For three long days, top criminal profilers and investigators from across North America came together in a Toronto hotel to pore over the details of the summertime murder of Orangeville, Ont., nurse Sonia Varaschin.
The three-day "investigative summit" last week was unprecedented but warranted by the "very rare" nature of the crime, Ontario Provincial Police Det.-Insp. Mark Pritchard said at a news conference Thursday.
The killer attacked Varaschin, 42, in her home in Orangeville, about 80 kilometres northwest of Toronto, either late on Aug. 29 or early on Aug. 30, when her blood-smeared white Toyota Corolla was found, doors open, in an alleyway in downtown Orangeville.
"Anybody who enters somebody's house where you should be safe and kills you, in my view is cold-blooded," Pritchard said.
He said the killer not only entered Varaschin's Spring Street home, he moved her body into her vehicle, despite "the close confines of the townhouse complex." After dumping the body, he then recklessly drove back near the scene of the murder and into town with blood that would have been "clearly visible on the outside of the car."
A week later, on Sept. 5, somebody walking a dog discovered Varaschin's remains next to a remote road in Caledon, about 12 kilometres from her home.
About 25 experts met at a hotel near Toronto's Pearson International Airport last week to dissect the case "moment by moment, event by event," including visits to the three crime sites, to try to piece together a profile of the man who killed Varaschin.
In attendance were criminal profilers from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation's Virginia-based behavioural analysis unit, Ontario Provincial Police and the RCMP, plus senior homicide investigators from several forces, including York Region, Toronto and Ottawa.
Also among those at the summit were several members of the OPP's behavioural sciences unit, who were involved in the case of Russell Williams, the former military commander who killed two women, attacked two others and broke into dozens of Tweed-area and Ottawa homes.
Killer profile released
Police have released few details about how Varaschin died and even refuse to reveal the weapon used.
And at the news conference, nearly four months after her death, little fresh evidence was presented. Pritchard defended the investigation.
"It's not a TV show," he said. "These things take a long time."
Investigators did release a general profile of Varaschin's, killer, hoping it might help them "zero in" on the killer by sparking further tips.
In the days after Varaschin's death or the discovery of her body on Sept. 5, police say the killer may have:
- Increased alcohol or drug use.
- Seemed irritable, agitated or anxious.
- Moved from the area.
- Limited social interactions to avoid detection.
- Had unexplained absences from work, school or missed appointments.
- Displayed other unusual behavior.
The man, police say, is likely very familiar with the Orangeville area and the gravel Beech Grove Sideroad, near Mountainview Road, in Caledon, where Varaschin's body was dumped. He may know it because of "recreation, occupation or illegal activities."
Other attack unrelated
Glenn Nash, 60, of Caledon, who lives near the site where Varaschin's body was found, says the people who frequent the rural area are mostly locals, either walking or hiking in the wooded conservation spot.
"It would have to be someone who knows the roads, knows the area," Nash said. "Somebody who's comfortable with the area. And they know this is a very, very quiet road. You can be here for hours and not see any vehicle."
Nash pointed out an area where flowers used to mark the site, now covered in thick snow, where Varaschin's body was found. The retired volunteer firefighter and snowplow operator says that in summer, the area is swampy and covered in tall bulrushes, making it hard to spot a body.
"I hope they sort something out because a lot of people are uncomfortable," said Nash, noting another recent attack in Orangeville that has residents talking.
Shelley Loder, 44, was found unconscious by a family member after she was attacked inside her house in a nearby town. But police say there are no links between the two cases.
"These two attacks are so dissimilar at this point, we can't make a connection," Pritchard said. "We can't say they are not connected, but we don't see any similarities."
Empty seat at Christmas
Police have received 460 tips to date on the Varaschin case and conducted more than 500 interviews but say they are still looking for a tidbit that might lead them to the killer.
"There's no tip that isn't worth the police looking into," Pritchard said. "And I think the message I'm trying to get out is that no matter how insignificant a suspicion or information is, we want them to come forward and talk to us."
Michele Varaschin, the victim's mother, with her son, Vivian, at her side, quietly delivered a carefully worded statement echoing that sentiment.
"We are asking you to have the courage and strength to come forward," she said.
Next week's holiday celebrations will mark the family's first time without Sonia, a "kindhearted person who loved life," she said.
"This Christmas there will be an empty seating at our table where Sonia used to sit, with her bright smile, thoughts, jokes and just enjoyed Christmas with all her family."