Police are turning to social media in an effort to generate leads in unsolved homicides and missing person’s cases in central Ontario.
Ontario Provincial Police and local police say four people believed to be victims of foul play in or near Barrie, Ont., will be profiled in episodic videos posted to a dedicated page on Facebook called Simcoe County Case Files.
Police have also wrapped a cube van with case information to direct viewers to the Facebook page and encourage tips. The van will be strategically parked in various locations throughout the Greater Simcoe County area.
Seventeen-year-old Cindy Halliday of Waverley, Ont., was last seen hitchhiking near Midhurst, Ont., on April 20, 1992. She had been visiting a friend in Barrie, and her remains were discovered in a wooded area of Springwater Township on June 17, 1992.
Two British Columbia residents – 21-year-old Grant Ayerst and 36-year-old Norman Whalley – were last seen leaving a Toronto hotel on Sept. 11, 1991. They are considered missing, but investigators say foul play in the Barrie area is suspected in their cases.
And 40-year-old April Dobson was sitting on a porch at a friend’s home in Barrie when she was shot to death on Oct. 14, 2005.
OPP Supt. Jim Smyth urged people to look at the Facebook page and share the videos on other social media platforms in an effort to reach as many people with potential information as possible.
Smyth said police are hoping to use “the power of social media and how it tends to mushroom and go all over the place” to generate tips in the cases.
“Essentially, they’re very solvable cases,” he said.
“We’re looking for that piece of information that we firmly believe is out there.”
New information will be posted to the Facebook page about every second day over the next few weeks, Smyth said.
Barrie Police Chief Kimberley Greenwood described the approach as a pilot project and said its success would determine if it would be used in other cases.
Families of the victims have been supportive of the initiative and “participated actively with providing photos and working directly with the investigators,” Greenwood said
“We rely on collaborative action and police mobilizing with the citizens – regardless of where they live today – to help members of our communities find resolution,” she said.
Smyth said police already have other cases in mind if the pilot project gets results.
“We were really concerned about putting too many cases forward at once and causing information overload,” he said.
Smyth also said he believes this method is cost effective as the OPP can produce the videos using their corporate communications staff.
“That equipment and everything is already part of our complement.”