The search for homicide suspect Eric Paul Wildman in the RM of St. Clements has left the close-knit rural farming community around Stead, Man., feeling uneasy, St. Clements mayor Debbie Fiebelkorn told Global News Wednesday.
“It’s very unsettling to everybody in the area,” she said.
RCMP have been on site since last week, when 40-year-old Clifford Joseph was reported missing.
Joseph is the second man to go missing from the same area and residence in just over three years, although RCMP say the cases are unrelated.
Wildman was last seen Tuesday night leaving the Lockport area, driving east on Highway 44 in the charcoal grey 2020 Chevy Equinox he rented at the Winnipeg airport, Manitoba RCMP announced over Twitter Wednesday afternoon.
RCMP Sgt. Laura LeDrew with the major crimes unit said Mounties don’t know where Wildman might be heading but are following up on all leads.
“We’ve received numerous tips,” she said Wednesday.
LeDrew said Mounties were still searching land in St. Clements that belongs to Wildman. The large rural property south of Stead, more than 70 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, has burned-out cars, scrap metal and rubble from outbuildings that burned down in May.
She said officers are looking for evidence as well as the remains of Joseph.
“Based on items at the scene and forensic evidence, etc., we’re able to confirm it is indeed a homicide,” LeDrew told Global News Wednesday.
“For the community members that are feeling fearful or scared, just to reassure that there’s police officers that are very actively looking for Mr. Wildman,” she said. “We want this to come to a nice, safe ending.”
Community ‘on edge’: mayor
News of Wildman — who RCMP say may be armed with police-related gear and driving a grey SUV — has stirred memories and references to other incidents, Fiebelkorn said, including the 2018 disappearance of Stead resident Vernon Karl Otto and the April 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia that left 22 dead, killed by a man disguised as an officer.
“I understand that everybody in the community in close proximity there is very much on edge, and they’re afraid because they don’t know what’s happening,” Fiebelkorn said.
Otto, 66 at the time, went missing in late May of 2018. Police found his white truck burned out near his home but didn’t ever recover his body. RCMP say that investigation is still ongoing.
Mounties have confirmed the home Otto and his wife were living in at the time of his disappearance is the same one Joseph and his partner were renting when he disappeared last week.
But RCMP say the two cases are unrelated and that Wildman wasn’t a suspect in Otto’s case.
“We’re able to say that with 100 per cent assuredness,” LeDrew said.
Otto’s wife sold the property after her husband’s disappearance, RCMP said Wednesday.
Mounties describe Wildman as six-feet-two-inches, weighing 170 pounds with blue eyes. Police say he’s known to frequent Winnipeg and the RM of St. Clements.
RCMP are asking Manitobans not to approach Wildman and to call 911 if he’s spotted, or the RCMP tip line at (431) 489-8551.
— With files from The Canadian Press