Calgary

Murder charges pending in case of Calgary mom and toddler

Bodies believed to be those of Jasmine Lovett and daughter Aliyah Sanderson found Monday

Posted: May 06, 2019
Last Updated: May 07, 2019

Jasmine Lovett and her daughter, Aliyah Sanderson, left, were tenants in a southeast Calgary townhome owned by Robert Leeming, right. Police say murder charges are pending against a suspect who was taken into custody two weeks ago in Lovett and Sanderson's deaths. Leeming has confirmed to media he was taken into custody at that time. (Left, Lovett family/right, CBC)

Two bodies believed to be those of a mother and her toddler who went missing on April 16 have been found west of Calgary in Kananaskis, and police say second-degree murder charges are pending against a suspect.

Calgary police said the bodies were found around 4 a.m. MT on Monday. The disappearance of Jasmine Lovett and her 22-month-old daughter, Aliyah Sanderson, was being treated as a homicide. 

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"The investigation led officers to a heavily wooded area near Grizzly Creek located off Highway 40, where the bodies were discovered," Calgary Police Service said in a news release.

"Autopsies are expected to begin today. Formal identification of the deceased will be done by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. The cause of death of both victims is not expected to be released."

Calgary police bring Robert Leeming into the arrest processing unit late Monday night. Leeming owns the townhouse where Lovett and her daughter had been living, and had said he and Lovett were romantically involved 'on and off.' (Julie Debeljak/CBC)

Police say a suspect has been taken into custody and second-degree murder charges should be laid by Monday evening. They said the suspect will not be identified until he is charged, but that he is the same person taken into custody two weeks ago. 

There are no additional suspects at this time, police said.

The Lovett family released a statement Monday afternoon thanking police and others involved in the search.

Officers on horseback search near Priddis, Alta., in late April. Leeming told reporters he had gone out to the Bragg Creek area for a picnic with Lovett and her daughter on April 17. (Tim Propp/CBC )

"We would also like to thank the public for their continued support which has meant a great deal to us. Our lives have been devastated and our hearts are heavy. We are trying to understand how this tragedy could have happened to our loved ones," the statement said.

'On and off' romance

While police did not identify the suspect, Robert Leeming told reporters in late April he had been taken into custody two weeks ago and remained a suspect. 

Leeming owned the townhouse where Lovett and her daughter were living. He confirmed that Lovett and Aliyah had been living there as tenants since October.

He also said that he and Lovett had been romantically involved "on and off."

Staff Sgt. Martin Schiavetta said the suspect and Lovett were in a "domestic relationship which deteriorated over a period of time."

Leeming told reporters that he had gone out to the Bragg Creek area, west of Calgary, for a picnic with the mother and daughter on April 17, and he last saw them in the evening of April 18.

Police were on scene in Kananaskis near where the bodies were found on Monday. (Mike Symington/CBC)

Police, however, said they were last seen on the evening of April 16 at their home in the southeast Calgary neighbourhood of Cranston.

Lovett's financial accounts were last active April 18, when a card was used to make an online purchase, police said. Investigators had not been able to confirm Lovett was the one who made that purchase.

Her family became aware of her disappearance after she didn't show up at a family dinner.

Schiavetta said its believed Lovett and Sanderson were killed between the evening of April 16 and the morning of April 17, and that their bodies were transported to the Grizzly Creek area between April 17 and April 20.

Police had been searching in the area of Bragg Creek, Elbow Falls, Priddis and East Kananaskis, but were hampered due to recent snowfall. 

"The investigative process picked up momentum over the last few days which led us to locate the bodies early this morning," Schiavetta said, adding that few details would be released at this time as they will be crucial to evidence presented at trial.

Animal cruelty charges

Last year, Leeming pleaded guilty to three animal cruelty charges after leaving his dog chained to a tree. He had left the dog there to die after telling his ex-wife he'd given the animal away. Four days later, a peace officer found the dog in distress. 

According to divorce documents, Leeming's ex-wife called him "cruel" and, in the weeks before their separation, she worried he planned to kill her.

She claims in court documents that she found a disturbing search history on Leeming's computer, including an article about chaining a dog to a tree and another one about a mother and child who died in a house fire.

"It didn't leave my mind that he actually did one of those things," she wrote in an affidavit. 

In his own affidavit filed at the Calgary courthouse, Leeming said he had several guns, a firearms licence and about 60 knives, which he said he has been collecting since he was seven years old. 

He did not deny the online searches outlined in his then-wife's affidavit. 

Schiavetta said more than 250 tips came in from the public, and anyone who has information regarding the case or who was in the Bragg Creek area between April 17 and 21 should contact police.

The pending charges could be amended to first-degree murder if additional evidence is found, he said.

"This investigation is not over, we will continue to gather evidence in days, weeks and months to come."

With files from Meghan Grant, Sarah Rieger