Warning: This story contains graphic details
It was a cellphone record, together with a crudely drawn map and a sketch of a house, that finally brought police to the lonely rural spot where the body of Victoria (Tori) Stafford was found, the murder trial of Michael Rafferty was told on Friday.
The evidence came from Detective Staff-Sergeant Jim Smyth, a veteran of the Ontario Provincial Police’s behavioural sciences unit before being promoted earlier this year.
And later in the day, the jury viewed dozens of photos depicting where and how Tori’s remains were located three months after she was kidnapped outside her school in Woodstock.
Mr. Rafferty, 31, has pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder, sexual assault causing bodily harm and abduction.
Tori was killed April 8, 2009, and in May of that year, co-accused Terri-Lynne McClintic provided police with a full confession. But despite their best efforts, and considerable assistance from Ms. McClintic, who twice accompanied OPP officers in helicopter searches, investigators had been unable to find the body.
In July, however, Det. Staff-Sgt. Smyth told the trial, it was learned that a cellphone tower near Mount Forest, north of Guelph, placed Mr. Rafferty in the general area on the day Tori vanished.
So on the morning of Sunday, July 19, Det. Staff-Sgt. Smyth was driving up and down side roads on either side of Highway 6. It was a general kind of reconnaissance, he told the jury. “I wanted to see what kind of a landscape it was. … I certainly wasn’t searching that day.”
But as he headed north along Concession 6, he spied a house similar to one Ms. McClintic had described at length and which a police artist had sketched.
“I didn’t think anything of it as I was approaching it. But as I passed the house I noticed it was at a significant angle to the road,” he said, noting a detail Ms. McClintic had stressed in her story and drawings.
On the other side of the road was a grassy laneway that Ms. McClintic had also mentioned. The detective drove about 300 metres up the laneway and spotted still another landmark Ms. McClintic had cited: a big pile of rocks, perhaps 12 or 15 metres across.
And there he noticed the smell of a decomposing body.
Close by was a big fir tree, and beneath it, mostly covered with rocks, could be glimpsed a section of one of the green garbage bags in which Tori’s body had been wrapped. The detective touched it. The contents were soft.
“I believed we’d finally found Tori Stafford,” he told the jury. “It took a moment to sink in. … I stepped back and looked around.”
The scene was secured, pathologist Michael Pollanen was summoned, and Tori’s body was brought to the Toronto coroner’s office the next day.
The jurors watched and listened as lead identification officer Constable Gary Scoyne took them through a slide show of the crime scene. The material did much to explain why it had taken so long for Tori’s body to be found.
Its resting place was in a thick stand of trees and chest-high grass, perched on the edge of a farmer’s field, and it had been almost entirely concealed by about 10 heavy rocks, some weighing more than 20 kilograms apiece. The jury was also shown a picture of the bags themselves, with the body inside, once the rocks had been removed.
Usually attentive, Mr. Rafferty averted his gaze, staring at the ceiling as the photos were flashed onto the monitor in front of the prisoner’s box.
Det. Staff-Sgt. Smyth was pivotal to the Stafford investigation. Deploying the same friendly informality that the next year would snare serial killer Russell Williams, he had coaxed from a distraught Ms. McClintic a graphic, hours-long account of Tori’s rape and death.
Eleven months later she pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, and at age 21 is now serving life imprisonment.
In that confession, she stated unequivocally that while she had assisted in almost every way, the murder itself was committed by Mr. Rafferty.
In January of this year, however, Ms. McClintic drastically revised the most crucial detail of her story, telling a counsellor at the Grand Valley Institution for Women, the federal prison in Kitchener where she is incarcerated, that it was in fact she who wielded the hammer that killed Tori.
The counsellor apprised police, and the next day Ms. McClintic was brought to the Waterloo police station, where she repeated this new version of events to Det. Staff-Sgt. Smyth. Asked why she was speaking up now, she told him it was because she didn’t want to testify at Mr. Rafferty’s upcoming trial.
Why not, Det. Staff-Sgt. Smyth asked, adding that whether she wanted to testify in court or not, she would have to do so.
Ms. McClintic replied that Mr. Rafferty was not guilty of murder and should not be imprisoned for something he did not do.
But in her trial evidence this month, she seemed to change tack yet again, asserting that although she inflicted the fatal blows, both she and Mr. Rafferty were both responsible for Tori’s dreadful death.
“I’m not the only guilty person here,” she testified.
The trial resumes Monday.