Some people think Laura Wigelsworth's death is dredging up Vanastra's ghosts

As friends and family pay their respects to Laura Wigelsworth, some are drawing parallels between her case and that of school girl Lynne Harper.

While family and friends bury a loved one, some say the tragedy is digging up memories of the past

Mourners stand in line outside a local funeral home in Clinton, Ont., waiting to pay their final respects to Laura Wigelsworth and her family. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Vanastra is a place haunted by its own history.

Not only do the crumbling ruins of a top secret Second World War era air force base still dot the landscape, the village has other ghosts that have shaped the course of Canadian legal history.

Maybe it's why local convenience store co-owner Angie Demars can't help but summon the past when asked about a recent homicide that's turned her village upside down. 

"It feels like 1959 all over again," she said from behind the counter of Buckey Joe's General Store, where neighbours come to get milk, cigarettes or even the latest gossip. 

Ghosts of the past

The village of Vanastra, just outside of Clinton, Ont., was once home to a top secret air force base during the Second World War. Many of the ruined buildings still haunt the village's landscape. (Colin Butler/CBC News)
Demars says of much the talk lately has been about the death of Laura Wigelsworth and the arrest of the 27-year-old woman's fiancé, Corey Volland, who the mother of three was set to marry in August.
Police charged then 14-year-old Stephen Truscott three days after finding his schoolmate's body. (CBC)

Demars, like many in the village of 650 or so people, believes Volland didn't commit the crime.

She can't help but draw parallels between the Wigelsworth case and the 1959 killing of schoolgirl Lynne Harper, whose body, locals say, was found a short distance away almost 60 years ago. 
Lynne Harper, 12, was found dead at the side of a road just outside Vanastra. (CBC)

"We've read the books on the Stephen Truscott murder," she said. "Those of us who've been here a long time in the community think that this is an investigation going all wrong or being botched up." 

The Truscott case is one of the most famous and controversial in Canadian legal history.

Stephen Truscott was only 14 when he gave his 12-year-old schoolmate Lynne Harper a short ride on his bicycle just outside the air force base that now lies in ruins within Vanastra's midst. 

When the girl was found dead in a woodlot not far from a rural road, Truscott was arrested, tried and sentenced to hang.

'Miscarriage of justice'

Flowers mark the place where provincial police found the lifeless body of Laura Wigelsworth on Front Road just outside of Vanastra, Ont. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

The boy became Canada's youngest death row inmate at 14, when he was convicted and sentenced to hang in connection with the 1959  death of schoolmate Lynne Harper. 

Truscott spent four years on death row before his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. He was then paroled in 1969, where he seemingly vanished from the public eye. 

It wasn't until 48 years after his original 1959 conviction that Truscott reemerged in the public eye. In 2007, the Ontario Court of Appeal acquitted Truscott, calling his case "a miscarriage of justice." 

In 2008, the provincial government apologized to Truscott and paid him $6.5 million in compensation for his nearly half century long ordeal. 

Not everyone sees similarities

Vanastra is still haunted by derelict buildings that once made up a top secret Second World War era airforce base. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Truscott had always maintained his innocence and a judicial review found his original 1959 conviction based on bad science. 

In the end, the Truscott case became the most legendary wrongful conviction in Canadian history and, as such, much like the Canadian Air Force base that once occupied the village's current footprint, an indelible part of the community.

It might be why people like Demars, thinks Corey Volland is innocent. 

"They have the wrong guy," she said. "I can't just help feel there's someone else out there responsible for this. There's just so many questions." 

While many people are drawing links between the two cases, not everyone sees the similarities. 

Some don't see the value of digging up the past, especially as friends and family of Laura Wigelsworth pay their final respects to the 27-year-old mother. 

Bernie Dupuis rolls his blue eyes when asked whether he sees any parallels between the two homcides.​

"No," he said. "It's a simple reason that it happened so many years ago." 

Instead, Dupuis frowns as he reflects on the tragic death of a 27-year-old mother who was about to embark on a new life as a married woman. 

"The man was supposed to marry her in August," he said. "27-years-old, it's just a shame."

Local lore has it that the village got its name by fusing 'van,' the first part of the Dutch last name of the man who bought the land from military with the latin motto of the Royal Canadian Air Force 'ad astra.'

About the Author

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca