Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Story of Colin and JoAnn Thatcher

A Vital Link

One of the most vital pieces of evidence police would receive concerning the case came via an anonymous tip shortly following the murder. The tip cam from a caller who claimed that a man named Gary Anderson was in some way connected with the death of JoAnn. He was eventually located in Moose Jaw and transported by police to Regina for questioning. Although he had a strong alibi for the night of the murder, police were suspicious of him. They decided to keep the pressure on him, hoping he might reveal information into the crime.

To their surprise, during the summer of 1983 Anderson approached the police eager to talk. He claimed that he wanted to clear his conscience about his wrongdoing in relation to the crime. Andersons testimony turned out to be the break police hoped for, but they had to wait. Andersons lawyer wanted to be sure that his client would be protected before he revealed the truth about his involvement. Finally in February 1984, the police promised Anderson immunity in exchange for his testimony.

During his interview, Anderson told investigators that Colin attempted to hire him to kill JoAnn beginning in the fall of 1980 but he refused. Anderson also told them about Charlie Wildes and William Crutchers involvement with Thatchers scheme. Investigators were later able to secure the other mens statements, which further supported Andersons account of the events.

According to Anderson, Colin decided to take the matter into his own hands when the men refused to carry out the murder for him. Anderson stated that on two occasions he rented a car for Colin, once in May 1981 four days prior to the first shooting and again in October 1982. He suggested that the cars were requested by Colin to be used during his first unsuccessful murder attempt and again in October for a possible second attempt that did not pan out. It is believed that Colin acquired the rented vehicles in the hopes that it would make it difficult for police to tie him to the crime if spotted by witnesses. 

In his testimony to investigators, Anderson claimed that he found a paper bag with a black wig and tire iron in the rented vehicle that Colin returned to him in October. Anderson was instructed by Colin to destroy the bags contents before returning it to the dealership, which he did. Investigators further learned that Colin also requested for Anderson to make a silencer for his gun. He then gave his gun to Anderson who molded a silencer for the weapon. According to Anderson, Colin asked for the guns return on January 20, 1983. Colin also asked Anderson to loan him his 1974 Mercury car. The next day the two men met at Colins farm in Caron and Anderson brought with him the gun with the silencer and his car.

Anderson stated during the interview with investigators Colin claimed to have made an attempt on JoAnns life the night prior to their meeting but it didnt work out. Colin said he was going to try again later that day and finish the job once and for all. He told Anderson that he could retrieve his car after he learned of JoAnns death from the papers. The men parted ways following their conversation. Colin and Anderson would not meet again until May 1984.

After JoAnns death appeared in the paper, Anderson and his brother drove to Redland Avenue, several blocks from the Wilsons house to reclaim the Mercury. Wilson and Wilson stated that Anderson found in his car a black jacket, a tuft of black hair from a wig, blue jeans, sunglasses, a pair of gray work socks and a credit card receipt. He drove the car to his mothers farm where he disposed of the objects by burning them in a trash barrel. He then cleaned out the car and later sold it.   

After hearing Andersons account of his involvement with Colin, investigators set about finding evidence that would verify his story. They learned that it indeed checked out. They were finally able to piece together a clear picture of the events leading up to and following JoAnns brutal murder. In order not to jeopardize the case, the police decided to withhold the new information from the public. Although investigators were able to secure a vast amount of incriminating evidence against Colin Thatcher, they decided to take one extra step before charging him with the murder of his wife.

In April 1984, the Regina City Police devised a plan that they hoped would lead to a murder confession from Colin. Anderson agreed to set up a meeting with Colin on May 1st. The plan was to outfit Anderson with a tape recorder and coax information from Colin that could later be used in securing his arrest. The risks were extremely high, but they knew that the benefits would lead to an almost airtight case against Colin. 

Finally on May 1, 1984, the day arrived for the plan, dubbed Operation Wire to be executed. Anderson approached Colin at a fuelling station and asked if he could meet with him at his abandoned farm in Caron. Colin was surprised to see Anderson but accepted to meet him there. Anderson was the first to arrive at the vacant farm. After a long wait, he began to worry that Colin wouldnt show. He wasnt aware that Colin was having problems getting his truck started.

Eventually, he pulled up next to Anderson. Colin asked to go for a ride and talk but Anderson said he preferred to stay where they were. Unbeknownst to Colin, a SWAT team was nearby on guard with rifles. The police wanted to ensure Andersons safety by having them positioned close by, because there was no telling Colins reaction if he were to have found out he was in the middle of a sting.

Colin agreed to remain at the farm to talk. After exchanging pleasantries, he asked if Anderson had been hassled by police. Anderson stated that hed been questioned about his car but that was all. Colin then stated that they should be careful not to be seen together.

During the conversation Anderson told Colin that he had disposed of the contents he left behind in the car. He then asked Colin what he did with the gun. Colin told him that there were, no loose ends at alltheyve gone in every which direction. Colin then expressed concern about the guys, referring to Charlie and Crutcher wondering if they posed a problem. Anderson reassured him, saying that he didnt think they would cause difficulty.

Colin offered to pay Anderson some money for his trouble and leave it in a bag at the farm the Friday following their meeting. He further instructed Anderson to be careful about disposing of any evidence linking the two men to each other or Colin to the crime. Anderson then asked about whether he should obtain legal aid. Colin responded that it would not be necessary.

(Excerpt from Operation Wire Transcript from Wilson & Wilsons book Deny, Deny, Deny pg.333-334):

THATCHER: Oh well, dont worry about that, but I mean, it aint coming to that. It aint coming to that cause they have no way of -- theres only two places to put the connection together, and they got zero else. Theyve got zero else, and I mean you know what there is to put together and it aint possible, and it aint coming from me. I mean, just always remember that if you were to say that I said this or that, its a crock of garbage. Its just always deny, deny, deny.

ANDERSON: Mhmm.

THATCHER: Because no matter what it was, you know. And, you know, I was just lucky that night. I was home with four people. Four people, pretty solid, and thats pretty hard. What about you, are you covered at the time?

ANDERSON: Yup. 

The conversation between the men continued. Basically, Colin spent most of the time talking, explaining ways in which Anderson might take steps to cover himself. He also briefly talked about his interview with the police and how he believed they had no real evidence against him. Colin seemed to be convinced that he had gotten away with murder. He had no idea that he had just incriminated himself on tape. He was arrested three days later and charged with the first-degree murder of his ex-wife JoAnn Wilson.

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