By Stu Salkeld The Stettler Independent
It’s difficult to believe I’m approaching 25 years in the community news business. Lots has changed.
I still own my 35mm Canon AE-1 camera, but haven’t touched it in probably 10 years. Websites and social media have become part of our lives as journalists. I’m not as concerned as some in my industry about this change. People want to read news; how it’s delivered doesn’t matter to me.
One thing that hasn’t changed for most of my career is the unsolved murder of an RCMP detachment commander in one of the communities I worked early in my career.
Sgt. Pete Sopow was in charge of the Fort Macleod detachment when I worked at the Macleod Gazette newspaper for about four and a half years in the later 1990s. I wasn’t expecting Pete to be as approachable as he was. Most, not all, of the RCMP officers I’d worked with to this point had been painfully formal. I don’t blame them one bit, as you should always be mindful what you say and do when someone with a recorder and camera is nearby.
However, Pete was so easy to work with it caught me off guard. One time I had questions about an investigation, he invited me to the detachment and then read information right out of the file for me. Now that’s service. Another time, a local restaurant had been broken into on Hwy #3. Pete invited me to go out to the restaurant with him while he explained how the crime occurred and what business owners could do to prevent crimes like this in the future. I had great respect for Pete.
Pete’s body, along with the remains of his girlfriend Lorraine McNab, a schoolteacher from Pincher Creek west of Fort Macleod, was found in a trailer on McNab’s property Monday, Dec. 15, 1997. Investigators later stated the pair were shot to death at the farm Saturday, Dec. 13, two days earlier after returning from a visit to McNab’s parent’s home.
I always assumed the crime would be solved quickly. Criminals always leave evidence behind, sometimes so obviously that it’s almost embarrassing. However, to this day no one has ever been charged in Pete’s murder.
I knew everybody that worked at the Fort Macleod RCMP detachment, but local detachments don’t investigate murders like Pete’s. Such crimes are handled by the city offices, called General Investigative Section or GIS. Not much was officially released, but I knew lots of people and asked lots of questions.
I was told there was a person of interest who as questioned within a few days of the murders, then released.
I was also told there was a rare antique car seen around McNab’s property at the time of the murders, and I was told the person of interest owned a car exactly like the one seen.
I was also told the pair were murdered by a certain caliber of weapon, and that every one of those weapons in all of southern Alberta could be accounted for. Except for the one owned by the person of interest above. That weapon was missing and apparently never found.
I was told that Lorraine had coped with a stalking situation and, coincidentally, her stalker happened to be the person of interest.
I was also told weather conditions in that area destroyed evidence the police would need, such as tire tracks, footprints etc. The thing is, I remember that weekend very well. It was a warm, dry weekend with typical Fort Macleod chinooks. A friend and I went Xmas shopping in Calgary that Sunday, and wore t-shirts and jean jackets because it was so nice.
Anyway, I was told through the grapevine no arrests were made or charges laid because the crown prosecutor stated there was no chance of a conviction in court. Not enough evidence.
Disappointing because Pete was a very decent human being who deserved better than to be murdered and forgotten. The murderer is still walking around free as a bird today.
Stu Salkeld is the editor of The Pipestone Flyer newspaper and writes a regular column for the paper.