Officer who found Tori Stafford's body testifies
LONDON, Ont. - Hundreds of police officers tirelessly worked for months to try to solve the disappearance of eight-year-old Victoria Stafford, but in the end it came down to a veteran officer with a hunch on a Sunday drive.
WARNING: Graphic details from this court case may disturb some readers.
Police had just received information that directed them further north than they had been searching, and on July 19, 2009, Ontario Provincial Police Det. Staff Sgt. Jim Smyth decided to drive around the area of Mount Forest, Ont., just to get an idea of the landscape.
Smyth did not know the area well, but as he passed a house at a particular angle to the road, across from a laneway, he got a sense he was in familiar territory.
Weeks earlier, Smyth had interviewed Terri-Lynne McClintic, now 21, as she confessed to involvement in Tori's death. To assist police in their grim task of finding the girl's remains, McClintic had drawn a sketch of the area where she said she and boyfriend Michael Rafferty left the body.
McClintic said at the time that Rafferty had killed Tori using a hammer, but at trial she testified it was her. Rafferty has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, sexual assault causing bodily harm and kidnapping. McClintic is already serving a life sentence after pleading guilty two years ago to first-degree murder.
The sketch showed a laneway across from a house set at a particular angle to the road, court has seen. McClintic had also worked with a sketch artist to provide a composite sketch of the house.
As McClintic described it, the laneway crossed a small creek, went up on an incline, and then at the peak a large rock pile sat to the left. It was behind that rock pile and underneath an evergreen tree that police would find Tori Stafford, she said.
So on that July day more than 14 weeks after Tori disappeared outside her elementary school in Woodstock, Ont., when Smyth drove down the Concession 6 sideroad southeast of Mount Forest, a house that he saw stopped him in his tracks, he testified Friday at Rafferty's trial.
He looked across the road and saw a laneway, just as McClintic had described it, leading into a farmer's field. Smyth drove to the top of the laneway, got out of his car and saw a rock pile to his left. He could also smell a slight odour of decomposition, he said.
Smyth walked to a large evergreen tree behind the rock pile, pulled back some branches hanging very low to the ground and saw some rocks, he testified. McClintic had recounted for him how, after Tori was dead, they put her body in several layers of garbage bags and piled some rocks on top, court has heard.
"I could see a portion of a garbage bag underneath the rocks," Smyth testified, taking several long pauses as he appeared to compose himself. "I moved one rock aside. I touched the bag because I didn't know if it was a piece of scrap."
To make sure his find wasn't just an empty garbage bag caught up in some rocks, Smyth touched the bag with his finger, he said.
"It wasn't hard, so it wasn't a rock. It was soft," Smyth testified. "I knew that we had finally found, or I believed we had finally found, Victoria Stafford."
Before court was shown several pictures from various angles of the grisly find, Superior Court Judge Thomas Heeney warned the jury what they were about to see would be disturbing.
"I simply ask you to do your best to establish an attitude of sort of clinical detachment," Heeney said. "I know it's easier said than done. I simply ask you to do your best."
When the first photograph showing a pile of rocks on top of a bulging green garbage bag was shown on the screens in the courtroom Rafferty stared at the ceiling. He did not look back at the screen until the photos of the garbage bag containing Tori's decomposing remains were no longer visible.
There were about 10 rocks piled on top of Tori's body, ranging in size from about three kilograms to 50 kilograms, court heard.
Tori's disappearance touched off a massive investigation in the spring of 2009, with nearly 1,000 officers involved at various points. McClintic's confession on May 19, 2009, led police to focus their search efforts on an area north of Guelph, Ont.
McClintic told them she and Rafferty had stopped at a Home Depot in the city, where she had purchased garbage bags and a hammer before they drove to a rural area.
Police obtained judicial authorization to have her out searching with them, pointing out landmarks that she remembered. But after several days of driving her around in police cars and helicopters, they came up empty-handed.
It wouldn't be until July 17, 2009, that police got the break they needed to find Tori's remains. That day, police had obtained Rafferty's cellphone records and saw that on the evening of April 8 his cellphone had pinged off a tower near Mount Forest, which was further north than they had been searching to date.
Smyth, who as a specialist with the provincial police behavioural sciences unit was working on another case at the time, said he would drive around the area that Sunday to get his bearings and perhaps point out locations where a helicopter could search at a later date.
Tori's remains would be removed from the scene on July 20 and taken to Toronto, where the chief forensic pathologist for Ontario performed her autopsy. Smyth was present and was informed not only that the coroner had positively identified the remains as belonging to Tori through dental records, but also that the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head.
McClintic testified that she hit Tori in the head several times with a hammer.
Smyth's last official day of involvement in the case was July 31, 2009, when he attended a private funeral held by Tori's family.