We didn’t know it at the time but there was a break developing in the case. The police had a suspect.

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 5, 2012  The trial trying Michael Rafferty for the murder of Tori Stafford is in its final stages.  The prosecution made its case with close to a score of witnesses; the defence called just the one witness who with her testimony shed some serious light on the relation between Terri-Lynne McClintic and eight year old Tori.  It would appear from that testimony that the child knew McClintic who earlier plead guilty to the murder of the child.

Now it was all coming to a close – the jury would hear closing arguments from the prosecution and the defence and the judge would then instruct the jury and they would then deliberate and come back with a verdict.  In less than ten days the decision would be known.  Would Woodstock feel any sense of relief?  The city was feeling very anxious, worried and afraid three years earlier when we didn’t know enough.

In the weeks following Tori’s abduction, Woodstock had weathered a roller coaster of events. The parents were investigated, searches were conducted and the police scandalized over the Amber Alert. A reward for Tori’s safe return was offered by a mysterious unnamed benefactor and the child’s story was highlighted on America’s Most Wanted. The drama had played on and on and the emotion of it all was wearing on the community. We didn’t seem to be any further ahead than we were 41 days ago when it all started. Hope was dwindling. People began to vocally speculate Tori had met an unfortunate end. No trace, no signs – what other answer could there be?

Even Tara McDonald and Rodney Stafford, Tori’s parents, were reaching their limit. For the most part they had respected each other’s boundaries, not treading on each other in the public eye. But by May 15th,  2009,  something snapped and they were caught publicly bickering at each other during a news conference. The fact that they made it this far without something happening sooner was laudable. But the emotional toll of constant interviews and media conferences seemed to finally get to them. They made up a few days later when they jointly announced they had accepted the help of a private investigator and apologized to the media for their previous behavior. They wanted the focus to remain on Tori.

While being held on an unrelated charge Terri-Lynne McClintic was questioned about the murder of Tori Stafford.

Unbeknownst to Tara & Rodney, as they were representing their unified front, police were working on a break in the case.  A young woman named Terri-Lynn McClintic was in police custody and had been since April 12th on an unrelated charge. She had been placed in Genst Youth Detention Centre in London, and during her time there, had agreed to a polygraph test regarding that other charge. In order to prepare for administering the polygraph, police interviewed several of Terri-Lynn’s acquaintances, including Michael Rafferty, who had made two visits to see McClintic during her stay at Genst. On May 19th police administered the polygraph to McClintic with surprising results.

On the same day police arrested McClintic and later her friend Rafferty. During that polygraph on the unrelated charge, Terri-Lynn confessed to the abduction of Tori Stafford and implicated her friend Michael as her co-conspirator and identified him as Tori’s rapist and murderer. Rafferty was charged with first degree murder and abduction of someone under the age of 16. McClinitc was booked on abducting someone under the age of 16 and accessory to murder.

So there it was. Six weeks of mystery concluded with an answer no one wanted- Tori was dead. There was no body, so some in the community refused to give up hope. Most others accepted what they already felt all along. Tori’s young bright light had been snuffed out in a twisted reality that seemed more like an episode of Law & Order SVU than real life. It was a relief in some ways. It was over and the parties presumed responsible were in police custody.

It was also a  frustrating end to a very painful six weeks. Woodstock had invested a lot of time into Tori and finding her. The community involvement in the case was overwhelming, with many people actively volunteering. The last thing we had was hope- waning hope, but still hope. And now that too was taken from us. The fear of the unknown was gone and we were faced with the stark reality.

While the details were not fully known - there were now two people that were identified as being somehow involved with the murder of Tori Stafford. Michael Rafferty was the second suspect.

The attention in the community now shifted from Tori to these two suspects. Who were they? Where in the city did they live?  Had we been interacting with these people and not know what they really were? To many of us it was hard to comprehend that the people charged with this heinous set of crimes had been living amongst us all along. I found myself wondering if I had passed one or both in the local Wal-Mart or one of the grocery stores. It’s one thing to suspect there is a predator on the loose, it’s another to realize you may have been standing next to one of them in a line somewhere.

And my daughter- she was with me in those stores. Did they look at her? Did they think about taking another child?…. maybe even my own? It was a horrid thought but a realization I could not help but come to. How close did we come to these two suspects? Too close for me. I later found out both McClintic and Rafferty lived within less than a 2 km radius of my home.

The following weeks and months would be a continuous leak of new information about these two individuals. What they posted on Facebook, the things they said, the people they knew. What was once a lack of information had become an almost overwhelming wave of detail and minutia. Did I want to know this much about the alleged murderers of our beloved Tori? No, but I needed to know. I needed to face it out of respect for Tori.

The pictures of Tori Stafford were now harder to look at because we knew now we would never see her again.

The end of May brought the announcement that McClintic and Rafferty would be tried separately. Rafferty’s newly hired counsel speculated publicly that there was no need for it unless there was a deal in the works, a very bold jab at McClintic’ s camp. The pieces were starting to fall into place, with everyone beginning their preparations for the eventual trial. The roller coaster of information would take another dive as each camp begun to hold their cards closer to their chest, not wanting to tip their hand before their day in court. It would be the start of a 3 year battle to bring the accused killers to justice.

And what of Tori’s family? Now having to face the idea that they will never see their precious little girl again. Never again to hold her hand when crossing the street or feel the brush of her cheek as she kisses them goodnight. No prom, no graduation, no wedding or grandchildren. It was more than the loss of a life, it was the loss of a future. There is no charge for that, although there should be.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

 

 

 

 

 

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