Tori Stafford investigator describes finding girl's body
WARNING: This story contains disturbing details
A veteran police officer described in court Friday how he came to locate the remains of eight-year-old Victoria (Tori) Stafford, three months after the Ontario schoolgirl went missing.
Det. Staff Sgt. Jim Smyth of the Ontario Provincial Police was called to testify Friday morning at the murder trial of Michael Thomas Rafferty in London, Ont.
Rafferty, 31, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual assault causing bodily harm in connection with Tori's death.
Smyth testified he was brought in to help investigate the girl's disappearance on April 17, 2009, nine days after the Grade 3 student was last seen alive as she walked away from her school in Woodstock, Ont.
On May 19, 2009, Smyth interviewed Rafferty's former girlfriend, Terri-Lynne McClintic, who later pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the case and was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.
Smyth testified he prepared for his interview with McClintic by talking to other officers and digging into her past.
"The purpose of the interview overall was to assess McClintic's credibility in terms of whether we needed to investigate her further or not," Smyth said.
At that point, Smyth said police also wanted to ask McClintic about her relationship with Rafferty, whom police had spoken to four days before.
Smyth said he spoke with McClintic over the course of several hours, during which time she implicated herself and Rafferty in Tori's death. McClintic also offered to assist in the investigation.
McClintic offered to help police find Tori
McClintic offered to help police locate the body, which Smyth said took priority over confronting her about details in her story because officers were unsure how long she would be co-operative. They left Woodstock around 8 p.m. and headed toward a Home Depot in Guelph, but McClintic was confused as to the direction they had gone.
The following day, Smyth said that officers again travelled with McClintic, including taking her up in a helicopter.
Repeated trips were taken with McClintic, but Tori's body was not found when she was present.
"There were certainly times that we thought we were close," Smyth said.
Smyth told the court that on July 17, 2009, police obtained phone records that indicated Rafferty's phone had been used in an area near Mount Forest on the day Tori disappeared. This suggested to investigators that they might have to search farther north of Guelph than they had previously thought.
Two days after receiving that information, Smyth travelled to Mount Forest, on July 19, 2009, hoping to provide suggestions to search teams.
Smyth sought to assess, not to search
"My goal was to do a bit of an assessment. I certainly wasn’t searching that day," Smyth said.
While driving in the area, Smyth noticed a house that was on an odd angle, something McClintic had consistently described as a landmark. The bungalow was similar in appearance to a picture that police had drawn up with McClintic's input.
The officer turned his vehicle around and saw a laneway across the road that went into a field. Smyth drove up the laneway, spotting a rock pile as he went forward. He kept driving, because McClintic had told police that they had passed a culvert.
When Smyth stopped and got out of his car at the top of a small hill, he saw another, larger rock pile, about 15 metres across. He also saw evergreen trees that McClintic had described.
When he approached the rock pile, Smyth said he detected "a slight odour which I believed to be decomposition."
He saw garbage bags and removed a rock from the pile before touching a bag.
"I believed that we had finally found Victoria Stafford," he said.
Smyth then carefully backtracked from the scene and contacted his superiors.
By early afternoon, police officers gathered at the scene, including forensic identification officers and a pathologist. Tori's body was taken to Toronto the next day for a post-mortem examination.
The preliminary results indicated the Woodstock girl died of blunt force trauma to the head.
Smyth told jurors his last involvement with the case was on July 31, the day he attended Tori's funeral.
The defence did not have any questions for Smyth, who was excused early Friday afternoon.
The Crown next called Const. Gary Scoyne, a forensic identification officer with the OPP, who gave the jury a glimpse into the rural area near Mount Forest where Tori's body was found.
Scoyne, who has testified several times throughout the trial, presented a series of photographs taken by investigators in the days following Smyth's discovery, including some of the rock pile and laneway.
Justice Thomas Heeney warned the jurors that they were about to see some images that might be considered disturbing, as Scoyne showed pictures of what appeared to be a body inside garbage bags that had been partially covered by rocks.
The officer also showed a number of photographs taken in April 2011, when the seasonal conditions were similar to the day Tori disappeared.
The trial resumes next week.