BARRIE – Police are crediting social media for helping them crack a 1991 cold case double murder after a short video broadcast across the world led to crucial tips.
After hitting a brick wall in the case of two men who mysteriously disappeared almost 27 years ago, a suspect is now in custody.
Michael Guido Gerald Claes, 49, of Elmvale, is charged with the first-degree murders of Grant Ayerst, 21, of Barrie, and Norman Whalley, 36, of B.C.
The two men were last seen leaving a Toronto hotel on Sept. 11, 1991. They were never heard from again and their remains have never been found.
From early on, police had their eyes on Claes.
“Mr. Claes was known to investigators and has been a suspect for several years,” OPP Det. Ken Leppert said Wednesday.
However, whatever police knew about him – and they aren’t saying – was not enough to slap a murder charge on him. They worked around the clock. They set up a hotline. They offered a reward. Nothing.
“Maybe people were afraid to come forward, others may have relocated,” said Leppert.
Some crucial tips finally came after police made a series of short videos in the case as well as other cold cases that went public on social media in May 2017.
Police say 720,000 people were reached in Canada, the U.S. and around the world.
“Our collaborative approach has produced a result that offers an opportunity for these grieving families to try to move forward after living with their tragic losses for so long,” Barrie Police Chief Kim Greenwood said.
Families of the victims have asked for privacy.
“Early on in this tragedy we chose not to let the events surrounding Grant’s disappearance destroy our lives. Instead we chose to keep the good memories alive,” the Ayerst family said in a statement. “We always anticipated the day we would have some resolution to this tragedy which disrupted our lives over 26 years ago.”
“Patience, karma and hope have paid off,” the family adds.
The disappearances of Ayerst and Whalley were among four cold cases profiled by the provincial and Barrie police forces last year as part of a project called the Simcoe County Case Files.
The project involved the use of a cube van that was wrapped with case information directing viewers to a Facebook page and strategically parked in various locations throughout the Greater Simcoe County area.
Other cases highlighted by the project include 17-year-old Cindy Halliday of Waverly, who was last seen hitchhiking near Midhurst in 1992. Her remains were discovered months later and questions still swirl around what happened to her.
Also, April Dobson, 40, was sitting on a friend’s porch in 2005 when she was shot to death, and the body of 30-year-old Jaimee Lee Miller was found in a wooded area in March 2016, five months after she was last seen.
All of the cases included in the project are believed to be homicides.
— With files from the Canadian press