The search for Tori Stafford: What’s taking so long?

Even with “help” from the accused, the body is nowhere to be found

The search for Tori Stafford: What's taking so long?The search for Tori Stafford’s eight-year-old body is now in its eighth day. Ontario police have rummaged through rural properties, scoured two lakes, and seized at least one large garbage bin in their hunt for the little girl’s remains. Today, officers are focusing their attention on a specific plot of land near Highway 401, just a 20-minute drive from Tori’s hometown of Woodstock. “We’re still receiving tips and we’re following up on all those tips,” says Constable Laurie-Anne Maitland, a spokeswoman for the Oxford County Police Service. “They will go where the evidence takes them.”

For a few days, at least, the police were going where Terri-Lynne McClintic took them. One of two suspects now charged in connection with Stafford’s abduction and murder, the 18-year-old infamously offered to help investigators “bring Tori home to her family.” But as the search stretches into its second week—and McClintic is now back behind bars—it’s hard to ignore the obvious question: What is taking so long? If McClintic really knows what happened to the Grade 3 student, why is her body still missing?

“I understand your question,” Cst. Maitland says. “But I’m unable to comment on anything to do with the investigation.” McClintic’s lawyer, Jeanine LeRoy, is equally hesitant to delve into details. Although she says her client “felt a genuine obligation” to help detectives, she refuses to explain what that help entailed. Does she actually know where the body was dumped, or was she told the location afterwards? Was she ever at the scene of the crime, or was she waiting in a car nearby? “I cannot comment one way or another on that,” LeRoy says. “I’m not able to discuss the details of her assistance.”

LeRoy did confirm reports that “the change of season has made it more difficult” for McClintic to recall events and locations from seven weeks ago, and “that she does feel some frustration in that regard.” But she cautioned the public not to jump to conclusions—or to assume that McClintic will plead guilty—just because she is co-operating with police. “You’re free to assume whatever you want, but assumptions are very dangerous,” she says. “Those decisions have not yet been made and won’t be made until we have the entirety of the disclosure. My client’s participation will come out in time through the court system.”

Last week, when Tori’s mother learned that McClintic was helping police, she was anything but confident. “I think that if she knew where our daughter was at this point, then they wouldn’t be searching,” Tara McDonald said. “I honestly think she is just enjoying some helicopter rides and some fresh air, because she probably isn’t going to be getting very much of that in the near future.”

Victoria “Tori” Stafford vanished on the afternoon of April 8. She was last seen in a grainy surveillance video, leaving school hand-in-hand with an unidentified woman wearing a white puffy jacket. For the next six weeks, her blond hair and blue eyes were plastered on “missing person” posters across Ontario, as police—and her parents—held out hope that she would turn up alive.

Those hopes were crushed last week, when investigators arrested two suspects: McClintic and her 28-year-old boyfriend, Michael Thomas Rafferty. Rafferty is charged with abduction and first-degree murder, while McClintic faces allegations of abduction and accessory to murder. Both are scheduled to make a brief court appearance tomorrow morning, via video link from their respective prisons. (According to his lawyer, Rafferty is being held in a segregated cell and is on “suicide watch.”)

In the meantime, police are also asking the public to be on the lookout for a discarded car seat. A blue, 2003 Honda Civic belonging to Rafferty—and seized by police—is missing its back seat. “Evidence is continuing to be followed,” Cst. Maitland says. “It is a massive investigation.”

UPDATE (MAY 28) : McClintic is now charged with first-degree murder.

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