Soon after firemen found the body of 59-year-old John King in the fire-blackened ruins of his Ontario farmhouse 40 km southeast of Ottawa on July 14, Ontario Provincial Police officers learned that it was homicide: King had been shot in the head. Later police said that they believed that King was at least the third—and possibly sixth—victim of a serial killer. By the end of last week the investigation had taken a bizarre turn: a 44-year-old auto mechanic from nearby Chesterville, Ont., who had not been charged in connection with the deaths, appeared on Ottawa television station CJOH to protest his innocence.
There had been rumors for weeks of a serial killer in the rural region southeast of Ottawa, although police initially denied that there was any evidence to link the six deaths in question—the first of which occurred 12 years ago. But they did say that all six killings had occurred within a 40-km radius of the village of Winchester, 10 km west of Chesterville. Then, on Sept. 21 OPP Det.-Insp. James McCormick, in charge of the investigation, called an unorthodox news conference at Long Sault and told reporters that police had a suspect in three of the killings—a man in his 40s who lived in the Ottawa valley area—but not enough evidence to make an arrest. McCormick said that he hoped that the suspect
would talk to reporters because “he has a story to tell.”
The next day newsmen went to Chesterville (pop. 1,400), 65 km southeast of Ottawa, where much of the investigation had been conducted and—on the basis of what they were told by residents—camped on the doorstep of James Wise. When Wise arrived and discovered several reporters and cameramen, he drove to a neighbor’s home, telephoned CJOH reporter Charles Greenwell and invited Greenwell to interview him there.
Wise told Greenwell in an interview broadcast on Sept. 23 that police had placed him under constant surveillance following the death of John King.
With police helicopters flying over his house and police cars parked in front of it, Wise said, it was not long before rumors spread around the area that he was a suspect. Said Wise: “There’s no place I can drive without [the police] being there. I have been watched from the air by helicopters. I’m giving this interview today of my own free will, and I hope something comes out
of it because I haven’t done nothing.”
The police, Wise added, had been seeking vengeance ever since he persuaded a friend to lay an assault charge against an OPP officer earlier this year. But an OPP spokesman at the Winchester detachment said that to his knowledge no charges had been filed against an officer in the two years he had served there. In any event, Wise’s allegations attracted even more media attention: after the TV broadcast, more reporters arrived in Chesterville. Some gas station attendants even gave them directions to Wise’s home.
On Sept. 24, in an interview with The Ottawa Citizen, OPP Commissioner Archibald Ferguson refused to confirm that Wise was a suspect. “If somebody has centred in on an individual whom they think is our suspect,” said Ferguson, “that’s the media, not us.” Asked whether Wise’s rights had been jeopardized as a result, Ferguson replied: “Our investigators have said nothing. The press has put the rest of it together.” But Donald Johnson, the Crown attorney for the counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry, protested to Ontario Attorney General Ian Scott that serious allegations had been made against an individual who had not been charged with a crime. Scott immediately asked for a report on the police investigation. Scott’s brother, David, is representing Wise.
Meanwhile, the case angered civil libertarians. Said Josh Zambrowsky, executive director of the Ottawa-based Canadian Criminal Justice Association: “Either charges are laid or not laid, and if charges are not laid, then [police] have no right offering indications as to who they may feel is a suspect. The primary standard of care we are concerned about is the way the police operate rather than the way the media operates.”
For now, confusion appears to have replaced fear in Winchester, Chesterville and neighboring villages. Said Christopher Must, the 28-year-old editor of the weekly Winchester Press: “A few weeks ago there was a rumor going around that this was the guy. I don’t know why people thought so. I haven’t heard whether the police actually have any evidence.” Of all the unanswered questions surrounding the case, that was probably the most significant.
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