It was a crime that shocked the nation and sent ripples of fear throughout a city and neighbourhood.
A young girl, 10-year-old Holly Jones, had disappeared after walking a friend home in her west-end Toronto neighbourhood. A family’s nightmare and a city’s trauma unfolded over the next six weeks, culminating in the arrest, and later conviction, of a 35-year-old man for the murder of young Holly.
Now, 16 years later, her story is being told in the Canadian premier of the final episode, ‘Blood in the Water,’ for the series ‘The Lake Erie Murders.’
It was May 12, 2003, when Holly went missing. The next day, following an emotional public appeal from her parents for her safe return, police issued what was, at the time, Ontario’s first Amber Alert.
Sadly, this story was not to have a happy ending. The very same day that the Alert was issued, police announced they were searching for a killer. Holly’s remains had been found in two bags floating near the Toronto Islands. A coroner’s examination confirmed the remains in the bag were Holly’s.
Dave Perry, CEO of Investigative Solutions Network, was then a Detective Sergeant with the Toronto Police Service Sex Crimes Unit. He and Al Comeau from the Homicide Squad were assigned and ultimately solved the case.
“Holly was only 10 years old, but she had never gone missing before which (put) the fear factor for us up significantly. There are two basic reasons children are abducted, and you hope that it’s the first one which is some type of a family involvement,” Perry says in the episode. “From history, you have a better chance of getting the child back successfully. On the other hand, if you get a (stranger/child abduction), you have minutes to hours to get them back alive.”
Perry remembers feeling sick to his stomach worrying about Holly, saying the briefing he held on the case was probably the most serious he had ever done.
“I had dozens of police officers standing around outside the command post, and I gave them very specific orders to gain entry to each and every house on the route that Holly walked, and if they had any resistance to call me and I would personally come to that address.”
Weight of Tragedy Sinks in as Divers Search for Evidence
By the time May 14 dawned, the weight of what had happened was sinking in across the neighbourhood and city. Police divers searched for evidence while posters of the two bags, as well as the dumbbells that had been placed inside the bags, were released to the public. The investigation included an appeal for the public’s help in identifying two men who had been seen carrying bags onto the ferry on route to the island close to where the girl’s remains had been found.
“We were so emotional and so angry at what happened to this poor kid that we were as motivated as you could possibly imagine to catch the person who did this,” Perry says in the episode.
By May 19, more than 1,600 tips had been phoned into a police hotline.
The investigation continued, with police gathering DNA samples from residents of Holly’s neighbourhood. On June 5, a computer-generated image of Holly with the clothes she was wearing when she disappeared was released. It was suggested the killer might live in the neighbourhood.
On June 20, police arrest a 35-year-old man who lived near Holly’s home. Evidence included a DNA sample from a discarded pop can. He was charged with first-degree murder, subsequently convicted and remains incarcerated to this day.
“I remember looking at the sun coming up and it’s a beautiful June day and I had (the suspect) in the back seat under arrest for first-degree murder and I wanted to say to him, ‘have a look out the window because this is the last time you are going to see a sunrise like this,’” Perry recalls.
The Canadian premier of this episode airs on Thursday, March 14, 9 p.m., EST, on Investigation Discovery. Viewers are cautioned that the episode does contain some graphic content.