An Ontario man charged with violently assaulting two people in southwestern B.C. is a paroled killer responsible for five deaths in a 25-year criminal career that includes a dramatic prison break, the kidnapping and rape of a woman and a shootout at a police roadblock. Documents acquired by Cancrime reveal that Thomas Brydges, 73, who is serving a life sentence, was granted full parole – the most permissive freedom for a lifer – in 2014, despite a psychological assessment that concluded his risk for reoffending was “moderate-high level” and despite a previous failure on full parole. Brydges was notorious in Ontario, in part, for drowning four friends when he drove a stolen car into a canal to elude pursuing police and for his role in a breakout from medium-security Collins Bay penitentiary in Kingston that led to a three-day crime spree.
Brydges was arrested May 29, 2018, the day after a man and woman were “beaten up quite significantly,” according to police, at a trailer park in Aldergrove, a small community 15 kilometres west of Abbotsford, B.C. Brydges was reportedly a neighbor of the victims.
He’s facing two counts of assault with a weapon, and charges of aggravated assault and assault causing bodily harm.
Brydges has been in and out of prison repeatedly since 1966. That year, he began a four-year penitentiary sentence for car theft and careless driving, a seemingly lenient sentence given the circumstances of the crime. On the evening of October 4, 1965, Brydges, then 20, stole a car and was joyriding with four friends. In a bid to evade police pursuers, Brydges roared through a barricade at a bridge on Highway 20 at Allanburg, a small community on the Welland Canal just west of Niagara Falls, Ontario. The bridge had been raised to allow a ship to pass through. The car plunged into the 30-foot deep canal. The four passengers drowned. Brydges swam ashore. At the time, he did not admit he was behind the wheel. He offered the confession, years later, while behind bars. He told the parole board, during his full parole hearing in 2014, that he was not drinking the day of the crash. He claimed that he lost control of the car in the dark and didn’t realize he was approaching water.
“You said, and the Board found credible, that you often think of your four friends and your role in causing their deaths,” the parole document, dated August 27, 2014, states. News stories from the period said the victims included two 16-year-old girls. The record of the 2014 hearing notes that Brydges has a “significant alcohol problem” that has played a role in his crimes. A psychiatrist said he was so concerned by Brydges’ behaviour when drinking that his use of alcohol “should be monitored in perpetuity.”
If Brydges felt penitent and remorseful in 1966, as he was beginning his prison term for killing his friends, he had a strange way of demonstrating it. A few months after being transferred to medium-security Collins Bay Institution in Kingston, Brydges and three fellow convicts escaped from the walled compound. They stole a prison truck and crashed it through the east gate while sentries fired six shots in a failed bid to stop them. One of the four inmates was caught quickly but Brydges, John Eaton and Harold Dankwardt embarked on a three-day crime spree that eluded a mammoth police dragnet. A day after the breakout, the trio kidnapped a 40-year-old Scarborough woman, took her to a motel and raped her.
The woman was carjacked by the group at an intersection in Scarborough the day after the prison breach. She told police she was on her way to pick up her son at school at 3 p.m. when she was cut off by a car and forced to stop. Two men holding guns warned her they’d “blow her head off” if she didn’t open her door. The two men got in her car and the two vehicles drove to Barrie, north of Toronto, where the group checked in to a motel. One of the fugitives dressed in women’s clothing to make it appear that two couples had registered at the motel. The woman was raped, gagged and left tied to a chair with torn strips of bedsheet.
The fugitives were caught, three days after their escape, on Saturday, February 12, on the outskirts of St. Catharines, Ontario, after they rammed a police vehicle at a roadblock and fired several shotgun blasts at officers. The car driven by the trio crashed into a snowbank and they were captured.
The three men were each handed life sentences.
Brydges has claimed, while imprisoned, that he played a lesser role in all of the crimes. He told the parole board in 2014 that he didn’t shoot at police the day the three escapers were captured – although he pleaded guilty to the crime – and has insisted that he didn’t take part in the rape of the woman they abducted.
Brydges’ 2014 and 2017 parole records don’t indicate that he attempted a second prison escape, three years after the Collins Bay breakout. He and a fellow inmate were found hiding in an underground crawlspace close to the main gate of maximum-security Kingston Penitentiary in February 1969.
Six years after the KP attempted breakout, Brydges was released on day parole, a form of early freedom that usually requires a freed prisoner to live at a halfway house. Brydges got full parole in 1976 and reportedly lived crime free until 1988. That year, while living in Kitchener, Ontario, Brydges stabbed to death his live-in girlfriend, 27-year-old Roberta Mary Jewel Chafe. The pair had consumed roughly 60 bottles of beer and an argument started. Brydges stabbed the woman once in the chest. Brydges pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
He has claimed he doesn’t remember killing the woman.
“In past hearings, and again today, you state that you have no clear recollection of stabbing the victim, though you recall standing over her, holding a knife,” the written record of the 2014 parole hearing states.
Brydges was paroled in 1999 but his full parole was revoked in 2005 for alcohol use. He was paroled again but his release was revoked and he was returned to custody in 2008. He was turned loose again in 2010 but his release was suspended in 2013 for suspected alcohol use. The suspension was later lifted, leading to the decision in 2014 to grant full parole, which permits Brydges to live on his own without direct supervision.
“The Correctional Service believes that you are more open now than you have been, and are confident that your risk would not be undue outside of the structure of a halfway house on parole,” states the written record of the 2014 parole decision. The document noted that “there is no evidence of criminal behaviour for more than 20 years.”
The document also noted that a second assessment of the threat posed by Brydges was completed and it found that his risk for re-offending was “at the low-moderate level.” During family violence counseling in prison, Brydges admitted to being physically or verbally abusive to three intimate partners, including the woman he stabbed to death in 1988. The parole board said his “history of dysfunctional relationships” was a “concern.”
At the time full parole was granted, Brydges was driving a truck for a charity two days a week and had taken up the hobby of flying model airplanes.
Brydges was subject to seven special conditions, including a prohibition on consuming alcohol or gambling. In a decision in May 2017, the parole board removed requirements for Brydges to undergo psychological counseling if instructed by his parole officer and to provide disclosure about his finances.
Because of the new charges, Brydges’ parole would be suspended. A subsequent decision will be made on the revocation of his parole. It could be revoked even if he is not convicted of the assault charges. He would be returned to a penitentiary to continue serving his life sentence.
A Life of Crime – Thomas Charles Brydges
» 1963: Convictions for theft, fraud, careless driving
» October 1965: Stole a car and, while fleeing police, drove it into the Welland Canal at Allanburg, a small community 60 kilometres south of Toronto; four passengers in the car drowned; Brydges, 20, of Elmira, Ontario, did not admit he was driving until years later; he was sentenced to four years in prison for car theft and careless driving
» February 9, 1966: Brydges and three fellow convicts, John Eaton, 25, of Moose Jaw, Sask., Harold Dankwardt, 20, and Thomas Fuhrman, 19, both of Kitchener, Ont., escaped medium-security Collins Bay penitentiary in Kingston by stealing the keys to a prison truck and crashing it through the east gate; Fuhrman was caught that day while the three others remained at large for three days
» February 12, 1966: Brydges, Eaton and Dankwardt were caught after crashing into a police vehicle at a roadblock near St. Catharines, Ontario, and firing at officers with shotguns; during their three days of freedom they abducted and raped a woman, broke into homes and cottages and stole cars; they were eventually sentenced to life in prison
» February 1969: Brydges was caught attempting to escape from maximum-security Kingston Penitentiary (along with fellow convict Gordon Stover, 26, of Sault Ste. Marie) by sneaking into an underground crawlspace near the main gate
» 1976: Granted full parole
» March 1988: Brydges stabbed to death his live-in girlfriend, Roberta Mary Jewel Chafe, 27, at their apartment in Kitchener, Ontario; he pleaded guilty to manslaughter and is sentenced to 12 years in prison
» 1999: Granted day parole
» 2004: Granted full parole, which was revoked in 2005 because of alcohol use
» 2006: Granted day parole, which was revoked in 2008 because of alcohol use
» 2010: Granted day parole
» 2014: Granted full parole
» May 29, 2018: Brydges arrested in Oliver, B.C. and later charged with four crimes related to violent assaults on a man and woman in Aldergrove, B.C. on May 28
The written record of the decision August 27, 2014, granting Brydges full parole:
The written record of the decision May 30, 2017, removing two special conditions on Brydges’ parole: