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Toronto police charge man with second-degree murder in death of Tess Richey

Richey went missing from the Church and Wellesley area on Nov. 25.

Tess Richey was reported missing on Nov. 25. Her body was found four days later outside a building under construction at Church and Dundonald Sts., a short distance from where she was last seen.

Torstar File Photo

Tess Richey was reported missing on Nov. 25. Her body was found four days later outside a building under construction at Church and Dundonald Sts., a short distance from where she was last seen.

In footage from the final hours of her life, police say, Tess Richey stands by a hotdog cart in Toronto’s Gay Village — her dark hair loose at her shoulders, her green jacket in her hands. A man police have identified as 21-year-old Kalen Schlatter walks up. In the last video clip showing Richey alive, the pair walk toward an alleyway.

When Schlatter next appears in the video, police say, he is walking away alone. Richey’s mother found her body at the bottom of a stairwell in an alley, four days later, after an intense search driven by social media. The mother had travelled from North Bay to search for Richey, who was reported missing by her sister.

Shortly after 11 p.m. Sunday, police charged Schlatter with second-degree murder.

“We will have to use all the strength and energy we can muster to be dignified while staring at the alleged evil who destroyed our family,” Richey’s sister Varina wrote on Facebook Monday morning before Schlatter’s first court appearance.

Though the arrest came more than two months after Richey’s death, police say Schlatter had been on their radar since early in the investigation.

“There was quite a bit of work to bring us to the point where we were able to place him under arrest for the homicide,” Det. Sgt. Graham Gibson told reporters.

Richey, 22, and Schlatter didn’t appear to know each other before that night, and Gibson said it would be fair to call it a crime of opportunity.

In the wake of the arrest, residents of a quiet stretch of Lansdowne Ave. at Davenport Rd., where Schlatter lives, were shocked by the murder charge.

“You’d never know,” said Jack Coelho, who lives three doors down from the property listed by the courts as Schlatter’s home. Gibson told reporters the arrest was made near Schlatter’s residence. When the Star went to the home on Monday, Christmas lights and a wreath adorned the front of the house. A man inside declined to speak with reporters.

Coelho told the Star two young men lived in that house, one very “skinny.” The police description of the suspect in Richey’s killing was a slim, white male — taller than her and with short, light-coloured hair. Coelho was surprised by the arrest, saying the men in the house were quiet.

Another neighbour, Christine McPherson, said the news made her worry on a street filled with kids. “I honestly had absolutely no idea,” she said. She’d read about Richey’s murder recently and didn’t expect it to hit so close to home.

Several neighbours told the Star they’d noticed police cars on their street lately. One said police came around in mid-December, while another pointed out an increased presence on Sunday night. Schlatter had never been before the courts until this arrest, Gibson said. Police communications later said that he wasn’t known to police.

Global News reported Monday that Schlatter had been witness to an attempted murder in August. A man was allegedly bludgeoned with a hammer by his neighbour, in Earlscourt Park, near Schlatter’s home, and the 21-year-old told Global at the time that he stepped in to help the alleged victim. That case is now before the courts.

Sunday’s arrest comes at the end of a tense police investigation by both 51 and 41 divisions. Gibson told reporters on Monday that the force’s professional standards unit is involved in the case, but that he couldn’t comment on their work. He said he has been speaking to Richey’s mother regularly. “This is the kind of case where obviously you want to make an arrest, because it’s very high-profile and … Tess was a young, innocent girl,” he told reporters.

“You see homicide investigators here when something like this happens, and you talk about us in the papers, but there’s a whole bunch of people who do things behind the scenes … and they work hard hours — long hours.”

He thanked the Centre of Forensic Sciences for its help in the case. The centre conducts scientific investigations in cases like Richey’s, doing work such as bodily fluid identification or DNA profiling.

Gibson would not elaborate on how long Schlatter and Richey were alone or what happened during that time, saying “they were together for some time.” The information is considered evidence, he said, “and there has to be a trial.”

Schlatter appeared in court at College Park on Monday morning and has been remanded in police custody, Gibson said.

Richey’s disappearance is the subject of a police professional standards investigation into potential misconduct. Her disappearance in the early hours of Nov. 25 was not initially considered suspicious by police. Four days later, on Nov. 29, her mother found her body.

A post-mortem on Dec. 1 determined that Richey’s cause of death was a neck compression, and homicide detectives took over the investigation. At a news conference on Dec. 8, Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders noted that police would be conducting an internal review into missing persons investigations in the wake of several high-profile cases last year, including those of Andrew Kinsman and Selim Esen. Last month, Bruce McArthur was charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Kinsman and Esen, as well as three other men.

On Dec. 10, police released images of a man they believed to be related to the Richey investigation.

After a description of the suspect was released, Gibson noted that police received “a tremendous amount of support from the community.”

In a Facebook post Monday morning, Richey’s family said police informed them Sunday night of the arrest. “At approximately 11:25 p.m. last night we received the call we have all been waiting for, yet we never imagined we’d ever receive,” read the post, written by Varina Richey.

“This is not a celebration for us but it is a victory of sorts and we would now like to finally focus our energy and attention on honouring and remembering the best and zaniest little sister any of us Richey girls ever could have asked for.”

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