UN­SOLVED: The death of Nora Wheeler

An ex­cerpt from Ed Arnold’s new lo­cal true crime book

The Peterborough Examiner - - ARTS & LIFE - ED ARNOLD

This is the sec­ond of five Ex­am­iner ex­clu­sive ex­cerpts from Ed Arnold’s 20th non-fic­tion book “Peterborou­gh 1970s Crimes.” Book One: Un­solved, Death of Nora Wheeler.

Jean El­liott had tele­phoned her mother around 1 p.m. but didn’t get an an­swer as she had al­ways done before. She called an­other half dozen times before tele­phon­ing Bell Tele­phone to see if there was any­thing wrong with her mother’s phone. There wasn’t. She had been talk­ing with her at 7:30 the night before de­cid­ing, as usual, to go shop­ping that day so she headed from her house in the city’s north end ar­riv­ing shortly before 2 p.m.

There were no car tracks in the drive­way of the two storey home, but foot­prints could be seen as the snow fell. She saw no signs of a break in but no­ticed the storm door was un­latched from the in­side which was un­usual. Jean had a key to get in but “I called my mother and knocked first” before en­ter­ing. She no­ticed the key that was usu­ally on the other side of the door, wasn’t there, she would later tell an Ex­am­iner reporter. When she en­tered the din­ing room she saw her poor mother ly­ing on the floor in her night clothes. Strange be­cause she never came down­stairs with­out get­ting dressed first. As she moved closer she saw a pair of scis­sors pro­trud­ing from her heart area. Jean El­liott went into shock, shak­ing un­til gath­er­ing her senses and call­ing the po­lice telling them, “My mother’s been killed.”

She stayed in the house to wait their ar­rival notic­ing a rug in the hall was rum­pled and a table­cloth in the din­ing room mis­placed, so she fig­ured “there was a strug­gle.” A nearby desk with papers had been dis­turbed, but yet noth­ing else ap­peared out of place, “It was such a shock to me — you couldn’t look around to know what’s what.”

Imag­ine those min­utes wait­ing for po­lice. Had she yelled to see if any­one was in the house, and care­fully, although full of fear, checked the rest of the house, to find out if the killer was still there? Had po­lice told her to stay in the house? Maybe she had just de­cided there was no way she was leav­ing her mother alone like that.

“They weren’t very long in com­ing. They were pretty good.”

A cruiser was there in min­utes, the most ter­ri­fy­ing, shock­ing min­utes of her life. The Const., while racing to her home, no­ticed a long haired male hitch­hik­ing and ra­dioed the sta­tion to tell them he might be a per­son of in­ter­est. De­tec­tive Sgt. Earl McDougall

who helped in­ves­ti­gate most of the ma­jor crimes for the lo­cal OPP de­tach­ment was also on his way and knew the OPP’s Crim­i­nal Investigat­ion branch in Toronto would have to be told. They were lucky be­cause Insp. Casey Kotwa from the branch was on an­other case near the city so he would get to the scene as early as pos­si­ble.

Within a half-hour at least 30 mem­bers of both city and OPP were at the scene, block­ing off road ex­its and en­trances, stop­ping cars for any sus­pects and wit­nesses. They were also at the scene stomp­ing on the grounds, walk­ing, driv­ing and park­ing along the road in front of the house, re­mov­ing any pos­si­ble tire tracks which would be­come im­por­tant later when a driver came for­ward say­ing he had seen a car parked on the road that morning in front of the farm­house.

Po­lice told Ex­am­iner reporter Mal­colm Aird that rob­bery was a sus­pected mo­tive, but noth­ing ap­peared to be stolen. The es­ti­mated time of death was late morning or noon. The killer was long gone. He had en­tered in broad day­light. Had he been there before? Did he know Mrs. Wheeler? Was it the same per­son who at­tacked her 12 years before? Had she heard noise down­stairs and came down sur­pris­ing the cul­prit? Was he that loud that the el­derly per­son with poor hear­ing could hear him? Did he think she wasn’t home? Was there more than one per­son? Was he a he?

There were also po­lice of­fi­cers from New­cas­tle and Cobourg work­ing on the case that day although the next day only six po­lice re­mained at the scene after the road­side checks stopped. Po­lice said a num­ber of peo­ple had been ques­tioned. Kotwa told the media he be­lieved only one per­son was in­volved.

Casey Kotwa, was of Pol­ish her­itage, a 22-year-vet­eran of the force who not only spoke Pol­ish but loved to sing Pol­ish songs. He was a man who set stan­dards for him­self and ex­pected oth­ers to fol­low. Those who knew him on the force said he was very “un­for­giv­ing” but owed him their ca­reers. Con­sta­bles and higher-rank­ing of­fi­cers re­spected his work call­ing him a gen­tle­man who knew his job and did it well.

Two days after the mur­der he told the shocked public that the scis­sors were still in Mrs. Wheeler’s body when she was dis­cov­ered. He said the OPP set­tled on two main investigat­ion av­enues, a mat­ter of hard leg work and track­ing down leads, tips that peo­ple had given and would be giv­ing them, said Kotwa. He said the media had as­sisted, “We have got­ten some use­ful in­for­ma­tion” from phone tips. He also said they were look­ing out­side the area for the sus­pect, not just in Peterborou­gh. De­tec­tive Sgt. McDougall said with tips and leads, “You never know which is good and which is bad — you have to fol­low them all” and “up to this point noth­ing has been re­ported miss­ing. There is no in­di­ca­tion she had any amount of money in the house.”

Kotwa said Mrs. Wheeler was “the vic­tim of a vi­cious as­sault, no doubt, and that may be us­ing a mod­er­ate word in this case.” He said the vic­tim’s chest had been “caved in” but would not spec­u­late on how the wound was made.

“Maybe some­day we’ll put the pieces to­gether and be able to tell how it was done.”

Copy­right Ed Arnold. The $25 book is avail­able at The Peterborou­gh Ex­am­iner of­fice on Hunter Street East, Trent Val­ley Ar­chives on Carnegie Av­enue, Hap­pen­stance Books in Lake­field or for lo­cal read­ers at [email protected]

EX­AM­INER FILE PHOTO

OPP of­fi­cers take part in the investigat­ion at Nora Wheeler’s home on Old Nor­wood Road, out­side Peterborou­gh, on Feb. 19, 1974.

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