The Tragedy of Tori Stafford

            On April 8, 2009, eight-year old Victoria “Tori” Stafford left Oliver Stephens Public School, in Woodstock, Ontario, Canada, a little later than the rest of her classmates. She had run back inside to retrieve her butterfly earrings (“Timeline: Victoria ‘Tori’ Stafford Murder”). As she headed home, down Fyfe Avenue past the high school, the last video of her was taken. She was wearing a black Hannah Montana jacket with white fur lined hood over a green shirt, a denim skirt, and black and white shoes, carrying her purple and pink Bratz bag. She was walking with a young woman dressed in tight black jeans and a white puffy jacket (Blanco). The woman on the video was described as being aged 19-to-25-years old, standing at approximately five feet two inches tall and estimated to weight between 120 to 125 pounds. She had black hair held up in a ponytail (“Timeline: Victoria ‘Tori’ Stafford Murder”).

            Tori never made it home that day, and never any day after. No Amber alert was called, a choice criticized to this day. A member of the Oxford Community Police claimed an Amber alert was never called because they didn’t have what was required to call one. The video was released, showing Tori walking with the woman and not struggling. She seemed to be going with her of her own free will (“Timeline: Victoria ‘Tori’ Stafford Murder”). It would be revealed by her killer years later that Tori believed she was going to see a Shih Tzu puppy (DiManno). The search for Tori was one of the largest searches to ever occur in Ontario, including the Woodstock fire department sending out rescue boats to search for signs of her. A Facebook group, Find Victoria Stafford, was established and within just a few days, by April 11, 2009, the group was at 10,000 members. The little girl’s disappearance captured international media attention, ending up on America’s Most Wanted on April 15th . A vigil was held on April 12th in Woodstock at 8 PM; hundreds attended to show solidarity with her family. During the vigil, Tori’s mother, Tara McDonald, appealed for her daughter to contact her. The search was called off by investigators on April 13th, one constable stating the general feeling among investigators was that Tori was alive (“Timeline: Victoria ‘Tori’ Stafford Murder”).

            It was nine days after Tori was taken, on April 17th, that investigators reclassified the case as an abduction instead of a missing persons case. In a statement to the media, McDonald said she believed Tori was still alive. In the days that followed the case being reclassified, a composite sketch of the woman in the video was released as well as a video of a dark station wagon being driven on the street Tori was taken from (“Timeline: Victoria ‘Tori’ Stafford Murder”). The car was identified as a dark blue 2003 Honda Civic, with parts of it spray painted black (“‘I Believe Victoria Was Targeted’: Stafford’s Father”).

            Arrests were finally made in the case on May 20, 2009. 28-year old Michael Rafferty, and 18-year old Terri-Lynne McClintic, who had met that February at a pizza shop. Both were being charged with child abduction. Rafferty was being charged with Tori’s murder and McClintic was being charged as an accessory  (“Timeline: Victoria ‘Tori’ Stafford Murder”).  The two had come to the attention of investigators earlier, Rafferty being interviewed on May 15th. McClintic went to police on May 19th, where she confessed to what happened. She told investigators that Rafferty had raped and murdered Tori, though her assertion of who killed her has since changed (Blanco). She would later, during Rafferty’s trial in 2012, say that she was the one who killed Tori, not Rafferty (DiManno).

            On July 19th, a veteran investigator was out doing a search on his own when he came upon human remains, approximately 500 meters (1,640 feet) from Concession Number 6, east of Mount Forest, Ontario and approximately 130 km (80 miles)  from Toronto. Two days later, investigators announce that the remains were positively identified as those of Tori Stafford (“Timeline: Victoria ‘Tori’ Stafford Murder”). She was found naked from the waist down, wearing only a Hannah Montana t-shirt and her butterfly earrings. By the time she was found, her lower half had decomposed significantly. The autopsy would reveal that she had been beaten badly enough to cause damage to her ribs and liver, and the cause of death was determined to be a beating to the head with a claw hammer (Blanco). While on the stand as a witness during Rafferty’s trial, McClintic would reveal the horrific details of what happened to Tori.

            The day Tori was taken, McClintic found Rafferty waiting for her. He had told her he was planning on going to Guelph, Ontario, and wanted to know if she would come. Instead of going to Guelph, however, he parked the car in front of the Oliver Stephens Public School, and asked McClintic if she would “really do it.” At first, she wasn’t sure what he meant, which lead to him accusing her of being “all talk, no action.” She remembered months earlier, when he had asked her if she would kidnap someone for him. After becoming defensive, McClintic left the car with the intention of telling Rafferty she couldn’t find anyone. His specific instructions were to find a younger female, because younger people are easier to manipulate. McClintic found Tori, who was leaving the school grounds at approximately 3:30 PM. The two began to talk, Tori telling the young woman that she had a Shih Tzu at home. This opened the door for McClintic to lure her to the car, asking her if she wanted to see the Shih Tzu puppy she had in her car (DiManno).

            McClintic pushed Tori into the car when she leaned in to see the nonexistent puppy. Rafferty drove off to where Tori’s remains would be found 103 days later, stopping along the way for some Percocet’s and sending McClintic into a store for garbage bags and a hammer. As they drove, McClintic talked with Tori, calming the young girl and telling her nothing would happen to her and she would get to go home soon. Once they stopped, McClintic walked away from the car and looked out over the field at a silo, away from what was happening in the car. She didn’t want to see what he was doing, believing she was planning on raping the little girl. Unfortunately, that was exactly what happened. Rafferty stopped his assault long enough for McClintic to take Tori somewhere to go to the bathroom, where Tori asked her not to let him hurt her again. McClintic claims that after this, she began to beat Tori, kicking her. The attack was not motivated by anything happening to Tori, but by the rage McClintic felt about her own childhood. She believes she is the one who put the garbage bag over Tori’s head before beating her with the hammer and putting the rest of her body in the garbage bags. The two then buried her under a pile of rocks by a tree (DiManno).

            On April 30, 2010, McClintic plead guilty to first-degree murder (“Timeline: Victoria ‘Tori’ Stafford Murder”), though this would not be known to the public until the publication ban on the case was lifted in December 2010 (Blanco). McClintic apologized to Tori’s family and was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years. The Rafferty trial would wait nearly two more years before starting. It was decided that Rafferty wouldn’t be able to receive a fair trial in Woodstock, so the trial was moved to London, Ontario. The pre-trial hearings began on January 17, 2012, another publication ban automatically in effect. Rafferty was set to stay in the prisoner’s dock for security reason in February, and the judge decided to allow the jury to visit the site Tori’s remains were found to put the evidence they would see into context. The site was not being viewed as evidence. Rafferty plead not guilty to charges of kidnapping, sexual assault, and first-degree murder on February 29, 2012 (“Timeline: Victoria ‘Tori’ Stafford Murder”).

            The trial was heavily emotionally charged, including testimony from Tori’s teacher about her going back for her earrings, during which her teacher was crying, and an investigator involved in the case crying on the stand while describing the moment he found out Tori had been found dead. McClintic took the stand in mid-March 2012, where she changed her story of Rafferty raping and killing Tori to Rafferty raping Tori and her killing her. She told the court she would, “take the fall” if the evidence brought investigators to her. On the stand, she admitted that they made several stops after disposing of Tori’s remains, including a car wash where they washed and shampooed the car (“Timeline: Victoria ‘Tori’ Stafford Murder”). Despite the changes to her story about who killed Tori, her details of Tori’s rape remained the same. The place it happened, how it happened, even the detail of Rafferty washing his genitals with water from plastic bottles after has remained the same (Blanco).

            Rafferty’s defense argued that McClintic was the mastermind behind Tori’s abduction and Rafferty was the accessory. The story they told was that McClintic had a drug debt and had kidnapped Tori and offered as a sexual “gift” to Rafferty, who they said denied the “gift.” Their story didn’t work and Rafferty was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years. A final detail that was given to the jury: Rafferty had a poster of Tori hidden in a kitchen draw (“Timeline: Victoria ‘Tori’ Stafford Murder”). Evidence that never made it to trial, because it was determined not to be admissible, was the evidence found on Rafferty’s laptop. Searches relating to child pornography and rape, and videos; this shows that Rafferty had pedophilic tendencies. One of these searches was made the day before Tori was taken (Blanco).

            Tori’s father, Rodney Stafford, believed that Tori had been targeted after she went missing. It’s understandable why. Usually Tori would walk home with her 11-year old brother, Daryn, so her being alone was unusual. It appeared as if someone had been watching her. It’s possible that Tori was comfortable with McClintic because she had met her before, with her mother. McDonald had struggled with substance abuse at the time and had met McClintic on a couple occasions (“‘I Believe Victoria Was Targeted’: Stafford’s Father”). While we may never know if Tori did know McClintic, we know the horrible things that happened to her. She would have turned 20 in 2020.

DiManno, Rosie. “Tori Stafford Murder Trial: Terri-Lynne Mcclintic Describes Killing Little Girl”. Thestar.Com, 2012, https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2012/03/14/tori_stafford_murder_trial_terrilynne_mcclintic_describes_killing_little_girl.html.

“Timeline: Victoria ‘Tori’ Stafford Murder”. Global News, 2013, https://globalnews.ca/news/216561/timeline-victoria-tori-stafford-murder/.

Blanco, Juan. “Terri-Lynne Mcclintic | Murderpedia, The Encyclopedia Of Murderers”. Murderpedia.Org, https://murderpedia.org/female.M/m/mcclintic-terri-lynne.htm.

“‘I Believe Victoria Was Targeted’: Stafford’s Father”. CP24, 2009, https://www.cp24.com/i-believe-victoria-was-targeted-stafford-s-father-1.401610.

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