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Auto belt, shackle used as "improvised tool" to drag body, murder trial hears

A courtroom sketch of Jimmy Wise
A courtroom sketch of Jimmy Wise

An OPP investigator says he believes an engine belt and shackle found with Ray Collison’s body was used by his killer as an “improvised tool” to drag the dead man deep inside a drainage culvert.

Det. Const. Michael Hyndman told court Thursday that he focused on the rubber belt and metal shackle since they were the only unusual items found with Collison’s remains.

Hyndman said his examination of the narrow, confined culvert led him to conclude that it would not have been easy to slide a dead body over its corrugated interior.

“The average male human is difficult to move, especially, pardon the phrase, when it’s dead weight,” Hyndman testified. “It would be difficult to pull the body without some kind of assistance.”

Hyndman said he purchased a similar fan belt and shackle and tested their ability to function together as a tool. He found the shackle acted as a cinch, while the looped belt made a good handle.

“I observed that it was quite rigid and strong,” Hyndman told Crown attorney Michael Purcell. “It seemed a good improvised tool, a lever, to drag something or pull something.”

James Henry “Jimmy” Wise, 77, a former backyard mechanic, is on trial for second-degree murder in the death of Collison, 58, a Chesterville handyman who disappeared in August 2009.

His decomposed remains were found in April 2014 after his skull spilled out of a culvert. An autopsy revealed he had been shot from behind at least three times, including once in the back of the head.

Hyndman, the co-lead investigator in the case, told court that in late May 2014 he recovered 10 automotive belts from a garage on County Road 3 that Wise had previously used as a repair shop.

One of them was a Dayco Top Cog belt manufactured in Canada. The same brand of belt had been found with Collison’s body.

Hyndman said he investigated further and found that both of the belts had not been made in Canada for two decades, making them “somewhat unique.”

On cross-examination by defence lawyer Ian Carter, Hyndman said the two Dayco belts were different models and the collection of belts found in Wise’s old garage included other brands. He also conceded that police had no information about when or where the belt found with Collison’s body was sold, or to whom.

A retired Dayco Canada official also testified. Richard Graham, the former distribution and customer service manager for the auto parts maker, said the Top Cog production line moved from Canada to South Carolina around 1984.

Graham told defence lawyer Jon Doody that Top Cog was the company’s top line of belts in the 1990s, when it sold more than 100,000 of them each year.

The kind of engine belt found with Collison’s body would have fit 169 different vehicle models, Graham said, many of them dating from the 1960s and ’70s. Court heard that one of the newer car models it would have fit belonged to Wise’s landlady, Betty Stewart, who drove a 1997 Plymouth Neon.

Hyndman testified that he also investigated what vehicles Wise owned at the time of Collison’s disappearance.

The vehicles became an important focus of the investigation, Hyndman said, because police believed Collison was not killed at the scene, but was transported to the culvert at the corner of Steen Road and Thompson Road, near Morewood.

Using Ministry of Transportation searches, Hyndman testified, he discovered Wise owned a green GMC Sonoma truck between June 25 and Oct. 19, 2009. He sold the vehicle to a Winchester couple, Janet Hartburn and Danny Fisher, in November of that year.

The OPP seized the vehicle in July 2015 and had it tested at the Centre of Forensic Sciences.

Court has heard that blood was found in several areas of the truck.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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