Family of Tess Richey says mother found her body, police looking to ID 'unknown' male

The family of a young woman found dead in Toronto's Church and Wellesley neighbourhood not far from where she disappeared last week says it was her mother who found her body outside a building undergoing construction.

As police continue to investigate, some in the community are mobilizing to take safety into their own hands

Tess Richey is seen in this undated photo provided by her sister, Rachel. (Rachel Richey)

The family of a young woman found dead in Toronto's Church and Wellesley neighbourhood not far from where she disappeared last week says it was her mother who found her body outside a building undergoing construction.

CBC News has learned from Tess Richey's family that her mother travelled to Toronto from North Bay to help search for her daughter, and that she and a friend found the 22-year-old's body at a property just doors away from where she went missing.

Toronto police would not confirm that it was Richey's family that alerted them to her location, but did say that within days of the 22-year-old being reported missing they had a "fair response" from family and friends.

"From the time that Tess Richey was reported missing, we took that investigation, as we take all missing-people investigations, seriously," Const. David Hopkinson told CBC News, adding that a significant number of officers and police resources were used.

Death first believed accidental

"We had a command post, we mounted a search, we canvassed people that may have been in the area to see if they had seen her," said Hopkinson, in addition to asking members of the community to lend their help, too.

On Friday, Toronto police announced that Richey's death, which was originally suspected to be accidental, had been ruled a homicide. A post-mortem examination Friday found her cause of death to be neck compression. 
A memorial was held in the Church and Wellesley area Thursday night not far from where Tess Richey was reported missing five days ago. (Garry Asselstine/CBC)

Richey had been out with an old high school friend who last saw her around 4 a.m. Saturday when she decided to head home. She was found dead one day before what would have been her 23rd birthday. 

Police now say they believe Richey was in the company of an "unknown" male when her friend left the area. Investigators are looking to identify the male, who they say would have been with Richey between 2 a.m and 5 a.m. in the area of Wellesley Street and Dundonald Street, police said in a release Sunday.

The male is described white with a slim build, light-coloured short hair and between five feet seven inches and six feet — "taller than the deceased."

'Every one is cause for concern'

But while the investigation into Richey's death remains ongoing, news of her death has sent many in the Church and Wellesley community reeling and raising questions about whether police are doing enough to investigate not only her death but a string of missing persons cases connected to the area. 

In October, the cases of two men who disappeared this spring prompted police to set up a tip line. A dedicated task force was set up to probe the cases of Selim Esen, 44, and Andrew Kinsman, 49, both from the Church and Wellesley area, who went missing in April and June. Police have not confirmed any link between the two men's cases nor with the disappearances of three men who vanished from the area in 2012, investigated under the special police probe Project Houston. 

News of Richey's death has renewed speculation that there may be some connection between the still unsolved cases in the area, and prompting some in the community to take matters in their own hands.
Andrew Horberry has sought out volunteers to help him organize a walk-safe program in the neighbourhood. (Spencer Gallichan-Lowe/CBC)

Andrew Horberry, president of the Church and Wellesley Neighbourhood Association, is one of them.

"People are worried obviously, there's been a number of incidents and maybe they're connected maybe they're not connected. We don't know," Horberry told CBC News. "But every one is a cause for concern."

'I do feel unsafe'

That anxiety has prompted Horberry to seek out volunteers to help him organize a walk-safe program in the neighbourhood. 

The details have yet to be ironed out but the program could include a buddy system that would allow people walking alone to call for someone to accompany them, or a telephone monitoring system for people to remain on the line with someone if alone.

That's welcome news to Jessica Redwood, who says she no longer feels safe in the neighbourhood where she's lived for six years. 

"When I first moved here, I felt perfectly safe, never had a concern about walking home on my own.... But it's just got to the point where I do feel unsafe."

Dani Rose, another community member, was prompted to put together an online map of unsolved disappearances in the area dating back to 2010.

Rose says she's been tracking the stories in her community for months and noticed a "growing sense of fear walking alone." That fear was only compounded, she says, by the string of missing persons reports this year.

'That wasn't a line anyone was buying'

"There was a large concern our community was being overlooked. Which only felt more validated by the length of time it took to match Alloura [Wells] to her body, and when Tess was reported as a 'misadventure." That wasn't a line anyone was buying that lives in this neighbourhood," said Rose.

(Alloura Wells was a transgender Toronto woman whose body was found in early August in a midtown Toronto ravine. She was ID'd late last month after her father reported her missing on Nov. 5.) 

Rose's hope, she says, is that the project might prompt greater awareness both in the media and by the public, along with greater protection in the area.

"On a smaller scale, I wanted my friends that work and perform here to at least have enough information to protect themselves, since most work bar shifts and that seems to be the target hours."

Horberry agrees and plans to meet with the volunteers that have expressed interest in helping with a walk-safe program to get it off the ground. 

"We know we have to do something."

With files from Natalie Nanowski