|Jo Dibblee, author of Frock Off: Living Undisguised|
After keeping it a secret for more than 35 years, the former Penticton resident made this revelation in her book, Frock Off: Living Undisguised, which was released nation-wide Nov. 1.
Dibblee, 52, is a motivational speaker who resides in Calgary. Her upbringing was anything but normal.
Born in Fort St. John, her large family settled in Hedley when she was a young girl before moving to Penticton where she attended high school.
She recalls being introduced to Ernest Gardiner, a foster parent and scout leader, through Social Services. Dibblee claims he later offered to hire her as a babysitter at 25 cents above the going rate, but when she met with him, he sexually assaulted her and threatened to kill her.
Dibblee is convinced that because her family was "from the wrong side of the tracks," police and other social agencies didn't take her seriously and was scorned for making an allegation against an upstanding citizen.
Three years later, in 1979, Susan Duff, 12, was murdered and her body left in the Upper Carmi hills. In July 2005, police charged Gardiner with her murder and six other sexual assaults.
Although frightened, Dibblee was willing to testify but it never got to court. The Crown stayed the charges believing too much time had passed, there was insufficient evidence, and a conviction was improbable. In total, Gardiner was incarcerated for seven days.
Gardiner died in March 2007 and always maintained his innocence.
Dibblee, who was interviewed by police several times since her initial complaint, was incensed she was never notified of Gardiner's death. She learned two years later after mustering up the courage to Google his name.
"I carried the guilt of Susan's death for many years," she said in a phone interview with The Herald.
"Maybe I didn't scream loud enough (to authorities). I was able to get away. I grew up, I got married, I got divorced, I had children, went on trips, had grandchildren but none of these things were available to Susan. She had no voice. Every time I speak, I take a picture of her."
Dibblee agrees 1976 standards were different than 2013 when it comes to sexual assault complaints and police work. It's still far from a perfect system, she declares.
"The challenge still is that when you come from a disenfranchised society or culture, you are deemed less credible. It's then hard to win the case. If it happened to me today after I've proven myself in life compared to being that 16-year-old girl that I was back then, I don't know what would happen.
"The truth is the police were at my house so much, I may have worn them down. In the book I use the word Ôalleged' but not with what happened to me. That wasn't alleged. I know what happened. His (Gardiner's) crimes were committed out of convenience."
In her book, Dibblee changes many of the surnames and doesn't reveal her maiden name. She wanted to protect her own siblings and didn't want to hurt Susan Duff's loved ones. She realizes readers from the Okanagan Valley will know who she's referring to but there was no way to avoid it.
"I had been working on this book for five years and in 2012, when I decided I had to write it, everything had to come out except for the name. I couldn't sugar-coat it. I had to tell it the way it was. I don't want to hurt anyone, especially Susan's mother. I have a daughter. I can't imagine what she's gone through."
The event altered Dibblee's life in many ways to the point where she was overprotective of her own daughter, bordering on obsession.
Dibblee returned recently to Penticton with her brother and found it difficult. The book doesn't portray Penticton in the most positive light but Dibblee acknowledges "it could happen anywhere."
The Gardiner case doesn't dominate the 196-page book. Instead, she shares many other events from her childhood in hopes it inspires others. She came up with the unusual title in reference to the many personal disguises she's used.
"I didn't want this book to be Joe's diary. I want it to be somewhat uplifting, even as dark as the material is. Just because something bad happens doesn't mean it's your whole life. I'm hoping to draw some attention to making people aware of what's going on in our system. I'm not naive enough to believe one person is going to change it (domestic violence) but more awareness and discussion might help."
Frock Off was self-published and now available on Amazon. She's presently on a nationwide tour which included speaking with CTV's Canada AM on Tuesday morning. Her tour will bring her to Vancouver and Victoria in January and she "would love to" include Penticton if an opportunity presents itself. She one day hopes to meet Susan Duff's mother.
Dibblee supports several causes including Little Warriors and Because I'm A Girl. She anticipates writing a second book.
"I want to write a sequel that shows women (who were abused) and what they're doing now and not focus on what happened to them. I want to give them a voice and share the journey together."
On the net: www.frock-off.com