We knew next to nothing and had to live with rumours as the fear for our own children grew. Was Tori still alive?

Part 4

“There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception”.  Aldous Huxley, English Novelist, 1894-1963

 This series is a first person account, told by a parent who has lived through the fear and pain that rocked Woodstock when an eight year old girl was abducted on her way home from school and subsequently murdered.  Elizabeth Maloney takes us through each step of the ordeal and starts with: A girl the same age as my daughter – is missing, she didn’t get home after school. The worry sets in. No longer can a parent feel reassured by the spotlight of safety once provided by broad daylight. Things are different now.  It can happen anytime, anywhere, and the most gut-wrenching of all; to anyone.

By Elizabeth Maloney

WOODSTOCK,

ON  May 4, 2012   Terri-Lynne McClintic had pleaded guilty to the murder of Tori Stafford and her boyfriend was now on trial for the same offence.  The prosecution and the defence have rested their cases and are now into their address to the jury after which a judge will charge the jury and they will then deliberate.  A murder trial that has consumed Woodstock is coming to a close.  Getting to this point has taken years.  Martha Maloney has been a community based observer of all this and she tells the story from her perspective.  We pick up that story in the early stages of the case.

Tori Stafford was taken from her school where she was normally picked up by her brother. Other than some grainy video film we never got to see her again.

It’s human nature to want answers. And when there is a lack of it, then we humans create a theory or supposition. And in a case like the disappearance of Tori Stafford the fear of the situation, the dire need for answers, for her family and for the community, certainly fueled this basic human nature.

Suspicions about Tori’s parents’ involvement began to fly almost immediately. Within four days of Tori’s disappearance they were subjected to polygraph tests and questioning. To be a parent of a missing child is difficult enough, but to be considered suspect in your own child’s abduction is beyond comprehension. Yet that is what happened, with a heavy emphasis placed on Tori’s mother, Tara McDonald. Rodney Stafford, Tori’s father seemed to be spared further scrutiny once he had completed the polygraph.

Tara was first considered as a suspect in Tori’s disappearance early in the case. Speculation ignited over the grainy security camera footage obtained from the local high school that bordered Oliver Steven’s, Tori’s school. Similarities between the “person of interest” caught on tape and Tara were noted throughout the community. Comments turned more harsh when Tara began appearing at media conferences wearing a white coat. Many in Woodstock felt that at the very least, this was in poor taste. Ignoring the possibility that it may not have occurred as inappropriate to Tara given her state, many in the community began to paint Tara as a villain.

All the community and the police had was this grainy piece of video footage.

Then unexpectedly, late in April there was a brief reprieve from Tara’s vilification. Photos from the candlelight vigil held for Tori at the IGA plaza parking lot on April 12th started to surface.  And in them a woman was sited, and she had a remarkable resemblance to the composite sketch that police had issued on April 21st. The likeness between the two was uncanny. People got excited. This woman’s picture was posted on some of the local blogs with comments hoping police were looking into this. Nothing ever evolved from this though. We can only suppose the police investigated and found nothing.

On April 28th, 2009 Tara drew attention back to herself when she came forth to the media and police with the incredulous story of a mysterious benefactor who supposedly approached Tara with an offering to fund a $50,000 reward for information on Tori’s whereabouts. The story entailed a clandestine meeting in a hotel that she was somehow chauffeured by limo to without tipping off the press surrounding her house. It was like a page torn out of a modern day action flick- except this was real life. These things just don’t happen. Maybe Tara offered this up as a means of pulling the heat of the public eye off of her, but it only served to exacerbate things. Her credibility was called into question, and it renewed gossip and rumours that she must somehow be involved.

On May 8th, Tara’s family took a further hit when it was revealed by Tara herself that police have searched the homes of Tara’s half-brother and his mother in Calgary. She also advised the media her home computers had been seized by police. While none of it was proof of anything, many of us in Woodstock, me included, were starting to think, where there is smoke, there is usually fire. And there was plenty of smoke to go around. Not only were they looking at Tara, but now members of her family. What would draw police to Calgary? Something must have got their attention.

To further incite the masses, the beginning of May brought details of Tara’s drug use and drug connections. The rumours of her usage were now fact and Tara herself admitted to the suspected habit. This shifted suspicion slightly, causing people to theorize that Tori was taken to enforce or settle an unpaid drug debt. While Tara was no longer considered “hands on” involved, she was still tied to the notion as the instigator of events – so guilt by association.

Tori and her brother; often inseparable.

So there we were, already in the middle of May and the only thing we had was a whole lot of accusation and innuendo flying around. Tori had been missing for 37 days and the only thing to report was maybe it was the Mom. There was no hard evidence and not a single trace of Tori. No single piece of hard evidence had surfaced. A grainy video was as close as we got and that, in reality, showed nothing more than someone talking to Tori. Hardly damning evidence.

Frustration levels grew in the city and I was now beginning to believe that Tori was dead. As a mother I didn’t want to lose hope but I am also a realist. Child disappears, no physical evidence,  let’s face it, she was either dead or taken for the purposes of human trafficking. Either way Tori would never be seen again. I felt so guilty for thinking it, so much so that when asked of my opinion I often glazed over it. Hard for an opinionated person like me. But the city was so sensitive to the case I was afraid to offend anyone.

The police were also a sensitive topic with support falling on both sides of the fence. With no hard evidence, what did they have to offer? Did they know more than were saying? Was there as little development in this case as we the public were lead to believe? We were soon to find out….

 Part 1

Part 2

Part 3


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