Woodstock, Ont. It was 42 days before police sorted out the puzzle, an eternity during which a vicious war of words-cum-parallel investigation raged on the Internet and even among those who most loved the small blonde girl.
But for all that the abduction of Victoria (Tori) Stafford was the first of its kind in the Internet era, truly modern in all its garish details, it appears to have ended with the old-fashioned brutality and lightning speed of all such crimes.
Tori likely died the very day she disappeared, probably within an hour or so after she cheerfully walked off with a mysterious dark-haired woman in a white puffy coat.
The body of the sunny eight-year-old who vanished as if into the cool April air on her way home from school, blocks from safety and family in almost any direction, hasn't yet been found, but police yesterday arrested and charged two Woodstock residents in her abduction and murder.
The young woman captured on widely publicized surveillance video walking with the Grade 3 student is allegedly a teenager just a decade older than Tori, 18-year-old Terri-Lynne McClintic. She is charged in Tori's abduction and as an accessory after the fact to murder.
She is alleged to have led the little girl on the afternoon of April 8 to 28-year-old Michael Thomas Rafferty.
Mr. Rafferty, now accused of first-degree murder, was allegedly waiting nearby in a car as Ms. McClintic brought him his prize – the little girl wearing a Hannah Montana jacket and carrying a Bratz purse in her favourite colour, purple.
Although police officially won't comment upon the couple's alleged motive, The Globe and Mail has learned that they believe the crime was sexual in nature.
Given the alleged involvement of the young woman, and the fact that it happened near the Easter holiday, the case has echoes of the Karla Homolka/Paul Bernardo crimes, particularly the kidnapping of St. Catharines, Ont., teenager Kristen French, who, on her way home from school the day before Good Friday, was lured to Mr. Bernardo's car by Ms. Homolka, holding a map in her hand and acting as a dazed and confused tourist.
Like Ms. Homolka and Mr. Bernardo, Ms. McClintic and Mr. Rafferty were allegedly on the hunt that day, with Tori the profoundly unlucky first little girl they spotted.
But while, in some crucial ways, that fact alone makes the crime one of the rarest in Canada – a stranger or random abduction – Ms. McClintic and Tori's mother, Tara McDonald, apparently had some connection, and had met before, as Ontario Provincial Police Detective-Inspector Bill Renton confirmed yesterday at a news conference in this town of about 35,000 people 130 kilometres southwest of Toronto.
“I believe Ms. McClintic may be familiar to Tara,” was all he said, but The Globe has learned the connection may be through the women's common drug use.
Ms. McDonald is a former Oxycontin addict who recently, after the daily press conference it had become her custom to hold during the long days of her daughter's disappearance, was asked about and confessed her drug problem to a reporter from the London Free Press.
Ms. McClintic, whose desperately troubled background renders Ms. McDonald's difficult life a picture of Beaver Cleaver-like bliss by comparison, is also believed to be an Oxycontin user.
Ms. McClintic is the child of a former stripper and a father she never knew. Another stripper, Carol McClintic, who danced at local Woodstock clubs under the name of “Virginia,” decided to adopt her, her former husband Rob McClintic, a 42-year-old truck driver, told The Globe yesterday in a telephone interview.
Ms. McClintic went to the hospital when the other stripper gave birth to the little girl, brought her home within days, and the couple formally adopted the baby girl Carol McClintic named Terri-Lynne.
Mr. McClintic doesn't remember many details – “I was kind of young and stupid” – but said the couple split up when Terri-Lynne was not yet 3. Ms. McClintic would take off to work in other parts of the province, leaving him with a baby who wasn't his. After the breakup, Ms. McClintic sought full custody, but Mr. McClintic was ordered to pay about $400 in child support, although he hasn't seen his daughter for 15 years.
“I got screwed,” he said yesterday.
But he was stunned by the allegations against his daughter and described her upbringing as “pretty rough. There wasn't anything I could do about it though.”
A couple of years ago, when Terri-Lynne found herself in trouble in North Bay, he said he tried to help her, but gave up.
The McClintic women, mother and daughter, were living in a tiny, dilapidated house on Wilson Street, just blocks from the small but neat semi-detached home where Tori lived with her mom and her big brother Daryn, who turned 11 last month, and sometimes Ms. McDonald's boyfriend, James Garis.
As Globe reporter Kate Hammer reports in detail elsewhere in today's paper, their immediate neighbours became suspicious when, after the famous videotape was released, Ms. McClintic cut off her long dark hair. Craig Racine, one of the young people who lived next door, said she claimed she had got “bubble gum” in her hair.
Another tenant, Jessica McDonald, went to the police with her suspicions, and even began surreptitiously taping Carol McClintic after Terri-Lynne was arrested last month for breaching her parole on another offence.
Terri-Lynne was still in custody on that charge when police really turned their eyes upon her.
In the first weeks after Tori's disappearance, those eyes were focused firmly upon Tara McDonald.
The 30-year-old mother, although much taller and heavier than the composite drawing police released and which was based upon witness descriptions and the video, nonetheless has long dark hair and bore such a resemblance to the figure in both drawing and video that after spending four hours watching her one afternoon at one of the endless vigils and balloon releases and the like the family held to keep Tori's disappearance front and centre, I was sure it was her in the video.
At her daily news conferences, she was often bizarre – she told reporters of a limo ride to Toronto one night with a mysterious benefactor (this was likely a police sting), of her conversations with online psychics and others, pronounced some days as “positive Victoria” days, and often had Daryn at her side – and sometimes sober-seeming or depressed.
Inside the house, where the police had wiretaps up and running, things were also bizarre, and for detectives, troubling.
Ms. McDonald was on at least one occasion seen by some of her relatives grinding up Oxycontin and snorting it, then emerging for her daily “one o'clock,” as she called the news conferences, to, among other things, deny that she had any connection to drugs or that drug debts could be at the root of her daughter's disappearance.
At one of the balloon releases, she told relatives of Tori's dad, Rodney Stafford, that she was hoping to have her sterilization reversed and to have a child with Mr. Goris.
Ms. McDonald also “failed” two of the questions she was asked during the polygraph test she agreed to take, and then stormed out of the police station in a rage when detectives told her she was withholding information. And, The Globe has learned, before Tori was reported missing, but was late getting home, Ms. McDonald told Mr. Stafford, who was late coming to pick her up, “That might work out anyway because Victoria's not home yet. I hope she's not missing.”
All of this looked suspicious, not just to police, but to devotees of the various Tori Stafford websites (where users accused Ms. McDonald with increasing directness) that had sprung up to find the little girl, to reporters who regularly attended her press conferences, and even to Mr. Stafford.
A couple of weeks ago, he began attending the daily news conferences too. He would arrive five or 10 minutes early, disappear into the little house, and then appear before the cameras at Ms. McDonald's side.
What no one inside the house knew was that he carried a small tape recorder and would secretly record the proceedings.
This is how desperate things got in Woodstock, and the lengths to which those most desperate to find her went.
The police, however, kept their eyes open – open to other possibilities, because in the post-Guy Paul Morin age, no police officer wants to be accused of “tunnel vision” or blinding bias – and on the ball.
Their best piece of evidence was the few seconds of grainy videotape, and a few weeks ago, as it dawned upon them that Tara McDonald might well be an odd and troubled duck but she wasn't the woman in that tape, detectives asked about a half-dozen women to come and walk for them.
They wanted to compare the gaits of the women to that of the woman in the tape.
Ms. McDonald volunteered, as she always has, to come in and went through her paces: It wasn't her.
Among the others was the teenager conveniently already in custody. Ms. McClintic went through her paces, and detectives realized how very good the resemblance was. They interviewed her once, and on Tuesday, went back a second time: Ms. McClintic, in the language of lawyers, “made some admissions,” or in police lingo, gave it up.
By Tuesday evening, she and Mr. Rafferty were in custody. Yesterday, they appeared in Provincial Court for the first time.
As Woodstock Mayor Michael Harding said yesterday of the whirlwind that enveloped his town and its residents for 42 days, “I would like you to understand the kind of innuendo and crazy thinking that has gone on.” In the modern world, he said, “We expect things to be over in 55 minutes. I enjoy CSI, but that's theatre. I think this is a generation that, if we don't get immediate answers, we have a tendency to exploit our suspicions.” He mentioned Facebook, the Web, and said, “Everyone has an opinion, but that's not policing.”