New book looks at old murder trial

Heather Killen
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Komar takes another look at who killed Annie Kempton

Author Debra Komar is using modern forensic investigative methods to reopen some of Canada’s historical crimes.

Author Debra Komar is launching her new book, “The Lynching of Peter Wheeler,” Sunday afternoon at the Bear River Museum.

Komar, a retired forensic anthropologist-- a real-life Bones—has investigated human rights violations for the United Nations. Now she is applying her forensic investigation skills to revisit historical crimes closer to home.

Her previous book, The Ballad of Jacob Peck (2013), looks at a grisly 19th century murder in New Brunswick. Now she’s turning her attention to Bear River’s most ill-famed murder.

In preparation for her second in the four-book series, Komar spent months in local libraries and museums researching the Annie Kempton murder trial to prove that Peter Wheeler wasn’t the killer.

She considers how the community, the justice system, and the media ultimately denied him justice in a race to judgement.

On a cold January night in 1896, 14 year-old Annie Kempton was staying home alone. Sometime before daylight, someone entered the house and attacked her, leaving her to die in a pool of blood.

Peter Wheeler was a migrant labourer who had settled in Bear River. Komar suggests that early on, he was cast as the prime suspect after investigators found an inconsistency in his testimony.

From then on, Komar portrays a conspiracy of convenience that leads the proceedings to unjustly convict and hang Wheeler. 

Debra Komar will be launching “The Lynching of Peter Wheeler,” at the Oakdene Centre on March 30, from 1 until 4 p.m.

Organizations: Bear River Museum, United Nations, Oakdene Centre

Geographic location: Bear River, New Brunswick

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