NEWS
02/05/2018 08:46 EST | Updated 02/07/2018 07:03 EST

Man charged in Tess Richey killing; woman last seen in Toronto gay village

TORONTO — A 21-year-old man strangled a young woman and abandoned her body in a stairwell hours after meeting her during a night out in Toronto's gay village, police alleged Monday as they laid a second-degree murder charge in the case that raised further questions about the handling of missing persons investigations.

Police said it appears Tess Richey, 22, met Kalen Schlatter after going out with a friend in late November.

"We believe that they were together alone in that area, they were together for some time," Det. Sgt. Graham Gibson said. "Mr. Schlatter left the area and that by the time he left, Tess was unfortunately already deceased."

Schlatter, of Toronto, was arrested late Sunday near his west-end home. He appeared briefly in court on Monday and was remanded in custody.

Richey was last seen alive in the gay village in the early hours of Nov. 25. She and a friend had been at a bar and at some point met the man now suspected of killing her. Surveillance video, later made publicly available, shows her and Schlatter together, Gibson said.

Her sister reported her missing that day but it was her mother, from North Bay, Ont., who found her body several days later in a nearby stairwell at the back of an alley outside a downtown building.

"Tess was a young innocent girl," Gibson said. "Obviously, nothing like this should ever have happened to anybody."

Schlatter, who does construction contracting work, became a suspect early on in the investigation, the detective said, adding his homicide team and Richey's family were on good terms and speak regularly.

In a tweet, Varina Richey described her sibling as the "zaniest little sister any of us Richey girls ever could have asked for." The family, she said, were "unwilling participants in this unfolding nightmare" and would not be commenting further to avoid compromising the judicial process.

"This is not a celebration for us but it is a victory of sorts," Varina Richey said. "We obviously have a long road ahead of us."

Tess Richey's death — said to be a crime of opportunity — sparked questions about how investigators had handled her disappearance amid wider concerns about the disappearances of several men linked to the gay village. In response, police announced a review of procedures related to such investigations.

Late last month, police alleged self-employed landscaper, Bruce McArthur, 66, was a serial killer who dismembered his victims and hid their remains in planter boxes. They initially charged McArthur first with two counts of first-degree murder, and then a further three counts related to five men reported missing in recent years. Most of them were linked to the gay village.  

Police have discounted a connection between Richey's killing and the disappearances of men from the village. 

Toronto police have said its Professional Standards Unit, which responds to allegations of officer misconduct, was looking at how the investigation was handled before Richey was found dead in the alley, which quickly became a shrine of flowers, cards and mementoes.

"I know it's been difficult watching our pain, fear and grief from the fringes," Varina Richey said. "We know, if the roles were reversed, we would be your biggest champions for justice, too."