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bosma investigation

Police officers dig into the ground while searching on the property of Dellen Millard's North Dumfries farm near Cambridge May 30, 2013 to execute a search warrant in connection with the disappearance of Laura Babcock and the suicide of the accused killer's father, Wayne Millard.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Toronto police are appealing for the public's help in tracking down a woman who mysteriously disappeared last summer while romantically involved with a man subsequently charged with the murder of Tim Bosma.

At a much-anticipated press conference Tuesday, Detective Mike Carbone said Laura Babcock and Dellen Millard were "romantically linked" but not engaged in a "traditional dating relationship" – a new detail in an 11-month-old case that has only recently grabbed headlines since being tied to Mr. Millard's arrest May 10.

Ms. Babcock, 24, had been working in the sex trade as an "Internet escort" for several months, Det. Carbone said. Ms. Babcock's aunt, Lori Ryan, said she was "shocked" to hear the escort revelation and that the only explanation is drug abuse.

"I knew Laura as a young girl growing up – Christmas and birthdays and Easter and Thanksgiving dinners, all spent together with the family for years," Ms. Ryan said, adding that she and friends are planning a support gathering for people to hold candles and signs in support of her niece. "Not once would I have ever expected that Laura would go down that road."

Having feared the worst, Ms. Ryan said she was relieved to hear Det. Carbone say "no evidence was located" during a search of Mr. Millard's farm last week in relation to Ms. Babcock's disappearance and the November death of his father, which was initially deemed a suicide.

Mr. Millard faces charges of first-degree murder, forcible confinement and theft over $5,000 in the death of Mr. Bosma, who went missing after taking two men to test-drive his pickup truck on May 6. Mark Smich, 25, was also charged with first-degree murder. Lawyers for both men have said they plan to plead not guilty.

Det. Carbone faced tough questions over the force's handling of the Babcock case, specifically in regard to when Toronto police were in possession of phone records that revealed Ms. Babcock's last call was to Mr. Millard. Her ex-boyfriend, Shawn Lerner, said he submitted her phone records to police last summer, but Det. Carbone said police became aware of the records as a result of Mr. Millard's arrest. He also said Ms. Babcock had been in contact with other people since last being in touch with Mr. Millard on July 3, 2012.

Mr. Lerner said he met with Mr. Millard in August and that Mr. Millard said he had declined Ms. Babcock's request for drugs and a place to stay. "I didn't know then and I still don't know now if he is involved in her disappearance, but I did certainly know that the information we did have should have at least warranted further police attention to him," Mr. Lerner said of the phone records. "That's the bottom line."

Ms. Babcock and Mr. Millard have known each other for years, Mr. Lerner said. Mr. Millard was a guest at a surprise party Mr. Lerner threw for Ms. Babcock's 23rd birthday at Medieval Times in Toronto in February, 2011. After the dinner and show, Ms. Babcock and Mr. Lerner and a few other friends hung out at Mr. Millard's condo in downtown Toronto.

Just before she went missing, Ms. Babcock was looking for a new job and a place to live. The University of Toronto graduate, who studied English and theatre, had finished her job at a toy store and had recently moved out of her parents' home in Oakville. Without an apartment, she had been staying with various friends along with her dog Lacey, a Maltese.

Mr. Lerner described his ex as "over the top bubbly" and a devoted friend, but said she had seemed depressed at that time, which he attributed to the stresses involved in finding a new job and apartment. Ms. Ryan said she was not aware of Ms. Babcock suffering from a mental illness.

The last time Mr. Lerner saw Ms. Babcock was when he took her out for dinner at the Eaton Centre food court on June 26. He had put her up in a hotel near Queen and Roncesvalles, chosen because it was pet-friendly, and they talked about her apartment search.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected. An earlier version stated incorrectly that the surprise party for Laura Babcock's 22nd birthday party was February, 2012.