Toronto Police Homicide has re-launched its website to stimulate leads on hundreds of unsolved cases dating back decades.
At a press conference at police headquarters on February 17, Chief Mark Saunders asked the public to peruse the website and use social media to spread the word on the cases and people wanted for outstanding murders.
“We have the reach of the world in front of us with social media,” he said. “This is a country made up of people from around all corners of the world…. We can use the technology and advance investigations and, in so doing, hold those to account.
“…Through the use of technology, and when you look at some of our recent cases, with the video images, we have been able to capture people. We have put it out there through the media and, within days, people have turned themselves in with a lawyer… Sometimes, it a matter of re-jogging people’s memory. We know that, with each and every one of these cases, there’s somebody who has an understanding or some sort of knowledge who hasn’t come forward, especially the ones where we have DNA. Those are the easy solves. All we need is a name. Once we get that, and do the comparative, it’s an arrest.”
The new site includes four sections – unsolved current and cold-case investigations, homicide arrest warrants and current rewards for cold-case investigations.
For the unsolved current investigations, each case in that section can be opened and viewed and connections can be made with Homicide or Crime Stoppers.
The cold-case investigation area includes a brief summary of unsolved and unresolved cases. There are over 500 cases in this category, dating back to 1959.
“Each case is important to us, despite its age,” said Saunders. “When information about any of these cases surfaces, investigators review and asses to see what, if anything, can be done to advance the investigation.”
The Chief, who once led Homicide, emphasized that cold cases have always been a priority for homicide investigators.
There is no greater responsibility than investigating the death of another human being
“There is no greater responsibility than investigating the death of another human being,” Saunders added. “Top investigators, whether in 1959 or 2009, were given these tasks. The investigators were thorough and complete with the information, witnesses and evidence at the time of the investigations. The things that may have changed over time are advancements in technology (DNA, fingerprints, video) and witnesses’ willingness to come forward and provide that key piece of evidence that they were unwilling to provide at the time of the investigation. The investigation, in order to advance to the stage of arrest/charges, requires physical evidence and/or witness testimony in court.”
While most solved homicide investigations result in a quick arrest, Saunders said there are occasions when the trail of a person wanted for a murder goes stale.
“Some slip out of the country, move to another province, take up an alias or change appearance,” he said. These people need to be held accountable for their actions.”
Saunders said there are 30 outstanding arrest warrants for homicide cases, with the oldest dating back to 1983, involving Denis Melvin Howe, wanted in connection with the murder of nine-year-old Sharin Morningstar Keenan.
There are photographs and wanted posters for each of the 30 wanted persons.
Saunders said there are several cases in which a reward has been offered. The reward poster can be printed and shared with others via social media.
“In addition, we have a number of cold cases where we have the offender’s DNA,” he said. “In each of the cases, the offender does not have a profile on the national DNA data bank. All we require on these types of cases is a name. Once we have a name, we can put the rest of the pieces together and build the case.
“There are people who know who the offenders are in each of these cases. All we require is for them to bring that name forward to us. It can be done directly or anonymously. Just have the courage to identify to us the person responsible.”