In the wake of the sudden announcement that Christine Jessop’s 1984 murder has been solved, a Canadian organization that advocates for the wrongly convicted is calling for further review of police handling of the case — and how presumed killer Calvin Hoover evaded scrutiny for over three decades.
Innocence Canada on Monday called for an independent, “carefully targeted” review into how the Durham Regional Police Service and then, years later, the Toronto police “failed to long ago detect and investigate” the now-deceased Hoover as a viable suspect in the nine-year-old’s slaying, a killing that led to the high-profile wrongful conviction of Guy Paul Morin.
Hoover, who died by suicide in 2015, was a family acquaintance of the Jessops, his now ex-wife once a good friend of Jessop’s mother, Janet. Earlier this month, Toronto police announced Hoover as Jessop’s presumed killer after linking his DNA to a semen stain left on Jessop’s underwear using the new investigative technique of genetic genealogy.
Toronto police confirmed Hoover was never before considered a suspect, but he was in the investigative file as someone who had access to Jessop.
After releasing Hoover’s photograph and receiving dozens of tips from the public, police have launched a tip line about Hoover’s actions around the time of Jessop’s death up until his 2015 suicide. Police are examining the possibility he may be linked to other unsolved crimes.
As someone within the Jessop family’s social circle, Calvin Hoover should have been “identified early on as someone else deserving of close police scrutiny,” Innocence Canada said in a statement Monday.
“The failure to home in on him and closely examine his alibi for the day of Christine’s abduction… has led to decades of indescribable agony for Mr. Morin and his family, and for the Jessop family.”
Jessop disappeared from the Queensville, Ont., family home on Oct. 3, 1984, her body found three months later in a field in Durham region. Morin, who was the Jessop family neighbour, quickly became a suspect and was charged and convicted of murder by Durham police investigators before being exonerated by DNA evidence in 1995.
That same year, Toronto police took over the investigation, launching a task force to re-investigate the killing that saw detectives interview 300 people and obtain DNA samples from scores of men to compare against a semen stain left on Jessop’s underwear. The task force disbanded in 1998.
Morin’s wrongful conviction launched a public inquiry that resulted in a scathing 1998 report by commissioner and former Quebec Court of Appeal Justice Fred Kaufman, which concluded Morin was failed in part by police and prosecutor tunnel vision, which saw officials fixated on Morin at the expense of probing other suspects.
Now that police have identified Hoover, “invaluable lessons can and must be extracted from this 36-year debacle to provide guidance to future investigations,” Innocence Canada’s statement said, stressing the importance of “rigorously adhering to elementary, methodical investigative steps.”
A spokesperson for Durham police said last week that he was not aware of plans to review officers’ handling of the case in light of Hoover’s identification as the likely killer, saying the “people who were involved with the original investigation are either deceased or retired.”
Asked at a press conference whether Hoover could have been caught earlier, interim Toronto police chief James Ramer confirmed Hoover was “not a suspect at the time.”
“But anything else would be pure speculation on my part and I’m not prepared to comment on it,” Ramer said.
Kirk Makin, co-president of Innocence Canada and a former Globe and Mail reporter who wrote “Redrum the Innocent,” a book on the Jessop case, stressed that a further review of how police failed to identify Hoover earlier “would in no way duplicate” the Kaufman review, but could be done through a cost-efficient review.
Innocence Canada said such a review has recently been launched in Nova Scotia, into the wrongful conviction of Glen Assoun, a Halifax man who spent nearly 17 years in jail for a 1995 murder before the conviction was overturned last year. Earlier this month, Nova Scotia’s police watchdog announced it has asked British Columbia’s Independent Investigative Office to review the actions of a joint RCMP-Halifax police unit in connection to the case.
Joanne McLean, one of Morin’s lawyers and a member of Innocence Canada, said the organization regularly gives police training on how to avoid wrongful convictions. It’s worthwhile to understand why Hoover was not on the radar earlier, she said.
“It was stunning to learn, 36 years after Christine Jessop was murdered, and 25 years after Guy Paul Morin’s exoneration based on DNA testing, that multiple police investigators on multiple police forces failed to follow up on the Jessop family friend whose existence was known to investigators,” McLean said.
Kenney Jessop, Christine’s brother, said in an interview earlier this month that Hoover may have been among a select few who knew Jessop would be alone at the family’s home on the day Christine disappeared.
With Star files