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The mysterious after-school disappearance of 8-year-old Judy Carter on Feb. 25, 1955 would lead to a search dubbed the “greatest ever carried out in Toronto,’’ by police of the day.
Little Judy had been missing for 10 days when a search party of 500 people — firefighters, off-duty and on duty police officers, Boy Scouts and members of the public, including the principal of Judy’s school — scoured a 38-square kilometre area of Toronto from Cherry Beach north to Leaside, and Broadview Ave. west to Yonge St.
They found no trace of the young Cabbagetown resident.
The brown-haired girl, with a missing front tooth, had gone to schoolmates’ Cecil and Teddy Lee’s Rose Ave. house after school to read comic books. The brothers told police she left about 6 p.m. and they last saw her heading east on Winchester St. toward Parliament St., presumably on her way to her Metcalfe St. home, about two blocks further.
But she never arrived.
By Monday, her mother, Joan MacLeod, had given up hope. Fighting back tears, she told a Star reporter, “I don’t think she’s alive.’’ She feared that her 80-pound, 4-foot-tall daughter had been “lured into the car of a sex fiend . . . Judy would make too much noise for anyone to keep her against her will. She must be dead.’’
The day Judy went missing, her mother was at home with her 2-month-old infant, Carol, Judy’s stepsister. At 4:30 p.m., Joan MacLeod had already begun to worry, Judy was usually home by then. When her husband William (Judy’s stepdad) arrived home from work at about 5:10 p.m., he checked with friends, neighbours and classmates to see if anyone had seen her. He also searched the neighbourhood.
At 9:30 p.m. that night, William MacLeod told police that Judy was missing.
Over the next few days, police got calls of alleged sightings. Three people claimed they saw the little girl on a King St. streetcar with a man the night she went missing. Another person said they’d seen Judy in a café with a three-fingered man at Bathurst and College Sts. that same night. Police investigated, but determined there was nothing to these reports.
“We have had reports of her in every part of the city and we have followed up every one of these,” said Chief of Detectives Archie McCathie in the Toronto Daily Star, March 3, 1955.
The following day, the MacLeods got a ray of hope. They received a note stating that Judy was being held for $ 15,000 ransom. They were instructed to put the money in a lunch pail and place it under a truck near Dufferin St. and Bloor St. W.
The couple contacted police and were advised to fill the bucket with strips of newspaper, the size of bills, and place it at the designated spot. The police would put the area under surveillance.
About a half-hour before leaving home to make the drop off, William MacLeod got a phone call. A man’s voice said he should have the bucket “ready by now.’’
MacLeod deposited the bucket as instructed. Detectives watched it for three hours, but no one approached and police were left to conclude the “ransom” was the work of a “cruel’’ prankster.
Riddled with anxiety, Judy’s mother “collapsed’’ and was admitted to the hospital for a week.
A month later, on April 9, 27 kilometres away, two boys looking for a fishing spot along the banks of the Rouge River in Unionville (now Markham) found a little girl’s body. Star police reporter Gwyn “Jocko’’ Thomas quoted the detectives’ theory that Judy had been strangled in her abductor’s car and her body “tossed over a culvert bridge’’ into the river, where it “floated a considerable distance downstream’’ before lodging on a creek bed.
“She was dead before she was thrown in the water,” Chief Coroner Smirle Lawson said after an autopsy. Judy had been strangled with her own white woollen scarf. “The scarf cut cruelly into her flesh,” Lawson said. There were no other marks on her body.
She was still wearing a “bonnet-style hat,’’ her stocking garters were fastened “and her underclothing was not torn . . . It is definitely not a case of sex attack,’’ Lawson determined.
His summation added to the mystery of who murdered Judy Carter: “It was a cold-blooded killing, but there appears to be no motive.’’
Police believed Judy was killed the same day she was abducted. She was probably taken within a few minutes of leaving her playmates’ house on Feb. 25 — “likely enticed into the car of the man” they thought might be a “demented thrill-killer.”
On hearing that her daughter’s body had been found and that strangulation was the cause of death, the “grief-torn’’ mother “uttered a cry that would pierce even the heart of a killer, a cry of grief that knew no more hope,’’ the Star reported.
Judy’s distraught mother, down 20 pounds since her daughter’s disappearance, laid the first flowers on the closed white coffin.
My “only hope now is that the police find the person who did this. I wouldn’t want anyone else to go through what Bill and I have gone through,’’ She told the Star.
Judy was buried at Mount Pleasant Cemetery.
Meanwhile, the investigation continued.
Police believed they located the murder site, half a mile downstream from where her body was found. The property manager, Joseph Easton, had been clearing trees with a work crew the day Judy went missing. The next morning, Easton went back to pick up his tools and saw a red mitt and tire tracks in the dirt. It appeared a car had driven off the concession road and turned around. He took the mitt home, but not having connected it with the missing girl, burned it. Police theorized the mitt belonged to Judy, that she was kidnapped and driven to the clearing where she was strangled. The killer then drove north to a bridge and threw her body into the creek. (Toronto Daily Star, April 13, 1955)
That same day, the Star reported that Judy’s stepdad William MacLeod had volunteered to take a lie-detector test which would be administered in Buffalo. Buffalo police invited Toronto police detectives and an Ontario police inspector to be there as witnesses.
MacLeod said he came to this decision because he was “faced with disturbing rumours’’ in connection with Judy’s death, but the article did not repeat the rumours.
Joan MacLeod also agreed to take a test.
“We were thinking of Judy every minute we were taking the lie detector tests in Buffalo yesterday. If the results will cause police to concentrate on finding the murderer, we will be satisfied,” William MacLeod told the Star.
“My conscience was perfectly clear during the test and I have no doubt the graphs will be perfectly satisfactory on these points.’’ William MacLeod said, adding he believed Judy’s murderer was someone who had no connection with the family.
The results of the lie detector tests were eventually sent to Toronto’s Chief of Detectives Archie McCathie, but they were not released to the MacLeods or to the public.
“No arrest was made on this case,” Toronto Police Service Detective Sgt. Stacy Gallant of the Cold Case Homicide division, recently told the Star. “Happening over 62 years ago, this is not an active cold case,” he said.
To this day, the murder of young Judy Carter remains a mystery.
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