A killer exposed
Cold case closed by DNA match
Judy Sawchuk was 25 years old when her battered body was found lying in a dried pool of blood on the floor of her downtown Windsor apartment.
More than two decades later, police have named the man responsible for the brutal sexual assault and slaying: Gerald Dennis Hillman of Windsor.
“New information and DNA technology have resulted in solving the 21-year-old murder of Judy Sawchuk,” superintendent of investigations Dave Pickford said Thursday at Windsor police headquarters.
“No active murder investigations are ever closed. They always remain open until they are solved,” Pickford added.
Pickford said detectives were told the identity of the killer by a man to whom Hillman had confessed shortly after the Jan. 5, 1985, crime.
It wasn’t until 2003 that police learned of the confession and the witness told police what he knew.
“He had expressed concern that he may be implicated,” said Staff Sgt. Norm Burkoski, lead investigator in the case. “That’s why he withheld information for some time.”
More detective work revealed that Hillman — who was 24 at the time of the murder — died of a suspected drug overdose on Sept. 16, 1986, about 19 months after the killing.
Last month, investigators exhumed Hillman’s body from his unmarked grave in Windsor. Samples taken from his corpse were compared with DNA evidence that had been seized from the crime scene and preserved at the Centre of Forensic Science in Toronto.
“A profile was obtained from semen collected from the body of Judy Sawchuk,” Pickford said.
The centre confirmed a DNA match on Thursday morning.
Bill Sadowski, the brother of crash victim Walter Sadowski, said commercial aircraft should be required to carry “beacons” or other locator devices, something the Transport Canada report failed to recommend.
“It took almost two weeks to recover 10 bodies and a plane from 27 feet of water less than a mile from shore. The waiting and waiting for news, that was psychologically damaging to the families,” he said.
Sadowski said he has no complaints with the rescue and recovery workers who “risked their lives” to retrieve the downed aircraft in the middle of the winter.
Shortly after takeoff on the last flight of the day from Pelee Island on Jan. 17, 2004, the Cessna Caravan crashed into frozen Lake Erie.
Flight 126 that day weighed about 9,820 pounds, Transport Canada said, almost 1,300 pounds more than the maximum total takeoff weight for such Cessna aircraft flying into icing conditions.
Walter Sadowski, 48, and Ronald Spencler, 53, of Windsor; Larry Janik, 48, and Fred Freitas, 38, of Kingsville; Dr. Jim Allen, 51, of Mitchell’s Bay; Robert Brisco, 46, Tom Reeve, 49, and Ted Reeve, 53, all of Chatham, were killed.
Pilot Wayne Price, 32, of Richmond Hill, and his girlfriend Jamie Levine, 28, of Los Angeles, Calif., were the other two victims.
Sadowski said a coroner’s inquest could have highlighted the need for locator beacons to help rescue and recovery missions. He said he’ll be contacting the coroner’s office and possibly his MP on the matter.