Re-opening the Barbara Stoppel murder. Paging Inspector Clouseau
Winnipeg Police Chief Jack Ewatski made his bombshell announcement on June 8, 2000.
He said police were convinced that Thomas Sophonow did not kill Barbara Stoppel in 1981, a crime for which Sophonow had been convicted by two juries.
The public was stunned. Moreso because Ewatski (since retired) offered no reasons for his declaration other than saying a re-investigation of the case cleared Sophonow.
Over the years it became known that at the time the police had another man in their sights as the prime suspect in the Stoppel murder---a man with a lengthy police record, a man named Terry Arnold.
What the public didn't know was that by the day Ewatski publicly exonerated Sophonow, the case against Arnold had collapsed.
Not that that was a surprise.
The surprise, we've discovered, was that THE POLICE NEVER HAD A SHRED OF EVIDENCE AGAINST TERRY ARNOLD.
The case against him was a mishmash of conjecture, fantasy, and rumination, much of it by one of the policemen assigned to reexamine the Stoppel murder, Andrew Mikolajewski.
In June, 1999, a police constable was assigned to take a fresh look at the Stoppel file, to approach the evidence with "new eyes." In October, Mikolajewski joined the team that had begun to actively reopen the case.
Their focus was on Terry Arnold who had become a "person of interest." At first glance, you can see why:
* Arnold lived in the general neighbourhood of the Ideal Donut Shop where 16-year-old Barbara Stoppel worked and died.
* He occasionally had coffee at the Donut Shop and knew Stoppel from there.
* He said he had a crush on her.
* After she was attacked and before she was taken off life support, he tried to visit her in hospital and spoke with her mother, leaving her with his name and address.
*He had a fu-manchu moustache and wore a cowboy hat around the time of the murder, thereby matching elements of the composite drawing of the suspect.
Well, so much for the strongest evidence.
Police had nothing to show that Arnold was in the Ideal Donut Shop at the time of the murder. No fingerprints, no video, no eyewitnesses, no DNA.
They was nothing to link Arnold with the twine used to strangle Barbara Stoppel.
They had confirmation of elements of his alibi for his whereabouts at the time of the attack on Stoppel, namely that he was home, he got a ride downtown from a friend, he took a bus to a Salisbury House restaurant on Portage Ave., and he spent the rest of the evening there with his then-girlfriend who worked there.
One month before Jack Ewatski exonerated Tom Sophonow, the Crown determined that the sum total of the case against Terry Arnold could be summed up with these words: unless he confesses, you've got doodley squat.
So why did the police think Terry Arnold killed Barbara Stoppel?
The entire case against him was outlined in an affidavit for a search warrant submitted by Det. Sgt. Andrew Mikolajewski in March, 2001.
Filtering out the psychobabble by a policeman who watched Silence of the Lambs too many times, you're left with Arnold's criminal past. By the fall of 1999 he was in prison for the rape/murder of a 16-year-old girl. He was suspected in the disappearances of two other young women, both of whom went missing near where Arnold lived at the time. And he had been accused (and once convicted) of raping several friends and acquaintances.
None of which was evidence in the Stoppel case.
So Mikolajewski spiced up the case against Arnold with some armchair profiling he developed while earning his master's degree in criminal deviance.
He began by tweaking Arnold's appearance to make him a closer match to the composite drawing of the murder suspect drawn from the descriptions of eyewitnesses who saw the killer at point-blank range as he walked out of the donut shop and past them.
Barbara Stoppel's mother "did not particularly think that Arnold looked like the suspect", he acknowledged. But police twice interviewed Arnold within a week and found, in Mikolajewski's words, he was "somewhat similar in appearance".
Except that the description of the "Cowboy Killer" was a definitely tall, definitely slim man, standing 6'1" to 6'3" and weighing anywhere from 145 to 185 pounds. Arnold was definitely average in height at 5'11" and on the hefty side at 196 pounds. Sophonow was 6'5" tall.
And the killer was described as in his Twenties. Arnold was all of 19-years-old. But, said Mikolajewski, he looked older and could pass for 29!
Arnold lived on Cromwell Street, about half a mile southwest of the Dominion Shopping Centre where the Ideal Donut Shop was located. Five minutes away and with a direct view of the front door of the donut shop, is how Mikolajewski described it. Yeah, with a telescope on a clear day.
When police came to interview Arnold on Dec. 31, 1981, he produced a "diary" to show he had already spoken to police two days earlier. "It is the writer's opinion that this "documentation" is consistent with what an offender of this kind would make," stated Mikolajewski in his affidavit.
Arnold admitted shopping at the Dominion Store for milk and bread on the day Stoppel was attacked. Aha, said Mikolajewski. "In essence Arnold places himself near the Murder scene on the day of the offence" he declared in bold print.
Yeah, except that Sophonow said he was at the Consumer's Distributing store in the same mall on the same day---and---was by his account, coincidentally, at the nearby St. Boniface Hospital bringing Christmas candies at about the very moment doctors were trying to resuscitate Stoppel. Hmmm.
After speaking with police, Arnold called to say he knew a man who matched the description of the suspect. "It is this writer's opinion that ARNOLD was attempting to divert attention away from himself by implicating another person," wrote Mikolajewski.
(You want a laugh? When Mikolajewski got Sophonow's files from his lawyer in 2000, they included statements from two "witnesses" (names he withheld) who said they were in the Ideal Donut Shop the afternoon of the attack on Barbara Stoppel and they saw Terry Arnold there bothering her!)
M. writes that Arnold "admitted to once having a crush on Barbara Stoppel, so he went to the hospital to check on her condition."
"It is my opinion that this does not appear to be a genuine concern on ARNOLDS part since:
a) He indicates that he has only known her for a short period of time.
b) His psychological profile presents him as focusing on "I" and "me" and not 'others' least of all what could be labeled a "generalized other."
It may be presented that ARNOLD at this time is not concerned for her well being but rather for his own. If she recovers he may be discovered."
Barbara Stoppel was 16, 5'7" tall, weighed 110 pounds and had a 38-inch bust. It's our opinion it wouldn't take long for a teenaged boy to develop a crush on her. One smile, a short conversation and BOOM. No "I's" or "me's" or "others" necessary.
But not Mikolajewski. He declares that "Background reports and subsequent psychological workbooks suggest that Arnold presented himself as a classic Psychopath who would be drawn to pretty young women."
You have to be a psychopath to be drawn to pretty young women? Say what?
"A friendly glance would be suggestive of a longing relationship while any form of denial would imply rejection. Rejection in turn would give rise to rage."
For this psychobabble they award master's degrees.
Juries, however, rely on evidence, of which there was none.
Mikolajewski was aware of that. He also knew time was running out.
On March 9, 2000, police interviewed Arnold in jail where he was serving his murder sentence and waiting to hear about his appeal. He didn't confess.
They searched his mother's house for "written materials which may hide information concerning his involvement in the murder of Barbara Stoppel."
They didn't find anything incriminating.
They ramped it up a notch. Mikolajewski wanted a search warrant for the home of Ken Biener, the retired lead detective in the Sophonow investigation. Exhibits in the case had been destroyed over the past 18 years and Mikolajewski felt Biener was holding Stoppel's underwear, her shoes and socks and "A Kleenex with mucus believed to be the killers."
Biener agreed to an interview and brought with him what exhibits he still had. Top of the list was Stoppel's belt, a far cry from underwear and/or a used tissue.
On May 11, 2000, Crown attorney Rick Saull cut his losses. He informed Mikolajewski that now "it was a confession case and no charges could be laid against a new suspect."
Mikolajewski went into overdrive. He kept pushing for a Hail Mary interview with Terry Arnold to get him to confess before the Sophonow Inquiry started in October. He kept interviewing potential witnesses. And when he learned that Arnold might win an appeal of his murder conviction, Mikolajewski whipped off an affidavit for a warrant to get a palm print from Arnold to compare with an unidentified print on the crash bar inside the Ideal Donut Shop.
But none of it worked. Arnold didn't confess. There was no DNA match. If they got a palm print, the crash bar print came from someone else.
Mikolajewski went ballistic. He fancied himself a local Serpico. He banged off memos attacking everyone and his dog for hampering his investigation, for interfering with his case, for meddling and conspiring and covering up this and other cases he worked on. Everyone was guilty, including the Chief. Only one man stood as a shining example of an ethical police officer---which would be himself.
Terry Arnold committed suicide in 2005, leaving behind a note denying he ever murdered anyone. He had won his appeal and in 2002 the murder charge against him was stayed.
If he had lived, he might even have had the last laugh. You see, he was convicted through use of the Mr. Big sting, where undercover police entice a suspect to join their gang but first he has to confess to some heinous crime to show he's a stand-up criminal.
He was freed because the Crown in his case withheld from his defence the statements of two women who told police that Arnold was afraid he would be killed if he didn't play along with Mr. Big.
He might have just been the next wrongful conviction poster boy, standing beside Tom Sophonow, swapping tips on how to spend their multi-million dollar payoffs.