NBC’s ‘Dateline: The Informant’ narrates the story of Gary Thibodeau, a convicted felon in the abduction of 18-year-old cashier Heidi Allen from her workplace in April 1994 in New Haven, New York. While Gary was found guilty a year later, new evidence and testimonies emerged two decades later that aroused suspicion regarding him being the perpetrator. The episode follows how Gary’s defense counsel fought for years to reverse his conviction. If you’re interested in knowing what happened, we’ve your back. Let’s begin then, shall we?
Who Was Gary Thibodeau?
On April 3, 1994, Heidi Allen opened the D&W Convenience store by the corner of state Route 104 and state Route 104B in New Haven in Oswego County, New York, around 5:45 am. The 18-year-old had been working at the store as a cashier for more than two years. Her longtime boyfriend, Brett Law, was with her until the morning customers started pouring in. However, what seemed to be a typical day took a strange turn when the customers noticed the store was unattended around 8:00 am.
The concerned customers notified the authorities, and an officer from the Oswego County Sheriff’s Department stopped by around 8:12 am. The police suspected foul play when they noticed Heidi’s maroon station wagon in the parking lot and her personal belongings behind the store counter. However, Heidi was not found even after the detectives carried out a thorough search of the store. What was more perplexing was the store manager reporting no money had been stolen from the cash register.
Upon hearing the news of Heidi’s disappearance, Richard Thibodeau voluntarily contacted the police to tell them he had been at the store to buy two packets of cigarettes at around 7:30 am. Since the cash register noted no sale had been made after 7:42 am, Richard was possibly the last person to see Heidi alive. As the officers interviewed various witnesses at the store, some claimed to have seen a white van driving away from the store at the same time as the cashier’s disappearance.
The erstwhile undersheriff of the Oswego County Sheriff’s Office, Reuel Todd, stated on the show, “They noticed somebody driving very erratically, wrestling or struggling with somebody in a van.” Since Richard owned a similar kind of white van, the police began to consider him as a person of interest in the abduction case. After witnesses placed Richard and his brother, Gary Thibodeau, at the crime scene, the authorities put the brothers under surveillance.
Gary claimed he was sleeping at his home on the morning of April 3, and his claim was corroborated by his girlfriend. However, Richard and Gary were arrested and charged with first-degree kidnapping after the investigators learned Gary had a warrant out for a drug charge. The brothers were tried separately in 1995, and a jury acquitted Richard of all charges. During his trial, two inmates alleged that Gary had confessed to them about killing Heidi as a part of a drug deal gone wrong. He was convicted and sentenced to 25 years to life in 1995.
How Did Gary Thibodeau Die?
In 1995, an appeals court upheld Gary’s conviction, and he continued to serve his prison sentence. For the following two decades, Gary claimed he was innocent, writing “Gary the Innocent” in the return address on the envelopes of any letter he mailed. Around two decades later, federal public defender Lisa Peebles filed a motion in July 2014 to reverse Gary’s conviction. She claimed that three other individuals were involved in Heidi’s case, citing the allegations raised by various informers, including Tonya Priest.
Lisa also alleged that the prosecutors did not turn over crucial evidence to Gary’s defense during his 1995 trial. According to her testimony on the show, Heidi was working as a teen drug informant under the false name “Julia Roberts.” She argued this information might have provided Gary’s defense counsel to build his case, though the authorities and prosecution continued to deny the claim. The hearing on Lisa’s motion began on January 2015 but was ultimately turned down in March 2016 by the presiding judge.
Lisa tried to present Gary’s case in front of a four-judge appellate bench in February 2017, but the court upheld his conviction in June 2017. Meanwhile, Gary, incarcerated at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, was suffering from a severe lung condition. According to reports, the doctors had predicted that he would have about six months to live in late 2017. Lisa requested his release through medical parole. It was decided that his case would be heard by New York’s Court of Appeals.
However, the highest appellate court also decided 4-3 against reversing Gary’s conviction in June 2018. Meanwhile, Gary had been in hospice care for the past year in the hospital ward of the Coxsackie Correctional Facility, south of Albany. The 64-year-old died from complications related to COPD on August 12, 2018, less than two years away from his first possible parole hearing in January 2020. According to reports, Lisa had been planning a federal appeal, but Gary’s death closed the case, with him remaining to be convicted in Heidi’s abduction.
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