No evidence of a serial killer in Church-Wellesley but there are opportunities to 'learn,' police say
Investigation looks into handling of Tess Richey, Alloura Wells, Andrew Kinsman, Selim Esen's disappearances
Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders says the force is looking at ways it can better respond to missing persons investigations after criticism that it isn't doing enough to protect members of the Church and Wellesley community.
"I think there are opportunities for us to learn, grow and develop," said Saunders.
"A lot of our procedures are learned from unique circumstances that have happened. We go back to review, we analyze and then we revitalize our procedures at play."
- Family of Tess Richey says mother found her body, police looking to ID 'unknown' male
- Death of Tess Richey ruled a homicide, police say 'neck compression' was cause of death
The probe will assess Toronto police's response to Tess Richey's disappearance. The 22-year-old was found dead last month by her mother just doors away from where she went missing in the Church and Wellesley area.
At a news conference on Friday, Saunders said the investigation will let him know whether there is a procedural, training or other issue that needs to be resolved by the force. The announcement comes after police updated the public on three separate investigations causing concern in the Church-Wellesley Village.
"The investigation will involve questions and answers and facts and give me the opportunity to have more clarity on exactly what happened and what were the circumstances," he added.
Asked specifically what prompted the investigation, Saunders wouldn't specify but said the purpose of the news conference was to address concerns raised by the community along with speculation circulating around the various disappearances in the area.
One factor that the chief did point out was the importance of call intake.
"When somebody's calling in to report a missing person, an element of sensitivity is something that I think is necessary. And as busy was we may be, just taking that extra step and realizing what the circumstance is, I think, can go a long way," he said.
As news of Richey's homicide broke, some in the community have taken safety into their own hands, with volunteers banding together to develop a walk-safe program.
"I do have some concerns, when they're setting up their own search parties to look for missing people, then I have to question whether or not as a service we're offering the right value to the community," Saunders said.
Surveillance video shows Richey's final moments
Richey's homicide is the most recent of the three investigations.
Speaking to reporters Friday, Det. Sgt. Graham Gibson recounted some of the 22-year-old's final hours before her death.
On Nov. 25, Gibson said, Richey and a friend went to the Crews and Tangos bar from midnight until about 1:45 a.m. After that, she and the friend headed to the intersection where there was a hot dog cart.
It was there where police say the pair met a number of different people, including the male who would go on to become a suspect in what police described as Richey's murder.
From there, the three headed northbound on Dundonald Street, where they spent some time talking with a male and female who they met in the area, said Gibson. The group eventually went their separate ways, with Richey and the would-be suspect walking away northbound the the area of 582 Church Street around 4 a.m Saturday.
"There's an alley there and a stairwell and this is where we last see Tess," said Gibson, referring to video footage police obtained shortly after Richey's body would be found. CBC Toronto previously reported it was Richey's own mother who travelled to Toronto and located her daughter's body on the afternoon of Wednesday, Nov. 29 in the stairwell located outside a building undergoing construction.
"Following this, we don't see Tess anymore ... and she's not seen by any witnesses following that time," Gibson said.
Police say surveillance footage shows the man exiting the stairwell on his his own, heading northbound on Church Street. He is described as having light skin, between 5'7" and 6' with a slim build and dark hair, wearing a dark jacket and lighter pants."
Richey's death was initially believed to be accidental, but a post-mortem examination found she died of neck compression. It was after that that homicide investigators took over the case.
Alloura Wells vanished in July
Police also gave an update on the investigation into the death of Alloura Wells, a transgender Toronto woman who disappeared in July.
Wells was reported missing by her father in early November, four months after her Facebook account went dormant.
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Her body was recovered from the Rosedale Ravine Lands Park a month later, on Aug. 5.
Friends and family of Wells organized their own search for her and said they felt police did not take her disappearance seriously enough because she was a transgender woman who lived and worked on the streets.
At Friday's news conference, police said her boyfriend was the last person to see her alive and are asking for him to come forward.
'Project Prism': Andrew Kinsman, Selim Esen
Updated information was also provided on "Project Prism," which is the investigation into two missing gay men.
The disappearance of Andrew Kinsman and Selim Esen from the Church and Wellesley area has sparked concern among residents in the heart of Toronto's gay community about using online dating apps.
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Kinsman went missing in June and Esen went missing in April. Police say the longer the men are missing, the more concerned they are that there was foul play involved.
Investigators say the two disappearances are not related to the 2012 Project Houston investigation that looked into similar disappearances of men in the area.
Police also added that they don't have proof that the two cases are related, or that dating apps and social media are tied to their disappearances. Investigators stated there is no proof of a serial killer.