When the burly police inspector growled "come with us," Ron Moffatt thought he was being picked up for skipping class.
That was Friday, Sept. 21, 1956.
Moffatt was 14 years old then and the cops had found him sleeping in the middle of the day in a closet downstairs from his parents' downtown Toronto apartment.
His truancy wasn't the issue.
Three days later, the terrified teen found himself standing in front of a juvenile court judge, charged with murdering a seven-year-old boy on the Canadian National Exhibition grounds.
Moffatt was wrongfully convicted on the charge.
He spent just under eight months in custody for a crime he didn't commit.
Because he was a juvenile at the time of the offence, Moffatt's name never appeared in newspaper accounts.
Over the years, he was known in media reports by pseudonyms including "Bob Smith" and "Ronald Mowatt."
It took decades for Ron Moffatt to screw up the courage to tell his wife and children.
For the past 48 years, he's lived here in Sault Ste. Marie, quietly toiling as a caretaker for Algoma District School Board at William Merrifield V.C. Public School as well as Korah Collegiate, Sir James Dunn and Alexander Henry High School.
In one respect, however, Moffatt has become somewhat of a Soolebrity.
The hale 76-year-old is well known around town as the Sault's cartoonist, featured over the years in the Sault Star, Sault This Week and most recently on SooToday's Sunday Funny feature.
And this month, Moffatt's dark secret is now out, with his full knowledge and blessing.
The amazing story of a 62-year-old wrongful conviction is revealed in a riveting new book, The Boy on the Bicycle, by Nate Hendley, a seasoned true-crime writer and former Ontario regional director with the Professional Writers Association of Canada.
Hendley reveals how:
- a terrified 14-year-old was bullied by one of Canada's top crime investigators into making a false confession based on leading questions
- Moffatt was convicted even though numerous witnesses said he was in a movie theatre at the time of the murder
- police arrested him even though they were looking for a suspect on a bicycle, while Moffatt was incapable of cycling or skating because of balance problems
- Moffatt's biggest mistake was running away from home around the time of the murder
- he was granted a new trial and acquitted only after Canada's youngest serial killer confessed to killing the seven-year-old boy
- instead of an apology, the judge who acquitted Moffatt reprimanded him, saying: "All the trouble you have been in, in connection with this case, all the trouble given your parents, simply because you failed to tell the truth."
- Moffatt experienced mental health challenges after his wrongful conviction but has built a new life for himself in Sault Ste. Marie
- unlike others who've been wrongfully convicted, Moffatt has never received a penny in compensation
The Boy on the Bicycle is a 230-page trade paperback available for $22.99 from Five Rivers Publishing Co., Amazon and iBooks.
Watch for further coverage of this story tomorrow on SooToday.