Swayze
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Paul Workman
Duration: 2:20

Last updated: October 23, 2014

Page consulted on October 23, 2014

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