Without a trace

Disappearance of well-loved ship's cook remains unsolved 15 years later

Barb Sweet bsweet@thetelegram.com
Published on January 7, 2012

The last reported sighting of Jaime Morey Wyatt was at a now-defunct Halifax motel where he told staff he was expecting someone to pick him up for a dinner party.

More than 15 years later, Wyatt's family in St. John's has no more answers to his disappearance than that vague detail.

"I would certainly like to know what happened to him, but I don't think that is ever going to be the case," said his younger sister, Barbara Slattery.

"Fifteen years is a long time. I think the (police) in Nova Scotia did what they could and what else is there to do?"

Wyatt's disappearance is among more than 60 unsolved cases in that province registered in a reward program targeted at major unsolved crimes and administered by the Nova Scotia Department of Justice.

Like the other cases, a cash reward of up to $150,000 is being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible for Wyatt's disappearance.

He is still listed as a missing person, incident No. 97-1753 in the logs of the Halifax Metropolitan Police.

But to his family, he is a beloved, fun-loving brother and uncle, and the loss is one of anguish and unending mystery.

On Dec. 3, 1996, Wyatt's family filed a report with the RCMP in St. John's.

It was subsequently discovered that Wyatt was staying at the Twin Elms Motel on Inglis Street in Halifax's south end and was last seen Nov. 16, 1996.

According to police in Halifax, the circumstances of his disappearance are suspicious and foul play may be involved.

Wyatt was well known in St. John's as a member of the prominent family that operated the Candlelight Restaurant on Harvey Road in the 1970s.

It was a popular spot where people would go after the movies and on weekends, and Wyatt cooked there until he went to work in the offshore, also as a cook.

Wyatt also rose through the local ranks of the Masons, an international fraternal society.

Single and 62 when he disappeared, Wyatt had worked all over the world in the offshore, mostly on supply vessels; then he settled into working on vessels sailing in and out of St. John's and Halifax.

He retained an apartment in St. John's and when crew changes took place in Halifax, would often stay at the Twin Elms, a stately old home that had been converted to a bed and breakfast.

Slattery said Wyatt kept in regular touch with his family, but the last time any of them saw him was Thanksgiving 1996, when Wyatt - who always left his car in St. John's - travelled to Truro, N.S., to visit a nephew living there. Afterwards he got on a bus bound for Halifax.

Wyatt was due to return to St. John's to take an offshore safety course at a training facility in Seal Cove, because he wanted to switch to cooking on tankers and required upgrading.

"He kept in touch with me always," said Slattery, fighting tears during an interview.

"And I guess that was my first clue that we hadn't heard from him and I knew he was due to do a course. ... He didn't get there. I didn't hear from him. None of us heard from him. I called the school. He was registered, but hadn't shown up. So then we started looking for him.

"He kept in touch constantly. It didn't matter if he was on the Panama Canal or wherever he was - he kept in touch."

Slattery said it wasn't until February 1997 that the family got a call from the Twin Elms.

"The phone rang in our house one morning and my husband said, 'You'd better take this.' The lady who ran that bed and breakfast ... she knew him well. She was a Newfoundlander, actually," Slattery said.

There had been a piece of luggage belonging to Slattery sitting in the woman's office, and that day she turned the tag over and saw Slattery's phone number. Slattery found it odd they took so long to call, but that's when she learned of Wyatt's last known whereabouts - that he told staff he was going out that night in November 1996.

All Wyatt's seagoing papers, his passport and wallet were left in his room.

"After a couple of days, they had to open up his room and empty it out," she said.

"He never used his MCP, nothing - the police checked on all that."

Slattery said Wyatt's years of overseas work made him stringent about certain documents.

"To go without his passport and his seagoing papers was very, very strange. It didn't matter where he went, that was always on him," she said.

For several years after his disappearance, Slattery would frequently get calls from the Halifax police, but they haven't been in touch in recent years. The calls would come for clarification when unidentified male remains were found, even if they didn't fit the slight-built Wyatt's description.

"The minute they would say, 'This is Constable so-and-so,' your heart would come up in your throat," she said.

Early on, the family hired a private investigator, but found that process frustrating and left the case in the hands of police. And they were contacted by psychics and other people claiming to know what happened.

Slattery described her brother as too trusting.

"I guess I always had a concern where he was working on the offshore. He was very friendly, outgoing person and he didn't have any trouble expressing himself. I just worried about him," she said.

"Mind you, the 'cookie' on the boat, he's God. He treated them very well."

No idea

Other than that reported last day at the Twin Elms - which is now an apartment building with different owners - Wyatt's family and police are stymied.

"I think at the time there were a lot of men who went missing in Halifax," Slattery speculates.

"I think they followed up on leads and stuff, but they had nothing, no idea. If it didn't happen to me, I'd say 'That's nonsense. It couldn't possibly happen.' But it does happen - to vanish without a trace is so strange.

"Frankly, I don't think he'll ever be found. I don't think we'll ever know, not after this length of time. How could you possibly hear anything unless he's alive somewhere?"

Her late husband often speculated he may have assumed a new identity, perhaps holding out hope he would some day turn up. Even though she lived with hope, Slattery didn't buy that theory.

"I never could believe that because he was too close to us, to the family," she said.

"I think something bad happened to him. I think he got into a bad situation and couldn't get himself out. The character Jaime was... he was a very trusting person and he thought everyone was great."

Slattery said the police even checked out a Halifax-area lake, after a claim from a psychic they would find Wyatt's and another person's remains there.

It was unfounded.

"All these kooks that come out of the woodwork, they all know. They know everything. They have all the answers. You never do find out what, where or how," Slattery said.

She said after Wyatt's disappearance, police pursued tips in the case aggressively.

"The police were very, very good. I must say they spent a lot of time with me and trying to find him," said Slattery, who travelled to Halifax after her brother's disappearance.

"You don't know where to turn because I don't know who he associated with up there."

She said the Masons also tried to help locate him.

Bag delivered

She got a shock not long after his disappearance when she arrived home at her then Portugal Cove Road house to find a large duffel bag on her step containing his offshore gear. Wyatt had a key and would have let himself in.

She suggested her husband check the answering machine at Wyatt's apartment and there was a message from a co-worker telling Wyatt he'd left the bag. Wyatt had booked a ticket to fly home and his co-worker was driving.

But Wyatt obviously didn't get on the flight, and the man was shocked when the Slatterys told him of his disappearance.

Halifax Metro Police spokesman Const. Brian Palmeter told The Telegram by email the case has no apparent connection to any others, but they wouldn't rule out such tips. While the longer an investigation continues the more difficult it can be to solve, Palmeter said the Wyatt case is still open, is routinely reviewed and any new leads are investigated. He isn't aware of any recent information.

Though Wyatt is officially listed as missing, police have said they believe he may have been murdered.

"Things can change and people who have information can make a decision even after a long period of time to come forward. We believe there are people who have information about this case and we need them to come forward," Palmeter said.

Loved his work

Slattery said Wyatt showed no signs of ill health or despondency. He was looking forward to the future and had no desire to retire. She said he loved his work and would even fill in on shifts if a vessel's crew was short. He stayed aboard the boats at Christmastime because he regarded the crew as his family, and would bake puddings and cakes beforehand.

"He loved his work. And if they wanted to tow a rig from Japan somewhere, he would be gone," Slattery recalled of his career.

Because he loved to socialize, and because of his association with the Masons and other organizations, Wyatt is widely remembered.

"Until this year, I didn't think there was a week gone by where somebody didn't ask about him. ... It's unbelievable the number of people I have met that knew him," said Slattery, who made the difficult decision when having a family headstone repaired a few years ago to add her brother's name.

"We have no way of knowing which way to turn, what direction, what possibly could have become of him, no way. You can't understand it. It's just such a funny feeling.

"I'd love to know what happened to him. Yet I don't want to know, because could we have helped him? Could we have done something for him? And what did he go through?"