Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Story of Colin and JoAnn Thatcher


Colin Thatchers murder trial began on October 15, 1984, five and a half months following his tapped meeting with Gary Anderson. Hundreds of curious onlookers crowded around the Court of Queens Bench in Saskatoon on the unusually warm day to compete for the limited seats in the courthouse. It was one of the biggest trial events in almost one hundred years and attracted a tremendous amount of media attention.

Judge John Hayes Maher presided over the court during the trial. Leading the prosecution for the Crown was Associate Justice Minister Serge Kujawa. Criminal lawyer Gerry Allbright was enlisted to head the defense team. The lawyers had several months to prepare their cases before presenting them to a jury of five women and seven men. It was expected to be a turbulent trial and both sides of the bench readied themselves for a battle. Colin would plead not guilty to the charges brought against him.

Approximately 150 people packed into the courtroom on a daily basis to listen to the evidence presented at the trial. During the first week, the court heard the testimony of several investigators and forensic detectives. They also heard the testimony of several key witnesses including, Craig Dotson, who had been the first to arrive at the murder scene, Joan Hasz and Tony Wilson.

Colins ex-girlfriend Lynne took the stand three days into the trial and gave riveting testimony concerning her relationship with the accused. She told the jury of her abusive treatment by Colin, of his admittance to the killing of his wife and information pertaining to the gun, as well as other facts that linked Colin to the murder of his wife. During Allbrights cross-examination of Lynne he meticulously tried to portray her as a liar and an emotionally unstable person to the court.

Allbrights strategy was highly effective. It was feared that Allbright caused considerable damage to the Crowns case. The prosecution revised its strategy in preparation for their next key witness.       

The second week of the trial proved to be as suspenseful as the previous week. During that week a great deal of testimony was heard, but the most interesting came from Gary Anderson, Sandra Hammond and Colins son Regan. The jury was also able to listen to the tape of Anderson and Colins conversation from May of that year. According to Siggins, the tape proved to be a bombshell because it revealed Colins domineering and manipulative personality. The prosecution team appeared to be making headway in its case against the accused. However, the most controversial witness had yet to be heard.

During the third and final week of the trial, the jury got the chance to hear testimony from Colin himself. Colin was questioned extensively about many aspects of the case including his conversation with Anderson, his relationship with JoAnn and the night of the murder. According to Siggins, the assistant prosecutor Al Johnson stated that Colin appeared, confident, talked forcefully and lied very convincingly. But the initial impression that Colin portrayed to the jury did not last long.

Siggins stated that Kujawas strategy was to reveal to the jury Colins Jekyll-and-Hyde personality by infuriating him during cross-examination.   Kujawa decided to begin his cross-examination of Colin by questioning the reliability of the defense witnesses, suggesting that they may have been persuaded to lie on his behalf. Colin did not take well to the insult.

Colin reacted by leaning half out of the witness box and with a menacing tone he roared, Then if you think that they did not tell the truth, Mr. Kujawa, then why dont you take the appropriate action, rather than asking me about it?    Kujawa asked Colin to remain calm, but in a flash of rage Colin thundered back, Its easy to say that my sons have lied. Why dont you step out of courthouse and say that where you dont have immunity?

The courtroom was shocked at the frightening transformation that Colin had gone through in just a few seconds time. For the first time they were able to see his true character. He could no longer fool anyone.   

By November 1, the jury listened to the last of the closing arguments. The fate of Colin Thatcher lay precariously in their hands. Four days later, the jury requested that the evidence of Craig Dotson be read once again to them before they made their final decisions. Colin appeared confident that he would emerge triumphant.

On November 6, 1984 the jury finally reached its verdict. The verdict was read aloud by the foreman for all to hear, We find the accused guilty. Colin responded with a jerk before being handcuffed and led away to jail.

Colin Thatcher, 1984, guilty
Colin Thatcher, 1984, guilty (CP File Photo)

Colin was sentenced to twenty-five years-to-life in prison. In December 1984, he was sent to the maximum-security prison known as Edmonton Institute. He served twelve years there before being transferred to another prison to complete the remainder of his sentence. Shortly following his incarceration Colin began the lengthy appeals process.

While waiting to hear the decision from the Court of Appeal, he dedicated a great deal of his time to writing a book chronicling his years in politics. The book Backrooms: A Story of Politics was eventually published in 1985. In January 1986, Colin learned that the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal rejected his plea for a re-trial, but he refused to give up.   

According to the CBC News, Colin remarried in July 1994 while in prison to a thirty-five-year-old widowed mother of three, Beverly Shaw. Beverly had first learned of Colin after seeing a CBC released television movie titled Love and Hate based on his life. Believing he was innocent, she set about writing him and a relationship developed between them over the years. However, the marriage would not last long. In 1997, the two were divorced stating irreconcilable differences.

In the late 1990s, with a record of good behavior under his belt, Colin was transferred Ferndale minimum-security prison in British Columbia. While there he was afforded the luxury of living in a small housing unit and having the opportunity to play golf and horseback-ride. In 1999, according to Salter New Media, Colin underwent golf therapy and was on a regiment of thirty-six holes a day, according to the Warden Strother Martin. It was hardly the kind of sentence Tony Wilson expected for Colin after the cold-blooded murderer of his wife.

Colin at low security prison
Colin at low security prison

In 2000, Colin requested a hearing to discuss an early parole, but the appeal was rejected one month after it was submitted. In January 2003, Thatcher once again filed for another early parole hearing with the Court of Queens Bench in Regina. According to the Canadian Press, two months later Chief Justice Frank Gerein granted Colin a second judicial review, allowing him to apply for parole under the faint-hope clause of the Criminal Code.

Colin Thatcher's parole officer, Kristan Brodoway
Colin Thatcher's parole officer, Kristan Brodoway

The clause allows the chance for an early parole to inmates after having served a minimum of fifteen years in prison. If the hearing is granted, there is a possibility that Colin could be out on parole as early as 2004. Upon his release there is a possibility of his moving back to Moose Jaw.

However, there will be few eagerly awaiting his return. Memories run deep in that part of the country.