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This article was published 5/9/2009 (3632 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Anatomy of a Frame
By Colin Thatcher
ECW Press, 380 pages, $35
Colin Thatcher, a wealthy rancher and a controversial former Saskatchewan cabinet minister, was convicted in 1984 of murdering his ex-wife, JoAnn Wilson.
Thatcher has never admitted his guilt. He blames the news media, true-crime books and a corrupt justice system for his conviction.
Now, out on parole and back on the farm after 22 years in jail, he is publishing a confusing and unconvincing screed that drips with self-pity mingled with venom for a multitude of enemies, real and imagined.
Thatcher was larger than life well before Wilson was savagely hacked and shot to death in January 1983, two years after somebody shot her through her kitchen window.
He had entered politics in the Liberal party of his overbearing father, former premier Ross Thatcher, but crossed the floor to the Conservatives. By his own account, Thatcher was a combative loner in the legislature and in cabinet.
In his 1985 political autobiography, Backrooms: A Story of Politics, Thatcher scoffs at being required to apologize for lying: "Misleading the House sounds far more serious than it really is."
During Thatcher's bitter custody battle with Wilson over their three children, he established a sybaritic lifestyle in frequent retreats to Palm Springs, Calif., although "for political reasons my lifestyle at home was celibate."
One Californian with whom he was not celibate was Lynne Dally. Her testimony about phone calls in which Thatcher confessed to murder helped send him to the penitentiary.
Quoting Thatcher, Dally provided the most memorable line of the sordid episode: "It's a strange feeling to blow your wife away."
Final Appeal quotes the line four times. But it uses three slightly different versions, almost as if the author were rehearsing to discover the most effective delivery.
Thatcher brands Dally a drug addict whose claim that he physically abused her is a lie.
The book contains several relatively minor errors such as misspelled names. One of those is Jack Ramsay, a former Mountie and a Reform member of Parliament who pressed for an investigation of Thatcher's conviction. Unfortunately, Ramsay's credibility took a hit when he was convicted of attempted rape.
And Thatcher must be dreaming when he writes that, after one of his outbursts during a legal proceeding, "A banging gavel brought the court to order." There are no gavels in Canadian courtrooms.
But the most serious defect of Final Appeal is that it is unbelievable. A Logic 101 course could use this book as a text. Its mashup of conspiracy theories, imputed motives and ad hominem attacks is a demonstration of how not to argue.
Thatcher repeatedly suggests that higher powers conspired to persecute him. (Not that Higher Power, of course. Thatcher apparently adheres to whatever Christian sect he believes is most likely to advance his cause, one day the fundamentalist Alliance Church, another day Polish Catholicism.)
His assertions of conspiracy are frequently based on false alternatives, for example in criticism of a judge who denied him bail.
"Was he pressured, perhaps by the Department of Justice or other judges? Or was the hearing a charade, cut and dried in advance, and the outcome determined before we entered his courtroom? Only one man knows."
Guessing at a prosecutor's reasons for not asking questions that Thatcher expected, the author writes that the man "seemed to be aware" of the thoughts of a witness, "probably" from illegal wiretapping, thus "perhaps" avoiding the topic, "no doubt" because he knew his questions would be foolish.
Thatcher goes over the top when he attacks three earlier books about his case. Everything in them is wrong, of course.
One, A Canadian Tragedy: JoAnn and Colin Thatcher, A Story of Love and Hate, provokes a remarkable outburst — but not about the content. Author Maggie Siggins is "a middle-aged, frumpy, squatty woman with thick, horn-rimmed glasses that reminded me of a grumpy bullfrog. She apparently lived with a left-wing activist."
Perhaps Siggins's work stings Thatcher because it is thoroughly researched and compellingly presented. A Canadian Tragedy details Wilson's reports to her friends of Thatcher's prolonged physical abuse of her, well before the mysterious kitchen shooting. The book was also made into the CBC television miniseries Love and Hate.
Now Thatcher has launched a marketing campaign for Final Appeal, agreeing to interviews with the news media he professes to despise.
But, unlike O.J. Simpson — another wife-killer who claimed he didn't commit the crime — Thatcher is not even pretending to try to find the "real" killer.
"It's not my job to solve the case," he tells Maclean's magazine.
Thatcher is acting as if he believes the best defence is a good offence. He has written a very offensive book.
Duncan McMonagle teaches journalism at Red River College and writes the Information Tsunami blog at http://duncanmcm.blogspot.com