A number of disappearances from Toronto’s gay village don’t seem to be connected, police told the public on Friday, also dismissing rumors of a serial killer in the area in light of growing concerns about safety in the community.
A task force was formed in October to investigate the disappearances of Andrew Kinsman and Selim Esen, who went missing from the Church and Wellesley area in June and April. Police also provided updates on the deaths of Alloura Wells and Tess Richey, who also went missing from the area, in response to intense criticism that the investigations were mishandled.
“There has been a great deal of misinformation disseminated through the media and other mediums,” said Det Sgt. Michael Richmond. He dismissed speculation that a serial killer is behind the disappearances, that the cases of Kinsman and Esen are linked, or that they are related to another set of disappearances from The Village that took place between 2010 and 2012.
There’s no conclusive evidence that establishes that any of these males were the victims of foul play, although that can’t be ruled out.
The investigation looking into the disappearances of Esen and Kinsman has been dubbed Project Prism, and it includes officers from Project Houston, an 18-month investigation into the missing persons cases of three men from The Village area starting in 2010, which failed to figure out what happened to them. But that does not mean the cases are linked, Richmond stressed.
“It simply makes sense to have the same dedicated team investigate these occurrences in parallel,” said Richmond. “There’s no conclusive evidence that establishes that any of these males were the victims of foul play, although that can’t be ruled out.”
Police then explained why it took until November to identify Alloura Wells, a transgender woman who had been missing since mid-July and whose body was found in a ravine in midtown Toronto in early August.
Wells’ body was difficult to identify, having been “badly decomposed” after being in the ravine and exposed to the elements for three to four weeks, said Det. Sgt. Dan Dabadicks. It was dressed in female clothing and had a wig and was laying on the ground next to a tent.
At the time, nothing indicated foul play or anything suspicious, said Sabadicks.
The Coroner told police a few days later that the body was a male in their early 20s, of an undetermined race. Police then asked the Centre for Forensic Science to begin creating a facial reconstruction, which can take months, said Sabadicks.
Wells was not officially reported missing until early November, so police got no matches when they tried to search for a trans woman in her 20s in their missing persons database.
It was only after her father reported her disappearance on Nov. 6 that police requested DNA from her family. Her identity was confirmed on Nov. 22. The final autopsy found that the cause of her death was undetermined.
Although he’s not a suspect, police are looking to speak with Wells’ boyfriend, who they believe is the last person to have seen her alive.
‘VALUE TO THE COMMUNITY’
Cops faced a barrage of questions about their investigation into the disappearance of 22-year-old Tess Richey, whose body was found by her mother just a few doors down from where she was last seen. While it was initially ruled an accident, a post-mortem found the cause of death was neck compression, and the death is now being investigated as a homicide.
Richey had been at Crews and Tangos, a popular drag bar in The Village, until about 1:45 a.m., and then went to a hot dog cart at Church and Wellesley with an old high school friend, police said. It was a busy night, and Richey and her friend interacted with a lot of people.
When there’s a loss of life, one of the things I’m responsible for [is] what can we do to improve?
Police believe it was at the hot dog cart that they met a man they now consider a suspect in Richey’s death. Around 4 a.m., the group parted ways, and Richey and the man walked a short distance to a stairwell in an alley by a building undergoing renovations.
“This is where we last see Tess,” said Det. Sgt. Graham Gibson. “This was around 4 a.m.”
While Richey wasn’t seen by any witnesses or on surveillance video after that, police say the suspect was seen walking away from the area of the stairwell on his own.
That stairwell is where Richey’s mother found her body. Police confirmed they only saw surveillance footage from the area after her body was discovered, although officers had been canvassing the area and searching for her.
Following outcry from members of the public, Police Chief Mark Saunders has asked the Professional Standards Unit to look into “who received what information and what was done with it.”
“When there’s a loss of life, one of the things I’m responsible for [is] what can we do to improve?” said Saunders. “When they’re setting up their own search parties to look for missing people, I have to question whether or not as a service we’re offering the right value to the community.”
He refused to comment, however, on whether his officers had dropped the ball before the investigation was completed.
“A lot of information that I’m hearing, I’m not sure if it’s fact, fiction or perception. The investigation will have the true essence of what was done.”