The missing persons posters for the four Muskoka seniors. (Photo supplied by: OPP)
While new details remain elusive, the OPP says they’ve received a significant amount of tips in the case of four missing seniors from Muskoka.
In the summer, the Ontario Provincial Police pledged to not rest until the four cases are solved.
The pledge was made by Detective Inspector Rob Matthews, who spoke with reporters after a Vaughan press conference on July 25th about the four cases of 77-year-old Joan Dorothy Lawrence, 69-year-old Ralph Bernard Grant, 70-year-old John Leroy Crofts, and 89-year-old John James Semple.
The conference did not announce charges or definite suspects in the matter and was short on information concerning evidence found in the investigation.
However, it was confirmed that all four cases are being looked at as homicides. It was also indicated that Lawrence, known as the “Cat Lady”, passed away on the property she had been living on owned by the Laan family at the time. Police stated she had been moved from an unheated shed that she paid $600 per month to live in over to an old van on the same property, which sat in a group of derelict vehicles. They also stated she “met her end” on the same property, though they declined to provide more details on how.
Cadaver dogs, helicopters, ground searches of the property and searches of nearby Siding Lake, just southwest of Huntsville’s core have not located any of the missing bodies.
Matthews told reporters that “extensive” searches have been made of properties formerly owned by the Laans, who used them to run retirement homes. He also said he had met all four of the deceased at the start of the investigations in 1998, which had been focused on the conditions of the homes.
The CBC program “The 5th Estate” recently profiled the four cases, billing their episode on the matter as bringing new information to light. The broadcast didn’t bring much new information to light about the case, beyond repetition of details from police files that linked the Laan family to the four missing seniors and money that belonged to them, which had ended up with other people. The host of the program also confronted Ron Allen, the uncle of the Laan siblings who police had suspected in the case. Allen declined to speak with the host.
Matthews was interviewed for the episode and indicated that police have received a significant amount of tips after the press conference was held.
According to Jason Folz, the spokesperson for the Central Region OPP, the best thing people can do to bring resolution to the case is call-in with any information they might have. “With any kind of tips, relating to this or any other homicide, is to call into the detachment and speak to one of the investigators, and give your information,” said Folz. “Each one of those tips will be investigated fully.”
As for what he would say to followers of the case who believe the police are withholding too much information, Folz pointed them towards what methods police use to investigate serious crimes. “The process that we have in place, as far as rules of evidence and being able to present a fulsome case in the event we do arrest somebody, we have to protect that evidence,” said Folz. “In some eyes, that may look deceptive, but it’s how our Canadian justice system is laid out. Putting all of that out to everyone is certainly isn’t an advantage to convicting someone.”
He’s hopeful that a resolution to the case will happen soon, and said the best scenario would be an arrest. “It’s a difficult case, obviously, without human remains or a body to put with it,” said Folz. “They’re difficult to investigate. We do rely on people’s tips to investigate further and dig a little deeper. “
Anyone with new information can call 1-877-934-6363 in Canada or 1-705-330-4144 outside the country.
Written by James Wood