Until that call from a "person with a conscience," even the girl's identity eluded police. They had little to go on after a patrol officer came upon the suitcase, surrounded by tires and set on fire in an industrial area north of Toronto, on Sept. 1, 1994.
The remains of the young woman were so badly charred that the case went cold for nearly two decades.
The telephone tip led to a visit to the girl's biological mother in Kingston, Jamaica, where cold-case investigators, working with the RCMP and the Jamaica Constabulary Force, obtained the DNA sample used to identify the human remains as those of 17-year-old Melonie Biddersingh.
"It just goes to show the power of a phone call," said Det.-Sgt. Steve Ryan.
"For all those outstanding cold cases ... a lot of time that's all that's required, is that phone call, and that's what we got in this case."
The girl's mother didn't know she had died until police contacted her.
"She was of the belief that her daughter was a young adult, a productive member of our society," Ryan said.
"She made several attempts to contact her."
Melonie, her brother, and stepbrother travelled to Toronto from Jamaica in 1990 to live with their father, Everton Biddersingh, and stepmother, Elaine Biddersingh, so they could have a better life, police said.
Everton, 56, and Elaine Biddersingh, 50, were arrested on March 5 at their home in Welland, Ont., and charged with first-degree murder.
Ryan wouldn't comment on reports that Melonie had been a victim of abuse before her death, but suggested that based on the information he'd gathered, "her life in Toronto wasn't pleasant."
Ten years after the remains were discovered, police released a report saying the still-unidentified victim had sustained numerous injuries, believed to be the result of a fall from a height or a car crash. Those had led to fractures in the lower back, including a number of vertebrae and ribs, the pelvic area, the left knee and right ankle.
"She would have been immobile, and would not be able to walk and was likely in pain all of the time," police had said.
"Due to the apparent lack of any medical intervention, this young woman was not given treatment for these injuries. These healing fractures were reported to have taken place three weeks to six months prior to this teen's death."
Police also said Wednesday that Melonie and her brothers had lived in an apartment with the accused and their three other children, who ranged in ages from an infant to teenagers.
None of the children attended school and Melonie was kept secluded from the community, Ryan said, adding that only a handful of family members knew about her life.
Melonie's brother plunged off the apartment's 22nd-floor balcony in 1992 when he was 15. That death was investigated and deemed to be a suicide, but officials will take another look at it as part of their current investigation.
Ryan said the surviving children are now "productive adults."
A person who answered the phone at the family's home in Welland said he was Everton and Elaine Biddersingh's son but had no comment.
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