Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Careless mistakes were Rafferty's undoing

Michael Rafferty is shown in this police handout photo released as court exhibits at Rafferty's trial in London, Ont., Wednesday, April 4, 2012.

The Canadian Press handout

As Michael Rafferty drove away from Woodstock, Ont. with a terrified Tori Stafford hidden in the back seat of his Honda Civic, he pulled the battery out of his BlackBerry. This detail was proffered at his trial by his then-girlfriend Terri-Lynne McClintic, who was riding shotgun, to suggest he knew police could use his phone to track his movements.

But later that day, he popped the battery back in, sent text messages and made several phone calls – including one near the spot where Tori was beaten to death with a hammer and left beneath a pile of rocks. That call would lead police straight to Tori's body.

This episode was typical of Mr. Rafferty's behaviour in the wake of the crime: He was smart enough to know he had to cover his tracks, but not smart enough to grasp how to do it correctly. More often than not, it seems, he lacked the discipline to follow through.

Story continues below advertisement

This dichotomy was also emblematic of Mr. Rafferty's life. He presented well, a clean-cut, physically fit young man who liked to dance. But beneath this charming facade was a ne'er-do-well who drifted from job to job, popped pills and had little to show for his life.

If there was one thing he was good at, it seems, it was using women. He dated several simultaneously, promising some exclusive relationships only to sleep around. He relied on his many girlfriends to provide the things he wanted, whether money, a place to stay or the OxyContin and Percocet he was addicted to.

There were also traces of a greater darkness: On his laptop were pornographic videos of children and alarming Google searches for things such as "real underage rape."

Mr. Rafferty was born Oct. 26, 1980, the youngest of three boys. He once wrote online that he was originally from the Yukon, but lived in numerous towns across Southern Ontario. He spent at least some of his childhood with an aunt and uncle in Drayton, a small village near Kitchener, Ont., and later told a girlfriend that he grew up in a farmhouse.

For part of high school, he attended Alexander Mackenzie in Richmond Hill, a suburb of Toronto. Afterward, he lived in the trendy Queen Street West area and, he said, studied cooking at community college.

At some point, Mr. Rafferty moved to Guelph, where he worked at a landscaping company and a meatpacking plant. During this time, he acquired that car, a blue sedan crudely spray-painted black – his prized possession. He kept the interior immaculate and took it to car washes a couple of times a week. One of the women he dated, Rachel Diwell, would tell his trial that, for fun, they would drive aimlessly in the countryside.

"We never had a destination of where we were going, he really liked to drive his car," testified Ms. Diwell, who met Mr. Rafferty through an ex-boyfriend and dated him shortly after her 18th birthday in 2007. "He always seemed to know where he was going."

Story continues below advertisement

Besides driving, she said, they spent their time going to casinos and movies, walking trails or pulling over on secluded roads to have sex in his car.

By early 2008, he had split up with Ms. Diwell, lost his job and moved into the Woodstock home of his mother, Deborah Murphy, and her boyfriend, David Riddell, a well-kept semi-detached on a quiet residential street. That summer, he worked with his brother, Jonathan Cundy, doing landscaping and other contract work in the Toronto suburb of Oakville. He met a woman there and moved in with her for a time. When their relationship ended, he returned to Woodstock.

It's not clear how or when Mr. Rafferty became addicted to drugs, but he had a serious habit, taking several potent 80-milligram pills of OxyContin every day and frequently popping Percocet as well. The latter drug he obtained from Barb Armstrong, a woman he had dated after meeting at the meatpacking plant.

Neighbours didn't have a favourable impression of him: Some remembered him sitting in the driveway in his car, blasting heavy metal, or speeding down the street. Others said he had a temper, fighting often with his mother. Mr. Riddell was also frustrated by his stepson, who, he told The Globe in 2009, was a freeloader who spent his money on clothes and electronics rather than helping pay the bills.

But e-mails between the young man and his mother contain hints of a close relationship. In one exchange, in late 2007, the two frankly discussed a family member they suspected of cheating on her boyfriend and Mr. Rafferty was open about his own dalliances. "All of this doesn't change even if u get older," he wrote of infidelity. "The rules never change and I have had my fair share of … well … I'm somewhat of an expert … I have had many relations … anyways nuff said."

The pair also shared drug connections, picking up pills for one another; one message suggested Ms. Murphy was taking painkillers for her back.

Story continues below advertisement

He wrote fondly of two uncles, whom he described as father figures.

During this time, Mr. Rafferty dated a parade of women, many of whom he met online. Some, he dated only briefly or slept with a couple of times. With others, however, he formed longer attachments, holding out the promise of a life together. One of these, a mother of five named Charity Spitzig, would later testify at trial that she began working as an escort and giving him the money. "It was pretty promising, exclusive," she said of their relationship, which led her to hope for marriage and a family with him. But he met Ms. McClintic at a Woodstock pizza place on a February night in 2009. By her account, he was talking on his phone and didn't seem to know where he was, so she interrupted his conversation to orient him. Describing her as a "hot little number," he ended his call and offered her a lift home. Before the night was over, they'd had sex in his car.

He wrote his number on the pizza box and, a few days later, showed up at her house to ask why she hadn't called. From then on, he often called her when he wanted to buy OxyContin – she had the connections to Woodstock's drug scene that he seemed to lack – and simultaneously romanced her.

She quickly warmed to him. "He said all the right things," she would later tell his trial. "It felt pretty good."

One night, after they saw a movie together and had sex in the empty theatre, he suggested they spend the night in a motel, saying he wanted to wake up next to her.

Ms. McClintic was then 18, a decade younger than Mr. Rafferty. She made little attempt to hide her tumultuous past. Given up at birth and raised by a former exotic dancer named Carol McClintic, she had moved often as a child and suffered physical abuse. She started taking drugs at the age of eight and got into fights that eventually landed her in prison. On one occasion, she punched her mother so hard it destroyed most of the sight in one eye; on another, she stabbed a man in a parking lot during a robbery attempt, then punched a police officer.

By the time she met Mr. Rafferty, she was living with her mother in a rundown Woodstock triplex, looking for work and injecting OxyContin several times a day.

If at first Mr. Rafferty had seemed a sunny charmer, Ms. McClintic testified, she quickly discovered his dark side. On one occasion, he pulled up to a house and described how it would be possible to break in and tie up the occupants. On another, he asked her what she thought of abducting someone.

They did just that on April 8, 2009.

Throughout the crime, Mr. Rafferty took steps to dispose of evidence, but also made some bizarre mistakes that would help prosecutors to convict him. When they arrived in Guelph, he stopped at an ATM to withdraw money so Ms. McClintic could buy a hammer and garbage bags. His face was videoed by a camera at the ATM.

A few hours later, after Tori was killed, Mr. Rafferty and Ms. McClintic put the girl's clothes and the hammer used in the slaying into a garbage bag. This was tossed into a Cambridge dumpster, never to be found again. But, inexplicably, Mr. Rafferty pulled over and told Ms. McClintic to throw her shoes into a farmer's field. That footwear was later recovered.

At some point, he removed the back bench seat of his car, purportedly to wipe any trace of Tori from the vehicle. But rather than discreetly dispose of it himself, he left it out with the trash, where several neighbours saw it.

He also traded in the BlackBerry that had accompanied him that day. But such a move was useless: He had backed the device up on his laptop, leaving a record of everything on it. There is no indication Mr. Rafferty ever tried to get rid of the computer, which also contained the child porn.

Before police found any of this, however, there was Ms. McClintic. She was arrested on an unrelated warrant four days after Tori's death. Mr. Rafferty had to walk a fine line, staying in regular contact with her to prevent his partner in crime from rolling over on him while trying to avoid bringing attention to himself.

He visited Ms. McClintic twice, attended one of her court dates and checked in on her mother. These contacts, however, eventually led police to visit his home and interview him. Apparently rattled by the encounter, he told Ms. McClintic they should break off contact. Within a couple of days, she confessed.

Up to that point, Mr. Rafferty had not been on the police's radar. The investigation had focused erroneously on Tori's family. It was largely out of police's due diligence that Ms. McClintic had confessed at all: She was one of thousands of people they interviewed in hopes of being absolutely thorough. In her case, their hard work paid off.

That evening, police arrested Mr. Rafferty in a parking lot as he transferred gifts from his car to another girlfriend's. Throughout a four-hour-long interrogation that followed, he was sometimes tearful, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes stoic.

But the self-described "complex" man said little of substance.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct Licensing Options
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this resolved by the end of January 2018. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to