The city of Toronto was put into a state of uproar in late May of 1980 when 6-year-old Lizzie Tomlinson was abducted in the middle of the afternoon while playing within a busy park. A plethora of witnesses all gave the police a rather detailed description of the man who was seen walking off with her. He was between 25 and 35 years old, five foot-seven,and somewhere within 160 and 180 pounds. The man had well-tanned skin, sported long brown hair, a brown beard and was wearing a tan tank top with blue jeans and brown shoes.
The police learned while canvassing the neighborhood that numerous other children had spoken to their parents about being approached by a similar looking man who offered them ice cream if they would come with him. These incidents had occurred in the weeks leading up to Tomlinson’s abduction. Some of the children also stated that the man was playing on the swings with Lizzie and her sister prior to Tomlinson’s kidnapping.
Other locals in the proximity witnessed Lizzie walking hand-in-hand with her abductor down a nearby road. A taxi driver came forward and claimed he picked up a bearded man and a little girl and drove them a short distance, but his story contradicts what a number of others saw, so it is believed that his information was faulty. Oddly, according to one newspaper source I read, it appears the police used the cab driver’s description as the basis for the suspect rendition used on the “wanted” posters that were circulated.
Within only a few days any hope of finding Tomlinson alive was ended when her body was discovered in a dilapidated industrial zone, tucked under some bushes. She was covered by two long wooden beams. The area was a little over half a mile from the park where Lizzie vanished from.
The criminal pathologist who examined her body noted that bruises, cuts and scratches appeared in various spots; she also suffered a broken jaw, and a deep bruise on her neck from a fist being driven into it. The most horrifying injury was from a stiff stalk from a weed, which had been jammed into her vagina and shoved upward through her stomach and all the way to her right shoulder. The evidence suggested this did not kill her instantly, and she likely suffered for an hour or more.
The brutal manner of the slaying, combined with the innocence of the victim, lead to a media storm in the area, with a renewed movement for capital punishment to be reinstated for crimes such as this. The investigators interviewed a great number of bearded men from within the vicinity but none of them panned out as the suspect.
A few weeks after the murder, Tomlinson’s cousin, 26-year-old Gregory Guerin was charged and arrested for the crime. Guerin was mentally handicapped and frequently played with Lizzie and her friends at the park. Guerin had served as a pallbearer at her funeral and he and Tomlinson’s family seriously doubted his guilt. Lizzie’s mother even told others that Guerin was with her preparing a BBQ for most of the day before Tomlinson vanished.
The investigators had some circumstantial evidence of Guerin’s guilt. This included two cigarettes found at the crime scene that matched the brand Guerin smoked. It was a common and cheap brand though, hardly providing concrete proof. Lizzie’s blood was also found on the shirt Guerin had on that day, but Tomlinson played with Guerin frequently, and it was not out of the question that the blood was from an earlier minor scratch or cut that every child suffers from that was then transferred during some roughhousing. Guerin also only sported a mustache and not the beard that so many eyewitnesses had reported.
Guerin freaked out when the police came to arrest him and took some form of poison or drug before he could be subdued. He was taken to the hospital to have his stomach pumped before being placed in custody. Guerin was held in jail until December, when a judge threw the case out due to lack of evidence. Guerin’s family applauded en masse. Guerin is still alive, and has told family and friends he is willing to offer a DNA sample to clear himself once and for all if it will help solve his cousin’s murder.
After that fell through, the police theorized that the perpetrator might be the same person who raped a waitress the year before Tomlinson’s murder. That crime took place only three blocks from where Lizzie was taken and the suspect’s profile in that case nearly matched the description of the person of interest in the Tomlinson murder.
In 2010, a woman named Kathy Norris came forward and told authorities that her father Dave Norris fit the suspect description. He had sexually molested Kathy, he lived in the area, he had killed another child in the 1970’s that he was never arrested for and he had tried to kill her as well. Ultimately, Kathy’s brother and mother both went permanently missing at different points and she is certain her father is to blame. She is actively trying to have the Toronto authorities locate DNA from Tomlinson’s murder to compare to her DNA line. Norris’ father has passed away, but if he turned out to be the culprit, at least it would bring closure to the case.
The Tomlinson family received over $7,000 in donations in the wake of the murder, and they donated all of it to local charities.
I have covered dozen of other true crime cases, which can be located here.
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