In the months before Emily Bailey disappeared, her friend Erika Tooley says Emily had become distant.
“She dropped off the face of the Earth,” Tooley, 29, told CBC Hamilton in a recent interview.
The two friends lived in different cities — Tooley in Toronto and Emily in Hamilton — and had previously stayed in touch regularly by video call. But after 23-year-old Emily started seeing someone new in the fall of 2021, it seemed she rarely was able to talk.
Then, on Nov. 25, 2021, Emily texted her friend a photo of a positive pregnancy test. Tooley said they spoke about it shortly afterwards, and Emily was worried. She already had two daughters, aged 2 and 4, from different fathers, and had also struggled with drugs and homelessness, sometimes living in a tent. Both her children were in the care of their grandmothers.
“She didn’t know what to do,” said Tooley. “She was very, very, very scared.”
Five weeks later, in early January 2022, Emily disappeared. She hasn’t been heard from since.
Police say she was last seen at a home on Weir Street North in the city’s east end, near Barton Street East and Kenilworth Avenue North, on New Year’s Day. Several sources told CBC Hamilton that Emily was living in a modest brick home with her boyfriend, a man named Jeff. Property records list the homeowner as Jeffrey Johnson.
Hamilton police eventually searched the house on a warrant in July, spokesperson Jackie Penman confirmed to CBC. Neighbours say police have been back several times since.
Police have held one news conference, in March, since her disappearance, to announce they had reclassified the case from “missing person” to “homicide.”
“There were indications she was headed to a friend’s house, although that never occurred,” Det. Sgt. Jim Callender said at the time, adding police had “no information to suggest she’s left Hamilton.”
Now, 11 months after Emily’s disappearance, her family and friends remain desperate to find out what happened, while police have released few details to the public, including whether there are any suspects or leads.
Police have also not disclosed the information that prompted them to reclassify the missing-person investigation as a homicide.
“I feel like we’re at a standstill,” said Emily’s mom, Lori Bevan. “I feel like she’s been forgotten.”
Bevan said police have shared very little with her, and much of what they have shared, they’ve asked her not to discuss, which makes it hard for her to help maintain public interest in the case.
“Every day I wake up to [the thought that she is missing] and think, ‘Are they going to find her?’”
Bevan said she still hasn’t heard anything from police about forensics tests they did on the Weir Street home in July.
“I wish we’d find something out. Next month [December] is Emily’s birthday… plus Christmas, so this is difficult to be dealing with.”
‘Do you got a driver?’
After Emily went missing, she was described as white and five-foot-four with a slim build and weighing about 100 pounds. She has several tattoos, including an elephant on her left forearm and the Batman symbol on the outside of her right forearm. At the time of her disappearance, she had shoulder-length, dark brown hair with dyed blue or green highlights.
At the March news conference, police said they were looking for more information on the owner of a dark GMC or Chevrolet pickup truck. Emily “had some sort of connection or association with” the vehicle in the week before her disappearance, said Callender.
The detective sergeant also said she appeared to be looking for a ride somewhere on Dec. 31, as text messages her friends provided to CBC Hamilton show.
“Yo do you got a driver,” Emily texted Tooley at 1:01 p.m. ET on New Year’s Eve. Tooley missed a video call from Emily about half an hour later. The messages came without much detail. It would be the last time she would hear from her friend.
Emily is the fourth of five siblings, and grew up moving between neighbourhoods on the east and central Hamilton Mountain. Bevan said Emily attended four elementary schools between junior kindergarten and Grade 8.
Emily also went to Hill Park Secondary School, which has since been converted to an adult education facility, her mother said.
Her older brother, Ben Bailey, said his sister moved around a lot as a teen as well, including spending several years in Brampton.
“She didn’t attend high school very much,” he said.
Ben said the two were close. They didn’t talk every day, but had the kind of relationship that never skipped a beat when they were together, he said.
“She was very outgoing… Loud, but in a good way. She very much makes friends everywhere she goes. We have a lot of inside jokes that no one else gets.”
At the March police news conference, Bevan described her daughter as someone who “was full of personality and loved her kids. She was a good person. Very thoughtful … She loved her family and cared a lot about her friends.”
Ben said his sister also struggled with drug addiction, and she often tried to hide it from her family “out of shame or fear of rejection.”
“She was able to get clean when she was pregnant with both of her kids, but then had since went down the path of drugs again,” he said, noting she was often precariously housed. “I think she felt very guilty, so she didn’t tell us a lot.”
Emily’s older daughter lives with Bevan. Her younger daughter lives with the girl’s paternal grandmother.
Despite her challenges, Emily visited both children regularly, according to the families. On Jan. 10, after Emily failed to show up for scheduled visits with her younger daughter, the girl’s father, Brandon Hunter, reported to police that she was missing.
Bevan said it’s been awful watching the girls go through milestones without their mother, especially as the family has been left without the closure of knowing what happened.
“Last year when [the older daughter] started daycare, Emily couldn’t come. She said, ‘I can’t be there today but I’ll be there next year when she starts school,’ and that’s been the hardest thing for me… She’s not there for anything and we don’t have answers.”
For Ben, dealing with his sister’s disappearance is a mixture of hoping for the best while preparing for bad news that could come any time.
“I am still holding out hope that things are OK and she’s just somewhere living her life, and I also know there is a high chance that it might not be a good outcome,” he said.
‘A whole different version of the story’
Last spring, not long after the police news conference, a four-part series on a true crime podcast brought to light some new details about the case.
Jordan Bonaparte, host of the Halifax-based Nighttime Podcast, interviewed Bevan, Ben, Emily’s ex-boyfriend Hunter and Nicole Margerison, a friend of Emily’s who worked at Happy Hourz, the downtown karaoke bar where her friends often hung out. (The karaoke bar in that location, at MacNab and Vine streets, is now called Backstreet Bar and Grill.)
“What surprised me from the very beginning was how little was publicly known about her disappearance,” Bonaparte told CBC Hamilton, saying he learned about the case from listeners of his podcast, which has been profiling true crime stories since 2015.
Each interview on his podcast brought forward new, and sometimes conflicting, accounts of the days before and after Emily’s disappearance, and stirred up the online community that had been communicating via a Facebook group called “Missing: Emily Bailey - Hamilton Ontario.”
Among the new details the podcast raised was that Emily may have been pregnant before she went missing.
CBC reached out to Hamilton police in November with several questions about their investigation, including whether they knew if Emily was pregnant, what they learned from their visits to the home on Weir Street and if the podcast revealed information police didn’t already know.
Penman, the police spokesperson, said the homicide unit is assigned to the case, led by Det. Sgt. Sara Beck.
“There are four homicide detectives investigating with support from other units as required,” Penman said in a Nov. 9 email. “This is an active and ongoing investigation. Any evidence collected or persons of interest will not be shared in order to maintain the integrity of the case. Police are aware there was information that Emily may have been pregnant at the time of her disappearance. At this time, Hamilton police have no new information to share.”
I feel like we’re at a standstill… I feel like she’s been forgotten.
Bonaparte said Hamilton police reached out to him for copies of his interviews with Hunter and Margerison before they went live, and he provided them.
He said the episodes about Emily were widely shared among Hamilton residents — each episode has had around 75,000 listens, from across Canada and beyond — and he believes it’s because there is a void of information on the case.
Bonaparte said the details police shared back in March, such as that Emily was often homeless and suffered from addictions, paint the story in a different light to the public than as if it were framed as a missing, possibly pregnant woman last seen at home.
“It gives a whole different version of the story,” he said. “I think her story and the search for her, and the demands for justice… would be a lot stronger [if people knew more about her and the case].”
‘I see her mom in her every day’
Hunter, 28, met Emily in 2018 in a “fluke meeting at Happy Hourz” karaoke bar. After a brief relationship in 2019, the couple broke up before their daughter was born. Hunter said they rekindled a friendship in 2021.
Emily had been living in a tent around that time — Hunter believes it was at J.C. Beemer Park, near Victoria Avenue North and Wilson Street. He recalls ordering her some food to be delivered there.
Hunter said Emily had started seeing someone new and soon moved into the property owned by Johnson. By the time she messaged Hunter to say she was pregnant, on Nov. 24, the couple was already “on and off,” as far as Hunter understood things.
“She told me they were taking a break,” he said. “She told me she was going to get an abortion.”
The day before her disappearance, Emily was also asking Hunter to help her get a car, similar to the messages she sent her friend Tooley.
“I need it to do some running around, or someone just to drive. They’ll get paid, obviously?” she wrote in a Facebook message, at about 1 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. “Bro there’s a time limit so I’m not f–king around.”
The last contact Hunter had with Emily was at 2:36 a.m. on New Year’s Day, when he sent her a Facebook message wishing her a happy new year. While she didn’t respond, he said the Messenger software shows it was the last message from him that she read.
In the time since, Hunter has been one of the main figures trying to drum up public attention around the search for Emily, along with her family.
In the early weeks, Emily’s friends and family organized rallies and drives to put up posters to get the word out about her disappearance, but the wider attention has since died down.
That doesn’t stop Hunter from thinking about Emily daily — it’s impossible not to when he looks at their daughter.
“I love her to death and am seeing her mom in her every day,” he said. “It’s setting in that my daughter needs me more than anything right now, and that’s my main focus.”