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Patricia (Trish) Carpenter, a 14-year-old mother of a two-month-old boy, was found dead at a Toronto construction site on Sept. 25, 1992.
The coroner’s investigative statement says Carpenter’s body was “wedged very tightly, head-first, into a pit…” and that she died of asphyxiation.
Members of her family, as well as construction workers who found her body, say it would have been impossible for Carpenter to have simply fallen into the hole, given that the opening was just 55 by 58 centimetres in size and about two metres deep.
She had been drinking with friends that night and the friends wandered off, leaving Trish on her own, according to the police investigation. She had near-toxic alcohol levels in her bloodstream.
All three friends were taken to the police station for questioning, according to the inquest report into her death.
The initial investigative statement of the Ontario coroner says, “No foul play shown by autopsy.”
But the notes indicate “after much discussion with the police,” the coroner wrote a letter to the regional coroner giving reasons why an inquest should be called, though that letter is not part of the public record.
A coroner’s inquest later concluded that Trish’s death was, indeed, suspicious.
Toronto police did not respond to CBC’s requests for information about the status of the case.
Trish's mother, Joyce Carpenter, said she felt that police determined no foul play too quickly and she believes the investigation was hampered by racism on the part of police.
“They look down on native people,” she said. “They need to dig further into the investigations and be more thorough in what they do.”
Joyce Carpenter said she never believed her daughter could just trip and fall into a hole.
At the time of Trish’s death, Carpenter said she was told that her daughter had been drunk and doing drugs, and she was seen as a street girl.
“There [were] no drugs found on her. They said she was a street girl; she wasn't a street girl, she was living with me and with her baby,” she said.
“The detectives said … there was change at the bottom of the hole and she knew it was there, and she was reaching it and she got stuck,” Joyce added. “They said she tripped and fell in.”
The initial coroner’s investigation statement, generated three weeks after Trish’s death, said a detective in charge of the investigation stated “categorically that there had been no foul play.” But the coroner called for an inquest anyway.
The coroner’s statement also made references to the police investigation.
“I was informed by officers then, and with more information during the following two days, that this girl had been on the streets since she was aged 11,” the statement reads in part. “She was a Canadian Indian and had many street friends, but had not fitted in with a ‘fast crowd.’”
The means of Trish’s death is listed on the document as “undetermined,” and that led the coroner’s office to request the inquest. It was held over 12 days in February 1993, with a jury assembled to look at the evidence in the case.
“The nature of Patricia (Trish) Carpenter’s death is suspicious. However, there is insufficient evidence to conclude that her death is a homicide,” the jury stated in its inquest report.
The jury made 11 recommendations about social services, construction safety and police investigation procedures.
Two recommendations related to the police investigation state that:
Joyce Carpenter is actively involved in supporting family members and participating in events related to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
“Back then nobody talked about missing women or what happened to them,” she said.
But after learning about several other cases in Toronto, Carpenter says she is now speaking up about Trish’s case.
Hanging onto hope that Trish’s case will reopen, Carpenter kept Trish’s clothes for many years after her death, before eventually letting them go.
“They need to be more considerate and passionate for the family members,” she said.
“She is one of the many, many, many girls that [are] not included in the missing and murdered Indigenous thing that is going on because they wrote her off.”
CBC News continues to investigate missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada, looking at the unsolved cases and telling the stories of the families and communities.