DAUPHIN -- Who murdered the mayor's wife?
It's a question many here continue to ask, more than seven years after Diane Paul, 54, was gunned down inside her large, two-storey, red-brick home just south of Dauphin, on the northern edge of picturesque Riding Mountain National Park.
But there remains no answer to one of Manitoba's most compelling mysteries. Just plenty of speculation and rumours and frustration from grieving family members who wonder if justice will ever be served.
"I know the RCMP are doing the best that they can. I think at this point they have a lot of circumstantial evidence. But you only get one shot (in court). So it's still ongoing, they're still working on it," Diane Paul's son, Robbie Tomkins, told the Free Press last week in an interview at a local coffee shop.
RCMP will only say the investigation is continuing. Their last public comments on the case were in 2012, when they put out yet another in a long line of pleas for assistance. It doesn't appear that led to anything substantial.
"I know they haven't forgotten about it," said Tomkins, a former city councillor who is now a Dauphin firefighter. He has been encouraged by a handful of cold-case arrests by RCMP in other unsolved Manitoba cases in recent years and hopes it's a sign of things to come.
"I know they're doing what they can, being proactive. It can't be easy," said Tomkins.
Diane Paul was a popular figure in Dauphin, and her violent death continues to resonate with many. She was co-owner of a popular local hangout, Thunder's Country Restaurant and Saloon, where she took great pride in getting to know her loyal customers.
Tomkins still recalls every painful detail of the phone call he received from his stepfather, then-Dauphin mayor Alex Paul, just after 11 p.m. on the night of March 13, 2007.
"Your mother's dead," Paul told him before hanging up and then calling RCMP.
Tomkins rushed to the scene, finding his mother's lifeless body in her upstairs bedroom. There was blood visible from her mouth and nose. She had been shot. Paul sat on the edge of the bed, sobbing.
Paul initially suggested his wife of 15 years may have committed suicide. But an autopsy confirmed this was a homicide. The gun used to kill her has never been found despite repeated searches of the area.
Tomkins believes his mother was killed as she slept, as there was no sign of a struggle.
The investigation took a dramatic twist when Paul quickly went from grieving spouse to "person of interest" in the eyes of the RCMP, who took the mayor into custody just days after the slaying. It was a stunning development for the former schoolteacher in the middle of his second term as mayor.
But just one day later, he was released without charge. RCMP said they didn't have sufficient evidence and could no longer legally detain him.
The development put a major strain on family relationships and cranked local water-cooler talk into overdrive. Tomkins and his brother, Derek, deliberately excluded any mention of Paul in their mother's obituary and basically shut him out of their lives for good.
At the funeral, Paul made his first public comments. He talked briefly of his love for the victim, saying "She always said we were one plus one. I'm going to miss her so much. She was my whole life. We're all so broken-hearted. It's just terrible."
Days later, Paul submitted a letter at a city council meeting thanking the community for their support.
"This has been the most difficult time of my life. Diane and I were always together, and I don't know how I am going to get over this,"
Paul's bid for a third term as mayor ended with a whimper. He finished last in a four-person race in 2010, garnering just a few hundred votes.
Worse, some of his campaign signs had been tagged with graffiti accusing him of murder.
Paul has refused numerous Free Press interview requests over the years. Tomkins said last week his stepfather is now in poor health and mainly keeps to himself while continuing to live in the same home where the killing occurred.
As RCMP expanded their probe, they asked the victim's two sons along with her niece to submit to polygraph tests. All three agreed, and said they were specifically asked if they killed Diane Paul, which they denied.
Sgt. Steve Saunders told the Free Press at the time all three were considered witnesses, not suspects, based on the results.
Paul went to Winnipeg and also took a polygraph. Richard Wolson, his lawyer at the time, said he had advised his client not to agree to the test. Wolson said polygraph tests are unreliable, noting results are not admissible as evidence in court.
"It was against my advice. But I believe the family pressure got to him," Wolson told the Free Press. He would not comment on the test results.
"He absolutely, categorically denies any involvement and is mourning the loss of his wife," Wolson said.
However, Wolson later told the Free Press his client took a second polygraph test through a private company and passed. It's not clear why the decision was made to take a second test and not directly through the RCMP.
Months later, Paul threatened legal action against Tomkins -- who was a city councillor at the time -- after material was posted on a website the mayor said wrongly suggested he played a role in his wife's unsolved killing.
No lawsuit was ever filed.
Tomkins admitted he was trying to put pressure on his stepfather, the police and the community to ensure his mother's case was solved quickly. Yet that clearly has not occurred, all these years later.
"I believe justice will eventually be carried out, in one way or another," Tomkins said last week. "Dauphin's such a great city. I wish this wasn't overshadowing it. But it's always in the background. I'd like to be able to put it behind us."
Anyone with information on the case is asked to call RCMP or Manitoba Crime Stoppers at 1-800-782-8477.