Landlord charged with murder of Calgary mom, toddler after bodies found in woods

Robert Leeming of Calgary has been charged with two counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of Jasmine Lovett and her toddler, Aliyah Sanderson, who had been living at his townhome.

Jasmine Lovett, 25, and Aliyah Sanderson, 22 months, found dead in Kananaskis west of Calgary on Monday

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)

Calgary resident Robert Leeming has been charged with two counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of Jasmine Lovett, 25, and her toddler Aliyah Sanderson, 22 months.

Leeming, 34, who had lived with Lovett and her daughter in the townhouse he owns, was brought to the arrest processing unit just after 11 p.m. MT Monday.

He made a brief CCTV appearance before a justice of the peace Tuesday morning. His first court appearance will be May 14.

"I can tell you that this is obviously a very stressful time for him, but beyond that, the case is just so new, so fresh, that there isn't a lot that we can give you at this point in time," said Leeming's lawyer, Balfour Der. 

Der said they will pursue bail "if it's reasonable and can be done," but in the meantime, Leeming will be housed at the Calgary Remand Centre. 

"I can't speak to whether there are safety concerns," said Der. 

"It is something that's always on your mind for people charged with these types of offences, and we just hope that the guards at the remand centre will do their bit. The man is innocent until proven guilty and he should be treated the same as anybody else who's in there, and that means he gets protections as anybody else should get."

Bodies found on Monday

The charges come one day after police said they found two bodies in Kananaskis, just west of Calgary, that they believed were the mother and daughter. 

Calgary police had said the disappearance of Lovett and her daughter, who were last seen on April 16, was being treated as a homicide case. The bodies were found around 4 a.m. MT on Monday. 

"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 Monday.

Lovett and her daughter, Aliyah Sanderson, 22 months, had not been heard from since April 16 and were reported missing on April 23, police say. (Lovett family)

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner completed the preliminary autopsies on Tuesday, and formally identified the two victims as Lovett and Sanderson.

"The cause of death of both victims is not expected to be released," police said.

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

"We would also like to thank the public for their continued support which has meant a great deal to us," it said. "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."

'Holding up OK'

A friend of Lovett's mother who started a GoFundMe campaign to cover funeral expenses, said the family is "holding up OK," thanks to lots of support from friends and family.

"The biggest thing for her was that they were lying in the dirt somewhere and now that they've got them, they've found them, that's just brought her an amazing amount of peace," said Dana Burrows of Lovett's mom. 

Burrows said any money raised in excess of funeral costs will go to a domestic violence shelter and could be also be used to start something in Lovett and her daughter's names. 

"It's too late for Jasmine and Aliyah now, but hopefully their names will make a difference somewhere."

'On and off' romance

Early in the investigation, police said they had a suspect in custody and later released him without charge.

Although they did not identify him, Leeming told reporters in late April he had been taken into custody two weeks earlier and remained a suspect. 

Leeming has confirmed that Lovett and Aliyah had been his tenants since October.

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 )

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

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

Leeming told reporters 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 the evening of April 18.

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.

  • Watch the video below to see Calgary police Staff Sgt. Martin Schiavetta give an update Monday afternoon after the bodies were found.

Schiavetta said on Monday it's believed Lovett and Sanderson were killed between the evening of April 16 and the morning of April 17, and their bodies 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 as they would be crucial to trial evidence.

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 had 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 had been planning to kill her.

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

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 charges against Leeming 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."

Police said officers remained on the scene in Kananaskis on Tuesday, and it was not yet known when the search for additional evidence would be complete.

With files from Meghan Grant