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- 18 Mar 2021
In this Dateline classic, a young sister and brother are torn apart when their mother disappears, and an elaborate sting operation traps a most unlikely villain. Keith Morrison reports. Originally aired on NBC on June 14, 2013.
It was like being in a nightmare. Mom was never late or didn't miss appointments. She just disappeared.
A mother of two disappears.
She waved a quick goodbye, walked down the stairs and out the door. But she wasn't the first to vanish. This was a town that appeared to be haunted by its serial killer.
It became sickening to hear that another girl had gone missing. Was Wendy another victim or could she have been targeted by neighbor she tangled with.
She made an enemy.
She made an enemy for sure.
Or maybe the enemy lurked within. Some said Wendy had a history of emotional troubles.
She began screaming obscenities and shouting.
Could this beloved teacher have had multiple personalities?
He said, that's not Wendy.
When she does that, she shut up.
Was this a woman broken or a woman taken? To find out what really happened, an elite group of detectives would launch an elaborate undercover mission.
They're described as right out of Hollywood. They staged kidnappings. The fake blood is truly phenomenon.
All leading up to a sit down with a man they call Mr. Big.
A high stakes gamble to reveal the truth on tape with the children left behind.
The idea that
I'm Lester Holt and this is Dateline. Here's Keith Morrison with Deception.
The story you're about to hear is all too real, though it may seem perhaps implausible, like a play or a movie without its dark heart, something quite unspeakable.
The actors are the family divided across a thin line, separating truth and deception. There's the gambler's last desperate hand. The voice, the presence summoned from the beyond. And the audacious undercover caper all to solve an 11 year old mystery and put it under the light of intense personal scrutiny, a most unlikely villain who, depending on whom you choose to believe. May not be a villain at all.
But in the beginning, in the beginning, there was wilderness, vast and lovely and a happy little family, a brother and sister who loved each other and loved their mom and dad.
I always thought of our family as a perfect little family. Didn't matter where we lived as long as we were together that was home.
This is Anna Seper, who at the time was an Arati and home was a country cabin surrounded by the trees and mountains of British Columbia, Canada. And this is her little brother, Gabriel.
And I always thought of my family and my parents as being perfect, really, when you saw the dysfunction in families around you. Yeah, and like parents get divorced. Like, it just didn't make sense to me. Yeah.
Like, how would you deal with that of their parents that his story is unlikely and romantic, as Anna and Gabriel had ever heard this shy, rustic French Canadian laborer named Danny Ratti, who fancied himself a gambler, and Wendy, the sweet, wild
girl who'd strayed so far from her middle class roots in the Connecticut suburbs.
They met at a hotel in Reno, Nevada, of all places, and he hardly knew a word of English and she hardly knew a word of French.
And they hit it off. When it came time for him to leave, she said, Take me with you.
And so he did all the way back to Canada, to northern Saskatchewan, and against all odds, said Denise. Sister Deon, the marriage of this wayward teacher's daughter and a virtually illiterate dropout worked.
What I really liked about them is that they seem to be more friends than lovers. The way they talk to each other, the way they behave, them, you know, it almost didn't feel like husband and wife.
And the kids, anybody could see how close they were. It wasn't just, oh, that and what's Gab doing now? It was always and that is their friend, Lois Cook, could plainly see that he was fiercely protective of all of them.
I would trust him to do the right thing and keep me safe. It was going to protect his family. Who's going to protect his kids? Were you a daddy's girl?
Yeah, I was. He was the rock that I had. He was calm. He was patient.
I always considered him as close as a hero was a girl could get the strong, silent hero who preferred long, solitary walks in the woods to social gatherings.
Except for poker, there was usually a game in town.
The family could certainly use the cash and Danny figured he was pretty good.
He prided himself on being able to read people and and know when when to hold them, when to fold them. And I guess he he he sort of could because he was winning quite a bit. Wendy, an art teacher by trade, taught her kids to help others to speak up and be heard. She organized a peace project that taught students, including her own son, about conflict resolution and respect.
And that's just the idea of what she tried to do in her everyday life. You were close to your mother, right? Oh, very, very tight relation. Well, she was incredibly nurturing. And I think what she succeeded in doing is that she raised a good sign, a good man, to live in this world as the same person.
Wendy wanted her children to have the emotional stability she couldn't seem to manage even in her solid middle class upbringing. She was open about it, too. Now she was constantly seeking something missing. I was a teenager. She ran away from home, experimented with drugs. Our parents sent her to a psychiatric hospital back in Connecticut.
She wanted to have a peaceful part of her. She wanted to be centered would be the word.
But isn't that life?
Isn't that something common to all of us who Dataquest seem to be over? She was drawn to spirituality and for a time to a little known religious group that calls itself the Emissaries of Divine Light. I remember her saying that she felt she felt at home there. She did that, though. She she religion bounced, searching for somewhere to belong. And then finally, she and the family seemed to find a place to belong at the edge of the wilderness, far from her Connecticut past a small house a few miles outside of Prince George, British Columbia.
Danny took a job at a local lumber mill when he found work off and on as a substitute teacher at the local high school. That might have been the whole story, really, except that every drama needs a catalyst, right?
One day in 1995, Danny returned from work at the sawmill and told his family how a log hit his shoulder, knocked him out cold and what he tried to return to work. Tough that he was he just couldn't. It turned out he had a lot of nerve damage down the right side of his body. So he was left high and dry without being able to work anymore than he could no longer be the family's strong, stable protector once he lost his job.
I think that it was up to her to figure out, OK, how like how we make everything work. And then it was a hot morning in August 1997 when everything stopped working. Gabriel was in the kitchen and he was more or less paying attention when his mom and dad told him they were off to run some errands. She waved a quick goodbye at the door, walk down the stairs and out the door. The first degree of something wrong, something off is when the phone rang just after lunch at a phone call from Dad, asking if we'd seen mom because she hadn't shown up where they were supposed to meet.
And his dad told her her mom had dropped him off downtown so he could run errands while she drove on to the family band to tutor a student, then beat a friend, then pick them up again at a hardware store. But she hadn't returned. And as each hour crawled by that afternoon and his worry grew by nightfall, there was still no sign of Wendy.
But when I called the police to say, I don't know where she is, can you help? Their only question was, has it been twenty four hours? And it hadn't been so I couldn't make a report yet so dark now Anna and her father took the family's old truck and drove to Prince George to look for. They stopped by a coffee shop. One of Danny and Wendy's favorite meeting places No. One day. But as Anna looked around her, I got something familiar.
And there was the van sitting under a street lamp in a grocery store parking lot. I was so excited at the grocery store. I think I was just closing up and I thought, well, maybe she's on her way out of the grocery store. So I went and knocked on the door and they said, no, there's nobody here. The van, a white Plymouth Voyager, had picked up a did neither one of them remember on the driver's side door.
Weird van was lost, but Danny had an extra key inside. Everything looked normal. So I drove the van home that night and the next morning I just kept making phone calls, I called every friend of mine, every friend of hers, I called every number in the directory that she had. And no one had seen her. No one knew what I was talking about.
What did all that feel like? It was like being in a nightmare because mom was never late. Didn't miss appointments. Didn't just disappear. The next day, Danny and the kids filed a report with the RCMP, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, they created a missing person's poster, a photo of Wendy Smiley happy, her hazel eyes magnified by supersized glasses.
They plastered it around town.
A day went by, then two, then a week.
I just kept waiting for her to walk back through that door. You expected that to happen? I didn't know what else to do. For me, it was just. Well, she's going to come back, right? I'm 15 years old and just expecting everything to come and be normal. One of my really vivid memories is we went to see a movie together because we felt like let's have a little distraction from this trauma. So I remember standing in line to go to the cinema just feeling awful, feeling the weight of what's happening and having it feel so odd that we're doing that.
Like, why aren't we looking for her and Julie?
And I remembered her father going for long walks in the woods alone, seemed devastated, lost in denial.
He broke down for the first time. I'd never seen real emotion coming from him before.
By then, Wendys disappearance became news all over Prince George.
I came into contact with the case as a news reporter covering the disappearance itself, Frank Peebles of the Prince George Citizen.
It was quite a shock that somebody who was apparently normal every day, almost a stereotype in that sense, could disappear without a trace.
She was everybody's mom and she just disappeared. A disturbing echo of other stories people knew all too well.
This town is used to disappearances. And when Wendy Wright disappeared, there was a hint, you know, I would say even a strong whiff of suspicion that this was another highway of tears case, highway of tears.
Now, what would that be coming up? Was, Wendy just the latest on a long list of women who disappeared or been found dead along this stretch of road?
It became sickening to hear that another girl had gone missing. A terrifying spectre haunted the lonely highway that pass through Prince George on its way into the wilderness, the Highway of Tears. Eight hundred thirty seven miles of exquisite natural beauty winding its way past dramatic, snowcapped mountains and breathtaking vistas of lush forests and clear lakes, reflecting the blue skies above, but also pass the sights of unsolved mysteries.
You say there are six active investigations. CBC News tonight, more missing women on the highway over here body.
By the time when they Ruti vanished, at least 15 women had either gone missing or been found dead.
Somewhere along this highway where it was a serial killer was on the loose for me as a reporter, it became sickening after a while to hear the police issue another release that another girl had gone missing and Wendy become a highway victim.
Number 16. Her abandoned van wasn't far from the highway. You couldn't not look at it as a possibility. It's another woman gone missing in unsubstantiated ways. And for some, that's all it's needed. And in many ways it's perfectly valid.
But as reporter Frank Peeples dug into the story, he found another so far unsubstantiated theory making the rounds around town.
I know that the police spend a lot of time thinking about and investigating the Jones theory.
The Jones family, once the neighbors of the relatives, not exactly friends. In fact, just four months before she disappeared, Wendy complained very publicly about the Joneses appearing with daddy in the newspaper, accusing the family of mistreating their animals and using their land as a garbage dump.
She was able to get a fairly big news story happening which made the city react and and get them kicked off the property and the animals taken away.
It was not only damaging for the Joneses, it was humiliating, not the sort of thing they were inclined to take lying down.
Allegedly, there were threats made from the Joneses to the rats. Yes.
In fact, the Jones family matriarch said a scathing letter to the Prince George citizen bad mouthing Wendy and her family, intentionally misspelling the family name, exchanging the rotis for the rats.
I never met the Joneses, but the stories I heard about them were that indeed people would not have been surprised if they had acted out some of the threats that they were alleged to have made. Oh, and there was no question, said Gabriel. His mom did feel threatened by the Joneses. They did not make their anger any secret. They would wouldn't holler at her as they were passing. That's one of the examples of her community activism. Having a bad neighbor like that who are doing something about and doing something about it fearlessly, apparently, because she must have known that they would not like this, obviously.
And they might out that she made an enemy for sure.
That was just four months before she vanished, leaving nothing about her van in the local parking lot, a van with a dent in the door that nobody could remember seeing before.
It was a pretty sizable dent. So what was it?
Could it have maybe been some kind of sign of of struggle? If my mom was accosted, she was thrown into the van. Something forceful must have caused the stench.
And you know how people are. They talk. And the longer Wendy stayed busy, the more they talked about the Joneses.
So even in the newsroom, that was a leading theory. That's one of your clear first steps in any disappearance or murder cases. What's the motive? And the Joneses could have a motive.
There was a grudge. Certainly there there was some differences in it. It certainly was in the media. And we looked at that angle. Prince George, Detective Judy Thomas was leading the police inquiry into Wendy's disappearance. And this early in the investigation, any lead was welcome. What became your focus? This is the difficulty with missing person files. You don't there's no real starting point. You don't have a scene. You don't have remains. And and it makes it difficult.
Thomas decided to focus her investigation closer to home. She discovered that none of Wendy's close or personal things were missing from the house except for her passport.
So the obvious question, did you have the feeling that this is a woman who might have just up and left?
We had to look at all possibilities. You have to keep an open mind when you start on these investigations, because we had at that point very limited information on who Wendy was.
Where do you start? Maybe a phone call to Wendy's family back in the States and. Hear this story, and I think, oh, for crying out loud, you know, she's done it again. Coming up, a missing person's case like no other because who actually disappeared, Wendy? Or a second personality, some say, lurked inside? We asked and we said, what is going on? He said, that's not Wendy. That's when she does that.
She Sharna. When Dateline continues. Wendy Rattle the sweet free spirit of Prince George, British Columbia had vanished from her life as slick as a magic act, her passport nowhere to be found and as unlikely as it seemed, police had to seriously consider could would a dedicated wife and mother of two simply skipped town run away from her own family? Which brings us to the Greyhound bus station a few blocks from the place Wendy's van was found abandoned. Gabriel was putting up a missing persons poster there.
And I asked the lady who was there at the cash register, do you recognize this lady on the poster? She did say that she recognized my mom and I was just taken aback. You do? And she said, yes, very certainly. We asked her repeatedly and she said, I saw her. She was sitting at that table. What does it do in, say, one year that it's hope for you?
Then shortly after Wendy disappeared and I was looking through her mom's papers in search of clues and found an application for a teacher's job in California.
We thought, well, maybe, maybe she's there. I know she'd spent a lot. She had spent some time in New Mexico when she was getting her teaching degree and she loved it. Maybe she went there.
And then there was that religious group she'd been so into years earlier.
The emissaries of Divine Light could give up and join them.
They feel they have transcended the conflict and tension of their former lives.
A Canadian news magazine show profiled the group and found it had several branches in the U.S. It helped the police look into that and give them every information I could and and would often ask, how much did you look into this? Because I knew there was an American sect.
But still, why would her own kids think it possible she abandoned her family without so much as goodbye?
The reason for that was history. She had done it before.
Just. Disappeared from her life. This is Karen Krider, Wendie sister, who told how Wendy vanished the first time when she was 17 years old. The family finally found her living in a tent in New Hampshire.
Just at our very approach, she began screaming obscenities and shouting and just behaving in a menacing, hateful way. And she was not a person I'd ever met. And we knew she was not well and needed care and forcibly took her and put her in the hospital.
Doctors thought Wendy suffered from drug induced manic depression, but Karen said they didn't have time to make an official diagnosis. That's because Wendy turned 18, checked herself out and disappeared again, this time for almost two years. When Wendy disappeared, all traces of her were gone. She did not call anybody. We couldn't find her. We couldn't track her.
She showed up suddenly, apparently seeking refuge from an abusive relationship she was in at the time. And that was gone again.
And there was a clear disengagement from reality. She didn't understand that her disappearances were hurtful to her family. Members didn't get that at all.
So it went on and on until one day she turned up and announced she was getting married to delete. The family was overjoyed. Our family thought that he was a very good influence on her. And the fact that he chose to take a chance and take her away was nothing short of amazing.
Wendy became a dedicated wife, teacher, artist, mother. But there were always issues, mood swings.
For one thing, some days she would be so happy and other days the world would just way down on her.
But today, Sister Diane said that what she observed back in Saskatchewan when Anna and Gabriel was still young were just mood swings, but something far more complicated than that. The first time that I really noticed that was with the kids. She was always so gentle with them, soft spoken, and all of a sudden she was very cold and very abrupt with them.
And I started noticing today when this would happen, Danny would take her away and he'd say, oh, we're going for a walk now. And when they got back, she was back to normal. And then finally we asked and we said, you know, what is going on?
Finally, he said he said, no, that's no, that's not Wendy. He says when she does that, she's Sharna. We didn't really suffer from multiple personality disorder that was never diagnosed. The stories were all anecdotal.
But I met Shoma, Wendy and I met in a parking lot somewhere just to say hi. She was driving a very fast, very expensive car. She was bragging about how much money she made. She was uninterested in anybody else besides herself. And she said, I'm not Wendy anymore, Shauna.
So you do a bit around, off and on for quite a while. She even called herself that in a letter she wrote her parents when she was just twenty three. Shawna has magic, she wrote. So to Wendy, Wendy was the good mother, conservative, hard worker, wanted to save the world while Shauna was the wild child.
She didn't want to be tied down. She wanted to have a good time. She felt restrained by the bonds of marriage and family.
Maybe it was Shana who got on that bus. Or perhaps Osama. Yes, three Wendy's. Oh, sure. They came to life at seances.
Wendy late sometimes with Anna and Gabriel.
I don't know if they were real or if they weren't real.
They seem real at the time she was speaking and voices and they she was very in touch with a spirit, an ancient spirit with the name Toscana. She found some peace in that. And one day she says she said, let's hold hands and speak with a shaman.
I remember her transforming into this character. This different south, and it was a surprise to me, I didn't know she did this, she was a completely different person. She wasn't responding in the way that my mother usually does. So everybody was looking for Wendy, said Gabriel, when really maybe they should have been looking for one of the Shawna's.
I think that she had the capacity to to pick up and go. She might have reached that breaking point where she just thought or she didn't think. It just snapped and she just left. Then one day, after a month of rumors and unsubstantiated theories followed, one after the other, there was a break when they had been getting unemployment insurance and two of her checks have been cashed at an ATM in full view of the bank's surveillance camera.
Coming up, another potential clue was about to surface from Wendy's past, a crucial moment when a high stakes gamble went very wrong. She was so angry, she just vibrated what that told investigators.
A month into the investigation, police thought they were a big step closer to solving the mystery surrounding Wendy's disappearance. Someone cashed in her unemployment checks of an ATM. Was it Wendy? Was it someone who had done or harm? RCMP investigator Judy Thomas checked the bank surveillance cameras. And there he was, Danny Retie, Wendy's husband. So you asked him about it and he admitted it straight out, didn't try to lie.
I don't think he could lie about it when you have a picture of him cashing the check. Did he have an explanation that made any. Yeah, he explained the fact that his wife had disappeared. There was no money coming in and he needed to pay the bills. It made me wonder about his character.
Danny suddenly became suspect number one, though it was hardly a surprise police would look at the husband. In fact, in the very first week of the investigation, Thomas had questioned him three times.
I introduced myself as a police officer coming to talk to him and I said, How are you doing? His comment was better. Better? It struck me odd right at the beginning. Did he seem nervous? Upset? He didn't strike me as overly concerned. Not distraught by any means.
Frustrated is what he was doing. He told his sister, Diane.
And I said, you don't get used to it. You're the husband.
They're going to look at you because 99 percent of the time the husband did it didn't help that from one interview to the next, Danny appeared to change vital information about the day his wife went missing. He said she'd left with no money.
But then in the following statement, he claims that he gave her money for the two thousand dollars, in fact, money he'd gotten in advance for an odd job, which he asked Wendy to return when he couldn't complete it. It struck me there I was going, why didn't tell me that the first time? Yes, because it was specifically asked, did you did Wendy have money on her? You wouldn't think you'd forget about two thousand dollars. Exactly.
And in the fall of nineteen ninety seven, as investigators interviewed more and more people who knew the Ruti family, they discovered that ever since Danny had the mill accident that lost his job two years earlier, the perfect little family had not been quite so perfect after all.
Well, that's really hard for him, as you could imagine. He he liked being the man of the house.
Sure. And I suppose your physicality and your and your ability to provide for your family are taken away from you. That's got to be hard on the ego. Very hard.
It was very hard hit, especially hard in the family's finances. Their Visa card was almost maxed out.
The only income came from Wendy's work as a substitute teacher, not exactly a lucrative profession.
So Danny did what he always did. When times were rough, he played poker. He got a little desperate and started gambling more and more to try to get money for the family and gambled too much and started losing money and money didn't help.
And it was on one of those smoke filled nights sometime around February 1997, about six months before Wendy disappeared. One hundred around a poker table in the company of high rollers, Danny found himself staring at a hand that spelled salvation with twenty five thousand dollars in chips sitting on the table.
Maybe it's every gamblers excuse. My hand was so good that no one was going to beat it. So he threw everything into the pool. Yeah, he bet the highest he could and I lost it. So I think that went on at the visa as well. And. It was terrible. Mom was very vocal. I remember her yelling. She was so angry, she just vibrated, vibrated. Mom was emotional, you never see her yell at him like that before.
She talked about how much she loved Dad but was so angry with him, I wasn't sure if she could forgive him that he was betrayal. And you put years of devotion into someone to be cut down like that. Your father's addiction is ruining us. Wendy told Anna. And as was Windies Way, he told everyone else who cared to listen to 16 year old Anna. Daddy's girl began to see the tarnish in her father's halo.
When I heard that mom had to change bank accounts into her name, she had to protect the family's income. That was the first waiver I had with my father's character a month before she disappeared when she decided she needed some distance from Danny.
She took the kids and went to visit her old friend, Lois.
I feel that the decision Wendy was making was whether she was going to end the marriage with Danny or not. But she knew how much Danny loved his children and how much the children loved Danny. So she decided to give Danny one last chance. She went back to Prince George at a heart to heart with him and then called Lowis.
When she phoned, she said, I've talked with Danny. I've decided we're going to give it another try. That phone call was happiness with a lot of relief in it.
But my sense was if Danny betrayed her trust again, it was over. She was finished.
Danny told Wendy he'd do whatever it took to save the marriage. But I could clearly see that these very public complaints about his failings had been bothering him a lot. He was a proud man who didn't like his dirty laundry aired, and she just had to everyone they knew his failings had been put on display and they had never been before. What it took for her to forgive him, hurt her, hurt him deeply.
But did he told police again and again his marriage was back on track. He had absolutely no reason, he said, to hurt Wendy or have anything to do with her disappearance. Police said prove it. We were talking on the phone and he says they want me to take a lie detector test. I said, Danny, you're the husband. They're going to suspect you, but don't take a lie detector test. They scare me. Don't do it.
Danny did not listen to his little sister. Four months after Wendy disappeared, he volunteered to take the test. How did he seem going in?
A lot of people are nervous when they come in. They're unsure of the procedure. Can be pretty scary. Yeah. If I could categorize him, he was that way wondering, you know, what was going to happen, what's going to take place.
It was a polygraph question that had to be asked last August. Did you murder Wendy? Danny. Right. Answer it with conviction. No, I did not. And waited to see what the machine would say.
Coming up, the investigation is transformed when detectives run up against a fresh and frustrating piece of evidence. Does it seem to you at the time, hey, this is this can't be I remember having a thought of it's not what I would expected when Dateline continues.
Four months into the investigation of Wendy Rotis disappearance, no sign of Wendy anywhere. Police radar was squarely pointed at her husband, Danny, which was no surprise to seasoned Prince George reporter Frank Peoples.
It was just the natural assumption that someone of that style, that demographic, wouldn't go missing unless it was to someone that she knew closely today, of course, that proclaimed his innocence, took a lie detector test to prove it.
There was no shortage of other theories in the case, though. Theories like rumors are easy, separating rumor from fact. That's another matter altogether, as Detective Judy Thomas discovered as she chased down the leads.
First, the highway of tears. For years, women had been going missing out here, a body occasionally turning up beside the road. A horrifying surprise for passers by. But Thomas had investigated those cases and expected no such surprise in Wendy's case was sure of it. In fact, Wendy just didn't fit the profile. Some of the victims that we see are hitchhikers also involved in drugs and organized crime or some of the folks that her sex trade workers.
So you were able to dispense with that one pretty quickly. There was nothing to indicate that she was in any way connected to any of the missing or murdered women along Highway 16.
So so Judy Thomas, no highway of tears, but Wendy could still have left Prince George of her own accord. There was, after all, that sighting at the Greyhound bus station. But no, said Thomas, false alarm with various files. You get a lot of people saying, oh, I saw this person. They're quite adamant. But then I spoke to the woman. She actually said, no, I wouldn't be able to say that at all.
We flagged bank accounts, credit cards, social insurance numbers. We put Wendy on a Canada wide database. We checked the airlines, the border crossings. There was just nothing.
What about the religious group, the emissaries of divine light that Wendy had been drawn to years before?
We checked into that and had met with dead ends.
They said they had never heard of her reports that Wendy was mentally ill, that it wasn't her, but her alter ego that may have left town. Thomas interviewed Wendy's mother about her daughter's troubled youth.
We spoke at length. She told me all about Wendy and her background. And growing up, did she bring up the idea that Wendy may have had some sort of mental breakdown?
There was talk of some issues that Wendy had. We looked into medical records and there was nothing recent. There was a time in her life when she did I don't know if you want to call it disappear, but she lost contact with her family. But that's in a in a person's youth, which is much different than when you're married with children.
And Tom was interviewed, several of Wendy's closest friends all told her the same thing. Wendy was first and foremost a mother. You get a sense that you know these people when you're looking for what happened to them, you certainly develop an idea of who that person could be and what I did. Did you develop for Wendy, a very caring, loving mother when I was talking with Anna Gabriel, the love that they had for the mother, I. I knew that it had to be reciprocated, that obviously Wendy loved her children very much.
And I kept hearing that over and over that she would not leave her child. Was a central fact in your mind? Definitely.
So run away. One Wendy investigator Thomas decided no. So what about the Jones family, the neighbors who Wendy helped evict from their property? They would have had the motive to hurt her. You look at the full circumstances of it. That family had moved for months. I believe prior the main person that they alluded to wasn't even in the area and there was nothing else to support that the Joneses ruled out as suspects in the disappearance of Wendy Ruti. Which left Wendy's husband, Danny, he created the suspicion himself, of course, when he illegally cashed Wendy's unemployment insurance checks and his gambling habit almost bankrupted the family, led to those terrible fights just months before Wendy disappeared.
But Danny, remember, agreed to take a lie detector test and now the results were in.
The polygraph operator came back and and told Dennis that he found him to be truthful. You heard right. Truthful. Letting him go as a suspect had to been difficult. Does it seem to you at the time, hey, this is this can't be or it I, I remember having a thought of. Hmm. It's not what I would expected. Dionne, who had warned me not to take the lie detector test, got a call from her vastly relieved brother, did the lie detector test and I passed it, said she told me not to do it and I did it.
And it paid off because now they know I didn't do it and they're leaving me alone. So I was right. OK, you were right.
You in the case of the disappearance of Wendy Wright, I was at a dead end. Julie told me we don't understand four other cases. There's usually, well, at least bogus information coming in. There was nothing coming in.
Was her mom alive? Was she dead? Could she have abandoned the children who loved her so much? Unsolved cases often carry with them an intolerable uncertainty or maybe as Anna was about to discover.
An unbearable truth. Coming up, Anna gets word there might be witnesses who know what really happened to Wendy. Who are these people? Have they told the police? Returning to our story when we return, left the house for a morning of errands and never came home. Police have pursued all kinds of leads and come up empty. Now the investigation is about to take an unthinkable turn. And when these two children were learned that in this case, the only thing worse than not knowing what happened to their mother may be knowing.
Again, Keith Morrison.
It's a very personal thing the way humans react to trauma. For three years after his mother disappeared, Gabriel's way was to forget, force it out of his head. He went to Vancouver, registered for college, try to go on with life. I didn't give it a lot of thought to the point where I try to remember her face and I couldn't. I would have dreams, though. Dreams of her coming back up those stairs in the same way that she walked out.
Anguished like that. Couldn't stay hidden for long. It happened in a drama class. Gabriel was reciting a scene from a play that dealt with abandonment, anger, desperation, the very feelings he'd been trying to suppress. I broke down. I was bawling in the performance in the classroom. They couldn't console me. I was I was on the ground. I was heaving. I didn't know. I mean, this is like three years build up of just holding it in.
I just quit school because I felt like this is too much right now. My brother was lost.
I say I always felt that I connected with my father more. I always felt that my brother connected with her more. I feel a lot of guilt for not being able to have been able to replace her.
Why should you replace her? Because maybe she would have been OK. But we're both so lost that we couldn't we couldn't be there for each other. Well, Gabriel tried to forget Anna became obsessed with remembering. Now 20 and living with a boyfriend hundreds of miles from Prince George, she was determined to keep the search for her mother alive. Everything else I did was just mechanical motion. My emotion went in to finding her. And she began to believe she was quite alone, that the RCMP had let the case go cold.
They always promised me it wasn't they promised they were still looking, but then nobody would nobody would be working on it. And finally, I was tired of this file shuffle and went to the media to say, don't forget, this was a person in your community.
Don't forget she came in carrying this folder of news clippings and possible leads that were connected to her mother. I talked to many families of many disappeared people over the years, and I could see the light in that in her eyes that way. This was one of those people who was not going to let this go.
But Anna's father, Danny, it seemed, had given up not only on ever finding his wife again. But on himself, he was changing over the years in front of my eyes, this calm, patient, sturdy, steady person was emotional, angry, and he was a mess. I saw him with food banks. I saw him with girlfriends that you had to pay for. I saw his demeanor change from a proud working man to a street thug.
Danny was in a downward spiral, desperate for money, he turned to small time crime, tried a bit of a drug deal and got caught. He was lucky it was his first offense, so he only got probation.
He told me that, you know, he did this drug deal because he needed the money to keep her home. Wendy's home, as he said, if I keep the house, he says, she'll have a home to come home to.
Danny lost the house six years after Wendy disappeared.
He was living in an apartment in the seediest part of town, collecting bottles to make ends meet. It was a blow that he'd gone that low.
And when I try to question him about it, he just, you know, he says, hey, I said, my kids are gone. My wife's gone. Don't have much left, but I had a sense, she said, a nagging feeling that it wasn't just grief that kept me from being the strong, dedicated father she had known. Was it possible, she wondered, that it was guilt?
I thought I thought I was hiding something. What would he know? I don't know, he said, I have gone through my story. If you need to hear it, go see the police. Ask them to tell you the story. He was fed up. He was OK. I'm done. I'm not talking about it anymore. Now I understand about being fed up. I couldn't imagine how I would feel to be the one investigated. But I also believe in truth.
And if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to hide.
But Winona kept pushing. Her dad's not back, but he was conducting his own investigation. His target police had already eliminated the Jones family.
He said that day that she disappeared, friends of his saw the family from down the street that she had had kicked out. She saw them following her, said, where is this coming from? Who are these people? Have they told the police? And he said, these people don't want to go to the police.
They're afraid of this family.
And I couldn't understand that he would be OK with not telling the police if her father didn't want to go to police.
And I decided then she would.
I asked, could I have my father storyline? And the police said, we don't have a clear picture of what happened that day because every time he tells us a story, there are big holes.
What did you think when you heard that?
Just at a loss, it felt like there was a it's like he was putting a barrier in front of the investigation, but there was something and it didn't know the case of her mother's disappearance wasn't cold at all. In fact, police were actively investigating her father.
Four years after Danny passed his lie detector test, the RCMP reviewed it standard practice in unsolved cases, but this time with a quite unexpected outcome.
The polygraph operator rereads his charts her and then we find that he was actually deceptive, deceptive meaning, according to the police polygrapher, that Danny Rati lied when he claimed he had nothing to do with Wendy's disappearance. Investigator Thomas wanted to be sure.
And we had five polygraph operators read those charts. Every one of them read them to be deceptive.
But a failed lie detector test was certainly not enough evidence to arrest Danny, let alone charge him with a crime.
It was hard for me not to tell Lana. I couldn't because I you have to balance the integrity of this investigation. You don't want it jeopardized.
So all Thomas could do was file the results away, try to find more evidence against me. But as the years slowly tick by, one by one, nothing. Finally, in 2007, a decade now since Wendy vanished, Thomas decided that if she wanted to get closer to Danny to find out what he knew once and for all, she would need some help. That's when we looked at passing it off to the unsolved homicide unit, Vancouver's E division, to be exact.
The Premier Cold case unit in British Columbia.
Get ready for an undercover mission unlike any you have ever seen.
Coming up, a sting by investigators worthy of the big screen. They're described as right out of Hollywood, the staged kidnapping. The fake blood is truly phenomenal. Meet the man they call Mr. Big when Dateline continues. It was a sweet wedding, happy and a little sad, too wistful when Anna, the bride, danced with her father. It was 2003, six years since her mother vanished from her life.
Father insisted he had nothing to do with it. And tender moments like these, A.J. reminded her how much she yearned for the bond they once had.
I had to believe him, but they still my hero, childhood hero was still there, but she was sliding, sliding into a darker understanding of her father. Until the day in late 2007, when ADMET reporter Frank Peeples at a downtown cafe, there's no one else in the room. At the time we were talking quietly and after about an hour of conversation, she finally just shook her head and said, I'm very sure that it was that. And the wrench in her eyes when that came out was something I don't think I can ever forget.
By then, the RCMP lead investigator, Robert Barett of the Unsolved Homicide Unit in Vancouver was in charge of the case, one of 800 unsolved cases on the unit's books upon our review.
We came to the same conclusion as as to did here that Dennis Verité with the suspect in his wife's disappearance, but there wasn't quite enough to charge him, was all right?
That's correct. Yes. And one of the things we decided was that an undercover operation may be the best to to try to move this far forward. And an undercover operation.
Yes, the undercover operation the Unsolved Homicide Squad came up with was so elaborate and ambitious, it might seem, frankly, unbelievable. They created from scratch a fake criminal organization, complete with detectives posing as crooks. The goal, to lure Danny right into their midst and gain his trust so as to find out what he really knew about his wife's disappearance.
The RCMP have have conducted over 350 of these investigations.
Keenan, a policy analyst for the Canadian government, has studied these operations and written a book about them. They have creatively fashioned a backdrop that simulates a real world criminal environment. So much so that fiction is often difficult to differentiate from reality.
The RCMP would not discuss the specifics of the undercover operation that targeted Dinni rhetoric, but Dateline NBC reviewed an RCMP summary of the mission.
June 2008, an undercover officer approached Ely in Prince George. He was looking for someone. He talk to me but didn't know his way around town. He agreed to help. About a week later, another question.
What did he like to make some money on the side, delivering bags, mostly their contents unknown.
No problem said to me.
And bit by bit, as days went by, he became fully involved in what he clearly believed was a criminal gang. After a couple of months, by August, he was helping them smuggle illegal cigarettes and alcohol to exchange stolen diamonds and even to transport guns, or so he thought.
Over time, the target is led to believe that he is an up and comer in the criminal organisation. Then it got more serious. Danny was asked to threaten the man he did, though he said he didn't like it and he guarded a hotel room door as an undercover officer, savagely beat a woman. Danny, never suspecting it was all an act. These undercover officers, they're amazing actors and they're described as right out of Hollywood, the types of scenarios that they do, the beatings, the staged kidnappings, the fake blood packs.
It's truly phenomenal.
Danny bonded with his crime buddies over meals, in fancy restaurants and evenings in strip clubs. The pay was good to about 12 grand, a little more than three months more than he turned in years. He told his sister, Diane, without divulging too much, says I'm learning some money.
I'm not eating at the soup kitchen anymore. And I just thought, oh, great, he got a job and he's got people he's working with that he really likes and they really like him.
During one of his delivery trips to Vancouver. Danny stopped to see his son, Gabriel, now 26, and a college student once more. Gabriel noticed that the old, self-assured Danny was back.
I saw that glint in his eye where he felt proud of himself again, and he hadn't felt that since he'd since he'd been injured.
Then three months into the operation, the sting was primed. The real police showed up again, and Danny's life told him the investigation had been reopened. He was the prime suspect. And by the way, he failed that lie detector test all those years ago. Now suddenly worried Danny, just as planned, had no one else to turn to accept his new friends. The undercover detectives had him just where they wanted him. Time for Mr. Big.
Mr. Big is the commanding, all powerful boss of the criminal organization. He's the one who calls the shots. If he likes you and wants to bring you in, he can make your criminal problems go away.
And Danny, his crime buddies, assured him at all it took to be a made guy, all because he'd been what the organization valued the most, honest and loyal.
That's a common safeguard of the Mr Big Technique, said, keen to ensure as much as possible that the suspect doesn't lie to gain respect. Just be honest. If you're honest, things will be great. You'll thrive if you lie, there could be very devastating consequences. Mr. Big will only accept the truth.
The truth. So far, whenever undercover officers had asked Danny about his missing wife about a dozen times or so, he didn't waver from the story he stuck to for more than a decade. He had nothing to do with it. September 27, 2008, a hotel room and Winnipeg Marketplace lead investigator Robert Ray monitoring the video in a nearby room. So you've got this elaborate setup. What are you trying to get?
I've been involved in investigations where we've actually been able to clear a person of of any wrongdoing. So it's not just there to to try to find a person guilty. It's there to seek the truth the moment it comes time for need to come clean. Attorney Benjamin. For sure. Coming up, his back against the wall. What would Denise say to Mr. Big? I'm going to tell you honestly what happened. I want you to take this as a joke, OK?
Yeah, we can only be sure.
OK, do they tell you come to the moment of truth? He was meeting Mr. Big, the man he believed to be an all powerful crime boss. His audition, he believed for membership, for trust, for help from Mr. Big Royal Canadian Mounted Police, disguised the identity of voices of the undercover agents.
Well, no, I haven't decided yet, but I hope you won't have one. OK. We don't want to see who was a person. So first, Mr. Big told me you'd have to come clean about his past, especially about the mystery of his wife's disappearance, that is, of course, if he knew anything about it.
The undercover Canadian investigator posing as the crime boss wanted Danny to feel comfortable, so he spoke French to his mother tongue. We have translated and dubbed over their conversation in English.
There are three things I want. Loyalty, truth. Honestly, the last one I didn't honestly, being honest, honest, honesty, yeah. OK, then a knock on the door. It was one of the crime bosses, alleged cronies with an internal police memorandum. Read it, said Mr. B, as Danny sat and listened to Margaret. Primary suspect and only suspect husband, that is for you roughly just about finished their investigation.
They're waiting for satellite results from U.S. satellites, that was a lie, of course, there had been no satellite watching TV on that August day back in 1997.
They're 100 percent sure he's the one who did it.
But the last 11 years, Danny had insisted he had nothing to do with his wife's disappearance. Now, suddenly, for a man he believed to be a crime boss, he changed his story.
OK, man, what do you have to say? But I'm going to tell you. I'm going to tell you. I'm going to tell you honestly what happened. The honest truth.
I never told it in my life. I ain't happy about it, but I did it. Yeah, OK. Not happy I did it, but I still did it. Everything worked perfect with a rifle, one shot, you know, nice and easy. You shot her where. Oh, in the head. Where in the head. Well, in back of the head there. You know, I didn't really check when I said when I hit her, I was pretty nervous, I guess.
I guess around here you shot Wendy and he told Mr. Big that morning at their house in Prince George. She was feeding the ducks her back to him when he took aim with a 22 caliber rifle, right or left side.
I got to put myself back. Oh, he did OK in her. Eerie seeing a husband trying to relive the moment when he said he murdered his wife.
OK, you you move over there like that. Yeah, yeah. Because I remember turning. Yeah. And that's your left side.
Right? That that's my left side.
And he said it was just one shot. Not a lot of blood after Wendy fell to the ground. He said he quickly wrapped her body in a black tarp and that's when he noticed she was still moving. I took a bumper jack, right? It's those old jacks you used to put under the vehicle.
Oh yeah. OK, OK, OK. There was a big thing, OK, with the cover on. I didn't want to leave a mark. Right. So it's OK. I finished her off with that.
Where in the face of the waves then did he continued. He put the body and when these white Plymouth Voyager made a left turn on Highway 16, the highway of Tears and drove to an abandoned logger's road about one and a half hours away. There was a swamp there that. I made sure you know the body. What did you put on? What did you put on top?
There was mud, right? And there was a stick. OK, you know, I started around and it slipped. Today, he told Mr. Beck that he drove back to Prince George, got rid of the gun, that his wife died along the way and left the van in a grocery store parking lot.
He wandered around for a bit before he called Diana to report her mom was missing. And later that night, he came back, was added to the coffee shop so that she would discover the van.
The house is right there. You know, the day after his meeting with Mr. Big and he took two other undercover officers to the scene of the crime. Of course, he believe he was talking to fellow gang members. Sergeant Shorter, one of the men I brother more behind the Greg, you just talked to one three one. I don't believe it.
Twice then did his criminal friends. I asked him to take them to where he dumped Wendy's body. They told him they needed to make sure there was no evidence left. It took a while to find the place he hadn't been back in 11 years from now.
But finally he was sure there was a way over, you know, so everything makes sense.
And as they continued searching the area, oh, my gosh, it completely made us wonder if that's black yet state. That's the TARP. That's a piece of a tarp. A couple of days later and I got a call. It was the police asking her to come downtown.
And they sat me down and and said, we've just arrested your father for the murder of your mother. Was the idea shattering? Hey, I broke down. But at the same time, it's like I knew. I just didn't want to believe it. The signs were all there. He changed so much. And just hearing it, it kind of official that the person I held so dear wasn't there anymore.
Not a big surprise, really. And I had doubts about her father all along. But her brother Gabriel. Well, that was a different story all together.
I can't imagine how anyone would say it's 100 percent. So I kept it. And Gabriel isn't the only one with doubts.
A confession is one thing, but do police have anything else undenied? I'm going.
Wait a minute. They found absolutely nothing to corroborate his story when Dateline continues.
Gabriel was at work when the call came. The police, they said they needed to see him right away. It was a big mystery until they brought me and they put me in a room with a camera, and that's when they broke it to me. They told me that they know that my father did it and they are 100 percent certain of it. And your very first reaction was what it felt like. My world came unhinged, like it was a dream.
Like reality had ceased to be at right then and there, the police asked Gabriel to record a message to his father, and so course he did.
I spoke to him in French about how I loved him, first of all. And I told him, you know, if this happened, I just want to know more. So please be honest. Please know that I'm here for you then with a heavy heart.
Gabriel called Wendy's family in the States, but instead of anger, he was surprised to encounter skepticism. I didn't believe it. All of us, I think, saw him as someone who would die to protect his family. That was who he was. That was his source of pride, and at that point, it was the only source of pride he had left. The only way Gabriel thought he could make sense of it all was to confront his father in jail.
And I just told him right away, I want the truth. Whatever it is, I want you to tell me the truth. And he told me, no, no, no, just there's no way I didn't do it.
So Gabriel wondered what hard evidence that police found that proved his father was guilty of murder. It turned out they hadn't found anything.
Oh, my gosh. That's a piece of a tarp. Now, a day after Danny led undercover detectives to the scene of his alleged crime, they returned to pick up that piece of tarp and set it to the lab for analysis. But the results were inconclusive. They also searched the area for a body, of course, but found nothing at all, not so much as a bone.
It's not unusual for us to go over that kind of timeframe because of animal activity and things of that nature, not to find either any remains or very few remains.
But there, Gunbower, all the bits and pieces of things that he stashed places, the driver's license and so on, none of that showed up because it had been over 10 years, that I think it's reasonable to expect that a lot of those items would have just disappeared. You didn't have the physical evidence that would back up his confession in the undercover operation. There was some physical evidence, correct? Yeah.
And I'm going, wait a minute. They found absolutely nothing to corroborate his story.
It was painful for Diane to watch the video of her brother's confession, a pre-trial hearing. But she was shocked to learn that the confession was the only thing the cops had to convict her brother of killing his wife. And that's when she became convinced that he lied to Mr. Baker.
His confession was false hopes the proof.
First, she says, the chilling details of his alleged cold blooded murder that just didn't make any sense. I cannot see him the way he loved her doing. And not especially not with his kids in the house, there's no way he would have taken that kind of a chance. So I ask him, do you hear gunshots all the time? And he said no, and especially not. First thing in the morning outside my window, there was no gunshot.
He said he did it between the house and the garage. You would have heard that, surely? I definitely would have heard it.
Then there were the clothes, Danny said, when he was a little sweater and jogging pants couldn't be true because of my recollection of the morning.
He said that she was wearing totally different clothes than I saw her leave with and something else bothered him, something to be told his crime buddies when they asked him whether he was capable of murder.
Earlier on in the Mr. Big Sting, he confessed to killing a man with rat poison. And it turned out that he died of natural causes. So was happened. It was a fake confession.
It was why, like Gabriel said, Danny was desperate to be accepted by his new tough guy friends who said this would be good stuff. And if he lied about one murder, why not lie about killing Wendy, too, especially when what was at stake was his acceptance in the game and his new job, which he marked as Mr. Bates loyal foot soldier. All I remember is the Clinton eye when he told me he was working again and how proud he looked.
Perhaps a regular crime organization wouldn't have even brought him in.
You know, they might not have looked him twice, probably, but this crime organization was designed for him. He made a lot of money.
First of all, he had more money than he'd been in a long time. He had found a new found family that respected him, that thought he was intelligent. He didn't want to lose that.
But perhaps the most convincing argument Young heard was from Danny himself when she went to see him in jail for all those years. He told her the police just wouldn't leave him alone.
And his meeting with the crime boss, he said, was a chance to finally make the investigation stop public. We're going to talk to each other and we're going to work out these problems. We're going to fix them, OK? OK, that's what we're going to do. We're going to fix them, he says.
I couldn't just tell them I did nothing and well, then they can't help me. And so he says, I made up a story and all that. I thought they would find me some kind of an alibi or something. He says I'll fix it so that all these cops get off my case. If only he had such a miserable, lonely life that I believe he was at that point would have said almost anything but relatives of suspects nearby.
Mr. Bates didn't have every right to cry foul, said criminologist. Keep the techniques. Ingenuity is also its Achilles heel. While it's capable of exposing the guilty, it can also induce innocent suspects to to falsely confess to a crime they didn't commit. So the litmus test to me is corroboration. Without it, there's there's no no way to tell whether the suspect is telling the truth or is lying.
But I know watch the tapes, too. And she said she could tell. I know my father. I know my father's mannerisms. I know when he's hiding something, when he's not being truthful about something.
And unlike the name Gabriel, unlike her mom's family in the States. And I was convinced her father was guilty as charged.
I knew when he was talking about mom's murder that it was true.
That's what he had done, just about finished the investigation. They're waiting for satellite results from U.S. satellite. That's when he folded and I saw the look in his eye. I'm caught, I saw the I'm court look in his eye, the gunshot, the tarp, the carjack, her brother Gabriel said it was all a lie, but Anna had another word for him.
It's got cold. Let's call to talk about a little cold to do.
How do you talk about the woman you were married to if you didn't do it to really to really tell that story, or could he would he tell it again?
So he picks up. It's a comedian coming up.
Whatever Danny was or was not about to say, did it really make sense that he would hurt Wendy? She was the breadwinner. She was the brains of the operation. Why would he kill her? Danny Wright, caught by an elaborate undercover sting, confessing to murder, sat in jail while outside his two children, Anna and Gabriel, battled over whether he belonged there. And I thought the confession finally proved it. Her father was guilty, but she stood alone.
Most of her family sided with Gabriel. There was no evidence, said Danny's sister. Diane had no motive.
She was the breadwinner. She was the brains of the operation. She was his everything. He lost the house. He lost his kids. He lost his whole life. Why would he kill her?
In his confessions, Danny said he had a reason. It would seem so twisted. Neither police nor anyone else believed it when they remember was said to have had a split personality.
And Danny claimed that on the day he killed her, he knew Wendy's alter ego, Shana, was going to sexually assault Anna. And of course, he couldn't let that happen. I had no choice, save the little girl, save my little girl.
What did you think when you heard that he was disgusted of all the lies you could have said for why you had to involve me again?
It was all too much for the lies, the betrayals, and now her dear brother refusing to share her outrage.
He wants very much to think that your father is not guilty, you know, and I can't blame him. You think he's living in la la land? I think he didn't see what I saw. He wasn't there. I was up to my neck in investigation trying to find mom. And I can absolutely understand wanting to be blind to to the truth because I was there to you know, I don't want to speak badly about my sister.
I really don't. But she because of her activism in trying to find my mother for so many years, it was a lot easier for her, I think, to to put everything aside and create an easy solution for me. I'm happy to live with a question mark. I'm not going to pretend it's anything else.
Why don't you want to see something, some kind of evidence to back up what you've seen on tape, the look in his eye on that tape?
That's all it is. That's what I needed. Or is it that you cannot stand living in this kind of doubt any longer? You had to make a decision that was a decision you made.
I saw the truth on his face in that tape.
The man who ran the undercover sting, lead investigator Robert Berat, insisted his team took all precautions to make sure Danny did not lie when he met with Mr. Big.
We're always mindful of false confessions, and allegations are made all the time, I suppose. Correct? You know, I think no one really wants to believe that, you know, someone they know and care about could be responsible for something, somebody murder. In fact, the Mr. Big Undercover Technique has been repeatedly upheld by Canada Supreme Court. And although the RCMP did not find any physical evidence to corroborate Danny's confession, the Mr. Big and his gang, it turned out they did have evidence that was perhaps much more compelling.
And they got it after that.
He was arrested. At that point in time, Dennis has read all his rights that he that he's provided under the Canadian law.
He had acted. He could have said, I wish I thought I was talking to a crime boss and I was just lying to him. Absolutely. I didn't know he didn't.
When Danny was arrested, he had no idea he'd been caught in a sting. And then his confession to Mr. Big was on tape.
But then police showed him the video. So does this come back to you, is it coming back to you, didn't he at first for almost an hour, then he seemed to be in denial? I have never said that that I killed her, first of all.
Yeah, but, Danny, we know that you killed her. Well, I've never said it, though, huh? No, you said it. No, you said it there, Danny. I said it there.
Yes. And that's when the interrogator decided to show Danny another tape, the one police made of Gabriel the day they told him they'd arrested his father.
So essentially, Danny, your son is asking you to tell the truth. Do you see anything? And then a couple of minutes later, a silent nod from Danny and he began to confess again, the same detail, the gunshot, the tarp, the carjack.
She didn't suffer, she didn't suffer. No, it was fast. It still hurts, it had been a heavy burden to carry that with him all those years that Danny said, you know, it's hard, you know, someone who looks at you and I've always loved my wife. I still love her even though we were friends, OK? You have killed your friend. Yes. He took everything for me to do it. I even cried when I did it there.
He admitted it at this time. You checked the tapes.
It's all true. It's all true. What? You told them that it was all true.
You didn't tell any lies at all. A confession is the strongest evidence anybody ever gets. And, you know, it generally does the deed. Mm hmm. And that was a pretty detailed confession, not just once, but twice. And that's the one I don't understand more than anything I've asked him more than once. Why did you confess when you knew you were in front of a police officer? Why wouldn't you say, Oh, well, of course I didn't do it.
You know, I was just trying to get in with this organization and, you know, he didn't have much of an answer. So if he if there's an ounce of of of me not believing him, it's there. This is the biggest weakness in the story.
But given the continued absence of any physical evidence, you know, that second confession still wasn't enough to convince Gabriel his father killed his mother. Is it possible, though, that you're living in denial? No, you're not the first person to ask me, I bet I've definitely thought about it right. But I think I'm very balanced about it. I can be swayed by the evidence whether it is going to be for or against my dad. So show me the evidence.
Where do these two confessions evidence enough? As a jury was about to decide, a brother and sister were prepared to fight for what they believe was right, even if that meant losing each other.
December 2010, 13 years after Wendy Reti disappeared in a Prince George courtroom, the battle lines were drawn. But this case wasn't only the Crown versus Danny Ruti, it was brother against sister on the witness stand.
What was it like to testify at the trial? It's hard. You looked out there and you saw everybody else in the family who disagree with you.
They're still my family. It was tough for all of them. They all felt I should have been with him more, siding with him more. But I had to make it clear someone has to defend mom, Danny Ratti pleaded not guilty and recanted the confessions he made both to Mr. Big and to the police after his arrest. His son, Gabriel, was one of just two witnesses.
The defense presented to the court kind of hold my breath and go through it and hope that whatever I say is going to work for my dad. And I'm utterly aware that I'm the only person there who is speaking in favor of my dad. Denise, defense lawyer, hammered undercover detectives about the lack of physical evidence and pointed out lies Danny had told Mr. Baker and his gang proof. He told the jury that Denise confessions should not be believed. And after four weeks, the end of the 13 year old mystery was finally at hand.
It took the jury just two hours to find any red tape guilty of second degree murder.
So much of my life had been devoted. To finding the truth, and now I had the truth. It's not the truth I wanted. But nonetheless, that's what I had. I'm happy to have it interesting that getting the truth. Isolate you from the people you love? That's true. But isn't the truth more important? It doesn't matter that my family. Might be angry with me for the results of where this trial led. The truth is all that matters and that's how mom lost her life.
Anna knows all too well the truth will never replace her mother's soothing laws, but what she yearns for most these days, if only she could speak to the spirits the way her mom once did, because I think maybe then I could hear her.
Maybe then she could speak to me. If I open up enough, she'll come talk to me, but.
And there was one last moment of melodrama right after Danny was sentenced to 15 years to life, he suddenly turned to Elena. As she was leaving, he said to her, Keep looking for your mother. Gabriel was not there for the guilty verdict. He had to leave right after his testimony back to Vancouver, to his college graduation. That very same day, it was such a whirlwind. And I was just in the line up late to get my gown, get ready to go into the ceremony and just think, oh, my gosh, you know, what is this life?
Where are my parents to watch this, you know?
His father was in prison and his mom, well. His mom, do you really believe in your heart that there is a possibility that your mother is still out there somewhere, that she that she's still alive? That's the part of me. That is part of the dreamy, hopeful, optimistic side. You hear the odd story once in a while of someone returning after twenty five years of absence. You do hear it. It does happen. So, Matt, whenever I did hear one of those, I just my heart fills with optimism.
There hasn't been a happy ending for anybody except know your sister. Anna thinks it's the right ending. It's hard being on the other side of this with her. It's impossible to get around to it.
It's been almost 15 years since his dad was arrested for killing his mom. Gabriel is a father himself to three children. His father in prison has met two of them. Heather has two a couple of years ago at their grandparents place in Cape Cod. They've tried to reconnect since then and chat once in a while, though never about their father, who is up for parole this August. We love each other very much. We have a bond as brother and sister that was very strong as children, and it will always be there.
This is a really difficult situation for both of us. And we'll get through it. Topics left of our perfect family is the two of us. We can't let that go.