RCMP search for Manitoba homicide suspect zeroes in on Whiteshell Provincial Park
WEST HAWK LAKE, MAN. -- The RCMP has zeroed in on Whiteshell Provincial Park in the search for a fugitive wanted for homicide.
Eric Wildman, 34, is a suspect in the recent disappearance and suspected death of his neighbour Clifford Joseph in the R.M. of St. Clements.
Wildman remains at large and officers have warned he may be armed and dangerous and shouldn’t be approached.
The last confirmed sighting of a vehicle police believe he’s been driving – a 2020 Chevy Equinox – was on Highway 44 near Whitemouth, Man. as it headed east towards the Whiteshell.
The RCMP said officers from across southern Manitoba are involved in the search and that it’s pulling out all the stops to find Wildman.
On Thursday, there was a noticeable RCMP presence in the Whiteshell, with multiple specialized units on the ground and in the air.
It put some park users looking for a peaceful getaway on alert.
“It was kind of strange,” said hiker Chad Ferens. “I completely forgot about it until I saw the tactical unit and then I kind of realized, yeah, it’s a manhunt.”
Wildman’s neighbour Clifford Joseph, 40, disappeared Jun. 7 and police suspect he is dead.
Investigators said Wildman was captured on surveillance cameras in Winnipeg on the evening of Friday June 11. First at Lowe’s home improvement store on Panet Road and then at the airport, where officers said he rented the Equinox with Manitoba license plate KGE 368.
“So that’s what we’re going with,” said Sgt. Laura LeDrew, with RCMP Major Crime Services. “The sighting (Wednesday) was credible. It was the vehicle. So we have to go with what we know right now.”
It’s a vehicle investigators said was first spotted Tuesday night in the Lockport area. Officers said it was seen again on Wednesday night near Whitemouth around 7 p.m. heading east on Highway 44 towards the Whiteshell and the Manitoba/Ontario border.
“We reached out to our partners in Ontario Provincial Police at Kenora, they met us halfway,” said LeDrew. “They were manning the border there. Great communication. We scoured the area. It was getting dark; we had our plane up. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to confirm another sighting.”
The last confirmed sighting of the vehicle is about 100 kilometres southeast of Wildman’s home near Stead in the R.M. of St. Clements. That’s where police found Joseph’s abandoned truck near Wildman’s place on June 7 and some of his belongings on or near Wildman’s driveway but they still haven’t found Joseph’s body.
Police also recovered a vehicle belonging to Wildman June 11, searched it June 13 and found firearms and police-related clothing and tactical equipment but they’re not sure if he has access to more gear.
Whiteshell Provincial Park camper Leanne Zoroneck said she’s not worried but is staying cautious, watching for anything suspicious.
“I’ve been looking for the vehicle and keeping an eye out,” said Zoroneck. “We’re a close-knit community and we take care of one another and I think the word could spread quickly if it had to.”
Joseph had been living in a home which at one time belonged to 66-year-old Vernon Karl Otto.
Otto disappeared under suspicious circumstances in 2018. He’s never been found but police would only say that case remains under investigation.
In another twist to the search, RCMP said they’re aware Wildman’s late father when he was 14 shot and injured a Mountie west of Virden during a vehicle pursuit in 1962.
“It hasn’t factored into our response,” said LeDrew. “It’s a fact. We have to realize it and understand it but it doesn’t change our response to this whatsoever.”
The RCMP said officers on Thursday did respond to a vehicle similar to the description of the one Wildman is believed to be driving. Police said they investigated the parked vehicle just southwest of the Whiteshell along Highway 1 and determined it wasn’t the one they’re looking for.
The RCMP believes Wildman’s alone. Police said they don’t know if he has any connection to the Whiteshell but they said anyone with information should contact RCMP at 431-489-8551. If you see Wildman, who’s described as six-foot-two, 170 pounds, or the vehicle, call 911.