Homicide detectives have retrieved DNA from the killer who stabbed to death an Africa-born refugee and hotel worker in a Cabbagetown laneway near her home last October, in what looks to have been an attempted robbery.
But who that DNA belongs to remains the key question because it does not match anything in the national DNA data bank, Det. Sgt. Gary Giroux told reporters, as he announced a $50,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction.
The brutal death of Nighisti Semret, 55, an emigrant from Eritrea and a mother of four, struck a public nerve.
She was walking home alone after her overnight shift as a cleaner at the Delta Chelsea Oct. 23 when she was accosted at around 7 a.m. in an east-west alleyway connecting Bleecker and Ontario streets.
She was stabbed multiple times, and security video from nearby shows her being followed by a limping man who has never been identified.
Since then, his blood has been found under the victim’s finger nails and also on an umbrella and a canvas bag Ms. Semret was carrying.
Police believe that in the act of murdering her with a long-bladed knife that has never been found, the killer cut himself badly, probably injuring one of his hands.
And the blood on the canvas bag suggests robbery may have been the motive.
“Robbery was something I was always considering, but now that the blood is in the area of the opening of the canvas bag, that suggests that the offender was interested in the canvas bag and interested in its contents,” Det. Sgt. Giroux said.
“The bag was opened for him to look inside and in doing so the blood was deposited onto the bag.”
Whether the attacker sought medical treatment for his wounds is unclear. Police are urging anyone who recalls a person with unexplained cuts to the hands or arms at around that time to get in touch.
It’s still believed the killer was familiar with the area, Det. Sgt. Giroux said.
Ms. Semret’s death dispatched shock waves, and hundreds of members of Toronto’s Eritrean community attended her funeral at St. Michael’s Eritrean Orthodox church near Jane Street and St. Clair Avenue West.
She had arrived in Toronto as a refugee just two years earlier, leaving her husband Augustus Ntahobali and their four children in Uganda, where they were trying to secure visas to join her in Canada.
She lived modestly, dividing her time between her job at the Delta Chelsea, on downtown Gerrard Street, where she was a supervisor, and a Cabbagetown rooming house, which she shared with other women.
Acquaintances described as a quiet, private person who largely kept to herself.
But former co-workers also said she was not afraid to speak her mind, and shortly before she was murdered she had asked that her team of cleaners be given a pay raise.
The Delta Chelsea and the cleaning company for which she worked, Andorra Building Maintenance Ltd., subsequently raised more than $4,000 for Ms. Semret and her family.
As glimpsed on video footage, the suspected killer is described as a white man, 5’10” to 6’2”, 150 to 200 lbs., with a medium build.
He was wearing a dark three-quarter-length dark coat that buttons up the front, a dark, peaked hat and dark shoes.
The video clips show that as he followed Ms. Semret that rainy morning, his right hand was inside his jacket as if clutching a knife.