#13 – Blood Runs Cold – Thelma Clapham

The golden years. A time for rest, relaxation, routine and for many, adventures.  A time period for which many of us joke around about, but secretly long for, during our busy work days or our long commutes. No 4:30 wakeup calls, no small kids bustling under feet, no emotional teens that you are guiding to adulthood and for many of us, no young men and women we are financing through university or college. Finally, a time to breathe and enjoy the things we took advantage of leading up to this moment.

Sometimes that journey through life is not easy, it loops and turns, with it’s highs and lows. It may not have been the exact way you would have imagined it, but you made it and you intend to enjoy what time you have left.

We travel though our time with the weight of our expectations, knowing all to well what awaits at the end of this great race. If we make it to the end of our golden years, we often hope that our transition from life will be quick, painless, without fear and surrounded by those we love.

Thelma’s transition from life was brutal, with great fear, and alone, aside from her killer. This is Thelma Clapham’s story.

When Thelma was 75, she moved into a 1-bedroom subsidized city-housing apartment geared towards “at risk” seniors who were still mostly independent. She lived there alone for the next 4 years. Likely the first she’s lived on her own after a log marriage. It’s uncertain where her husband resided, but at that age it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume he needed additional care.

With the ever-rising cost of rent in the greater Toronto area, and the likely need for additional care for her husband, city housing was a great option. Here the rent is calculated based on a percentage of your income, and not based on current market value.  In addition, this city housing for seniors is partnered with St. Joseph’s Home Care and Catholic Family Services, which together, creates a “neighbourhood model for seniors”. Essentially, a team of on-site personal support workers would have access to the building between 7am to 7pm, Monday through Friday. This would range from personal assistance (dressing / bathing / medication), homemaking (light cleaning / laundry / cooking) to safety checks. These services are available for residents through an application process. 

The building where Thelma lived is a high-rise in the downtown area of Hamilton. The building houses 198 apartments and the entire building is geared towards seniors. You need to be 60+ to be able to reside there.

There are also different activities that are arranged, such as bus trips to do groceries, Bingo nights, and manicure services

In short, there are many non-resident people who would legitimately have open access to the building during those days & hours, and wouldn’t be questioned being seen.

But, residents, their visitors, and the personal support workers are not the only ones who can access the building. I completed a recent test on the security of this current building.

I was able to quickly enter the building, without issues, and was not questioned. There appears to be a buzzing system, however I was able to easily tailgate in behind another person. There was basically no distance between the front door and the second door entering the building. There are cameras by the front doors and in the foyer in front of the elevators. There did not appear to be any cameras in the elevator. Thelma lived on the 9th floor. Her apartment was the second to last one at the end of a long narrow hallway. Coincidently, during my visit, one the residents were in their apartment with their door open, living with a false sense of security. There were no cameras on the individual floors. There are a few different stair cases on each level. None of these stair wells have ay additional security (i.e. no security pass to enter / exit or key, no cameras). Thelma’s apartment was near one of the stair wells.

226 Rebecca Street, Hamilton, ON

Door to Thelma’s Apartment
Hallway – Thelma’s apartment is second to last down this hallway (on left). The door on the right is a stairwell

The lack of security at the city housing buildings have led to increased violence and drug dealings. Just last year in, on December 1st, the police were called to investigate the death of a woman found in the lobby. The deceased woman did not reside there

Now that described the layout and location of the crime scene, gone over the amount of people who were not residents who would have legitimate access to the building, as well as assessed the lack of security, we have somewhat of an understanding of the community in which Thelma was living as well as contributing reasons to the fact the case remains open and unsolved.  So, lets go over the facts and information that we do know.

This Thursday was mostly like any other Thursday in the building. Thelma was to have the cleaning lady come and clean her apartment and she was to go on her scheduled bus outing to the grocery store, which was always chided for, for being the last one on the bus.

Thelma didn’t show up to the bus outing for a regular grocery shopping trip, some of the other regular shoppers grew worried and went to her apartment. There they noticed 2 days worth of newspapers piling up at her door, never a good sign.  Leaving the newspaper to pile up at her door was something that Thelma never did. They went to the superintendent who had the two building security tenants go do a wellness check while she called 911.

Meanwhile, the cleaning lady that usually cleaned her apartment, among other units, was asking her neighbour, for whom she also provided cleaning services, if Thelma was sick as she knocked on her door and there was no answer.

Doug and his partner, the two building security tenants, got the keys and made their way to Thelma’s unit. They knocked and waited, no answer. They called her name, and still no answer. By this time is was 11:30 in the morning, and finally they took their key and unlocked her door. When Doug and his partner entered the apartment, they were taken aback by what they saw. They noticed her foot first. There she was laying face down on her bedroom floor. At first, they thought maybe she had fallen and couldn’t get up. 911 was called by the superintendent.

When the police arrived, the residents had already caught wind that Thelma was deceased and were trying to understand what the circumstances were. They were shocked to find out she was dead. She was well liked in the building and was just starting to feel better after her pacemaker implant. So much so that she told some of the other tenants that they would soon see her back at their regular bingo night. The last time someone was confirmed to have seen Thelma alive was on Tuesday, November 30th. Two days before her body was discovered. 

Law enforcement immediately considered her death suspicious and the scene and case was handed over to the major crime unit.

What gave them this indication? Initially they specified it was because of the location of her body and items found in her apartment. An autopsy was performed the following day. The pathologist confirmed that her cause of death was blunt force trauma and method of death was homicide. Her death was not caused by a fall; it was intentional.  

Police spent the next 5-7 days in the building with a forensics team combing through Thelma’s apartment and investigators speaking to as many people as possible. Overall, they spoke to over 200 people between December 2nd, 2004 to present.

While the police were on scene, Thelma’s son Greg was calling his mom and leaving a message for her on her answering machine saying he was coming over, warning her that if she was there to stay there. He had been calling her and leaving messages and wasn’t getting any call back. Thelma had one of those answering machines where you can hear the person leaving a message so the police heard Greg’s message and were waiting for him by the door when he arrived.

Back in Thelma’s apartment, the Hamilton police called in specialists from the Waterloo police to assist with blood spatter analysis.

A lot can be learned from blood patterns at a crime scene. It can tell you the type of weapon used, the direction in which the item struck the victim, the force that was likely used, where the attack took place and the relative positions of those involved. This can speak volumes as to what occurred and provide vital clues of the attacker. For example, If the item or weapon was heavy and hard to maneuver then this would indicate that the attacker would be fairly strong. And, based on the directionality of the blood stains, the specialist can determine a point of origin, which may give an indication of the perpetrator’s height. Each drop of blood is going to strike a surface at it’s on unique angle from a unique direction. Picture hitting a sponge soaked in food colouring, how would that hit the wall? What angle and direction. A point of origin can tell you if the person was standing or near the floor when struck and how many blows they received.

A weapon was not found on scene; however, law enforcement believe they know what was used to kill Thelma. Obviously, the killer left the scene with it. And remember how the door was locked for the two building security tenants? They needed to unlock the door to enter Thelma’s apartment. There was no forced entry into her apartment. I’m not certain what kind of locking mechanism would be on the door and if you would need a key to lock it. Some doors you can push and turn the door handle from the inside and then close the door and the bottom lock will be locked. Early news articles did not indicate if the deadbolt was locked. When I went to the scene the door handles did not look like these types of knobs or handles, though this could have been updated in the 15 years since this brutal slaying took place.

The apartment wasn’t turned over as though it was a robbery, however the police did say that some cash had been stolen. That being said they couldn’t establish a motive, although I am sure there are some floating theories. From all the interviews they have conducted, they do have a small pool of persons of interests, however at this point there is not enough physical or circumstantial evidence to eliminate or charge any of them. Out of this small pool of persons of interest there is one that stands out. It is believed that a woman is involved, either on her own or in conjunction with another individual. A description of this person is not available at this time.

December 2nd will mark the 15-year anniversary of Thelma’s death and her children and family still don’t have answers. What would drive someone to viciously beat and kill at 79-year-old woman? There were many people who were in & out of that building for legitimate reasons, as we covered, and the security is almost non-existent. Basically, anyone could walk in off the street and gain access. And as we saw, some tenants even left their doors open. Thelma’s apartment was the second to last one at the end of a long hallway, almost in front of a stairwell where no key or pass is needed to access. No one reported hearing any commotion or sounds coming from the victim’s apartment.

Whoever killed Thelma was likely known to her, as there was no forced entry and no early indications that she would routinely leave her door open. The murder weapon was not left on scene, it was carried from the scene by the killer. Some cash was stolen from Thelma’s apartment. Could she have caught a personal assistant worker in the act of theft and then paid the harsh price? Police believe she was murdered on or about November 30th. She was likely attacked that same day.

Law enforcement has good reason to believe that there are people in the community who have knowledge as to who is responsible for Thelma’s death. They state that unfortunately for various reasons these people are reluctant to come forward.

This brings is to the end of Thelma’s story.

The Hamilton Police Services Board has authorized a reward of $5000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for this horrendous crime. If you have any information please get in touch with Detective Sergeant Steve Bereziuk @ 905-546-3865

Or, if you wish to remain anonymous you can call Crime Stoppers at 1 800 222 8477 (TIPS) or submit a tip on line at Submit a Tip and to be eligible for a reward of up to $2000.

I will report on further updates on this case as it becomes available.

Sources:

True Crime Real Time Podcast: On location Scene Description & Photos (original content)

Hamilton Police Services: https://hamiltonpolice.on.ca/news/thelma-clapham/

Hamilton Crime Stoppers: https://crimestoppershamilton.com/2018/03/28/thelma-clapham/

CHCH News Article: https://www.chch.com/tag/thelma-clapham/

The Hamilton Spectator: Original News Articles from the Hamilton Spectator (December 2014) – Link not available, data at city central library on microfilm.

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