Toronto police launch probe into how officers handled Tess Richey's disappearance

Toronto police have launched an investigation into how officers handled the disappearance and death of a young woman in the city's Church and Wellesley neighbourhood last weekend, that has now been ruled a homicide.

TPS's professional standards unit investigating after 22-year-old's family says mother found her body

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

Toronto police have launched an investigation into how officers handled the disappearance and death of a young woman in the city's Church and Wellesley neighbourhood last weekend that has now been ruled a homicide. 

Mark Pugash, spokesperson for Toronto Police Service, told CBC Toronto on Monday that the force's professional standards unit is overseeing the probe after a complaint was filed about how officers at 51 Division treated the missing persons report filed on Tess Richey. 

"We had some concerns and we acted on those concerns by having professional standards look into it," he said, adding they will analyze how it was done, and if there were other things that could have been done better.  

When asked about the allegations, Pugash declined to provide details, saying "I'm not going to get into the specifics."

The professional standards unit is obligated to investigate complaints of misconduct under Ontario's Police Services Act. This branch is responsible for overseeing police practices, conduct, appearance, ethics and integrity. 

The probe comes a day after CBC Toronto learned from Richey's family that her mother and a friend, who had travelled to Toronto from North Bay, Ont., to look for the 22-year-old, found her body last Wednesday. 

They made the discovery at a property just doors away from where Richey went missing, days before her 23rd birthday. An autopsy carried out Friday revealed neck compression led to her death. 

Richey had been out with an old high school friend, Ryley Simard, who last saw her around 4 a.m. Saturday when Simard decided to head home after their night out. The two had gone to Crews & Tango, a LGBT nightclub on Church Street, and were very intoxicated when they left sometime after 1:30 a.m., said Simard. 

A memorial was held in the Church and Wellesley area last Thursday night not far from where Tess Richey was reported missing. (Garry Asselstine/CBC)

The pair then met up with a man and a woman, and hung out on the porch of the woman's home on Dundonald Street for some time.

Simard did not remember how they met the woman or man, but says her last memory of Richey was seeing her outside the home at 4 a.m. Saturday. 

Investigators now say they believe Richey was in the company of an "unknown" male when her friend left the area. Police 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 and Dundonald streets.

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

'This is getting insane'

Pugash said that homicide detectives were canvassing local residents and businesses in the Church and Wellesley area on Monday for video surveillance footage.

While the investigation into Richey's death remains ongoing, news of her death has sent many in the 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. 

Since last spring, six people have gone missing in the downtown core, not including Richey, according to police records: 

  • Selim Esen, 44, disappeared on April 16 from Bloor and Jarvis streets.
  • Andrew Kinsman, 49, went missing on June 26 from Parliament and Winchester streets.
  • Alloura Wells, 27, disappeared in July near Bloor Street East and Rosedale Valley Road.
  • Chase Kincaid, 30, vanished on Aug. 11 from Yonge and College streets.
  • Troy Mussington, 27, went missing on Aug. 30 from Jarvis and Gerrard streets.
  • Francis Doyle, 54, vanished on Oct. 25 from Jarvis and Gerrard streets.

Police set up a tip line and a dedicated task force in October after Esen and Kinsman disappeared from the Church and Wellesley area. Police have not confirmed any link between the two men's cases nor with the disappearances of three other men who vanished from the area in 2012, investigated under the special police probe Project Houston.

Two men from the heart of Toronto's gay community, Andrew Kinsman, left, and Selim Esen, right, went missing in June and April from the Church and Wellesley area prompting concern and the allocation of dedicated police resources. (Toronto Police Service)

News of Richey's death has renewed speculation that there may be some connection between the unsolved cases in the area — and prompting some in the community to take matters in their own hands.

"This is getting insane," said Dani Rose, a community member who put together an online map of unsolved disappearances in the area dating back to 2010. 

"The feeling is that there is a predator. I don't know if it is one person. I don't know if it is more, but I think it would be stupid not to connect these cases when people are vanishing from the exact same area," Rose said.

Pugash contends that police have no evidence of any connection between any of the cases, but a link has not been ruled out.

'Growing sense of fear'

Volunteers have also organized 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.

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

Flyers titled "Church & Wellesley under siege by thugs" can be seen on several storefronts in the area after a recent spate of violent crimes that target businesses. (Barry Smith/CBC)

"The community feels like we are down on [police's] priority list," she said Monday.

Rose noted that a recent spate of violent crimes against Church and Wellesley businesses and the lack of police response has forced owners to set up a community watch. 

"There has been such a high crime rate of people smashing their windows, stealing their stuff, stealing their registers and it has all been in the same area," she said.

"We're on our own at this point."

With files from CBC's Ali Chiasson