'A big cut on his neck': Father recalls finding son dead, granddaughter missing at Alberta triple-murder trial
WARNING: Story contains graphic details that may be disturbing to some readers
Bill Blanchette grimaced at times but kept his composure as he told a triple-murder trial in Lethbridge, Alta., about the morning he found his son — cold to the touch and wrapped in a blood-soaked blanket — on the bathroom floor of his son's home in Blairmore.
"He was mostly wrapped in that blanket, on his back, between the toilet and the vanity ... a big cut on his neck," he told the jury Monday, on Day 4 of Derek Saretzky's trial in Alberta Court of Queen's Bench.
Saretzky, 24, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the slayings of Terry Blanchette, 27, and his daughter Hailey Dunbar-Blanchette, 2, and Hanne Meketech, a 69-year-old woman whose body was found in her mobile home in the neighbouring community of Coleman.
Saretzky is also charged with committing an indignity to the body of the toddler.
Gruesome photos of the crime scenes were presented to the jury earlier in the trial, and the Crown referred to some of those images during Bill's testimony Monday, but refrained from displaying the most graphic images of his son's body.
Bill told the court that he had been at his son's home on Sept. 13, 2015, to babysit Hailey while Terry was at work.
It was something he did regularly when Hailey was living with his son, as part of a shared-custody agreement with the toddler's mother.
Blanchette said he decided "on the spur of the moment" to drop by the house again on Sept. 14, on his way to Calgary to get some work done on his vehicle.
"When I got there, I saw his car was there, so he was obviously home," he told the court.
"I went up to the door and knocked on the door, opened the door, stuck my head in and asked if anybody was around. ... No response whatsoever."
Bill said he then went back his car, sent Terry a text message, and again received no reply.
He then drove to the neighbouring community of Frank to fuel up his car and check his lottery tickets. From there he called Terry's cellphone, which rang through to voicemail.
He then decided to drop by his son's home once more, this time venturing farther into the home. The front door was unlocked, which Bill said wasn't unusual.
He saw what appeared to be a blanket on the ground, poking out of the bathroom into the hallway, and went to investigate.
"I turned the bathroom light on, and that's when I saw Terry," he testified.
Despite being in "a little bit of shock," Bill says he used Terry's cellphone, which was in the bathroom with the body, to call 911.
He also went upstairs to Hailey's bedroom to look for his granddaughter, but found no sign of her.
He remembers noticing the toddler's crib seemed unusually empty, as it was typically full of "all sorts of pillows and blankets and toys."
An Amber Alert was issued for the girl, but she was found dead the next day in a rural area near Blairmore.
Court also heard Monday from Terry Blanchette's neighbour Darren Rypien, who testified that he was awoken by a noise and saw a white commercial van in his back alley around 3:30 a.m. on Sept. 14, 2015.
"I heard a child's voice either in the van or around the van," Rypien said.
"It was a whimpering, whining, screaming kind of noise."
He described the van as having a distinct feature he called a "buggy whip" — a type of extended antenna atop the vehicle with a reflective flag on it.
A vehicle matching that same description was captured on surveillance footage recorded between Sept. 8 and 9 at an Esso gas station in Coleman, Alta. — a neighbouring community about one kilometre east of Blairmore — according to testimony from Mountie Chris Eklund, who was involved in the investigation of Hanne Meketech's killing.
Meketech's body was discovered Sept. 9 in the bedroom of her Coleman home.
- Hanne Meketech knew Derek Saretzky and likely kept $90K in her mobile home, triple-murder trial hears
Eklund said white vans with the distinctive "buggy whips" were well known around town as belonging to the fleet of Prestige Cleaners, a company owned by the Saretzky family.
Court heard previously that one of the vans had been moved without authorization around the time that Hailey went missing.
A company van seized by RCMP tested positive for blood stains all over the vehicle, the jury has already heard.
Using a chemical that reacts with blood to glow blue, police found traces on the driver's seat, steering wheel, window crank, floor, side door, and door handle, as well as a large smear on the van's floor that included a print of a bare foot.
Court heard two rolled up mats consistent with mats that were missing from the van were seized from Saretzky's apartment, which was located next to Prestige Cleaners in Blairmore.
The trial is expected to last three to four weeks in total, hear from dozens of witnesses and include nearly 40 exhibits, some of them quite gruesome, the Crown has warned.
Saretzky was charged with two counts of first-degree murder two days after Hailey's remains were found.
Seven months later, police charged him with first-degree murder in the death of Meketech.
The trial resumes Tuesday and the Crown is expected to call the accused's father, Larry Saretzky, as a witness.
- Follow the latest in the trial from our reporters in the courtroom here.