Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Story of Colin and JoAnn Thatcher

The Investigation

The murder of JoAnn shocked the citizens of Saskatchewan, especially the residents of Moose Jaw. Her death sent ripples of fear throughout the city and rumors immediately began to spread concerning the little known details of the horrific event. Although it was not acknowledged publicly for some time, many speculated that Colin was in some way behind the murder. It was generally known among those who were familiar with JoAnns previous relationship with Colin and the dreadful divorce situation that she was a woman in a precarious situation. Suspicions were further enhanced by an event that took place the day following the murder.

With JoAnn dead, Colin believed he no longer had to worry about custody matters pertaining to the children. He was determined to get his daughter Stephanie back and he saw no sense in waiting. On January 22, 1983, less than twenty-four hours following the murder, Colin, his lawyer and some of his men went to Brampton unannounced and snatched Stephanie away from her friends house as she was playing. Thatcher immediately returned with his daughter to Moose Jaw.

Greg and Stephanie Thatcher
Greg and Stephanie Thatcher (CBC)

Wilson and Wilson stated that the police were sincerely shocked at Thatchers audaciousness, which began to take on considerable proportions. They had had enough of his lawless behavior. Colin and his lawyer were not aware that JoAnn had requested in her will, that Tony retain custody of Stephanie in the event of her death. They were also not aware that new laws had come into effect that prohibited child snatching. That same day Colin and Tony Merchant were taken to the Regina police station and charged with abduction.

While at the police station, Colin was asked questions concerning his whereabouts on the night of JoAnns murder. He claimed to have been at home eating dinner with Greg, Regan and Sandra. Colin further stated that at approximately 7 p.m. he said that he learned his wife had been murdered. He then told police that shortly thereafter he went jogging, which struck them as unusual behavior following such a traumatic event. Statements later obtained from the children and Sandra further supported his story, however the police remained suspicious of Colins involvement in the death of his ex-wife.

Colin and Tony were eventually released from jail and Tony was granted interim custody of Stephanie. Tony later learned from Gerrard that his chances of retaining permanent custody of the girl were extremely unlikely, considering that the law usually leaned toward awarding full custodial rights to the natural parent over that of a guardian. Gerrards suspicions proved to be right on mark after Colin received custody of Stephanie later that November. It was exactly what JoAnn feared the most while she was alive.   

During Colins temporary holding at the police station, the investigation into JoAnns death was already in full swing. Shortly following the discovery of her body, the Wilsons house was surrounded by Regina police squad cars and enveloped in flashing blue lights. Crime scene investigators had begun the process of methodically combing the premises around the house, searching for possible clues linking the murder to the assailant. It wasnt long before they hit pay-dirt.

During the search, Constable Tom Shuck saw a small piece of paper lying on the snow several feet from the garage. Siggins states that upon further inspection, he discovered it was a Visa Card receipt with the name W.C. THATCH printed on it. The rest of the name was illegible, yet there was no doubt concerning the identity of the cardholder, Colin Thatcher. The police were able to ascertain from other information on the receipt that it was related to the purchase of gas bought on January 18, 1983, at the J & M Shell station in Caronport. It was the first piece of information that provided a possible link between JoAnns death and her killer. However, the investigation was far from over.  

Police continued their search for clues by knocking on neighborhood doors in the area and asking residents if they had any information that could help them with the case. A few doors from the Wilsons house lived Joan Hasz who claimed to have seen a suspicious blue car on several occasions outside of JoAnns house in the weeks prior to her murder. Mrs. Hasz became so suspicious of the car that she even recorded three of the numbers of the license plate, which were 292. She was unable to see the remainder of the plate because it had bee obscured by mud.

Hasz also was able to remember certain characteristics of the driver. She recalled that the occupant of the vehicle was a man with a well-trimmed beard who wore a dark coat. He also appeared to always be nervous as if someone were watching him. What struck her the most was that he wore unusual rubber-like gloves that seemed to resemble those used by surgeons. However, she was unable to recall exactly his face because the driver made great effort to avoid being noticed.

Three other neighbors interviewed by the police that week also noticed a suspicious car and driver in the neighborhood the weeks prior to the murder, which matched the same description of the vehicle Hasz had seen. Police immediately attempted to track the car matching the description given by witnesses. It didnt take them long to find it.

Parked in front of Colins home police discovered a blue, 1980 Oldsmobile Delta that resembled the car described by witnesses. The license plate was partially covered in mud but they were still able to make out the last three numbers, which were 292. The police immediately confiscated the car. Later, the same witnesses were brought to the car lot at the police station and asked if they could identify the vehicle they had seen prior to the murder. Out of approximately twenty vehicles on the lot, each witness was able to identify the Oldsmobile confiscated from Colins house. The car proved to be another important clue that would eventually lead the police to consider Colin as their prime suspect.   

As the investigation continued, police focused on Craig Dotson and his description of the man he had seen walking from JoAnns garage moments after the murder. He described the man as around thirty-years old, with a medium build, an oval shaped face with a brownish colored beard, narrow nose, medium length dark straight hair and wearing a black button down jacket with dark colored pants.

Siggins wrote that the description of the man puzzled the police because he did not match Colins. Another explanation as to why the description did not match was that Colin could have been disguised. Regardless, investigators realized they needed more evidence to prove their growing suspicions.

The forensic team working on the case worked diligently, processing the evidence found at the crime scene hoping to find as many clues as possible that could lead them to the identity of the killer. Siggins stated that firearms and ammunition expert Sergeant Arnold Somers carefully examined the bullet fragments taken from JoAnns skull.

He determined that the ammunition brand was most likely Winchester .38 Special Plus P with an aluminum jacket. It was a kind of bullet that was not easy to find, at least not in Canada. Somers suggested that the gun was probably a Ruger with a .38 special cartridge or .357 Magnum cartridge. His report was released in late March 1983.

Somers assumption concerning the gun proved to be right on target following a police interview with Lynne in Palm Springs that same month. During the interview, Lynn told investigators that Colin bought a gun the previous year and transferred it to Moose Jaw in June 1982. Police than searched Palm Springs area gun shops until they found the shop where Colin had bought his gun.

They learned that in January of 1982, Colin had purchased a Ruger Security-Six .357 Magnum with bullets matching the brand found in JoAnns skull. Police would later learn that many more of their assumptions concerning Colins involvement in the murder were indeed correct. The police were never able to find the murder weapons used to kill JoAnn. However, they were able to obtain a great deal of incriminating evidence concerning a link between the gun Colin bought and that used in the crime, further implicating him as the probable murderer of his ex-wife.

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