June 28, 2004
Heatherington case comes to a close
By JUDY MONCHUK
Alderwoman Dar Heatherington wipes her eye during a news conference in Lethbridge, Alta., Monday June 16, 2003. (CP PICTURE ARCHIVE/Adrian Wyld)
CALGARY (CP) - Dar Heatherington's brush with notoriety is expected to come to a close Tuesday as a judge rules on whether the southern Alberta alderwoman fabricated a stalker.
Heatherington, a city council member in Lethbridge, Alta., made international headlines in May 2003 after vanishing in Great Falls, Mont., sparking a frantic search that ended three days later in Las Vegas.
She claimed to have been drugged and abducted - a story she later recanted.
Shortly after, police in Lethbridge charged Heatherington with public mischief, claiming she had made up tales of being stalked.
The bizarre case kept Lethbridge, known more as the heart of Canada's cattle-feeding industry, under a media glare for months.
Lethbridge Mayor Bob Tarleck said the community is looking forward to the finish.
"You reach a point where fatigue sets in and people in this community are looking for closure," said Tarleck.
In Great Falls, Mayor Randy Gray said the city of 65,000 has moved on and has no ill feelings towards Heatherington.
"I don't know anything about Dar's particular circumstance, but it sure seems like some compassion and some counselling would be the right touch," said Gray.
When Heatherington's trial began in late January before provincial court Judge Peter Caffaro, some in the packed courtroom cringed at the personal details being recounted.
The Crown alleged that Heatherington sent herself a series of increasingly lurid letters beginning in October 2002.
Police initially feared for her family's safety but eventually became suspicious.
Calls to Heatherington's aldermanic office stopped when a trace was put on her phone. Surveillance cameras failed to turn up anything.
She became hysterical after being caught lying about the location of one of the letters. After police spotted her taking notes from books on stalking in the library, a verbatim passage from one book was found in an unfinished note on Heatherington's hand-held computer.
Then, just days after police confronted Heatherington with their suspicions, she disappeared in Montana.
Facing allegations she lied to American authorities, Heatherington avoided a criminal record in the U.S. by agreeing to see a psychiatrist and stay out of trouble for a year. Details of her treatment have been sealed in the Montana court record.
She never testified at her Lethbridge trial and no examination of her mental state was undertaken.
Heatherington has refused to step down from her position as a civic official.
The court case took strange twists and drew in not just Heatherington but also her husband, Dave.
Court heard that Dave Heatherington had suspicions his wife was hiding something. He vexed police with his own efforts to find the stalker and eventually, they considered him a pest.
He turned over to police his wife's electronic organizer and a computer disk that both included copies of the raunchy stalker letters.
He also confided to a detective that the couple's sex life had improved during the ordeal and noted that Dar had begun buying sexy lingerie.
At one point, Dar Heatherington's lawyer, Tracy Hembroff, said Dave Heatherington might have been the stalker. She noted he had recently lost a promotion within the fire department and was jealous of the increased attention his wife was receiving as a civic official.
Except for an emotional news conference last June, where she said there was a police conspiracy to discredit her, Heatherington has refused to speak with the media about the case.
But her neighbour Jim Day, said he is hopeful that whatever the verdict, the Heatherington family can regain a normal life.
"I'm hoping that the Heatheringtons are strong enough to live with whatever comes," said Day, who has lived next door to the family since 1995.
"I believe they're both strong enough to survive it and their children are strong enough to survive it."