The city of Brantford is beautifully intertwined with walking trails rich in wildlife and natural beauty, juxtaposed with poverty and those affected by different addictions that make their homes within the trees along the paths, often leaving a stream of refuse on the land surrounding the river.
Once a stop on the underground railway, seen as a safe haven, where those escaping slavery and oppression would find peace and freedom, and yet, an epicentre for indigenous residential schools, whose primary focus was to oppress and eliminate indigenous culture, often forcefully removing children from their families and their homes, removing the freedoms they had known as a people for generations.
Once a bustling and rapidly growing city, earmarked to be the Capital on Ontario, visited by none other than her majesty the Queen and the Queen Consort, now a refuge to those coming from the Capital, looking for housing somewhat more affordable. The birthplace of Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone and the very first telephone factory in Canada. The heart & home of The Great One, hockey legend Wayne Gretzky and the place cementing the beginning of funny-man Phil Hartman. Who knew that his life would have such a tragic end?
Brantford has had its ups and downs, like every other city, and with its highs also comes to its lows. Over the next series of episodes, we will be looking at these different lows suffered by the victims and the city. Some will be historical, going back to confederation day, and some will be recent, but all will be within the Brantford Census metropolitan area. Today we will be recounting the heart-breaking events leading to 8-year-old Tricia Paquette’s death and the aftermath that followed.
On a bright spring day in May of 1974, on the side of a highway in the mountains of British Columbia, a small child of four tiredly walked several feet behind her mother and stepfather, barefoot, dirty and crying, dragging her teddy bear behind her on the gravel shoulder of the Trans-Canada Highway.
When Robert Burnell, of Winnipeg, got into a vehicle that day and started driving that stretch of the trans-Canada highway, he couldn’t have known what he would witness nor the events that would take place for the next six weeks.
A little while into his drive, he came across 20-year-old Joyce Paquette and 22-Year-old John Wildman hitchhiking on the side of the road. And, at some distance, trailing behind them was dingily dressed 4-year-old Tricia Paquette. He didn’t have the heart to leave her there on the side of the road; therefore, he offered them a ride to Vancouver, BC. He noticed that there appeared to be “no love lost” between the two young adults. Joyce told Robert that she wanted to find Tricia’s birth father, who she believed to be living in either in Prince Rupert or Prince George. The reason for wanting to find him after four years was not provided by the newlyweds.
Once in Vancouver, Robert got the young family a hotel room at the now permanently closed Fraser Arms Hotel and managed to set up a part-time job for John, Tricia’s stepfather. The next day, Joyce Paquette, Tricia’s mother, signed a letter giving Tricia over into the care of Robert Burrell for three months, a person with whom the family had only just met. When John, Tricia’s stepfather, was told of the arrangement, he just sighed and shrugged and then said, “at least she is going to be looked after better than she is now.” And likely he was right if only Tricia would have stayed in Robert’s care.
Robert then took custody of Tricia, and they both flew back to his home in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where he lived with his wife and foster child. After arriving home, he made several vital calls, one to his lawyer and a couple to the Children’s Aid society both in Brantford and Winnipeg as well as the social services in Toronto and Vancouver, asking for Tricia’s case to be investigated. He was concerned with the apparent neglect he witnessed. In only six weeks, halfway through the agreed 3-month term of care, Joyce called him at 2:00 am to tell him to get Tricia ready; she was coming to pick her up.
He didn’t want to give Tricia back to her mother and stepfather. A child that he said appeared to be “a thorn in their side.” He wanted to take her and hide until the children’s aid society could complete an investigation, but in the end, he relinquished on the advice of his lawyer. The next time he would hear of little Tricia Paquette, she’d be dead.
Tricia’s short life seemed to be mired by neglect and abuse. Her mother was described as an alcoholic, who had been attending AA meetings since she was only 17 years old. And although Joyce may have been a kind person without the alcohol, it seemed as though everything Joyce chose or touched became tainted. And her life, as well as of those around her, would take a downward spiral.
Everything seemed fine between the young couple for the first six months that they were living together. And then, they got married…
Joyce and John got married in 1973 when Joyce was 19 and John was 21. Allegedly, on their wedding night, Joyce and her mother had cut out a photo of John and then asked him for a few of his hairs, and then put the strands and the picture in a small pouch with some herbs to put a “love curse” on him. According to John, Joyce approached him 3 hours later, stating that the love curse had reversed and that she wanted a divorce.
In May of 1974, less than a year after they were married, is when they left to hitchhike to BC, apparently in search of Tricia’s biological father. And, despite the three-month agreement for Robert Burrell and his wife to care for Tricia, she was back with her mother and stepfather by the end of June.
By December of that year, Joyce would be admitted to the psychiatric ward of the Brantford General Hospital, where she was given shock treatment. Shock treatment was often given to treat severe depression, but a side effect of the therapy is memory loss, particularly short-term memory. She would break away from the Psych ward, get Tricia in a flimsy windbreaker and once again try to hitchhike to BC.
Joyce and John’s relationship was marred with verbal and physical fights, and then separating and getting back together on multiple occasions. Joyce was an alcoholic and had admitted that during the time, she had also taken drugs not prescribed by a doctor. She was volatile. She had once allegedly broken a broom across Tricia’s back, injuring and traumatizing the young girl. John indicated that he called the police, a doctor and the Children’s aid society after this occasion. However, the children’s aid society would later say that they didn’t have any record of this call. On another occasion, she had grabbed Tricia and threw her against the wall. She had maintained that she doesn’t remember breaking the broom on Tricia’s back. And as a way to get back at John during some of their fights, she would storm out and leave Tricia in his care and then call the police a few hours later and accused him of kidnapping Tricia.
During their four years of marriage, they had two natural daughters together. Their marriage was a turbulent one. By 1977 there was a social worker involved with the Wildman’s, however, to what capacity is unknown. The couple was once again separating, this time for good, and fights over custody of the three children began. Initially, Tricia was kept by her mother, and the two younger children were with their father, John.
In June, police were called because of a dispute over the custody of the two young girls, and John had said, “If Joyce gets the two babies, I will get Tricia.” Joyce had been granted custody of all three girls.
On August 11, Joyce Paquette Wildman went into the social worker’s office, whose name was also Joyce and was seen with a massive bruise on her arm, which included a full set of teeth marks. John had bit her, although he denied ever doing this.
In January of 1978, the police were called to intervene in yet another domestic dispute.
When the police arrived, John was sitting on a chair holding the two younger children, and Joyce was trying to get them away from him. Law enforcement suggested that Joyce go and bite John’s fingers so he would release the babies. She did, and then John was cuffed and spent the night in Jail.
When John was released the following morning, he met a man by the name of Mr. Guillemette in downtown Brantford, and a conversation ensued. John was mad and had said he wanted something done to his wife. Mr. Guillemette didn’t call the police and didn’t overthink it as “when you’re mad, you say a lot of things you don’t mean.”
John wasn’t the best of role models and certainly had his faults. He was known to police as a local drug dealer.
John wasn’t in the best of health. He suffered from severe type 1 diabetes, apparently had trouble walking, and would walk with a limp if walking for any length of time. He was also possibly losing his eyesight and wore large thick glasses. He was a slender man of short stature, standing at only 5’3″, with collar-length dark wavy hair. He had spent some time at the Toronto hospital in 1977 for an enlarged liver.
At some point, after their separation, John Wildman lived at 25 Duke Street, some 2.5 KMs from Joyce’s place at 481 Colborne Street. He didn’t drive.
On Wednesday, February 15, 1978, Tricia got up and got ready for school. And even though she was looking forward to having her sleepover that night with her friend Rhonda, she was feeling a bit upset, for reasons unknown. Her mom was going to school at mohawk college and would be dropping the girls off at the babysitters, just one street over. It was a cold winter morning, as is standard in February, so Tricia put on her light-blue winter jacket left the apartment at 8:00 am with her mom, and presumably, her two younger sisters, to go to the babysitter, just one street over on Dalhousie Street. Her mom, Joyce, would make it to mohawk college, where she was taking classes in hairdressing and would be there working until 4:00 pm. Tricia would walk from the sitter’s, just a few houses away, with a few other kids to the elementary school, Major Ballachey, which was just around the corner some 400-500 meters away. She left the sitter’s at 8:30 am and arrived in the schoolyard that day at 8:45 am, 15 minutes before the first bell would ring. The group of kids would break up and go their separate ways as they were all in different classes, and various classes would go into different doors. A grade 7 student, named Kim, saw Tricia in the schoolyard that morning. She could see that Tricia was upset when she passed by her, standing alone outside of the school. Kim also saw a red Chevrolet parked across the street. There was a lone man in the car, wearing a black airman’s type winter hat, staring at the school. When Kim came back to that same spot about 10-15 minutes later, Tricia was gone, and so was the red Chevy with the black-hatted man.
Tricia was marked absent for the day. No calls were made by the school confirming her absence. This was in the time before schools would call to confirm an absence if they weren’t advised the student would be absent that day from a parent legal guardian. Tricia’s case may have been the reason this was started in this area.
72-year-old Jean Courbrough, was at her kitchen sink looking out the back window. Her property ran the embankment overlooking the Grand River, a few hundred meters north of the Lorne bridge. The river would have been relatively unobstructed at the time, as the trees that grow there now would not have been present. Railway tracks ran through that area as well. Between 9:00 am and 10:00 am she saw what appeared to be a man of short stature walking with a small child wearing a light-blue winter jacket along the train tracks. The man appeared to be walking with purpose, whereas the child seemed to be tired and was struggling and trailing behind him by about 6 feet. And, during the 25-30 seconds, they were in her field of vision, she thought “that poor soul, she’s overtired” as that man had not once turned around to see how she was doing. The man was wearing a black knee-length coat, a black hat, but no gloves, even though it was a frigid day. It didn’t appear that the man was wearing glasses, although she indicated that she mostly saw the side profile. She also didn’t notice the length of the man’s hair. He did not appear to be walking with a limp.
At a little after 4:00 pm, Joyce would leave Mohawk College, and drop into the sitter’s to pick up the kids before walking home. Tricia was not there. The sitter had confirmed that she had left in the morning to go to school, but haven’t arrived back. Tricia was reported missing to the police. They were able to confirm that she had made it to the schoolyard that morning and had disappeared between 8:45 am and 9:00 am.
The people of the city were terrified and upset. Where was Tricia? What happened to her? Parents started walking their kids to school, and teachers began talking about stranger-danger in the classroom.
Over 150 band radio enthusiasts from Brantford and Woodstock would assist the police in searching for her, as well as other members of the community, including the families of Tricia’s friends and schoolmates. But she wouldn’t be found in one of these searches.
The following evening, Thursday, February 16, Tricia’s stepfather, John Wildman, was at Beverly and Ronald McIsaac’s apartment, which were his landlady and landlord and resided in the same building, when the phone rang. Beverly answered the phone. Who was on the other line? Someone who was purporting to be Joyce Wildman, Tricia’s mother. According to Beverly, Joyce appeared as though she had been drinking, and then Joyce accused Beverly and Ronald of helping John murder Tricia with a hatchet. Then Ronald got on the phone, and never have spoken to Joyce on the phone before, couldn’t for sure say it was her, although Beverly was confident. Joyce would then repeat these claims that Ronald helped John murder Tricia with a hatchet. She would continue to argue with them and call them murders. Joyce did not speak to John during this call. This was a 2.5- 3 days before Tricia’s body would be found.
According to Beverly, Joyce specifically said Tricia was murdered with a hatchet. Beverly told Joyce that no, they didn’t, and they had nothing to do with it.
At this point, Tricia’s body had not been found, and there was no way anyone could have known of her death, let alone the method of death unless that person was present or had knowledge of it from the person that was present. Beverly said she didn’t remember when they told him what Joyce was accusing them of; however, when they did, John appeared to be shocked.
On this same day, John would call his divorce attorney, Mr. Beyer, and told him “that his wife had accused him of killing Tricia with an axe.”
But, some of John’s behaviour was a little off during this time. On Wednesday, the 15th, the day Tricia went missing, he was first seen between 10:15 am, and 10:45 am by his landlady Beverly McIsaac. She had gone to his apartment door, and they spoke in the doorway. He had then brought out some green garbage bags filled with items, namely a knee-length black jacket and boots and placed one garbage bag in front of his neighbour’s house. This was approximately 2 hours after Tricia had gone missing.
For the next few days, John would tell several people that his wife was accusing him of killing the 8-year-old girl.
Tricia’s small frozen and bloodied body was found on the banks of the Grand River between the railway tracks and the river on Sunday, February 19, 1978, by a 52-year-old John Harcourt, who was the superintendent of the Brantford water pollution control plant\. He was coming back from taking his youngest child to Sunday school. Out of habit, he walked over to the river bank to where his family would usually launch their canoe in the summer, to look at it, and that is where he found her body.
Once the police arrived, the area was cordoned off, and Tricia’s body was taken to the hospital to be identified before she would be moved to the center of forensic sciences in Toronto for a post-mortem examination by a pathologist.
At the scene, a tan coloured hatchet sheath was found 28 inches from her body. A little further toward the riverbank, was a green garbage bag completely covered in blood. A biochemist from the center of forensic sciences would later confirm that the blood on the bag was consistent with Tricia’s blood-type. There were rips and tears in the bag, which could have occurred if the hatchet or blunt instrument was in the bag when it was used to strike Tricia.
The Brantford police had scuba divers enter the river for potential evidence, and there they found a flat-handled hatchet lying on the bottom of the river, about 60 meters (200 feet) from where Tricia’s body was found.
Law enforcement had called on Ronald McIsaac, John’s landlord, who lived in the apartment below John’s, to identify Tricia’s body the day that she was discovered. They initially called Joh Wildman to identify the body, but he told the police that it couldn’t be Tricia as she was at a friend’s place, which he knew to be false. When Ronald came from identifying Tricia’s body, John asked him if it was Tricia. Ronald didn’t tell John that Tricia had been murdered but did say to him that he was told he couldn’t tell him anything and that he, John, should call the police himself. He apparently called, and after the call, he went into the bathroom and vomited and then went outside for some fresh air. When Beverly and Ronald went to look out, from his side profile, it appeared as though he was laughing. He was later greeted by three Brantford police officers who were there to search John’s apartment. Clothing items with what looked like blood stains were removed from the apartment. After the search, John was brought to the police station for further questioning. During questioning, one of the officers asked John if he knew his daughter had been murdered, and John responded with “when? Ron said she was curled up on the river bank frozen.” John then willingly provided law enforcement with samples of hair, saliva, and blood.
Her autopsy would reveal that she had been beaten to death with severe fractures to her skull and damage to her brain. She had been struck on the back of her head some 19 times with a blunt object. An examination of her clothing identified a wedge-shaped cut in the toque that she had been wearing. The pathologist concluded that a hatchet could have inflicted her fatal injuries. There was no evidence of sexual assault and no indication that she had been in the water.
Any clothing worn by the perpetrator would have also been covered in blood. Surely someone would have noticed someone walking on the streets with bloodied clothing if they were walking? Perhaps it wouldn’t be as evident on dark clothing.
They suspected that she had died that same day of her disappearance and that the killer had left her body by the bank. Her body was not completely frozen, and she was partly covered with snow, and the last time it had snowed was on Friday the 17th.
Hairs were found under the hatchet sheath, next to the body. As there were no methods for genetic testing, they were unable to conclude to whom the hair specifically belonged.
To iron out a date and time of death, an experiment was conducted, led by Dr. Lorne Khuen, director of bioscience of the defence and civil institution of environmental medicine. He was tasked to find out how long the body of 8-year-old Tricia had been lying on the river bank before being discovered. The idea behind this was to model and then mimic the body cooling with the weather conditions during the time that she went missing and the time that she was discovered.
The innovative experiment was based on Isaac’s Newton’s law of cooling. He did this by using the bodies of 2 animals, a beagle and a German shepherd, which were euthanized for this experiment, that were the approximate size and weight of the victim, who was 56 lbs and about 4′ 2.5″ in height. And, knowing the outcome of her body condition and temperature, they were able to work backwards to identify how long her body was laying there.
The bodies of the dogs were implanted with devices that measure temperature in the skin, heart, and rectum. Their bodies were insulated similar to that of the clothing that Tricia would have had, and they were placed into climatic chambers. They were exposed to the same maximum and minimum temperatures that existed during those four days in Brantford. The success of the experiment would be heavily dependent on recreating accurate weather conditions. Environment Canada had provided precise meteorological data for the experiment. Based on the results, Dr. Kuehn calculated that the freezing of the entire body would take approximately 46 hours, which placed the probable time of death about 2 hours after Tricia went missing, so at the latest, around 10:45 am to 11:00 am on Wednesday, February 15.
Police investigated several local suspects, who all had alibis for the morning Tricia disappeared and was subsequently murdered. There was only one suspect that truly came under their radar, and that was 26-year-old John Arthur Wildman, Tricia’s stepfather. And even though their entire case against him was entirely circumstantial, he exhibited odd behaviour, which inherently made him more suspicious.
John had disposed of a black knee-length jacket and boots in a green trash bag, a standard bag, the day that Tricia was murdered and placed the bag at a neighbour’s place, just one door down from his. He said he bagged them on Monday, following an argument with his wife; however, no one can corroborate that he bagged them on Monday. John’s explanation was that he had a heated conversation with his wife on Monday, where the boots and jacket were discussed.
The following is a verbatim of the reason John provided in court:
“Q. After—sorry. During this telephone discussion that you had with your wife, was the question
of a pair of boots and a coat discussed?
A. Yes, sir, they were.
Q. And at that time did you indicate to your wife, what if anything you were going to do with
A. Yes, I told her I was going to throw them in the garbage.
Q. Why was that?
A. Well, she had bought me the boots about six months earlier, and she bought me the coat for
Christmas, and I was to be indebted for life for them.
Q. What do you mean by that?
A. Well, such things as there was no heater in her bathroom at 481 Colborne.
A. And there weren’t any in mine at 25 Duke.
A. But I had an electric heater, so she wanted that. And I said, “Well, I need it”; she says, “Well─
Q. Well, don’t tell us what she said: you argued over that?
A. Yes, she said that I should give it to her because she had bought my coat and boots.
Q. And was it in that discussion you said you would throw them away?
And he was seen putting garbage in front of the neighbour’s house, which he explained as follows:
Q. All right. Do you recall when you put those into a garbage bag?
A. On Monday night.
Q. Before or after you talked to Joyce?
A. Well, after, I mean, I hadn’t decided to throw them out until after I had talked to her.
Q. There has been some evidence that you took the garbage bag, I guess westerly towards the
store and put a garbage bag, I think one door down from your place?
A. Yes, sir, I did.
Q. Why did you do that?
A. Because I’m lazy.
Q. What was in it?
Q. Okay. Well, why—if you are so lazy—walk one door down and put the garbage out?
A. No—well, we had a problem with dogs ripping garbage apart.
A. Now, this had—this bag had dirty diapers, bad foodstuffs: like when my wife had left, she left the fridge open, and the food in there had gone bad.
A. This was all in that bag. I merely took it to the next-door neighbour’s house to leave it there; if
the dogs tore it apart, I wouldn’t have to clean it up.
Q. All right. About what time was that, that you took Your garbage out?
A. I would say about 11.30, quarter to twelve.”
But it wasn’t just the fact that he disposed of these items precisely around the time that Tricia would have been killed; it was also the fact that he initially denied even putting a garbage bag full of items in front of the neighbour’s house. He said nothing, initially, to law enforcement of the things that he disposed of or why. Of course, he had an explanation for that as well. He indicated that as he was known to police and was a local drug dealer, he had a mistrust of the police and would naturally not want to divulge any information.
The police speculated that Tricia would not have willingly gone with anyone that she didn’t know, as she was a withdrawn child, who was typically frightened of strangers.
Then there was the story of the hatchet …
John had sold a small hatchet, similar to the one found in the river, to a friend named Dan Curry in January of that year. Dan Curry mentions that at some point, that specific hatchet would go missing from his home. He also said that John was at his place on February 9, and didn’t remember seeing the hatchet after that date. Of course, no witness could confirm with certainty that the recovered hatchet was the one previously owned by John Wildman, and there would be conflicting statements from witnesses to that effect.
It wouldn’t be long before the Brantford police would start recording some conversations that people had with John. On February 25, police got permission from Dan Curry, the friend that he sold the hatchet to in the summer of the previous year, to record a conversation between the two.
During this call, Dan told John that the police came to Dan’s place asking for the hatchet that John had sold him and that he couldn’t find it. In fact, he hadn’t seen it since John had visited on the 9th. John then told him, “well, I didn’t take it…. That’s all I need now.”
Then, of course, was the fact that he was telling numerous people around town that Joyce was accusing him of murdering Tricia with an axe. He would tell his lawyer on the 16th before Tricia’s body was even discovered and few other times after she was found, but before the police released the cause or manner of death to the public.
Tricia’s body was found about 2.5 km – 2.9 km from the school, which would take about 40 minutes to walk the distance, if on foot. Possibly longer with a child. She was last seen at approximately 8:45 am. I walked this distance, and it took me 50 minutes (I’m 5’3″).
A red Chevrolet with a man wearing a black airman’s hat inside was seen idling in front of the school. Both the car and Tricia disappeared at the same time.
Between 9:00 am and 10:00 am, a slender and short man wearing a knee-length black jacket and an airman’s hat was seen walking, without noticeable limp and no apparent prominent glasses, with a young girl fitting Tricia’s description on the railway tracks behind Grand River Avenue, some 200 meters where her body would be later found. She was the bludgeoned to death on-site, and her body was left.
The man would leave, and there would be no witnesses saying they saw a man walking with blood on their clothing. It may not have been very noticeable on black clothing, or is it possible that the man was driving?
John Wildman’s apartment was located at 25 Duke Street, only 900 meters to 1 KM away from the murder scene. I would have taken approximately 12-15 minutes to walk from the murder scene to the apartment on Duke Street.
The forensic investigation placed her time of death within 2 hours of her going missing, which would have been no later than 10: 45 am to 11:00 am.
John’s earliest whereabouts confirmation was between 10:15 am to 10:45 am, confirmed by his landlady Beverly. She was speaking to him at the doorway of his apartment as she had accidentally locked herself out of her apartment downstairs. He had told the police that he was up at 8:15 that morning, but no one could corroborate seeing him before the landlady knocked on his door. He would take the garbage out and place it at his neighbour’s between 11:30 am and 12:00 pm. He then would spend the rest of the day at different bars and restaurants and would return home at 9:15 pm. He would later be told by law enforcement of Tricia’s disappearance.
The police had conducted tests showing that someone could theoretically walk from the school to the murder scene and from the murder scene to John’s apartment in 50 minutes. This could be possible, but one needs to remember that John was short, only 5’3″ and was in poor health and would start limping after walking any distance. Also, Tricia was just under 4’3″ and would naturally take longer to walk.
Tricia’s funeral was held on Monday, February 27. His sister came into Brantford for the funeral and gave him tranquillizers, and he took five. Knowing he was a wanted man, he waited for the police to arrest him. He was arrested that same day and charged with Tricia’s murder.
John said that on the day he was arrested, the police told him that they were still getting 200 calls a day about the case. He assumed that the police were feeling pressured to close the case.
On the day of his arrest, Joyce permitted the Brantford Police Services to tap a phone call she would make to John Wildman from the police station. Here is the transcript of the call:
“John: Well, uh, what I can’t understand, Joyce, is why you would phone here on Thursday night before anyone knew about Trish and accuse me, and then your friends, Val and them, phone the people downstairs on Saturday Joyce and say the same thing.
Joyce: Same thing about what?
John: They told Bev and Ron that between them and myself that we killed Trish, and this was on Saturday, Joyce. Now, what in the hell is going on with you and your friends – before anybody even knew what happened.”
This transcript doesn’t coincide with the initial statements indicating that this call to Beverly and Ronald took place on Thursday unless Joyce’s friends called the McIsaac’s again on Saturday.
John’s trial took place that year; during the trial, the crown called on 54 witnesses for testimony, and the defence only called 4. The crown contended that John’s motive for killing Tricia was to get back at Joyce for having received custody of all three children. The reason for this was that 1. The brutality of the attack, 2. No sexual assault 3. Tricia was a shy girl who wouldn’t have generally gone with a stranger.
The first trial focused mostly on the hatchet found on the scene and that it looked as though it could have been one owned at one time by John, although during the trial no one could confirm with 100% confidence that this one found was that of John Wildman’s sold to Dan Curry the year before.
And of course, we can’t forget the odd behaviour demonstrated by John after Tricia went missing and that fact that he was telling people that his wife was accusing him of killing Tricia with a hatchet before anyone would either even know she was murdered or when her body was discovered before law enforcement would confirm the manner of death. Of course, he had an explanation as to why he was saying this. Still, the evidence of the call, via testimony, made by Joyce to Beverly and Ronald McIsaac was not admitted into evidence, even though it was brought up on the preliminary hearing. Joyce Wildman was not called as a witness. This evidence would have explained why it seemed to know what happened to Tricia.
The crown’s case was entirely circumstantial, as there was no direct physical evidence that John had murdered his stepdaughter. Clothing items were taken from John’s home that appeared to have bloodstains on them, but it didn’t seem that those were Tricia’s blood as the evidence was not mentioned in the trial. Additionally, at the time, the forensic experts could not definitively identify who the hairs belonged to that were found under the hatchet sheath at the scene. They said it could have been Tricia’s, or it could have been John’s. For that matter, I guess it could have been anyone that had dark and somewhat wavy hair.
Additionally, there was no mention of the red car and the eyewitness testimony, one way or another. Did law enforcement follow this lead and rule it out?
John has always maintained his innocence and had pleaded not guilty. He said he loved Tricia and would never hurt her. John Wildman was found guilty of Tricia’s murder on November 16, 1978. The jury deliberated for 6 ½ hours, only to come back and request to once again here the conversation between John and his divorce attorney, Mr. Beyer, that took place on February 16, the day after Tricia went missing.
When John was read his verdict, the judge asked him if he had anything to say before sentencing, and his response was to spit on the courtroom floor, in the general direction of the jury. He was sentenced to life imprisonment with the eligibility of parole after 25 years.
He and his attorneys filed for an appeal within a month of conviction; however, the first attempt at getting a new trial was turned down by the Ontario Court of Appeal. During that appeal for a new trial, the judge admitted that John did not get a fair trial, but that even with the admittance of evidence that was ruled out in the 1978 trial he would still be found guilty.
But, after serving approximately six years in prison, in September of 1984, he was granted a new trial by the Supreme Court of Canada.
During the second trial, the call made by Joyce to Beverly and Ronald McIsaac was entered into evidence. The defence attorney had also hired a private investigator who was adamant about saying that people in Tricia’s life were involved with witchcraft, and he believed Tricia was a victim of witchcraft. Interestingly, I wasn’t able to find out more as to what led this private investigator to this conclusion. Although John himself stated that he didn’t know how much faith he would put into that theory.
John Wildman took the stand in his defence and was in the witness box for about 4 hours. During intense questioning and insulting comments by the crown prosecutor, John held his ground and said, “if I spend the rest of my life in prison, I don’t give a damn. I didn’t kill Tricia, and nothing can change that.”
Many on the jury had mixed feelings on the case. For one, many didn’t believe that John could have walked the distance from the school to the murder scene and then commit the crime and walk back to his apartment in the time they indicated and also that he was partially blind, so couldn’t drive. The defence mentioned the red car in the opening statement, but it didn’t seem as though that was brought up during the second trial. Many of the jurors felt as though the crown prosecutor did not do his job thoroughly enough to show that John was guilty without reasonable doubt. But, after 2 ½ hours of deliberation, on July 3, 1985, they felt as though they had to find him not guilty as there wasn’t enough presented at trial to say John committed the crime without a reasonable doubt.
So, after serving 7.5 years, he was a free man, ready to live out the rest of whatever life he had left. He moved to Toronto, where he was from originally.
The police and the crown prosecutor were livid that he was acquitted, as they thought they had a robust circumstantial case against him. At the time, the Brantford police said that there would be no further investigation of the murder unless new evidence were received.
A recent call to the Brantford police confirmed that the case is still technically open and that they are willing to investigate any new leads if people with information come forward. I’ve asked them if they would be willing to re-test some of the forensic evidence (if still viable) and if any or what follow up was done on the red Chevrolet spotted in front of the school. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard back in time for the publishing of this episode.
What are your thoughts? Was John Wildman innocent or guilty? If the police were able to re-test some of the forensic evidence, but needed funds to do so, would you be willing to help? Will Tricia get justice? Tricia was laid to rest at St. Joseph’s cemetery in Brantford, Ontario.
The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 20 Feb 1978, P.9
The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 28 Feb 1978, P.2
The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 09 Mar 1978, P.2
The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 29 Jun 1978, P.2
The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 31 Oct 1978, P.10
The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 02 Nov 1978, P.10
The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 03 Nov 1978, P.8
The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 07 Nov 1978, P.10
The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 08 Nov 1978, P.8
The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 09 Nov 1978, P.11
The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 10 Nov 1978, P.8
The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 14 Nov 1978, P.10
The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 15 Nov 1978, P.3
The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 17 Nov 1978, P.2
The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 12 Oct 1984, M.2
The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 27 Oct 1984, P.17
The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 20 Jun 1985, M.3
The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 21 Jun 1985, M.7
The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 25 Jun 1985, M.4
The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 26 Jun 1985, M.3
The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 28 Jun 1985, P.18
The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 04 Jul 1985, F.10
The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 05 Jul 1985, P.16
The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 18 Jun 1985, M.5
The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 13 Jul 1985, P.15
The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 17 Jul 1985, P.13
The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 01 Aug 1985, M.5
The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 08 Aug 1985, M.4
The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 08 Jan 1986, A.16
The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 23 Jan 1986, P.16
The Toronto Star, Toronto, 21 Jul 1985, A1 and A13
The Windsor Star, Fri 17 Nov 1978
The Windsor Star, Thu 05 Sept 1985
The Ottawa Citizen, Thu 08 Aug 1985, Page 5
The Vancouver Sun, Thu 04 Jul 1985, Page 11
The Leader Post, Thu 04 Jul 1985, Page 56
Star-Phoenix, Fri 12 Oct 1984, Page 44
The Vancouver Sun, Sat 22 June 1985, Page 9
Edmonton Journal, Thu 04 Jul 1985, Page 2
Peacemakers & Lawbreakers – A 125-Year History of the Brantford Police Service – by Heather Ibbotson
Discussion with Brantford Police Services
Discussions with Tricia Paquette’s Classmates
Confidential information: Juror from John Wildman’s second trial