Cold case detectives routinely use modern technology to solve old crimes. But Det. Sgt. Brian Borg of the Toronto Police is taking that notion one step further by using Twitter to ask the public for help on his cold case files. “Social media is a way for police – it’s a way for me – to make that direct connection to people, without using traditional media,” Borg stated.Hhe is working on 553 unsolved criminal cases that stretch all the way back to 1921. Seriously. 1921. How many clues and tips can anyone dig up that far back? Meh. Never hurts to try.
Toronto police have nearly an 80 per cent solve rate on crimes in that time, Borg said. But there’s always room to do better. “The cases that I remember are not the ones I solve. The ones I remember are the ones I didn’t,” he said. “Whether or not you have information in a case or you’re simply just retweeting a message, in my opinion, you’re helping.”
Borg, a 33-year veteran with Toronto Police, started the @torontocoldcase Twitter account in a social media workshop a few weeks ago. His first tweet got nearly 400 retweets so he embraced the idea and started tweeting regularly This was Borg’s first tweet:
Starting to using social media in the investigation of cold case homicides. I would appreciate this being re-tweeted to get my message out.
This tweet is about one of his own cases. It is a bulletin for outstanding murder suspect Reshane Hayles Wilson. Hayles Wilson was part of Borg’s homicide case in January 2014, before he took over the cold case squad. They meet again.
Tweets also include pictures of evidence retrieved from homicide scenes. The pics on the right were tweeted in connection with the murder of a 24-year-old Toronto man named Mike Pimentel. Pimentel was stabbed death to death in Liberty Village on New Year’s 2012. The pic includes a blond hair extension, a pocket-knife, a stylized key chain and a pair of high-heeled pumps – as well as an image of a woman in a short skirt. The tweets, with the accompanying #mikepimentelmurder hashtag, have been widely disseminated. Det. Bui, who is a devoted Serial fan, tweeted the Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin for thoughts on what his fictionalized cop, Detective Inspector John Rebus, might do. Rankin actually replied: “Hmm. I have mixed feelings. Might be a lot of dreck to sift through. On the other hand, last chance saloon.”
There’s always a drawback with asking the public for help. The Pimentel campaign generated a wave of feedback on Twitter, including details about the items in the photos, and leads and likely red herrings. “Frankly, we’ve created a lot of work for ourselves,” he said in an interview.
Still, the Toronto cold case squad are a stubborn bunch. It took thirty years, but they cracked the 1981 cold case of University of Toronto secretary Donna Ann Proian. They didn’t have far to look to find the killer. They went to a Toronto jail and charged Ernest William Westergard with first-degree murder. Westergard was in jail serving a life sentence for the murder of another woman. Forty-nine-year-old Sonia Run was sexually assaulted and strangled in her Mississauga home in 1994. Proian, who was then 30, was strangled with her own clothing and stabbed several times in the face. Her husband found her body inside the locked apartment at 120 St. Patrick St.
You might think the perfect murder is possible to commit, but don’t get too confident. “Westergard has been on the radar right from the onset of this investigation,” Det. Sgt. Ryan said. “You may think you’ve gotten away with a homicide, but in fact, you haven’t and you won’t. The scientific technology is so great that we will catch you. It may take time, in this case 30 years, but we will catch you.”
“Although it’s been 17 years and three months, it’s something very hard to move on from,” Run’s former husband said. “I remember during my wife’s tragedy, it took a very long time to get the DNA back. And this other case was 30 years ago. If the police could have caught him earlier, they would have.” Run asked a neighbour to check on his wife after he became worried when she didn’t show up to their jewellery business or pick up the home phone. Court documents stated Ms. Run’s “naked and badly beaten body was found on the upstairs bathroom floor.” An expert testified that “Ms. Run had been killed in the master bedroom and then moved to the bathroom, where she had been washed.” Strangely one article stated Run had been Westergard’s girlfriend, yet she was married. He had been in the home three times before the murder. Media reports can be false but it’s possible they were involved and Run tried to end it with Westergard on the day he killed her. Some men just can’t take rejection.
Here’s something creepy: At the time of the now 20-year-old murder, I was working for the Peel Regional Police and I transcribed the tapes for the Run case. I remember listening to Westergard and his brother discussing Sonia Run while his brother wore a body pack. Westergard wept with self-pity, denying that he had killed Run. He accused his brother of “never being there for me,” as the two were growing up.
It was Run who convicted her own killer. In a fight for her life, she beat him up almost as badly as he beat her. That evening, he attended the Merle Norman costmetics store in the shopping mall Sherway Gardens to get foundation to cover the bruises and scratches Run had left on his face. When he went to work the following day, Westergard told colleagues he was wearing acne medication. Police even questioned the saleswoman at Merle Norman. When his brother asked him about the makeup, he avoided the question. I remember wondering how it was that two brothers could come from the same family yet be such completely different people: one a monster and the other a police informant.
More than anything, on the audiotape, Westergard expressed his anger that police had seized some of his best suits. Westergard was a complete sociopath and incredibly vain. One of the homicide cops told me he couldn’t wait to march Westergard out into the courtroom wearing that lovely orange jumpsuit prisoners are forced to wear. I wish I could have seen the humiliated look on his face. I wouldn’t mind seeing the look on his face when he is turned down for parole in 2023.
I wish the Toronto cold case squad the best with their Twest (Twitter quest).