Police believe that Eric Wildman — the subject of a weeklong police search last year — allegedly killed his rural Manitoba neighbour in anger after catching the man in the act of stealing from him, court documents say.
Wildman went on the run from the police in June 2021, after his neighbour Clifford Joseph, 40, went missing.
Joseph was later found dead, and Wildman was charged with first-degree murder in his death.
That charge hasn’t been proven in court.
Joseph’s girlfriend told police that on the last day she saw him, he planned to steal a winch from Wildman, who lived next door in the rural community of Stead, about 90 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, according to a police request for a search warrant filed with Manitoba provincial court that month.
“Clifford had also stolen items from Eric’s residence, which angered Eric,” Sgt. Richard Sherring, a member of the RCMP D Division’s major crime unit, wrote in the court filing.
On the morning of the last day Joseph’s girlfriend saw him, she woke up to find him gone, so she went out on their property to look for him, she told police.
She said she found Joseph’s vehicle parked in a field behind some bushes. The doors were open and his cellphone and car keys were inside, the court documents say.
She told police she followed some tire tracks leading away from Joseph’s car onto property owned by Wildman, and found Joseph’s shoes, hat, a head lamp and a tool bag but not Joseph, so she called police.
During the police investigation, officers learned Wildman was concerned about other items being stolen from his property, including catalytic converters.
Joseph’s girlfriend told police she was worried that Wildman was involved in Joseph’s disappearance because she had heard rumours Wildman may have been involved in the disappearance of Vernon Karl Otto, who had gone missing from the area three years earlier. RCMP now believe Otto was the victim of a homicide.
RCMP haven’t identified Wildman as a suspect in Otto’s homicide.
“I believe that Eric found Clifford on his property in the process of stealing items. Eric then chased Clifford down through the field in his vehicle before killing him and disposing of his body,” Sherring alleged in the court filing.
Police attempted to interview Wildman about Joseph’s disappearance, but he declined to give a statement, police said in court documents.
Wildman owned many guns
Officers found a vehicle belonging to Wildman in Winnipeg and noticed there was damage to the hood, bumper and windshield. At that point, police seized the vehicle and got a search warrant.
They found guns, police tactical equipment, police patches and other items resembling police clothing, RCMP reported at the time.
Court filings indicate that an AK-47 was among the items found, as well as a 50-round drum magazine for a handgun and a basket of five loaded magazines for the AK-47 — all of which are prohibited weapons or devices.
Cpl. Mark Heathcote from the RCMP’s national weapons enforcement support team in Manitoba expressed a number of concerns about Wildman’s weapons in a request for a search warrant of his property and vehicles, including the fact that he had bought three guns, including a restricted handgun, the month before Joseph’s disappearance.
“I believe that Eric Wildman has failed to comply with the standards and requirements placed on all firearms owners in Canada,” Heathcote wrote in the court filing.
“I believe it is not desirable in the interests of the safety of … Wildman or any other person for [him] to possess firearms.”
Court documents say a receipt was found in the vehicle that led officers to an auto wrecker business in the rural municipality of Springfield, about 32 km east of Winnipeg, where a person who appeared to be Wildman was seen on a surveillance camera buying a new hood and headlight for his vehicle and changing out his damaged hood there.
That damaged hood was recovered and examined by an RCMP forensic reconstructionist, who told officers the vehicle was involved in a collision with a pedestrian who was standing at the time of impact.
Police never released Joseph’s cause of death.
RCMP requested a search warrant to test the airbag to prove the vehicle was involved in a collision, but that warrant was denied because of incomplete information and an error in the request.
Following Joseph’s disappearance, Wildman went on the run from the police.
He was arrested on June 18, 2021, at a home in Belleville, Ont., about 1,600 kilometres east of the area where he and Joseph were neighbours.
The next month, Joseph’s remains were found in Stead.
In addition to the first-degree murder charge in relation to Joseph’s death, Wildman was charged with two counts of attempted murder after police said shots were fired when they arrived at a Belleville home to arrest him.
His trial is scheduled to occur between May 8 and June 16, 2023.