DNA leads to arrest 16 years after shooting death of Calgary musician

DNA leads to arrest 16 years after shooting death of Calgary musician

Sixteen years after Paul Hepher was shot dead in a Calgary basement, police have charged a suspect with second-degree murder.

"A homicide file is never truly closed," Insp. Don Coleman said Tuesday, while announcing the charge.

"They always remain active."

Terrance Lane Wardale, 61, was arrested last week and made a brief court appearance Tuesday.

He is accused of killing Hepher, an amateur musician, in 2001.

It was on March 4 of that year that police were first called to a home in the 500 block of 19th Avenue N.W., where Hepher's body was discovered in a basement suite.

An autopsy confirmed the 50-year-old died as a result of a shooting.

Coleman said police recovered the handgun they believe was the murder weapon in the past week.

Family still wonders why

For about a decade after the murder, Ian Hepher said he called police every year around the anniversary of his brother's death, hoping the case wouldn't "go cold."

But he said it was totally out of the blue when police called him in the past week about the arrest.

"I'm glad the police cared enough about this to carry on," he said.

He only wished his parents were alive to hear the news.

"I don't think my mother ever recovered," he said.

"I wish my dad was around. He died about 18 months ago. He was always wanting to know what had happened. I feel that way too."

Michael Hepher was 27 years old when his uncle was murdered and said he remembered him as a writer as well as a musician.

He recalled his uncle taking off with a typewriter and a bicycle to travel New Zealand in the 1970s.

"He was a unique person," Michael said.

"He was deeper. There was something about him that was intangible, I guess is what I'm trying to say. There was a lot going on under the surface and you kind of had to discover it."

Michael said he's not feeling "angry or vengeful" about the murder at this point but he's still curious about what happened to his uncle.

"Here were are, 16 years later, and we really had come to a point where we had just all accepted that this would be a question mark in our lives," he said.

"I guess I'd like to see justice be served but also just the details of the story coming out are the most important part — to know what his last hours were like and why this all happened."

'He had a sharp wit'

Hepher was known around Calgary for his music. He was among the performers at the city's inaugural folk festival in 1980.

Pat Buckna met Hepher in the mid-1970s, when they were both playing in the bars and clubs of Calgary's live-music scene.

They struck up a friendship and Hepher joined Buckna in British Columbia for a while, living on the West Coast with him and his family. But Hepher longed for the sun and blue sky of Alberta and later moved back to Calgary.

Hepher later wrote the song that became the title track for Buckna's 1982 album, Roll Me a Dream.

"I found his use of language was really quite good," Buckna said of Hepher's songwriting.

"He'd had a background writing for newspapers, doing music reviews … and he had a very sharp wit and some of that was reflected in the lyrics of his songs."

The two drifted apart after that, but Buckna remembered their friendship fondly.

"I was quite shocked to hear about his murder back in the early 2000s," he said.

Police said Hepher had no criminal history and led a relatively quiet life.

Before his body was discovered, he had been last seen alive on the afternoon of Feb. 28, 2001.

Coleman said investigators found "numerous pieces of forensic evidence" in the basement suite but did not identify any suspects in the initial investigation.

Later, he said a list of more than a dozen potential suspects was compiled and investigators worked to confirm or eliminate each one.

The investigation continued under the mantle of three separate homicide operations over the ensuing decade and a half.

New evidence

In early 2014, police said new evidence was obtained and, on May 21 of that year, an RCMP crime lab confirmed a match to forensic evidence left at the scene.

"The new evidence that pushed the case forward was DNA-related," Coleman said, without offering further details.

At that point, investigators had a suspect in mind, but it took another 22 months to find him.

The man was eventually located in Sherwood Park, at which point police said they initiated "further investigative strategies ...to ensure the case had enough evidence to move forward with charges."

Court proceedings

Coleman said Wardale didn't offer up a sample of his own DNA and the sample was obtained through yet-to-be disclosed methods.

"The exact specifics of that I obviously can't get into," he said.

"That's for court. It will be disclosed in court."

Coleman said Wardale and Hepher were known to each other and described them as "acquaintances."

He said police believe Hepher was targeted "for financial reasons."

Wardale made a brief first court appearance before provincial court judge Sean Dunnigan on Tuesday morning.

He appeared via CCTV from the Calgary Remand Centre wearing a blue jumpsuit.

The case was put over to May 4 to give Wardale time to find a lawyer.

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