DAUPHIN — Who murdered the mayor’s wife?
It’s a question many here continue to ask, now 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 came 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, Dauphin Mayor Alex Paul, just after 11 p.m. on the night of March 13, 2007.
“Your mother’s dead,” Alex 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, and was obviously dead. Alex Paul sat on the edge of the bed, sobbing.
Alex 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 Alex Paul quickly went from grieving spouse to “person of interest” in the eyes of RCMP, who took the mayor into custody just days after the slaying. It was a stunning development for the former school teacher now in the middle of his second term.
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 strain on family relationships and cranked local water cooler talk into overdrive. Tomkins and his brother, Derek, excluded any mention of Alex Paul in their mother’s obituary and basically shut him out of their lives.
At the funeral, Alex 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 brokenhearted. It’s just terrible.”
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 photos.
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 said at the time all three were now considered witnesses, not suspects, based on the results.
Alex Paul came 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,” said Wolson, who would not comment on the results. “He absolutely, categorically denies any involvement and is mourning the loss of his wife.”
However, Wolson later said his client took a second polygraph test through a private company and passed.
“I believe justice will eventually be carried out, in one way or another,” Robbie Tomkins said. “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.
» Winnipeg Free Press