Regina Peddle may have been retired from her teaching career by now, enjoying free time with grown children and little grandchildren, or maybe indulging new interests. But family members can only imagine how life would have turned out for her, because the Tilton woman’s story came to an abrupt end Nov. 3, 1974.
Her brother, Clarence Peddle, is certain of one thing: there was promise and lots of it for the 20-year-old, fourth-year Memorial University education student, who was following in her older sister’s footsteps to be a teacher.
“She would have enjoyed life. … She was a pleasant, charming, very gregarious, outgoing person — full of life, looking forward to her future,” Peddle said.
“A beautiful girl with every reason to be optimistic about what lay ahead of her, certainly not someone who tempted fate in any way or was any way responsible for what happened to her.”
Clarence Peddle read about an upcoming vigil in a Jan. 25 Telegram story and contacted the event organizers, hoping his sister — who was brutally raped and murdered by Christopher Wayne Belbin, then 22, whom she had apparently met at university — could be included.
Regina Peddle is now the 61st name added to a list of killed or missing women and girls who will be remembered in a public vigil in St. John’s Feb. 3, a project organized by Marguerite’s Place, the Coalition Against Violence — Avalon East, the St. John’s Native Friendship Centre and the Newfoundland and Labrador Sexual Assault Crisis and Prevention Centre.
‘We never stop grieving’
“If you are not directly associated or related to the person involved (in a murder.) Then life goes on and you forget. And that’s understandable,” Peddle said.
“But if you are a relative, a brother, a father, a mother or a child, then it’s important to let people know you never forget and the pain never goes away. I think that’s important for this vigil — let them know we never forget. We never stop grieving.”
A roommate had discovered Regina’s body that Sunday on campus in the Burton’s Pond apartment complex. Regina, one of 14 siblings, had been expected home at Tilton the next day, where she was to be godmother in a christening ceremony for her sister’s baby.
Clarence Peddle, about four years older than Regina, had already graduated from MUN and hadn’t started working yet, so was home with his mother in Tilton.
After getting the two youngest children off to school that Monday morning, Peddle’s mother, Ellen Mary, had heard on the radio that a girl had died at MUN. She wasn’t expecting the shock that came next, though.
Her son, Father John, a priest in town for the family celebration, and the parish monsignor came to the door.
“After that I heard her scream. I remember — all she said was, I could hear her say, ‘Not Regina,’” Peddle recalled, filling up with emotion at the memory.
“I can remember when this happened. Initially you go into shock — there is a tremendous amount going on around you. There is publicity. There is a funeral. But that fades very, very quickly and pretty soon you are home alone. I can remember I would wake up and I was in such a state of melancholy.
“As far as I was concerned at that time we would never be happy again. That is the feeling you have. It is an overpowering blackness — ‘Life is pretty well over for all of us. We will never be able to carry on and function or look forward or smile again.’ There is a great depth of sadness there. Obviously as time passes there is some healing.”
Peddle remembers his mother asking how the accused’s mother and grandmother were coping, even though she didn’t know the family.
Ellen Mary Peddle had already lost her beloved husband, Lawrence, in his 50s. And she lost a son, Cecil, newly married, in a car accident in Ontario in the early 1960s when a man fleeing police barrelled through a stop sign, killing him and a coworker.
At trial in April 1975, it was revealed that Belbin gave a statement to police that he had strangled Regina Peddle and hit her over the head with a bottle “to make sure she was dead,” according to an Evening Telegram clipping.
He also said that he “had to kill her” after he raped her and she threatened to report him.
Belbin couldn’t recall whether he used the knife to stab her before or after hitting her with the bottle, according to a newspaper article.
More than a dozen witnesses testified about a Saturday night party Belbin and Regina Peddle attended at a cabin on Bauline Line near Torbay, suggesting Belbin indulged in hard drugs such as LSD and mescaline several hours prior to Regina’s death. Regina had wanted to go home to do an assignment, according to the Evening Telegram account of the trial.
Belbin apparently came back to the cabin party after leaving Regina’s apartment and cracked a beer, according to the coverage. He was arrested there at 2:30 a.m. on Nov. 4.
Chief Justice Robert Furlong referred to the hard drug testimony — argued for the defence as reason for a manslaughter verdict — as speculation and in his statement to police, Belbin admitted to consuming beer, rum and marijauna prior to Regina’s death.
After the jury verdict for non-capital murder in April 1975, Furlong described Belbin’s actions as those of a “cold-blooded murderer.”
Joe Walsh, then a young court reporter, recalls the case being shocking, but the trial moved fast, lasting days, not months.
“I mean that was a real talk of the town,” said Walsh, now a retired editor. “The details were so horrific. I remember it well.”
Belbin was given a life sentence, but was eligible for day parole in 1982 and full parole in 1985. He had also been convicted of being unlawfully at large in 1983, as well as use of a firearm and robbery in 1982, convictions added to his existing sentence, according to the National Parole Board. He is deceased.
Ellen Mary Peddle lived into her late 80s, but her spirit never got over the loss, Clarence Peddle said.
“I remember she said, ‘Why did he have to kill her?’” Peddle said.
“It was pure selfishness, to rape somebody and to avoid accountability, you kill them, take away their life just like that. The evilness and selfishness you can’t even begin to comprehend.”
While justice moved swiftly for Regina’s family, Peddle acknowledges many families are left awaiting lengthy trials or get no justice at all. He feels for people like Yvonne Predham, whose daughter Chrissy was 28 when she was found stabbed to death in her Airport Heights apartment in 2007.
“We were spared what some families have to go through,” Peddle said. “I look at people today who are going through this. The legal system is very complicated and it is sometimes drawn out for years. And at the end of the day they might say, ‘We never even got close to any kind of accountability and justice.’”
Peddle has a daughter now attending MUN and he admits to being a worrier, not just for what happened to his sister, but as a parent.
“I worry about her day and night,” Peddle said.
“Mother had 14 children and I can’t imagine how someone can have 14 children can keep track of them and all of the worry and stress that comes from that. I remember when my brother was killed, the wails of anguish that came out of my mother. She dearly loved every one of us.”
Peddle said it’s vital victims like Regina be remembered for the people they were, but also the lessons that society must take from such crimes, that any violence or abuse against women is not acceptable.
“There certainly has to be a strong deterrence to prevent these type of incidents,” Peddle said.
The vigil will take place Monday at Salons A & B of the Holiday Inn on Portugal Cove Rd., St. John’s, from 7–8:30 p.m. There is room for about 160 people.