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Robert Baltovich wants police to reopen the Elizabeth Bain case

By Michele Mandel, Toronto Sun
First posted: Saturday, October 01, 2016 06:38 PM EDT | Updated: Saturday, October 01, 2016 07:26 PM EDT
Robert Baltovich sits in a busy Annex cafe, unrecognized, anonymous, at last. He doesn’t need to do this. He probably shouldn’t do this.
But next month marks 26 years since he was arrested for a murder he didn’t commit. As her boyfriend, Baltovich was the immediate suspect when Elizabeth Bain vanished after heading to the Scarborough campus of the University of Toronto on the hot afternoon of June 19, 1990. Her blood-stained Toyota was discovered three days later across from a nearby autobody shop — but despite an exhaustive search, her body has never been found.
While there’s an entire generation that doesn’t know this story, the disappearance of the 22-year-old, raven-haired beauty remains one of this city’s most puzzling murder mysteries. After an appeal and an acquittal, hidden evidence, discredited hypnosis and tunnel vision by Toronto Police, the man once convicted of the crime is demanding the case be reopened and authorities finally admit he is not the one responsible.
“An outside police force should take control of this investigation,” insists the 51-year-old Baltovich in an exclusive interview. “They should give Liz the investigation she deserves.”
***
They were a fairytale couple.
Their beginning, though, was rocky. They met in a class at U of T’s Scarborough College in the fall of 1987. He was smitten; he complains the beauty “strung him along” all term until she eventually told him she was seeing someone else. He remembers being so angry and humiliated. “Yeah, for a very brief half a second, I was mad enough to kill her,” Baltovich recalls.
In retrospect, that was an honest admission the naive suspect shouldn’t have offered when Toronto homicide detectives came calling years later.
The couple began dating in 1989. By the time of her disappearance, Baltovich had just graduated with a degree in history and psychology and was working that summer at the university. She had two part-time jobs caring for the disabled and was taking summer courses toward her sociology and psych degree, He thought they would marry one day.
She was known as sweet and shy but her diaries revealed a young woman plagued with torment, self-doubt and conflicted feelings about her boyfriend. “I could never stop loving Rob,” she wrote a month before her disappearance. “I don’t know why sometimes I think I should leave Rob but I really, truly love him.”
Her last entry, written three days before she went missing, was far different: “Every morning I rise I try to find a reason not to put a bullet in my head. My temper is swarming, I’m going to murder somebody.
“I have to break free and be alone. I want death to come and end this ... pathetic life that is getting worse by the day ... Last night I wanted to put a bullet in Rob’s head, he’s such a pest.”
***
Who was she going to meet that afternoon?
Bain told her mom she was driving over to the Scarborough College tennis courts in the valley to check the schedule. But there was no posted schedule there; if the courts were busy, you just put your name on the list.
Julita Bain would never see her daughter again.
Tennis instructor Marianne Perz would be the prosecution’s star witness. She saw Bain at a picnic table near the courts between 5:40 and 5:45 p.m., sitting between a man and a group of women. Following hypnosis, and after seeing the July 1 Sunday Sun story featuring a photo of Baltovich as a suspect, Perz picked him out of a police photo line-up. He “looked like” the man she’d seen with Bain, but she wasn’t sure.
Baltovich insisted he was home with his family at the time and denied seeing his girlfriend at all that day.
But he did go looking for her. Bain had recently been moody and secretive and Baltovich suspected she was seeing someone else. Driving to the campus gym at about 7 p.m., he saw her car near the tennis courts but couldn’t find her. He continued on to the weight room where he worked out until shortly before 9 p.m.
A witness confirmed he was there during that time. Another, Kaedmon Nancoo, claimed he was actually there between 5:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., contradicting Baltovich’s alibi that he was home with his family.
***
Ruth Collins was heading home from her health food store to catch “In the Heat of the Night,” her favourite TV show airing at 9 p.m. She was walking north on Morrish Rd. just after 8 p.m. when she noticed a small grey Toyota parked in the driveway of the Three R Auto with a “very beautiful girl” in the passenger seat trying several times to get out. She looked just like Elizabeth Bain, at least an hour after the police would theorize that she had already been murdered by Baltovich.
***
After the gym, Baltovich waited for Bain outside her lecture hall. When he spotted another man hanging around, “my suspicion was that she had indeed gone to the (Scarborough) Valley to meet someone,” he told police. Now he was labelled “the jealous lover.”
Baltovich admits going to the balcony to spy on whether his girlfriend was meeting another man. Bain never exited the class; the man was there for someone else.
Later, police would accuse Baltovich of lying and insist he had no alibi for that time. Only years later did he discover that they knew that wasn’t true: the waiting stranger had told investigators he’d spotted Baltovich on the balcony that night.
Leaving campus, he drove by the valley and saw Bain’s car was now gone. He headed to her home on Scarboro Ave. She wasn’t there either. He then returned to the rec centre.
At 6:30 a.m. the following morning, her worried mom called Baltovich and asked if her daughter was with him. Bain had never come home.
***
At 2:30 p.m. on Friday June 22, following more than two days of desperate appeals and searches, her Toyota was found by her brother Paul across from Three R Auto on Morrish Rd. There was fresh blood in the footwell of the back seat. Bain’s blood.
Only 30 minutes later — and more than 48 hours before he’d even meet him — Homicide Det. Sgt. Steve Reesor asked for surveillance on her boyfriend, saying: “It is believed Elizabeth Bain was murdered by the suspect: Robert James Baltovich.”
“Reesor had already tried and convicted me,” Baltovich says.
To this day, he wonders why Reesor and partner Det. Sgt. Brian Raybold hated him from the start. “It was as if they decided, ‘We’re going to show this hotshot university kid he’s not as smart as he thinks he is.’”
Their theory was that Baltovich murdered Bain in a fit of jealous rage between the hours of 5:40 p.m. and 7:00 p.m., hid her body in busy Colonel Danforth Park on a bright June evening and moved her car to Morrish Rd.
Three days later, their theory continued, Baltovich used Bain’s car to move her remains from the woods to the Lake Scugog area. He then returned her car to the exact same Morrish Rd. spot where it had been seen by witnesses since the morning she was reported missing
The police “love boyfriends as suspects,” Baltovich says. and they will twist and bend the facts to make them fit their theory. The testimony of David Dibben, another key Crown witness, would be a searing example.
John Elliott said he was “80% sure” he saw Bain’s car Wednesday morning June 20 in the parking lot of his Lake Scugog-area restaurant. If correct that clears Baltovich, as the appeal court would later note, “it is a virtual certainty that (Baltovich) was home in bed at the time.”
But there was another sighting that better suited their case against the boyfriend.
Dibben reported seeing a blond man with a moustache and receding hair line driving a car matching Bain’s near Port Perry at about 6 a.m. Friday, June 22. “Based on accepted information already received that her car was opposite 3 R Auto on 90/06/20, this sighting would be impossible,” police concluded.
But now with Baltovich’s whereabouts accounted for on the Wednesday morning, a Friday morning drive to Lake Scugog would work. In November, they went to interview Dibben, who conveniently had changed his description of the driver to a dark-haired man who resembled their No. 1 suspect.
A few days later, Baltovich was under arrest for murder.
***
Without a body or any forensic evidence linking him to the car, the case against him was entirely circumstantial. It didn’t help that his defence team had never argued a murder case before or that they alienated the jury by not even conceding Bain was dead. To their credit, though, they did offer a viable alternative suspect that the police had simply ignored — witnesses had seen Bain with an unidentified blond man before she disappeared and that man could have been the Scarborough Rapist terrorizing the area at the time.
Shockingly, Toronto Police had never even considered the possibility. Paul Bernardo was known to police at the time and on the very day after Baltovich’s arrest, he was asked to give a DNA sample in their hunt for the Scarborough Rapist.
Crown attorney John McMahon, now a Superior Court judge, dismissed the defence’s choice of alternative suspect. After all, the Scarborough Rapist had never killed his victims. We would only later learn the error in that belief when Bernardo was arrested in February, 1993.
The jury was told Baltovich killed Bain when she tried to break up with him and then coldly proceeded to lie and concoct false alibis. As just one example, they were told he stole pages of her diary and destroyed a “Dear John” letter that showed he had a motive.
In fact, he had volunteered to police that Bain had recently given him a page from her diary written before they’d started dating where she professed her love for him. He also gave the entry to her father. “By the trial,” Baltovich says, “Mr. Bain denies ever receiving it and my friend who never even saw it or spoke to me about it testified that it was a ‘Dear John’ letter indicating Liz wanted to break up with me.”
Years later, it was located in the prosecutors’ own files. “When it was found in 2004 it turns out it was exactly what I described it to be and showed that I had told the truth about giving it to Mr. Bain.”
The woman who saw Bain struggling with a man in her car on Morrish Rd. after 8 p.m. was painted as unreliable by prosecutors because her recollection was inconvenient — Baltovich had an alibi for that time.
Also working against him was his decision not to take the stand. “I was so naively optimistic,” he says, shaking his head. “I thought I would be acquitted and get on with my life.”
Instead, after a charge to the jury by Justice John O’Driscoll that was later found by the appeal court to have “unduly promoted the case for the Crown and effectively ignored and denigrated the case for the defence,” Baltovich was sent to a new trial where he was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. He would spend another eight years behind bars before he was released on bail in 2000 pending his long-delayed appeal.
While in prison, his mother was diagnosed with lung cancer and died unexpectedly after surgery in 1997. “It was the worst day of my life by far,” Baltovich would later recall. “You’re in prison and that’s when you realize so much has been taken away from you.”
***
Just tell us where her body is and you’ll only have to serve another day in prison.
That was the offer made to Baltovich on the eve of his scheduled 2008 retrial that had been ordered by the Court of Appeal four years earlier. But he couldn’t tell them what he didn’t know. He didn’t kill the woman he loved.
Following years of dogged effort by his new lawyers James Lockyer and Joanne McLean of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (now Innocence Canada) as well as Brian Greenspan, the prosecution’s case against him had collapsed; evidence from key witnesses that had been enhanced by hypnosis was no longer admissible following a 2007 Supreme Court decision. Other witnesses had been completely discredited: Kaedmon Nancoo, the man who claimed to have seen Bain’s boyfriend at the gym between 5:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. - and not between 7 and 9 p.m. as Baltovich said - suddenly told the Crown 18 years later that he now remembered Baltovich had threatened to kill Bain if she left him.
“It is likely that Mr. Nancoo’s new ‘recollection’ is false,” ruled Justice David McCombs in excluding him as a witness from Baltovich’s second trial.
With their case now in tatters, assistant Crown attorney Philip Kotanen shocked the courtroom by announcing at the start of the retrial there was “no longer any reasonable prospect” of conviction and they would be calling no evidence. He advised the jury to return a verdict of not guilty.
For the first time in almost two decades, Baltovich was a free man.
He could have walked away and put it all behind him. And he almost did. But the more he has learned about the myopic investigation and suppressed evidence, the more he needs to know: Who really killed Elizabeth Bain?
*****
In Monday’s Sun Part 2 - A call to reopen the case and a father convinced they had the right man.
Robert Baltovich during an interview in Toronto on Thursday September 22, 2016. Baltovich spent 9 years in jail before being acquitted of the murder of Elizabeth Bain in 1992. Ernest Doroszuk/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network

Robert Baltovich wants police to reopen the Elizabeth Bain case | Mandel | Toron