The Murder of Ashley Wadsworth

A B.C. teenager spent years building an online romance with a young Englishman. Months after they met in person, he killed her—and then her family learned of his dark past. Why did no one stop him?
by Carly Lewis
Ashley Wadsworth and Jack Sepple

June 26, 2023

At 12 years old, Ashley Wadsworth didn’t yet have a smartphone. She didn’t need one, figured her mother, with a close-knit community of family and friends in Vernon, a small city in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. But she did use the family laptop to see what her friends were posting to social media. Among her peers, it wasn’t seen as bold to add friends of friends on a whim, or to message a cute stranger to say hi. Wadsworth and her friends mingled confidently online the way previous generations might have at the mall. That’s how, in 2015, Wadsworth became Facebook friends with a 16-year-old English teenager named Jack Sepple, after spotting him on a mutual acquaintance’s page. Wadsworth had always been curious about the wider world, and Sepple offered a window onto faraway places—even if that place was only Chelmsford, a city of about 180,000 people in Essex, an hour northeast of London.

Wadsworth was bright and gregarious. She played ringette, tennis and the clarinet. At school, she went out of her way to befriend international students, knowing they might feel lonely, so far away from home. Sepple, by contrast, was withdrawn. He didn’t have a thriving social life, and his biggest hobby seemed to be social media, but Wadsworth liked his scrappy charm. Their three-and-a-half-year age gap was mitigated by distance, and the fact that Sepple also lived at home with his family.

At first the pair were more like pen pals, confidantes whose daily exchanges refreshed the scenery of each other’s lives. Within a few months, Wadsworth began mentioning Sepple to her mother, Christy Gendron, as well as her sister, Hailey, and her father, Kenneth, who lived nearby with his wife. Gendron was cautious about the burgeoning relationship, but felt more comfortable after Sepple sent photos of himself. They seemed to prove he was who he said he was: a bored teenager who, like so many of his generation, socialized largely online.

Gendron thought the interest would fade, but the connection grew from confidantes to crushes. Sepple sent Wadsworth gifts: clothing, money, teddy bears, jewellery, a handbag. They were on and off, with periods of no communication. When they were on, Sepple’s face became a regular presence in the Wadsworth home—Gendron might look up from cooking dinner to see him on a screen, and offer a warm “Hi, Jack.” With an eight-hour time difference, Wadsworth woke before dawn to talk to Sepple, who stayed up late into the night on his end. “She had this connection with him that nobody understood,” says Tianna Kowalchuk, a close friend of Wadsworth’s. Their long conversations centred on the same daydream: one day they’d finally meet. In 2018, Wadsworth started asking her mother if she could visit Sepple. The answer, of course, was no—at the time, she was only 15.

As in any teenage entanglement, the pair occasionally fought, usually about one thing: Sepple’s fears that Wadsworth had crushes on teen boys in Vernon. At times, conflict escalated to the point that Wadsworth would block Sepple online; in return, he’d make new accounts to reach her, or send angry messages to her sister and friends, knowing they’d get her attention. To some of Wadsworth’s friends, Sepple’s adoration looked like obsession. She insisted that he was simply a passionate person, and that he had a good heart.

In October of 2018—when Sepple was nearly 20 and Wadsworth was 16—he revealed a new addition to his growing tattoo collection: Wadsworth’s first name, inked on his arm in elaborate cursive, an emblem of his devotion. Gendron thought it was extreme, and told her daughter she wasn’t allowed to reciprocate with her own. “Mom,” she responded, “I would never.”

As infatuated as she’d become, Wadsworth had a fun and busy life offline. She loved to camp and hike with friends, and embark on muddy off-roading adventures with Kowalchuk. On Snapchat she posted videos with funny filters, like a halo of hearts over her head as she bobbed along to the radio in the car. In another, recorded when she was 15, she sings the words to “Hallelujah,” zooming in and out on her blue eyes and long eyelashes, comedically pursing her lips to admit she missed a note. To fundraise for their high school graduation, she and Kowalchuk sold raffle tickets at local grocery stores, selling every last one. Photos from the June 2020 ceremony show Wadsworth and her family smiling with balloons, a bouquet of congratulatory flowers nestled in Wadsworth’s arms.

At the same time, her relationship with Sepple was becoming more tumultuous. Wadsworth began to hide aspects of it from her mother—though not totally from her friends. In 2018, Sepple dragged a knife across his tattoo of Wadsworth’s name, enraged during one of their fights. “She thought it was messed up,” says Kowalchuk. “It was his deranged way of professing his love to her.” And though Sepple was intensely jealous at the idea Wadsworth might be seeing boys in Vernon, he was dating women in Chelmsford. When Wadsworth was 18, in 2020, she began receiving calls from some, during their own fights with Sepple. They hoped that she—as his favourite, which he’d made clear to them—could calm him down. Once, out with Kowalchuk, Wadsworth got a call from a woman saying Sepple wouldn’t let her leave his house. “It was almost like she had seen this before,” remembers Kowalchuk. “It seemed like this was a regular thing. She told him to stop acting crazy.”

Looking back, one might question why Wadsworth didn’t cut ties then. Sepple was a skilled manipulator, and she wanted to be in love. As a teenage girl, Wadsworth did not yet understand his behaviour as abusive—problematic, yes, but without a vocabulary for abuse there was no real framework of explanation. Kowalchuk often told Wadsworth to get rid of him, but the couple always reconciled. His apologies seemed heartfelt, and they agreed things would be perfect when they could be in the same place. “He would apologize or use gifts as a way to lure her back,” says Kowalchuk. Wadsworth didn’t know how much worse he would become.

As soon as she could legally work, Wadsworth started racking up hours at part-time jobs—McDonald’s, Burger King, a Chinese restaurant called Asian Avenue, Home Depot, and a clothing store called Red Bag. One of her first purchases was an iPad of her own, freeing her from the household laptop. In 2020, Wadsworth deferred her enrolment to Thompson Rivers University. Because of the pandemic, courses were still being held on Zoom, and she craved a campus community. It was also the perfect opportunity to travel to England. She’d graduated high school, had money in the bank and couldn’t be stopped by her parents’ stern reminders that she was a child. She was an adult now and could do what she wanted. She got a six-month tourist visa and, on November 12, 2021, at age 19, said goodbye to her family and flew to London, her first time travelling alone. From her airplane seat, she posted a Snapchat, blowing her loved ones a kiss. “I’m in my plane,” she said, excitedly inventorying the amenities on her first transatlantic flight. “It’s huge!”

The next day, the pair were finally together. Wadsworth changed her Facebook picture to a shot of her and Sepple, cheek-to-cheek in the arrivals area at London Gatwick airport. Alongside Sepple, Wadsworth’s innocent appearance was striking—he was tough-looking, heavily tattooed with bloated eyes and a surly demeanour. She struck a demure contrast, with soft brown hair and a floral-patterned mask pulled below her chin. Friends and family left hearts and smiley-face emojis in the comments. After so many years pining, Wadsworth seemed content.

For a moment, it appeared a sweet love story, a rare romantic risk that paid off. Wadsworth moved into Sepple’s home, a rowhouse in a public-housing complex in northwest Chelmsford, where he’d lived since 2020. The neighbourhood itself has a rough reputation, but they explored Chelmsford’s more genteel districts. Wadsworth posted Facebook photos of their travels—in one, they’re hugging outside a church, autumn leaves strewn on the ground, both grinning so hard it makes their cheeks rounder. They got a kitten and named it Winston. When Wadsworth FaceTimed her family back home, she beamed—Sepple, too, seemed cheerful.

In many ways, Sepple was the man Wadsworth had known him to be during those years online. He could be loving and warm, showering her with compliments, never saying no to a sentimental selfie. He could also be volatile, with a vicious temper. The couple spent all day together, every day. On a tourist visa, Wadsworth couldn’t work, and Sepple was unemployed, collecting social assistance and sometimes being supported by his mother, Tracy Dalton, who lived nearby. He was close with her and his sister, Nadia, but saw few other people. (His father, with whom he had a strained relationship, died in 2019, and he was estranged from his brother, Jordan.) He seemed to have no friends or social life—suddenly, neither did Wadsworth. Within weeks, her world shrank further, as Sepple stopped wanting to go for walks, opting instead to stay inside, smoke weed and play Xbox.

It was a dramatic departure from Wadsworth’s vibrant life at home. In Chelmsford, Sepple didn’t even like Wadsworth chatting with the neighbours. In her late teens, still in British Columbia, Wadsworth had become interested in religion, choosing to be baptized into the local Mormon church. Her family wasn’t particularly religious, and Wadsworth’s flirtation with faith—though she was never devout—seemed an example of restless, youthful soul-searching. “She read the Book of Mormon front to back,” says Kowalchuk. “Something clicked inside of her.”

Ashley Wadsworth
A bubbly, goofy, fun-loving teenager, Ashley Wadsworth had a full life in small-town British Columbia

Before she left Canada, a friend from the church connected Wadsworth with some American missionaries around her age, who would be in Chelmsford at the same time. When Wadsworth arrived she told Sepple she wanted to make plans with them, but he didn’t approve, and wouldn’t let her attend Sunday services. But Wadsworth was getting lonely, and bored. So despite their proximity, she developed a friendship with the missionaries through text messages. To keep Sepple from finding out, she got in the habit of deleting her WhatsApp history, knowing he spied on her phone. Her new friends could tell that Sepple was controlling. “I remember saying, ‘Ashley, don’t you think you deserve better than that?’ ” recalls one friend after he forbade her from joining them on a road trip. “And she was like, ‘Oh, I know I do, I just want to make him happy.” Another says that in hindsight, “there was more going on than Ashley was telling us.”

That included physical violence. On Boxing Day, six weeks after Wadsworth arrived, Sepple texted his mother saying he’d “smacked” Wadsworth because he found out she had blocked two British numbers on her phone, years ago. He assumed the numbers belonged to other men. “That’s no reason to lay a hand on her,” Dalton texted back. His psychological problems, it was increasingly obvious, were more deep-seated than Wadsworth had known. She’d been aware of Sepple’s history of self-harm—when he got angry or wanted his girlfriends to console him, he’d cut himself, deeply enough to bleed but never to seriously injure. He also regularly took an anti-anxiety medication. Wadsworth felt compelled to stick by his side. The day after Boxing Day, she changed her Facebook picture to a photo of Sepple with his arm around her, both of them smiling, and captioned it “My bestie” with a red heart. Around the same time, she began keeping a secret Snapchat folder to document her bruises. Wadsworth didn’t hide the abuse from her sister, but threatened to cut communication with Hailey if she told their mom. “She didn’t want us to hate him,” says Hailey.

In late December of 2021, Sepple attempted suicide, swallowing a stockpile of his anti-anxiety medication. Wadsworth called an ambulance, which rushed him to hospital, where he was treated for the overdose. Wadsworth was appointed his caregiver, entrusted with administering his medication safely—a nurse gave her a lockbox to store the pills. Wadsworth didn’t tell her mom, or her friends, but Hailey let it slip. Gendron was worried, and said Wadsworth should come home. Wadsworth insisted he would get better.

In early January, Sepple smashed a thick glass beer mug over Wadsworth’s head. Wadsworth FaceTimed her sister, crying as Sepple made her clean up the shards. In the background, Sepple paced back and forth, screaming and clenching his teeth. Hailey begged her sister to fly home, to no avail. Weeks later, Sepple’s mom, Tracy Dalton, and her husband, Ricky, organized a family trip to Rye, a small coastal town, to reset the tone after Sepple’s suicide attempt. They ate in pubs and toured the bucolic English countryside—Sepple’s psychological issues shrouded from onlookers, who would have seen a jovial family strolling cobblestone roads and ordering dessert, posing for pictures with their arms around each other. Gendron was relieved when she saw her daughter’s photos—maybe things had indeed improved.

The reset was short-lived. Soon after returning home, Sepple grew furious when he discovered years-old messages on Wadsworth’s phone from a young man in Canada, whom Sepple assumed she was interested in. He demanded her social media passwords, and she complied.

During a fight at the end of January, Sepple again hit Wadsworth, and threw a candle and a television remote at her while she was on FaceTime with Hailey, who yet again begged her sister to come home. Wadsworth agreed, but soon backtracked—she believed that somewhere inside the monstrous version of him was the charming boy she’d woken up early to talk to all those years ago. She prayed that time, or medication, or her love would heal him. Sepple seemed to have some understanding of the cycle he’d trapped Wadsworth in—accusing her of disloyalty, assaulting her, then apologizing, only to do it all over again. “She’s the only person I’ve ever truly loved,” he wrote to his mother in that Boxing Day exchange. “But I’m ruining it and it’s killing me inside.” On January 29, he texted his mom to say Wadsworth should go home. “Running away is not the answer,” replied Dalton. “Relationships are hard work, and it takes effort, patience and love to stay together.” But, she added, “if you want her to go I understand.”

On January 30, Wadsworth changed her Facebook photo to a shot of her and Sepple, smiling on a sunny day. That evening, Sepple wrote to his sister: “I’m obsessed with Ashley’s past.”

Ashley Wadsworth and Jack Sepple
Wadsworth and Sepple in November of 2021 at London Gatwick airport, moments after her arrival in England

On the morning of February 1, Sepple was angry again. Convinced as ever that Wadsworth could be sneaking around on him—despite his close watch on her every move—he had gone through the contents of her phone.

Just before 8 a.m., the couple’s next-door neighbour, Helen Burtenshaw, heard Wadsworth’s screams through their shared wall. Moments later, Wadsworth appeared at her door, barefoot; when the older woman opened it, she saw Wadsworth crying, blood dripping from a cut on her palm. She said Sepple had hit her and destroyed her phone. He’d thrown their kitten against the wall. She worried he was going to kill her, but asked Burtenshaw not to call police, possibly fearing he might hurt himself if things escalated, or that he’d be sent to jail. Burtenshaw agreed, but asked Wadsworth to come along to a medical appointment she had that morning, rather than go back home. Wadsworth declined, so Burtenshaw went next door herself—alone—to reason with Sepple. He apologized, and she left.

Around 9 a.m., another neighbour, Lucy, brought Sepple a package that was mistakenly delivered to her address. Sepple wouldn’t fully open the door—Lucy didn’t think much of it; she knew Sepple to be a brooding, unfriendly young man who could seem paranoid.

Around that time, Wadsworth used Sepple’s phone to call her family in Vernon, where it was midnight. She told them she wanted to come home. Gendron, finally in the know because Hailey had broken down and told her, was terrified. Then and there, the Wadsworths booked a flight leaving in two days. Sepple agreed to take Wadsworth for a pre-flight COVID test, then to the airport. Gendron told her daughter to leave and go straight to the airport if Sepple exploded again, and told Sepple she’d call the cops if he hurt Wadsworth further. Hailey messaged Sepple’s mother, who said she couldn’t help because she was at the airport herself, unrelatedly. She told Hailey, “As soon as Ashley leaves he’s gonna kill himself.” When Wadsworth and her family disconnected for the last time, it was around 3 a.m. in Vernon; in Chelmsford, 11 a.m. Gendron now believes this is when Sepple decided to kill her daughter.

Minutes later, Sepple messaged his mother on WhatsApp: “I beat up Ashley really bad.” Dalton responded, “Is she hurt? Jack why?” Fourteen minutes later he replied, “She thinks she broke her arm. I picked her up and threw her on the ground, and punched her and ripped her all around the lounge.” According to phone records, Dalton didn’t respond.

From 11:22 a.m. to 12:38 p.m., Wadsworth sent panicked messages—using Sepple’s phone—to family and friends in Vernon, where it was the middle of the night, as well as to her church acquaintances in Chelmsford. “It’s Ashley,” she wrote to one friend. “I need your help. It’s an emergency. Please.” She sent similar messages to others, including Jamie, a 20-year-old Mormon who was in Chelmsford on a missionary trip. No one received them until hours later.

At some point between 12:38 and 12:45 p.m., Sepple strangled Wadsworth. Then he went to the kitchen, selected an 11.5-centimetre knife, and returned to the bedroom. He stabbed her at least 90 times in the chest and abdomen.

When Wadsworth’s family woke up in Vernon, they saw the barrage of messages that had pinged their phones and scrambled to make contact. They called Jamie and asked her to go to the house, which she did, with another friend and two men from the church, hoping to move Wadsworth to a safe location. There was no answer. They called the police and left.

In Vernon, Kowalchuk could see that someone was active on the Facebook account Wadsworth had used to message her—it was Sepple, pretending to be Wadsworth, messaging some of Wadsworth’s other friends saying she’d simply wanted help finding a COVID test and no longer needed assistance. Kowalchuk kept messaging, desperate for a response. Sepple went about his day, ignoring her, as he did the Wadsworths’ messages. Investigators later found blood on an Xbox controller, suggesting he played video games.

Later that day, he changed his Facebook picture to a photo of himself and Ashley at Gatwick months earlier, and captioned it “Forever Mine.” In the bedroom, he recorded a video message—never sent—for Wadsworth’s sister. Breathing heavily, with Wadsworth’s body visible in the frame, he said that he loved her, and was sorry. “Couldn’t ever let you leave,” he said, addressing her body. “My head was fucked . . . I’m so sorry, Hailey, for taking your sister.”

After recording the video, he made small, superficial stab wounds on his own chest, which prosecutors believe may have been intended to lay the groundwork for a self-defence claim. Sepple’s final communication before police arrived was with his sister. They video chatted around 4 p.m. “Nadia, I’ve killed Ashley,” he said, then pointed the phone’s camera at Wadsworth’s body. The call ended then, when two police officers, summoned by Jamie’s call 10 minutes prior, burst through the front door. The officers who attended the scene described Sepple as calm.

After the murder, Sepple was remanded to Chelmsford Prison. At some point, he scrawled a chaotic and non-linear statement on the front and back of a list of facility rules, claiming he was high during the murder. It also read, in part, that he’d “stabbed the life out of her to prove I fucking own her.” When he was arrested, he told police he’d “gone psychotic.” Despite these claims, toxicology reports found only cannabis and a therapeutic dose of his anti-anxiety medication in his system, and a psychiatric assessment determined him fit to plead and stand trial. In September of 2022, with the evidence—including his video-recorded confession—overwhelmingly stacked against him, he entered a guilty plea. A sentencing hearing was scheduled for October. (I attempted repeatedly over five months to reach Sepple. The request was processed by HM Prison and Probation Service, but Sepple did not respond.)

Until the sentencing date, Gendron and Dalton kept in touch. Wadsworth’s mother knew that Dalton, too, was experiencing a form of grief, grappling with the weight of her son’s crime. And she’d been kind to their daughter, telling her over video chat that she couldn’t wait for her to arrive in Chelmsford, that she’d gotten her slippers and a robe and a teacup. The pair planned to meet in person when the Wadsworths arrived in Chelmsford for the sentencing hearing.

That changed on October 10, 2022. At Chelmsford Crown Court, packed with journalists and observers, the Wadsworths listened in stunned silence as prosecuting counsel Simon Spence read aloud Sepple’s years-long criminal background—a relentless roll call of violence, controlling behaviour, harassment and terrifying outbursts dating back to his youth.

In 2014, when he was only 15, Sepple met a 14-year-old girl online. He took naked photos of the girl without permission, and when she broke up with him, hacked into her Facebook account, posting the images for all to see. She filed a restraining order. A month later, he breached the order by requesting to follow the victim on Instagram. That same year, Sepple got into an argument with his mother about his Xbox and shoved her to the floor, before tearing a door off its hinges.

In the following March, he breached the restraining order again, sending another Instagram request. When the restraining order expired in 2017, Sepple waited all of six minutes before contacting the victim. Like with Wadsworth, he also tried reaching the victim through her friends. The following January he sent her a message that read, “please reply, you are never going to get rid of me, even if I have to go to prison over you. I’ll see you soon, and I will turn up wherever you live.” He served a suspended detention sentence.

In July of 2018, his mother called an ambulance after Sepple cut his arm. Angry at her for involving paramedics, he again damaged a door in her home. He was sentenced to eight weeks in a Young Offender institution, and a restraining order was filed by the court on Dalton’s behalf.

That September, there was another breach of the restraining order—he made a new Instagram account to contact his victim after she’d blocked him—which resulted in a detention sentence. The following month, he pleaded guilty to trying to break into a supported-living facility, and received a 21-day sentence.

In March of 2020, Sepple met a woman on Facebook. They moved in together quickly, but she eventually found him to be “jealous” and “unpredictable.” When she tried to break up, he put his hand around her throat and locked her inside the house. After she escaped through a window, he bombarded her with messages and phone calls. (She did not press charges.)

Months prior, he’d locked a different woman inside his home. For that Sepple was charged with false imprisonment, common assault and coercive or controlling behaviour. Because the victim did not attend the trial hearing to provide evidence, he couldn’t be convicted, but a non-conviction restraining order was filed, bringing his total number of restraining orders to three.

While the courts and police had ample evidence of Sepple’s violent criminal past, there was more. An additional ex-girlfriend shared a photo with me that Sepple had sent to her around 2018—in which he is holding a knife to his own throat, blood dripping from a shallow cut he’d made. An accompanying text message read, “I am sad.” During their relationship, says the woman, Sepple openly wondered what it would be like to kill someone. He could be lovely, she says, but he smashed two of her phones and once threatened her with a knife.

One of Sepple’s former middle school classmates told me Sepple was often in trouble for throwing tables and being generally aggressive. Another former classmate, who attended elementary school with Sepple, recalls him as a funny, boisterous kid—but with a dark side, evident even as a child. “He had a lot of love to give,” he says, “but he was very quick to snap or lose his head.” Once, when the friend beat Sepple in a video game, Sepple ran to the kitchen and began slicing his wrists: “His mother had to wrestle the knife from him.” The pair drifted apart when Sepple attended CSS Heybridge, a school for at-risk students who have difficulty in conventional schools. A former teacher recalls that there, Sepple was intimidating, especially with female staff members. “But,” the teacher added, “he could be charming too.”

Sepple was sentenced to life in prison, and must wait 23 and a half years before being considered for parole. Through lawyers, Sepple delivered an apology note to Wadsworth’s family, which read, in part, “It’s no excuse, but I know my intrusive thoughts have a big effect on my thinking and my actions.” Wadsworth’s mother says even his apology was manipulative; her father read it, then let his copy fall from his hands, leaving it on the courtroom table.

With sentencing in the rearview, the Wadsworths can’t stop replaying visions of what-ifs in their minds—most agonizingly, what if they, or their daughter, had known the extent of Sepple’s history? In a note to the Wadsworth family sent after the murder, Sepple’s estranged brother described him as “a sick, twisted, evil individual.”

Gendron doesn’t blame Sepple’s family, but does question why they protected their son by way of silence. “She didn’t take the knife and kill Ashley,” says Gendron of Sepple’s mother. “I know that. I don’t think she thought he would murder her. But if your child has mental-health issues, and they attempt suicide, and show signs of violence in their relationship, intervene. It’s a lesson I have to live with every day.” (Dalton did not respond to repeated interview requests; her husband, Sepple’s stepfather Ricky, declined to comment.)

Wadsworth’s father asks more direct questions: at what point does a repeatedly violent person lose the right to anonymity? Why do privacy laws protect their secrets, when transparency could save lives? The Wadsworths googled Sepple before their daughter went to England. Nothing came up. “I understand that takes away from privacy,” he says. “But if you’re a violent serial offender, maybe you shouldn’t have that right.”

The U.K.’s Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, known as Clare’s Law, is designed to deal with exactly this by permitting police to disclose the criminal history of convicted abusers if they believe potential victims are at risk. The law is named after Clare Wood, an English woman who, in 2009, was killed by her partner, a man police knew to be violent—he’d served prison sentences for harassment and restraining a woman at knifepoint.

Clare’s Law can work in two ways: “the right to ask,” through which applicants request information, and “the right to know.” (The latter is less commonly used—in these cases, police proactively disclose a dangerous person’s past to an interested party, like the new partner of a known offender.)

In theory, Clare’s Law creates the kind of transparency that might prevent someone like Wadsworth from entering a dangerous relationship. In practice, it’s more complicated. In 2021, the Guardian reported that 375 out of 1,609 “right to ask” responses in England took longer than 35 days. Compounding the delays was a significant increase in applications—in 2018, there were 3,479 requests; by 2020, there were 8,438. The same Guardian story reported that Essex police, the force overseeing Chelmsford, approved only seven per cent of Clare’s Law requests in 2020—36 out of 529. (Applications can be rejected for several reasons, including when police feel the applicant is not close enough to either party in the relationship.)

Wadsworth’s mother says that if she’d been aware of it, she would have made a request before her daughter left Canada—under Britain’s law, information is available to non-citizens. “Maybe Ashley herself wouldn’t have applied, because she loved him, but if I’d known I absolutely would have,” says Gendron.

In Canada, Clare’s Law is only in force in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and both have struggled to provide information in a timely manner—as of last year, some applicants in Alberta had been waiting more than three months for information, though the province’s Justice Ministry announced last June that it had finally cleared a backlog of 180 requests, approving 75 per cent of them. Newfoundland and Labrador passed the law in its House of Assembly in 2019. It is expected to be proclaimed this summer, with regulations now being drafted after repeated delays. In Ontario, MPP Jennie Stevens proposed Clare’s Law in a private member’s bill in 2021, but a motion has only just been introduced.

The main impediment is privacy legislation. Until 2021, police could not disclose criminal records without a perpetrator’s consent. After consultation with the federal government and Canada’s privacy commissioner, the RCMP amended its regulations. The RCMP, and any municipal or other force in Canada, can now share records without violating the Privacy Act in provinces where Clare’s Law has been passed and proclaimed.

Even with Clare’s Law, many would still not easily extricate themselves from abuse. But some might, and importantly, it could help applicants avoid deepening their relationships with abusers in the first place. This would be a critical intervention given that rates of intimate-partner violence against women have been rising for nearly a decade in Canada, increasing by almost 20 per cent since 2014. According to the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability, the number of women and girls killed by a male accused in 2022 increased by 27 per cent compared to 2019—one woman or girl is killed every 48 hours in Canada. “Canada has fallen flat in addressing domestic violence,” says Andrea Silverstone, CEO of Calgary-based survivor advocacy organization Sagesse.

The risk of domestic homicide is highest when a partner leaves or is about to leave. In court, Judge Edward Murray determined that Sepple’s imminent loss of control over Wadsworth led to his decision to murder her. Disclosures provided by Clare’s Law could help victims make a safe exit plan, a process that often requires time, strategy and support.

Sepple’s violence was not without warning signs—some of them glaring, even to Wadsworth. In March of 2021, eight months before Wadsworth left home, Sepple sent her a 26-second voice message, furious because he knew Kowalchuk had been saying she didn’t like him. In the clip, he sounds unhinged. Amid a stream of horrifying guttural yowls, he says, referring to Kowalchuk, “I’m going to kill her. I’m going to fucking murder her.” Wadsworth still went to Chelmsford.

“Women are socialized to think we are the fixers, the peacemakers,” says lawyer Pamela Cross, a legal expert on violence against women. Indeed, Wadsworth was a helper. She believed love could heal anything and that her love could heal Sepple. “She was very committed to Jesus Christ, hope, love,” says Jamie, the young missionary who called police to Sepple’s house. “That’s what Ashley wanted in her life.”

A few days before Wadsworth was killed, she snuck out while Sepple wasn’t home and met Jamie and another friend in Melbourne Park, about a 10-minute walk away. It was a quiet early afternoon. They sat at a picnic table, pausing their conversation to pet a dog being walked by the only people who passed by. Jamie sensed something was wrong, and picked a scripture, 2 Nephi 31:20, to read with her: “Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men.”

For seven years, Wadsworth looked at Sepple’s face intently, through computer screens and smartphones, at the airport when they finally met, every day of their short cohabitation and in the last moments of her life. Under his right eye, for some of that time, was a tattoo: “hope” in cursive writing—the holy premise she clung to, staring back at her, as though a sign that perfect brightness would come.

After the sentencing, the Wadsworths went to the rowhouse where their daughter had lived with Sepple. They looked in the windows. They laid bouquets on the ground, near where she had been carried to the lawn the day she died. They planted a garden at the site, leaving vibrant bursts to bloom against abominable memories. As soon as Gendron returned to Vernon, she went to Wadsworth’s grave with Hailey. They brought Hailey’s young daughter along, who took her new double-decker bus toy and excitedly set it up for her aunt to see.

Hailey says her sister sends signs from heaven. Sometimes she looks in the mirror and sees her. Doors in the family’s home seem to open and close on their own. Lights turn on and off by themselves. Family members keep finding white, fluffy feathers around their property. Birds visit, and dragonflies. Last August, Kowalchuk got married, and Hailey stood in for her sister as a bridesmaid. As the sun set, a butterfly landed on the flowers. Unquestionably, Hailey says, it was Ashley. “I believe she’s there,” says Hailey. “And after this life we get forever with her.”


This article appears in print in the July 2023 issue of Maclean’s magazine. Buy the issue for $9.99 or better yet, subscribe to the monthly print magazine for just $39.99.

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