Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A normal day, a tragic ending

Witnesses recall last time they saw Candace Derksen

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A playful schoolyard snowball fight. A giggling call home to her mother. And a short walk to her nearby residence with plans for a fun-filled weekend.

That's how 13-year-old Candace Derksen spent the final moments before she vanished without a trace off a Winnipeg street. Details of her last day alive -- and the wide net of suspicion cast on everyone who had contact with her -- were presented Friday to a Winnipeg jury.

Mark Edward Grant, 47, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in a case built largely on DNA evidence found at the scene and later linked to him. Candace was allegedly grabbed off the street on Nov. 30, 1984, bound with rope and left to freeze to death inside an industrial shed at Alsip's Industrial Products, near the Nairn Avenue overpass. Her body was found on Jan. 17, 1985.

"I remember sinking to my knees on the carpet at school, bawling my eyes out," David Wiebe testified Friday. He was in class at Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute when a teacher walked into their music room to inform students of the tragic discovery.

Wiebe admits to having a "crush" on Candace and was one of the last to see her alive. The two engaged in a snowball fight just after 3 p.m. on the afternoon of Nov. 30, 1984, which ended with Wiebe giving Candace a "face wash." She then called her mother asking for a ride home while Wiebe stood nearby. Wilma Derksen was home alone with her two younger children, getting the house ready for one of Candace's friends who was coming for a sleepover that night. She asked her daughter to make the short walk home, instead.

"I told Candace I'd walk her home if I could, but I had driver's ed," Wiebe said Friday. "She said 'That's OK, Dave... I just live down the street.' "

Wiebe watched as Candace headed east on Talbot Avenue, toward her residence at 623 Herbert Ave. He never saw her again.

Hours later, a frantic Wilma Derksen showed up at the school, asking Wiebe if he knew where Candace was. Wiebe, who had choir practice that evening, was instantly concerned.

Winnipeg police were the next to show up, coming to Wiebe's residence that night and insisting he knew something about Derksen's whereabouts.

"This one officer kept saying how Candace was going to be home by midnight. He said, 'You know why? You're going to get in my car right now and take me to her,' " Wiebe told jurors.

He gave several statements to police, and even a blood sample and offer to take a polygraph in 2007 just before Grant was arrested based on advanced DNA testing linking him to the crime.

Adis Abdi came under similar suspicion. He told jurors Friday how police suggested he might be responsible for graffiti in the Elmwood neighbourhood near where Candace's body was found, which included someone writing "If you want Candace D you'll have to get through me first." Abdi, who was 12 at the time and knew Candace from elementary school, said he was not the source of the message. But police believed he might know more because he had seen Candace walking down Talbot that day as he drove by in a vehicle with his mother.

Blaine Webster also saw Candace on the day she disappeared when she came into the Redi Mart convenience store on Talbot. She asked to use the phone, then left after about three minutes. Webster said he never heard the conversation but was surprised when police came the next day to search his property, which included a basement storage room and crawl space. They also asked him to take a polygraph but never followed through when he agreed.

Jurors also heard a statement Friday from the Alsip's employee who found Candace's body while searching for a saw on the property. The man recently suffered a stroke and is unable to testify, but previously told officers he thought Candace "was a doll" when he found her lying face down in the shed.

As well, former chief medical examiner Dr. Peter Markesteyn testified how a hog-tied Candace Derksen may have been alive for up to 24 hours after being abandoned in -25 C weather. He said Candace likely didn't suffer any pain because she would have quickly gone unconscious. Her cause of death was hypothermia. There were no signs of sexual assault.

"The brain and organs can't function at such a low temperature. The brain doesn't send any messages to the heart and the heart stops," Markesteyn told jurors.

-- with files from Gabrielle Giroday

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 22, 2011 A3


Updated on Saturday, January 22, 2011 at 11:09 AM CST: Corrects typo.

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