Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Convicted killer also kidnapped her parents

Daughter revisits 1993 trauma

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The daughter of an elderly couple kidnapped 18 years ago says the ordeal was so traumatic it ruined her parents' lives and led to her mother's premature death.

The kidnapper has now been convicted of murder in the stabbing death of a California man.

Patrick Mark Dillon, 40, was sentenced Monday in California to 25 years to life for stabbing Carlos Caldera to death in 2008.

In 1993, Dillon broke out of a Manitoba jail and kidnapped John and Rose Kowalski at gunpoint. Rose was 77 years old at the time and John was 82.

"She overdosed because she never wanted to see him again," Iris Saunby said Thursday, referring to her mother, Rose, who tried to overdose on anxiety medication shortly before she was to testify at Dillon's kidnapping trial.

Rose Kowalski left a note explaining her decision for her husband to read, Saunby said in an interview.

Rose spent three months in hospital and died three years later. After her death, John Kowalski sold the family hobby farm near Beausejour where the two of them were staying when the kidnapping occurred.

"She would talk to herself and answer herself. It was always 'Why? Why me?'" Saunby said.

Terry Matthes, a former neighbour of the Kowalskis, said in an email that Rose died "virtually a prisoner in her own home," too scared to return to the farm or even venture out of her yard.

John, like Rose, looked like he aged 10 years in a single day after the ordeal, Saunby said. "My dad walked the floor at nights. He couldn't sleep," she said.

In 1993, Dillon was serving time in the Milner Ridge Correctional Centre for a break-and-enter conviction when he escaped from the jail and broke into the Kowalskis' farmhouse nearby.

Bumping into the couple, Dillon exclaimed, "What the hell are you doing here?", seized the couple's rifle and tied them up at gunpoint.

But when Dillon realized he couldn't drive their truck because it had a standard transmission, he untied them and ordered them to drive to Winnipeg.

When they passed an RCMP cruiser on the highway, John slammed on the brakes and snatched the rifle out of Dillon's hands as the vehicle lurched to a stop. Dillon ran into nearby woods and was later arrested by RCMP.

Patrick Dillon's name sprang off the page at Saunby as soon as she read the article about his sentencing in this Wednesday's Free Press. "I'll remember that name the rest of my life," she said.

She's not surprised he reoffended and doesn't want him transferred to a Canadian prison. "I want him to spend his life in there and (I want them to) throw away the key," she said.

But Saunby said she has no ill will toward Dillon's family. "I feel sorry for his family. It's not their fault," she said.

Patrick Dillon's common-law wife, Teresa Dillon, said she was sorry to hear about the trauma the Kowalskis endured. But she said Patrick learned from the time he spent in jail for kidnapping them, a crime he committed in his early twenties.

"Patrick was changed," she said. "He became more responsible. He got a job when he got out of jail... he grew up."

But referring to his recent murder conviction in California, Teresa added, "I guess he didn't learn that much."

Dillon had been hitchhiking across the United States in December 2008 when Caldera and his mother picked him up and invited him to spend the night with them at the campsite where they lived near Blythe, Calif.

The next day, after the two men went fishing, Caldera's body was found face down on a riverbank with 40 stab wounds.

Dillon's lawyer argued at trial that Dillon stabbed Caldera in self-defence, but a jury found him guilty of first-degree murder.

william.burr@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 19, 2011 A4

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