Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Story of Colin and JoAnn Thatcher

Falling Apart

During the mid 1970s Colins interest in politics began to take center stage. In 1974 he won the Liberal nomination for the riding of Thunder Creek. Thunder Creek was a large rectangular shaped constituency surrounding but not including the city of Moose Jaw. According to Wilson and Wilson, Thunder Creek was good liberal territory, a safe place to run a weak or new candidate. Thatcher was just one of three candidates who spent much of the early part of 1975 campaigning for seats in the Saskatchewan Legislature. Finally on June 11, 1975, after a tight three-way fight, Colin won the majority vote and captured the liberal seat.

Colin prided himself in his new position as a member of the cabinet, but he was known to not always play by the rules. Often his personal schedule conflicted with that dictated by his duty and his attendance record in the legislature was unpredictable and irregular. Some of Colins colleagues found him a rather difficult person to deal with at times and described him as, paranoid, inconsistent and insecure. However, Colin had his own agenda and his own method of doing things and he paid little heed to what others said behind his back.

While Colin was chasing his political ambitions, JoAnn temporarily worked as a bookkeeper for the family ranching business and for Colins political affairs. As the children became more independent with age she decided to pursue her own interests in interior design. In 1976 she established an interior design business from her home, which became a success. She contracted herself out to design homes and businesses in and around Moose Jaw, including model homes, restaurants, senior citizens home and a construction business owned by Ron Graham, a close friend of the Thatchers. Although Colin did not initially approve of his wifes interests, he eventually began to realize how profitable it was for the family both financially and socially. However, his wifes business was, for the most part, of little concern to Colin and it took a back seat to his own career in politics.

In 1977, Colins career underwent a major political shift. Shortly after his electoral win, a rift between Colin and the Liberal party began to develop. He became increasingly unimpressed with the party and their political views and believed that its influence in Legislature was on the decline. In 1977, Thatcher made the unusual move of crossing parties and joining the Progressive Conservatives, believing they would have a better chance of winning the upcoming provincial election.

During Colins political transformation he lost a great deal of respect from his former party, but mostly from his own wife. According to friends of the Thatchers, JoAnn was disgraced by her husbands crossing of parties and embarrassed by his lack of loyalty to friends and colleagues. At this point, Colin and JoAnns relationship began to show outward signs of deterioration. Their marital problems were further compounded by Colins mistreatment of JoAnn and an indiscreet extramarital affair with a young woman who worked for him.

According to an affidavit filed two years later by JoAnn, Colin began to verbally and physically abuse her in 1977. Bird states in her book that on two occasions JoAnn was actually hit by Colin, both times resulting in a black eye. She also claimed that Colin would frequently come home at unusually late hours, sometimes around 2 or 3 a.m. When JoAnn confronted him with his lateness he would often respond with verbal threats or insults. It was clear that what once seemed a happy marriage was beginning to crumble.

Colin and JoAnn went to great lengths to hide their marital problems, because it would spell political ruin if the facts about their relationship became public. In September 1978, Colin won the Conservative party nomination, which allowed him the chance to run for election for his partys seats in the Saskatchewan Legislature. That same year, Colin was appointed Conservative House leader. However, although he was making political gains, his marriage was sliding further into disrepair.

Colins reputation as a womanizer began to gain public attention. He made no effort at hiding his affairs and was often seen in the company of various women about town. In the late 1970s, Colin and JoAnn bought a vacation condominium in Palm Springs, California. JoAnn spent little time at the second home, which was instead frequently used by Colin to conduct many of his extramarital affairs.  

JoAnn began to feel trapped within the marriage and sought solace with the longtime friend of the family Ron Graham. Ron tried to convince JoAnn that the marriage between she and Colin was in many ways finished. Being one of Colins best friends, he was aware of his numerous affairs and repeatedly warned JoAnn of them.

Disheartened, JoAnn attempted to escape the confines of the unhealthy relationship by engaging in an affair with Ron.   JoAnn knew the affair was not the answer to her problems and, in fact, made things worse between her and Colin, who had become increasingly volatile toward her.   Rons wife had on several occasions contacted Colin to inform him of her suspicions that the two were having an affair, but Colins ego would not allow him to accept the truth. Although JoAnns affair proved to be more problematic than she had hoped, in some respects it served as a catalyst to end her years of unhappiness.

Finally, on August 13, 1979, one day following their 17th wedding anniversary JoAnn decided to follow through with plans that she carefully devised to leave her husband. With Rons help, JoAnn decided to make her departure while Colin was away on a five-day golfing holiday in California with his lover. At the time Ron was also accompanying Colin on the holiday. Halfway into the golfing trip Ron asked Colin to drive him to the airport, stating he had to get back early for business reasons. Colin had no idea that Rons real reason for departing early from their holiday was to assist JoAnn in her preparation to leave her husband.

That day, JoAnn packed up her belongings and with her two youngest children she drove to Winnipeg, Canada to meet Ron who was flying into the local airport. It was the most frightening and difficult step JoAnn had ever made in her life. It was difficult because she feared her husbands response, but it was particularly hard because she left her fourteen-year-old son behind purposely.

She decided that Greg should remain in Moose Jaw with his father because the two got along so well. Moreover, Greg also developed several close relationships with his friends, which she did not want to disrupt. At the time JoAnn left Moose Jaw, Greg was unaware of his mothers intensions of leaving.   

After meeting up with Ron in Winnipeg, the four drove toward Brampton, a town located on the outskirts of Torontos city limits. JoAnn had secretly bought a house in Brampton to use as her new residence while she planned a divorce from her husband. To their dismay, when they arrived at the house, it was not yet ready for them to inhabit until the end of the month. On Rons request, they all flew to Dallas where he had business to attend to. While there JoAnn tried to figure out the next best step to take. Then after three days JoAnn and the kids left Ron and flew to Iowa, to temporarily stay with her parents.

Colin didnt realize his wife left him until four days following her initial departure.   Frantic, he immediately called everyone he knew to try and find out where JoAnn and the children were. One of the people he attempted to call was his friend Ron Graham, but instead Rons wife Jane picked up the receiver.

Jane came to the Thatcher house that same day and told him that her husband Ron had run off with JoAnn and reminded Colin of her previous warnings. Once again, Colin refused to believe it was true. He was heart broken and distraught trying to understand why his wife had left, not realizing that it was his abusive behavior, which caused her to flee across the country. Finally, after almost a week JoAnn made contact with Colin to let him know that the children were fine. She further instructed him not to come after her because she was not ready to see him at that time. 

According to JoAnn, the children appeared to have handled the situation well. After moving into their new home in Brampton, Stephanie and Regan were enrolled in the local school. The children both seemed to adjust rather quickly to their new circumstances. In fact, JoAnn later stated to a friend that they rarely mentioned their father since their departure.

Colin made great efforts to find his wife and refused to accept that she left him permanently. During JoAnns absence, Colin paid her best friend, Dorothy Yakiwchuk, a visit at her home. Siggins writes that during one of his visits to obtain information about JoAnn, he flew into a rage, shouting and throwing chairs around her house. Dorothy experienced the volatile and violent behavior of her friends husband first hand, further confirming the stories JoAnn had previously told her about Colins explosive behavior. Colin went out of his way at times to scare Dorothy and her family, who feared for their own safety. Regardless, she refused to divulge JoAnns whereabouts.    

At one point Colin flew with Greg to Iowa to visit JoAnns parents, who informed them that they missed her by a week. Colin consistently questioned his in-laws to find out where his family was yet they refused to reveal the whereabouts of their daughter and grandchildren. Colin was enraged and flew immediately back to Moose Jaw.

While in Moose Jaw Colin wrote three emotionally charged letters to JoAnn apologizing for his treatment of her and begging for the return of his family. The letters were forwarded to JoAnn through her lawyer, J. R. Rushford.   JoAnn was deeply pained by the letters and she knew that Colin was attempting to manipulate her into revealing her whereabouts. She feared that if he found out her location he would do great harm to her and possibly take the children away. Based on these fears, she decided to maintain her secrecy about her location and asked her closest friends and family to do the same. It was a secret that would not last long.

In early September, Jane Graham discovered a phone number without an area code in her husbands pant pocket. She believed the number could have belonged to JoAnn. Jane showed the number to Colin, who suspected that the number was from the Toronto region. He coaxed a friend to call the number as he listened in on the conversation. It was quickly determined that the number did indeed belong to JoAnn. Colin then allegedly paid off an acquaintance at the phone company to give him the address that corresponded with the number. It wasnt long before Colin was on his way to Brampton, Ontario.   

On September 11, 1979, Reagan and Stephanie were on their way to their new school in Brampton when their father and the 17-year-old family babysitter Sandra Hammond approached them by car. Surprised but pleased to see their father, the children ran to greet them and hopped into the car. Colin had no intension of taking the children back to JoAnns house. Instead, Colin drove Sandra, Regan and Stephanie to Buffalo, New York, where they caught a plane back to Moose Jaw

Thatcher waited to call JoAnn until the next morning to tell her he had the children. Siggins states that Colin coldly told JoAnn that the children were safe and where you will never find them. Regan and Stephanie were re-enrolled into school in Moose Jaw and that same day Colin obtained temporary custody of the children, attempting to block JoAnn from seeing them. The court action filed by Colins friend and lawyer Tony Merchant marked the beginning of a two and a half year custody battle between Colin and JoAnn over the children. It also marked the beginning of JoAnns nightmare.