Mastermind Melissa Manipulated Murder

It started as a joke. Melissa Todorovic and David Bagshaw fantasized about how they wanted to hurt and humiliate David’s ex-girlfriend. They talked about it for months and months, until the fantasy became a plan, and Melissa gave David an ultimatum: no more sex until Stefanie was dead. That was how, at 17, Melissa Todovoric  received the harshest possible sentence for a first degree murder conviction in Canada.  The psychologically disturbed Todovoric believed that 14-year-old Stefanie Rengel, was romantically interested in her boyfriend, David Bagshaw, 17.  Todorovic viewed Stefanie, who had been in a brief and non-sexual relationship with D.B. when she was 12, as her rival.  Stefanie had clear, smooth skin, a high brow and expressive brown eyes. One day she would turn up at school in a tutu and sneakers, (Lara Flynn Boyle could take lessons), the next day in a pair of heart-patterned boxers over tights—all clothes she picked up at second-hand shops in Kensington Market in Toronto. She dyed her hair red, blonde, brown, blue, black, wore eyeliner and brightly coloured beaded bracelets. After David left a message at her home number expressing his desire for a more intense relationship that included oral sex, her mother told Stefanie to stay away from him.

Bagshaw and Todorovic went to East York Collegiate and started seeing each other in March 2007. Todovoric lived in Scarborough with her parents, Zoran and Rachel Todorovic, and her younger brother, Nicholas. Todovoric was a conformist. She wore glasses and braces and was filled with anxiety about her awkward appearance—in particular, her weight. She disliked her breasts (too small), her hands (too chubby) and her toes (too long) and wanted plastic surgery to fix her nose (too bumpy). Every morning, she would spend a half-hour in the bathroom, carefully straightening her wavy hair. On rainy days, she’d take a straightening iron to school. She suffered from occasional bouts of bulimia and was convinced she needed a boyfriend to validate herself. Little wonder the insecure Todovoric became obsessed with Stefanie Rengel. Todovoric’s mother pleaded with her to break off her relationship with Bradshaw, but Todovoric’s patent answer was, “Who’s going to look at somebody with braces and glasses when there’s so many pretty girls in high school?” One can only wonder how her mother responded.

David was Todovoric’s fourth boyfriend. With each relationship she became more dysfunctional, once cutting herself over a breakup. She monitored the e-mail of the boyfriend she had before David and, when they parted, threatened to hurt his new girlfriend. Todovoric called her a slut and a skank and denigrated her former boyfriend’s sexual behaviour, smell, clothing and physical appearance, including his pubic hair. She threatened to send David to give them both a beating. David himself was no prize. He was not an ideal boyfriend. He was unfaithful to Todorovic, and on occasion hit her. Her mother pleaded with Todovoric to break it off.  Bradshaw was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of three, and he had behavioural problems and aggressive outbursts in school. By junior high, he was frequently absent from class and suspended numerous times for swearing and fighting. At 14, he was charged with assaulting his mother, though the charge was withdrawn when he agreed to attend anger management classes. What a mistake. Jail or community time, along with anger management classes might have proven a deterrent in the Stefanie Rengel murder. Todovoric’s parents urged her to call off the relationship, but she didn’t listen.  He lived in a group home for three months.

Almost from the start, the Bagshaw – Todovoric relationship was stormy, marked by jealousy and possessiveness. David’s father found Todovoric controlling and didn’t allow her in his home. Ouch. He didn’t like that she left contemptuous notes for David’s mother, saying she wasn’t a good parent. The nerve. He was also disturbed that Todovoric had installed a spyware program on Bagshaw’s computer so she could monitor his use. Both Todovoric and Bagshaw were dysfunctional, unhealthy teens. It was almost inevitable they would find solace in each other. Although Todovoric had never met Stefanie, she knew that Stefanie had once gone out with David. After David remarked he thought Stefanie was pretty, Todovoric began to obsessively examine her pictures on Facebook. Stefanie told Todovoric’s cousin that David was bad news, and that he’d been flirting with her and other girls behind Todovoric’s back. When this information got back to Todovoric, she was furious.

Todovoric pleaded with and demanded, that Bagshaw kill Stefanie, and after several months and many texts between them, finally persuaded Bagshaw to murder Stefanie. In one chilling instant-message exchange in October 2007, Todovoric implied she wanted Rengel dead. Bradshaw wrote:
“What about Stef,” according to transcripts filed with the court.
Bang, bang,” she replied.
He then wrote: “I need a bang bang first … I wanna bang you.”
She wrote: “I want her dead … lol we’ve been through this … If it takes more than a week then we’re just going to be friends.”
On New Years’ Day, 2008, at 6:08 p.m.,  Stefanie Rengel ‘s cellphone rang at 6:08 p.m. Stefanie thought the voice at the other end of the line belonged to her ex-boyfriend Steve Lopez, with whom she had broken up two months earlier. “Is that you?” she asked. He sounded upset, shouting “Meet me. Meet me.” The caller wasn’t Lopez. It was Bagshaw, a five-foot-11, 240-pound football player four days shy of his 18th birthday. He was hiding in the bushes on the median that divides the street.

Stefanie never stood a chance. David was carrying an eight-inch kitchen knife and stabbed her repeatedly, tearing through the black sweater her mother had given her for Christmas. Bradshaw stabbed Stefanie six times in the abdomen, leaving her for dead in a snowbank. One stab punctured her left breast, entered her chest cavity and hit the inside of her back. Another perforated her right lung and sliced open her liver. A third penetrated her ribs and stomach, causing her stomach contents to drain into her peritoneal cavity. A fourth slashed her left upper arm. Bagshaw stabbed her six times in total, then ran away. Stefanie spilled blood as she staggered across the street, back toward her home, and collapsed on the sidewalk in a snowbank. Todorovic celebrated by rewarding Bagshaw with the sex he’d been promised. Later that night, one of Todovoric’s friends sent her a message on Facebook to tell her that she’d heard that Stefanie had been killed. She asked if Todovoric was worried she’d be a suspect. “Who knows I wanted her dead?” Todovoric replied. “Cuz I only told u and David so unless u told someone, only you should. But I never did anything and neither did David. We fucked tonight, LOL.”

She was still alive when Gavin Shoebottom drove past moments later. He jumped out of his car and held Stefanie as she moaned in pain. “Hold your stomach,” he told her as he dialled 911. The dispatcher instructed Shoebottom to apply pressure to the wound, and he used a bedsheet from his car. “It hurts,” Stefanie said. Shoebottom asked if she knew who stabbed her. Even though she was in incredible pain, and her organs were beginning to shut down, she mumbled the name of her attacker: “Bags…. Went that way,” she said, and pointed up the street. Shoebottom became frantic while he waited for the ambulance. He tried to comfort her, but she began to lose consciousness. “Come on, sweetie, you’re OK,” he said. The paramedics finally arrived and whisked Stefanie to Toronto East General, where she was pronounced dead—the city’s first homicide victim of 2008.

The police re-interviewed Todovoric later that morning on a charge of first-degree murder. With her mother at her side, Todovoric declined her right to speak to a lawyer. She admitted that killing Stefanie was more her idea than David’s. She said she was angry at Stefanie, even obsessed with her, because she believed she had spread rumours that she was giving oral sex to boys. This was the only time during the interview that Todovoric broke down and cried. “I said, ‘I want her dead,’ and I told him I might break up with him because things weren’t so good anyways,” she told police. She expressed no remorse for the crime. “It was chilling,” a detective said, adding that he had never seen a 15-year-old exhibit less emotion. “Her mother was just as surprised as we were. I could see it in her face. She was shocked.”

During her three-week trial in the University Avenue courthouse, Todorovic sat ramrod straight in the accused’s box, a black elastic holding back her straight hair, an entirely blank look on her face, a grey cardigan mirroring her flat demeanour. Todorovic was tried as an adult and was sentenced to life in prison for first degree murder, on July 28, 2009. Todovoric broke into tears as the verdict was read. The court was packed with onlookers — so many people that some had to stand. Kind of reminds one of the Roman Gladiators, doesn’t it? On the final day of her sentencing hearing, she read a prepared statement to the court. She looked straight ahead, avoiding the eyes of Patricia, Adolfo, Ian and Stefanie’s other family members, who attended the entire trial. “Every day I wish that I could go back in time and change everything I said and have Stefanie be alive with her family again,” she said. “I want you to know I take full responsibility for my part.”  After the sentence was passed, one person in the courtroom clapped, just once. Todorovic’s mother, brother and grandmother started to sob while members of Rengel’s family silently cried. As the 17-year-old was led from the courtroom in handcuffs, her eyes were filled with tears. Under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, transfer to an adult facility is mandatory when a young offender turns 20. 

Unlike Todovoric, Bagshaw cried frequently throughout his court proceedings, often hunched in his seat, with his head cradled in both hands. Looking directly at Stefanie’s family, he apologized in court, saying he could not forgive himself for the “disgusting” crime of killing “an innocent girl who deserved to live.”Bradshaw was also tried as an adult and sentenced to life in prison. Judge Nordheimer accepted his remorse and empathy as sincere, and his role as the “more reluctant of the two partners in this evil endeavour.” However, on September 28, he sentenced David Bagshaw as an adult, giving him life in prison with no chance of parole for 10 years. Three years passed. Todorovic wanted to stay at the Roy McMurtry Youth Centre in Brampton, Ont., where she is the oldest female inmate, while she appeals her conviction and sentence. Defence lawyer Brian Snell argued that staying put would allow her to get started on a biology course through an Alberta-based distance-learning university. Perhaps she would learn precisely which of Stefanie’s organs she lacerated. Snell maintained she would not be able to participate in a university program if she moved to the overcrowded Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ont.  Todorovic wanted to stay at the Roy McMurtry Youth Centre in Brampton, Ont., where she is the oldest female inmate, while she appeals her conviction and sentence.

However, Judge Nordheimer referred to Todovoric as the mastermind, “the puppet master.” in the murder of Stefanie Rengel. In his decision regarding Todovoric’s request to remain in juvenile custody, reached in less than two hours, Ontario Superior Court Justice Ian Nordheimer rejected defence claims that Todorovic had reformed. “How long can this go on?” Nordheimer asked at one point. “Are you just postponing the inevitable?”  He insisted that incarceration in an adult facility would be in Todovoric’s  best interest because it  offered her more age-appropriate programming and would prove safer for the young inmates she had around her. True that.

Crown lawyer Robin Flumerfelt told the judge that Todorovic has shown no insight into her offence, has not been diagnosed, and has refused treatment. He described Todorovic’s good behaviour as “superficial trappings.” Stating she was a unique offender with “lethal” issues that are hard to pin down,” he called her manipulative, remorseless, having a “striking” lack of empathy and a “frightening” character flaw. Well said. Dressed in a lilac hoodie, her long brown hair in a ponytail, Todorovic remained impassive throughout the proceedings, but flushed and came close to tears after the decision came down, and she was led handcuffed from court. Imagine not even wincing while being described as manipulative and frightening? 

She will be eligible for parole after serving seven years.

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