Almost 40 years after the disappearance of a young woman in Etobicoke, the search for her remains has returned to the neighborhood where she lived.
Members of Please Bring Me Home, a volunteer organization from across Canada dedicated to investigating missing persons in cold cases based on advice from the general public, spent hours Thursday morning at an undisclosed park in the west end of Toronto looking for traces of Nicole Morin.
Morin was only eight years old on July 30, 1985, the last time she was seen alive in her family’s high-rise building on The West Mall. According to police, she left her family’s penthouse that morning to go to swim with a friend.
Two cadaver dogs, from Black Tracks K9 Corporation, were part of the search team Thursday, along with their handlers and PBMH investigators.
In the initial search that covered about 45 percent of the park area, the cadaver dogs delivered “a thud” when they indicated they were detecting the scent of human remains, said PBMH Central Canada director Brett Robinson, who led the search. search.
The area where the dogs indicated the possibility of human remains was “really difficult to reach” in the dense foliage, he said.
What that really means for Morin’s quest is still unclear. The team will return in the coming weeks to see if the dogs check out the locations, as well as to cover the rest of the park for a possible discovery, Robinson said.
Thursday was the first time PBMH members searched for Morin’s body. The group turned their attention to Etobicoke Park based on a possible eyewitness: a woman who two years ago claimed to have seen Morin the morning she disappeared with a man she knew.
“She had enough information,” said Robinson, who then visited the park the witness had indicated. “It was plausible that something had happened to someone here.”
Police have never closed Morin’s disappearance, which remains one of the highest-profile missing persons cases in Toronto.
Last month, detectives with the Homicide and Missing Persons Unit excavated and examined soil from an undisclosed location north of town in an effort to locate his remains.
That particular search was motivated by investigators’ desire to find out if Morin’s case is related to another incident with striking similarities: the disappearance and murder of Christine Jessop.
Jessop was nine years old when she disappeared from her home in Queensville on October 3, 1984. Her body was discovered six months later in a field in Durham. Police determined that she had been sexually assaulted before she was killed.
Almost 40 years later, in 2020, the police announced that Calvin Hoover of Scarborough had been responsible for that crime. Hoover committed suicide in 2015.
The possibility that Hoover was also connected to Morin’s disappearance is a subject of active investigation.
“I think he’s a pretty definite person of interest in this case; we just can’t find the ties yet,” said lead investigator Det. Stella Karras last month. “It’s frustrating because we can’t talk to him because he passed away.”
Robinson said the group has been getting more leads on the Morin case since news of the Etobicoke search broke. As with other cases, the group will hand over anything important they find in the search to the police.
Since this particular park is municipal land, it will be up to police to decide if an excavation and further DNA testing is necessary, he said.
“We’re happy with the results every time we get a hit,” Robison said.
Is it the body of Nicole Morin? For now, it’s too early to tell. “We have no way of knowing if there is a body there yet; it’s just that the dogs are indicating that there is some kind of odor that appears to be coming from human remains,” she said. “That’s something we want to build on.”
Old cases like Morin’s are harder to search for, but Robinson said cadaver dogs have been shown to be able to detect human remains from 50 or 60 years ago.
The other complicating factor is that there are fewer and fewer people to talk to with knowledge of a particular case; in Morin’s case, for example, his mother has since died.
In Ontario last week, PBMH members conducted a search for Nicholas Adamson, who went missing last March in Thorold. They also searched for Shelley Desrochers, who has been missing in London since 2016.
“We’re always hopeful, but we understand that the work we do is always low-probability,” Robinson said, noting that searching a specific area means they can eliminate the possibility that a missing person is there.
“We’re all hoping we can get these cases resolved, but we’re subject to tunnel vision, so we definitely have other members of our team reviewing cases just to make sure we’re not closing roads that we shouldn’t be closing.”
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