Two years before he was shot dead in his basement apartment, Paul Hepher approached his friend, Calgary jazz singer Cindy McLeod, and asked if she could give him some singing lessons. Hepher, a freelance music writer and part-time card dealer at a local casino, had always hung around the Calgary music scene.
But this particular request, as Hepher edged into his late 40s, struck McLeod as transformative. Hepher was gentle and kind and loved by those who knew him best, and yet, in ways, he seemed lost, until he found his true voice — a rich baritone.
Hepher wrote a collection of folksy, smart, country-tinged tunes. He started recording with another friend, Alberta blues legend Ron Casat, producing a series of tracks that were forgotten, in time, but that McLeod kept returning to during a recent conversation about her “dear friend Paul” after learning that an arrest had finally been made in connection with his murder 16 years ago.
“Out of the blue, here was Paul, asking me for singing lessons — and it was so hopeful,” McLeod says, her voice growing ragged. “News of this arrest brings so many memories to the surface. Because what do you do when something horrible happens to someone you love?
“You try and remember them in life, and you try your best to move on.”
Terrance Wardale, 61, a drifter previously unknown to police, was arrested April 13 and charged with second-degree murder, in what Calgary investigators are describing as a “robbery attempt gone wrong.” The alleged killer stole nothing of value from a man whose only treasures were his music and his friends.
Police identified Wardale as their prime suspect in 2014 after DNA evidence emerged. Wardale’s transient nature, however, made him an elusive target. It wasn’t until he turned up living in Sherwood Park, near Edmonton, that officers took him into custody two weeks ago.
“A homicide file is never truly closed,” Calgary police inspector Don Coleman said, describing Wardale as a loose “acquaintance” of Hepher.
Paul Hepher was one of 14 murders in Calgary in 2001. The 49-year-old wasn’t married. He didn’t have kids. He wasn’t a big wheel in local business or politics. He lived in a basement apartment in the city’s north end, drank Earl Grey tea (black), played guitar, liked the colour blue — and the company of a small circle of friends.
He read novels, shopped at the local Safeway, swam three times a week, rode his bike everywhere and, in death, left a life story that didn’t make for a compelling media narrative. There was no public crusade to find his killer. There were a few newspaper reports and, thereafter, silence.
But not everyone moved on. Hepher’s murder was a crime without answers. The killer wasn’t caught, compounding the loss that washed over his family and engulfed his friends.
Ian Hepher is Paul’s brother. Paul often drove down to Ian’s place in Lethbridge, where the Hepher boys would have a beer and noodle around on their guitars — with Paul playing an instrument given to him by his nephew, Robin.
“Paul was into Bob Dylan and I was into more saccharine stuff, liked Peter, Paul and Mary,” Ian says, laughing. “I didn’t think that Dylan guy could sing.”
Ian made the five-hour trip from Lethbridge to Creston, B.C., to tell his parents, Mary and Peter, that Paul had been murdered.
“Out of all the memories from that terrible time, that is the most painful,” Hepher says. “My mom never recovered. She died four years later. If I do have a real regret, it’s that my father went to his grave in November 2015 without any answers about what happened to Paul.”
McLeod last spoke with Hepher on a cold, clear Sunday afternoon in late February 2001. They talked about Paul’s music — and the “tuba” he kept hearing in his head on one of his new tracks. The friends met for tea three times a week. When Hepher didn’t phone, McLeod got worried. Then she went to his house. The curtains were drawn. The mail was piled up. McLeod called Casat. Casat was at a gig in Edmonton, but drove to his buddy’s place on his way home, forcing the door to his apartment, discovering the body.
Hepher had been dead for several days.
“Finding Paul pushed Ron over the edge,” McLeod says. “He was never the same afterwards.” Casat died in 2015. He was 62.
McLeod was asked to identify Hepher’s body. “Paul looked like he was sleeping,” she says.
From the outset, police indicated that the killer knew Hepher — and his habits, seeding suspicion among his friends.
“All these years, you are kind of looking over your shoulder and wondering — was it you, was it you, was it you — because that is what we were left with,” McLeod says.
No one in Hepher’s circle of friends or family had heard of Terrance Wardale before his arrest. It is an uncommon surname. Several calls to Wardales in Calgary and Edmonton and Ottawa failed to turn up any relatives.
Ian Hepher would phone police on the anniversary of his brother’s death each year, asking for updates. For a decade, there were none. A sergeant finally told him that unless new evidence was unearthed or someone slipped up, there might never be any answers.
So Hepher stopped calling.
Then his phone rang at 11:50 p.m. on April 12. His brother’s file had been reopened. Wardale was arrested the next day.
“I am not going to say that time heals all wounds because it doesn’t,” Hepher says. “The loss becomes less immediate but the questions are still there. The detectives have promised me that once all is said and done, and the dust settles, they’ll be happy to sit down with me and tell us what happened — tell us how they tracked this man down after all this time.”
Wardale, a beefy man with white hair, next appears in court on May 4.