"It is hard for me to believe a human being could have done what I've done."
It was the 8th of April 2009. A Wednesday. Eight year old Victoria "Tori" Stafford was on her way home to her new house from school in Woodstock, Ontario, Canada. She lived with her mother Tara and brother Daryn. Her parents were separated. The night before she had decorated her bedroom with Disney Princesses, Bratz Dolls and High School Musical Posters. That night, she was due to spend the evening with her father Rodney and then watch a movie with friends.
The plan was for Tori to walk home with her ten year old brother Daryn after school as it was their first time walking to the new house. They had moved into the house just a week earlier. Daryn dropped a couple of younger children home first, they lived right next to the school. He looked for Tori but he couldn't see her outside school so believing that she may have walked home herself, he went to the house but discovered that Tori wasn't at home. Daryn went back out on his bicycle to look for her. But he did not find her.
Tara, Tori's mother, called some of Tori's friends. She wasn't with any of them. Tori was reported missing to the police at 6.04pm that evening. A large number of people helped search for Tori. But it was surveillance footage that gave police their first real insight into what happened to her.
Tori Stafford Missing Poster
A high school, down the road from Tori's school, had surveillance footage and Tori was on it. She was seen walking with a woman at 3.32pm.
Police received a number of tips in relation to the woman seen with Tori on the footage. Police arrested that woman on an unrelated warrant on the 12th of April 2009. She was eighteen year old Terri-Lynn McClintic. She denied having anything to do with Tori's disappearance but over one month later, she told police that she knew what happened to Tori. Terri-Lynn told police that she was there outside the school that day with her boyfriend Michael Rafferty. Terri-Lynn told police that Tori was dead. She said that Michael raped Tori and then killed her. Michael was arrested.
Based on a sketch of an area provided to the police by Terri-Lynn, police went to a rural area just southeast of Mount Forest in Ontario. It was 132 kilometers from Tori's home. There, they found her remains under rocks beneath an evergreen tree. Tori's remains were so badly decomposed that she was identified through her dental records. She was found 103 days after she was reported missing.
Terri-Lynn was charged with first degree murder and Michael was charged with first degree murder, sexual assault causing bodily harm and kidnapping.
Terri-Lynn and Michael were ordered to have separate Trials. Terri-Lynn pleaded guilty. Even though she told police initially that Michael killed Tori, she later said that she was the one who killed her and she was willing to give evidence against Michael at his Trial. He pleaded not guilty.
At Michael's Trial, it was the Prosecution's case that Terri-Lynn and Michael abducted Tori as she walked home from school that day. Terri-Lynn testified at the Trial. She said that Michael told her to take a girl that day. He said to take a "young female, because the younger they were the easier they were to manipulate."
Terri-Lynn told the Jury that they parked in the parking lot of a retirement home. She claimed that her plan was to pretend to try to take a girl but tell Michael that she couldn't. But when she walked towards the school that day, she knew Michael was watching her, so she decided to approach a child who was on her own and walk and talk with her.
The Court heard that she spoke to Tori about a dog and asked her if she would like to see the dog. She told Tori it was a shih tzu dog and Tori had a shih tzu dog of her own so she was excited to see it. It was the Prosecution's case that while Terri-Lynn was talking and walking with Tori, Michael was waiting in his car in the car park of a retirement home across from the high school. Terri-Lynn walked with Tori to Michael's car and when they reached the car, she pushed her into it. Michael was shouting at her to hurry up, hurry up! Tori was lying on the back seat floor of the car and Terri-Lynn covered her with Michael's coat.
Terri-Lynn claimed she was unaware of what Michael planned to do that day. And when she was in the car with Tori, she spoke to her during the two hour car journey. She learned that her favorite color was purple and that she loved Halloween because she loved to dress up.
After they abducted Tori, they took her to several locations on the way to the rural area where her remains were found. They stopped off at the home of Barbara Armstrong to buy Percocets.
Police obtained surveillance footage from Home Depot. Their car was seen pulling into the Home Deport parking lot at 5pm. Michael went to the ATM and then drove closer to the store. Terri-Lynn went inside the store and purchased garbage bags and a hammer.
They then drove to the rural area. According to Terri-Lynn, when they got there, she walked away from the car as she knew what was about to happen to Tori. Terri-Lynn claimed she took Tori to the washroom and told her she was a strong girl. Tori pleaded with her not to leave her but Terri-Lynn brought her back to Michael.
"He picked her back up. She still had ahold of my hand. She didn't want to let go. She asked me to stay with her. So I got in the front seat and I tried to hold onto her hand, but I couldn't stay because I knew what was about to happen. I couldn't be there for that."
Michael violently sexually assaulted and raped Tori on the back seat of his car. Terri-Lynn said she walked away from the car but could still hear Tori's screams and she:
"I went back to the vehicle and I savagely murdered that little girl."
Terri-Lynn returned to the car. She claimed that Tori's screams caused her to have a flashback of her own traumatic childhood. After Michael raped Tori, he threw her on the ground outside the car. Terri-Lynn walked towards her and kicked Tori. A plastic bag was placed over Tori's head and Terri-Lynn struck her head several times with the hammer she had purchased that day at Home Depot. They put Tori's body in garbage bags and put her body under some rocks under a tree. When Tori's remains were later found, her butterfly earrings and Hannah Montana t-shirt were in the garbage bags with her.
The Autopsy revealed that Tori died from at least four hammer blows to her head. Sixteen of her ribs were broken or fractured and her liver was damaged while she was still alive. There were blunt force injuries to her body which had lacerated her liver and those injuries alone could have been fatal.
Tori's remains were so badly decomposed that it could not be determined whether a sexual assault had taken place. But based on the totality of the evidence provided, it was established that she had been raped, beaten and bludgeoned to death.
According to Terri-Lynn, she approached Tori because Tori was the only child walking alone. But there was a connection between Terri-Lynn's family and Tori's family. Tori's mother Tara gave evidence at the Trial. She told the Court that at the time of Tori's abduction, she was addicted to Oxycontin. She purchased some from Terri-Lynn's mother and when she was at their house she saw Terri-Lynn there twice. Tara discussed shih tzu dogs at the house. She had one and they had two so they discussed breeding the dogs.
It was the Defense's case that Michael did not know what was to happen when Terri-Lynn brought Tori over to his car that day. It was their case that the abduction and murder was down to Terri-Lynn and Terri-Lynn alone. It was her idea to take her and she purchased the murder weapon, the hammer from Home Depot. Michael claimed that Terri-Lynn told him she took Tori for a drug debt and she told him he could do something sexual to Tori. It was his Defense that he said no and Terri-Lynn asked him to drive to the rural area. When they got there she asked him to walk away as Tori was afraid of him. Terri-Lynn then murdered Tori. Michael claimed he did not rape Tori, was not involved in her murder but admitted he helped clean up.
Michael was found guilty of first degree murder. They were both sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.
Terri-Lynn was later transferred from prison to a healing lodge. The healing lodge allowed for a more independent type of living and it caused outrage in Canada. It would essentially lead to Terri-Lynn serving her sentence in a less harsh and confined manner than she would in prison. Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale intervened after the decision was made and ordered the commissioner of Correctional Service Canada to review the transfer and how it happened. Terri-Lynn was transferred back to prison.
Terri-Lynne sought compensation for her unfair treatment when she was transferred back to prison. That matter was later dropped.
That day, the 8th of April 2009, Tori got up early, got dressed up for school and went to school looking forward to the day ahead and the events she had planned for that night. Just two minutes after she left school, she crossed paths with pure evil. Both Terri-Lynn and Michael were equally to blame and the last few hours of Tori's life must have been filled with fear and extreme pain. Michael's laptop searches revealed he looked at child abuse and underage rape in the months leading up to Tori's abduction. Terri-Lynn was cruel and violent almost her entire life. At Michael's Trial, the Jury heard about an incident in Terri-Lynn's past. When she was just a child, she put a dog in a microwave. The dog had to be put down.
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"The criminal justice system will take a hard look at what happened to Matthew Eappen. It is up to the rest of us to take an even harder look at who is minding our children."
- Eileen McNamara, the Boston Globe
"The effects of abuse are devastating and far reaching. Domestic violence speaks many languages, has many colors and lives in many different communities."
- Sandra Pupatello
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