A police missing persons probe into the disappearance of a free-spirited young Winnipeg man tragically became a homicide case after his family's recent public plea for tips about what happened to him, Winnipeg police revealed Tuesday.
A second-degree murder charge was laid Monday against a 21-year-old man in connection to the July 21, 2012 death of Robert (Bobby) Thomson, also 21.
Monday's arrest of Tanner Prevost comes after a high-profile November press conference where Thomson's father, Robert Thomson Sr., issued an emotional plea for new information and leads in what was considered a long-term missing persons case.
Police also released a composite sketch of a person investigators believed had been with the victim in Osborne Village just prior to his disappearance.
That effort led to police uncovering new details about the case and the arrest of Prevost for Thomson's killing, said police.
"Things evolve. They're very fluid," Const. Jason Michalyshen said of the investigation. "They had just met — recently met in the area."
Investigators allege Prevost and Thomson bought beer at the River Avenue liquor mart and went together with a female to drink on the riverbank by the Osborne Street Bridge.
At some point in the evening the two men got in a physical fight. Thomson was badly injured and put into the Assiniboine River, police said.
His remains have not been recovered, a factor that presents a challenge to investigators, said Michalyshen.
He confirmed the woman who was with the two men that night was ultimately identified and is now a witness in their case.
Michalyshen wouldn't say when exactly the homicide unit became involved in the investigation, but said it's not uncommon for the unit and missing persons investigators to share information.
Prevost was arrested while in custody on unrelated charges. He's been locked up since October after being denied bail by Judge Robert Heinrichs.
Around the time of Thomson's killing, Prevost was wanted on two arrest warrants and had skipped out on a John Howard Society residential bail program, prosecutors alleged at the bail hearing.
He was ultimately arrested in September 2012, bailed out again to a "last ditch" residential treatment program. He's suspected of absconding from that and going on the lam for more than a year until last fall when police learned he could be found at a Lansdowne Avenue home and moved in to arrest him.
He has no prior adult record but is pending on a slew of charges, including from a violent domestic dispute dating back to April 2012.
Michalyshen declined to discuss Prevost's criminal background. But he did acknowledge he was arrested at a provincial jail, interviewed by homicide detectives and returned to custody.
Prior to Tuesday's news briefing, Michalyshen said he had spoken briefly with Thomson's father. He described the family as "wonderful people" who are still in mourning over the loss of their loved one, described as a friendly and free-spirited person.
The arrest brings some measure of closure to them, said Michalyshen. "I get the sense that maybe there was a bit of relief," he said.