Although Raymond Cormier’s recent second-degree murder trial didn’t include details of the Mr. Big operation against the 56-year-old homeless drug addict, over the course of three weeks, and with testimony from 46 witnesses, Crown prosecutors catalogued extensive police efforts to investigate Tina Fontaine’s slaying.
The 15-year-old’s body — which was pulled from the Red River on Aug. 17, 2014, wrapped in a duvet cover, weighed down with more than 11 kilograms of rock — was the only crime scene investigators had, and any potential DNA evidence was washed away.
Tina had been reported missing eight days earlier, and was officially last seen Aug. 8, 2014.
Twelve homicide investigators, working in teams of two, were assigned to investigate. They reported to Winnipeg Police Service Sgt. John O’Donovan, who declined an interview following Cormier’s acquittal on Feb. 22.
The investigation ran for more than a year, requiring “outside-the-box” thinking to find out where the duvet cover may have come from. Police conducted a city-wide canvass to track down the owners of about 100 Costco brand duvet covers in the Chloe green pattern that matched the one found with Tina.
Investigators showed photos of the duvet to those who knew Cormier, in an effort to find out whether it belonged to him.
Sgt. Jeff Stalker testified it was a unique part of the investigation, unlike anything he’d done. He personally conducted from 40 to 60 interviews during the homicide case.
“That’s way above the normal for anything I’ve ever been involved in,” he said. “We left no stone unturned.”
Testimony in court revealed police devoted extra resources to the case. While the RCMP lab typically accepts a limited number of samples to test for DNA in any given case, forensic identification officers sent dozens and dozens of samples, and cited the high-profile nature of the investigation to convince the lab to test them all.
“There was pressure to solve this anyway, because it was a young girl pulled from the river. We wanted to solve it,” WPS identification officer Susan Roy-Haegeman testified.
An early lead came when North End resident Robert Sango heard news of Tina’s death, and called police three days after her body was discovered.
He said he had a conversation with Tina, after she slammed down a payphone on Main Street the night of Aug. 6, 2014. She was distraught and told Sango an older man had “put the moves on her.”
Police traced the calls made from that payphone and found the 911 call Tina placed after 10 p.m. that night. She reported her friend “Sebastian” had stolen a blue pickup truck earlier that day. Court would hear she had threatened to call police after getting in an argument with Cormier earlier that night. It was an argument, the Crown claimed, played into his motive for murder.
Investigators also interviewed Tina’s boyfriend, 18-year-old Cody Mason, who’d been home in St. Theresa Point when she disappeared. He told police about an older man named “Frenchie,” who had given him and Tina drugs out of a tent in the backyard of a home in Winnipeg.
Police found a tent in the backyard at 686 Alexander Ave. and seized it, with permission from homeowner Ida Beardy, who later testified for the Crown. Beardy told investigators the man who stayed in the tent would collect and sell scrap metal.
After a visit to local scrap yards that had names and photos on file, police learned the name Ray Cormier.
They arrested him on Oct. 1, 2014, at a house on Carmen Avenue. It was an unplanned encounter because investigators were intending to interview a woman who lived at the house — Cormier’s friend, Sarah Holland — and didn’t know he would be there.
They’d received information a day earlier from an inmate, Ernie DeWolfe, who knew Cormier from prison and later lived with him in a halfway house. DeWolfe told police about a conversation in which he said Cormier told him he “slept with” Tina.
DeWolfe didn’t know the girl’s name, but said he’d met her once and she looked much younger than she was.
Cormier ran from Sgt. Wade McDonald after the officer told him he was under arrest for homicide.
McDonald grabbed him by the ankle as Cormier tried to hop a fence. Cormier was questioned in a lengthy videotaped interview, in which he admitted his sexual attraction to Tina, but denied killing her. He was not charged in connection with her death, but was jailed on unrelated charges of theft and breach of a court order.
While Cormier was in jail, police planned an undercover investigation, ultimately collecting more than 10,000 intercepted recordings of his conversations — of which, a select few were played in court.
After Cormier’s release from jail in June 2015, the undercover Project Styx began, ending in his arrest six months later, without a confession.