Toronto police identify killer in cold case of 9-year-old Christine Jessop
Sources say killer of 9-year-old Ontario girl in 1984 died by suicide in 2015
Toronto police have identified the killer of nine-year-old Christine Jessop, who was abducted from Queensville, Ont., before being raped and killed in 1984 — a case that resulted in the years-long wrongful conviction of Guy Paul Morin.
Sources say Calvin Hoover, a Toronto man who was 28 years old at the time of Jessop's death, died by suicide.
Police did not confirm the cause of death at a news conference Thursday, saying only that Hoover died in 2015 and that there was no foul play.
Jessop was last seen on Oct. 3, 1984. Her body was found about three months later in a wooded area of Sunderland, Ont., about 56 kilometres from her rural home, on Dec. 31, 1984. Investigators say Jessop was stabbed to death.
Speaking to reporters, interim chief James Ramer said that on Oct. 9, 2020, police identified through DNA analysis the person whose semen was found in Jessop's underwear.
"Christine was described as a girl who loved life, her family, school and sports," Ramer said Thursday.
During the frantic search for the young girl, he said, "Her face was on every television set and in every newspaper."
"There are no winners in this announcement," said Ramer, adding the development is instead a "step forward" to bringing justice to Jessop's family.
Ramer said Hoover and his wife had a "neighbour acquaintance" relationship to the family at the time and that Hoover may have worked with Jessop's father.
The interim police chief said Hoover did have a "dated criminal record," but said it had no significance for the Jessop investigation and that Hoover had not previously been identified as a suspect.
Police are appealing for the public's help in filling in the timeline of Hoover's life from 1984 to 2015.
WATCH | Toronto police's interim chief reacts to identifying Christine Jessop's killer:
'Genetic genealogy' led police to Hoover
As for how Hoover was identified, Ramer explained that a DNA sample taken from evidence and sent to a lab in the U.S. that uses DNA technology not widely available to identify genetic markers eventually turned up Hoover's name through a process involving genetic genealogy.
Ontario's Centre for Forensic Sciences has a number of samples, some known and unknown, Ramer said.
The sample obtained from Jessop's underwear was an unknown sample. When Hoover's name was produced through the work of the U.S. lab, the centre, which happened to have a sample corresponding to Hoover, compared the two samples and found them to be a match.
Speaking to CBC News, David Mittleman, the CEO of that U.S. lab, Othram Inc., said unlike traditional forensics, which can identify approximately 20 genetic markers, the technology his lab uses can identify hundreds of thousands of markers that can help to identify very distant relatives.
"If you find enough of these distant genetic matches, you can use these matches in conjunction with family trees ... to triangulate where this DNA comes from and that can be used to find the identity of unknown victims, and in this case, an unknown perpetrator."
Reached at his home, Christine's father, Bob Jessop, said he felt "sickened" by the news. Jessop and Christine's mother, Janet, were both informed Thursday.
"As I get older you know you just start wondering when things are going to happen or if it's going to happen," he said. "Fortunately it's happened, but it's still a bit of a shock. Quite a bit of a shock, actually."
'The justice system failed me, but science saved me'
As for Morin, police went to his home Thursday personally to deliver the news.
"They said, 'We'll be brief, but we just want to apologize to you about what happened to you over the years. We have found the person responsible for Christine Jessop's murder," said Morin from his home.
Police would not tell him if it was a person he knew.
Morin, the family's neighbour, had been wrongfully convicted of the girl's killing before being cleared thanks to advancements in DNA technology. Morin was charged in 1984 and acquitted in 1986 before a new trial was ordered. He was found guilty, then successfully appealed his conviction in 1995.
Ontario's attorney general published a detailed report on the failings of Morin's conviction.
WATCH | Guy Paul Morin and other prominent wrongfully convicted Canadians speak out:
"I can say that I'm happy that there's closure for the Jessops' peace of mind," he said.
Morin said he felt relief that his name can now be definitively cleared.
"It's something I was always expecting…. The justice system failed me, but science saved me."
WATCH | The Fifth Estate's Linden MacIntyre interviews Morin after he is exonerated:
Hoover's family 'shocked,' police say
Police also confirmed Thursday they have met with Hoover's family.
"They were shocked and surprised," Toronto police spokesperson Meaghan Gray told CBC News in an email.
WATCH | One day after the body of Christine Jessop is found, a community reacts:
"This is still an open active investigation, albeit with an incredible turn of events, but this positive identification is one very important answer. It has generated a number of new questions that our investigators are actively pursuing."
Speaking to CBC Radio's As It Happens on Thursday, the lawyer who represented Morin and helped him to successfully appeal his conviction said the development was welcome news.
"It's words I've been waiting to hear for 36 years," said James Lockyer.
"It's most unfortunate that the man isn't alive. I'd like to see him prosecuted."
He also said the case highlights another danger of wrongful convictions.
"The real culprit gets away with it. It's another effect that people often don't think of when you chase the wrong person."
WATCH | The Fifth Estate spoke to Morin from the Kingston Penitentiary in 1992 for the documentary Odd Man Out:
News will bring relief to East Gwillimbury community, mayor says
Queensville, Ont., where Jessop lived, is a village in the Town of East Gwillimbury.
Speaking to CBC Toronto Thursday evening, East Gwillimbury Mayor Virginia Hackson said she thinks Thursday's news will bring relief to many in the community.
"I can tell you that many of the residents that lived in the town 36 years ago still live here today — it's one of those communities where people stay," Hackson said.
"Many people knew the Jessop family, many people knew Christine, and it was such a shock ... It was just such a tragedy in our community at that time."
Even though the killing took place decades ago, Hackson said knowing who was behind Jessop's death will "bring closure" to many people.
- A previous version of this story stated that Christine Jessop was abducted from her home. In fact, that is not known.Oct 16, 2020 9:51 AM ET
With files from Ioanna Roumeliotis and As It Happens