An investigative news team from CBC-TV was in Prince George on Monday, collecting footage and interviews for a feature on the Wendy Ratte case.
Cameraman Doug Trent and producer Claude Vickery spent the day visiting the key sites connected to the longstanding mystery of Ratte's disappearance. The Prince George housewife first went missing in 1997 and 11 years went by before her husband, Denis Florian Ratte, was arrested for her murder. He was convicted in 2010 and that was upheld by the appeals court in August.
The family dynamics of the case (his two children - teenagers at the time of the disappearance - took differing views on their father's guilt and spent the 11 years wrestling in different ways with the mystery) was a compelling aspect of the story for the CBC crew, as was the method the police used to reach the conviction.
"It is the element of the Mr. Big sting," said Vickery. "This is one where there seems to be some unusual qualities."
The Mr. Big scenario is a police tactic by which fake small-level criminals (police actors) befriend a suspect, then offer a chance for that suspect to meet their boss, in order to plan lucrative future capers. First, though, the suspect must confess to them all the things he/she might have done in the past to draw police attention their way.
During the course of Denis Ratte's Mr. Big operation, he confessed in elaborate fashion to murdering his wife and disposing of her body in a wilderness location. One of the interesting elements of this case was how the jury believed Denis Ratte's confession despite the fact Wendy Ratte's body was never located in the place he pinpointed. Her remains have still not been located.
"I don't think it could have been solved any other way but through a confession," said Vickery, in light of all the time gone by in the investigation and the lack of body. "I don't know how else [but a Mr. Big play] you could obtain a confession. The Mr. Big sting has been quite controversial but in this case there is a wide consensus that it solved a crime that would not otherwise have been solved."
Vickery and Trent will spend the next couple of days in the Prince George area gathering materials for their feature. It is scheduled to air sometime in early 2013 with longtime CBC host Bob McKeown as presenter.