Unsolved Case #21
At approximately 8:45 p.m., on December 23, 1981, 16-year old
Barbara Gayle Stoppel was found strangled in the woman’s washroom of the donut
shop where she worked as a waitress after school. Several witnesses who observed
a suspicious male leaving the women’s washroom and exit the store only seconds
earlier found her body. She was immediately rushed to the St. Boniface Hospital
where she was put on life support, however due to a lack of oxygen it was
determined that she had suffered massive brain damage and she died a few days
later when her life support systems were disconnected.
The male seen
leaving the donut shop was variously described as being a white male, 21-30
years old, brown hair, scruffy looking, scraggly sideburns, poor complexion with
some noticeable acne pimples or pock marks on the left side of his face, brown
mustache, tall, slim build, wearing prescription glasses, a dark brown or black
cowboy hat, a
dark coloured waist length coat, blue jeans and round toed or cowboy
boots. A composite drawing of the suspect was prepared by a police sketch artist
and circulated to the media.
One of the
witnesses who observed the suspect inside the donut shop followed him around
behind the shopping centre and across the Norwood Bridge where there was a
confrontation. Unfortunately, the suspect escaped, but not before he threw a
box, some gloves and some extra twine used in the killing, over the railing. It
is believed that the suspect may have lived in the area and sought revenge on
Barbara for some perceived wrong.
determined that the braided green and yellow nylon twine used in the murder was
unique and may have been used as shot line for pulling wires through conduits in
underground hydro or
installations. It was originally believed that the twine came from a producer in
Washington State and as such police centered their investigation on the west
coast. However, a recent analysis of the twine confirmed that it contained a
chemical tracer used by a former Portage la Prairie rope manufacturer named
Based on the
original belief that the source of the twine was along the west coast, the
police identified Thomas Sophonow, a 28-year old Vancouver resident who
frequently traveled to Winnipeg as a possible suspect. He was similar in
appearance to the composite drawing and was in Winnipeg on the night of the
murder. He was eventually charged with the crime, however in 1985 after three
trials, the Manitoba Court of Appeal acquitted him of the murder. On June 8,
2000, Jack Ewatski, Chief of Police, exonerated Sophonow of any wrongdoing after
an internal analysis of the case determined he was not responsible.
As a result of
Chief Ewatski's exoneration, a Public Inquiry was called by the Minister of
Justice to determine how the Justice system may have prosecuted an innocent man.
The Inquiry, chaired by former Supreme Court Justice Peter Cory, released its
findings earlier this year and made several recommendations on to improve police
currently remains unsolved and anyone with information as to the identity of the
true suspect is requested to contact police.
If you have any information about this case, please contact Crime
Stoppers at 786-8477, or e-mail Det. Sgt. Al Bradbury of the Unsolved
Commission of Inquiry Report into the Investigation and Prosecution of Thomas
Sophonow is available online at the Manitoba Department of Justice.
Nov/12/05 found at - http://www.winnipeg.ca/police/Unsolved Cases/case21.stm