Woman behind Stefanie Rengel murder granted unescorted absences from prison

Melissa Todorovic is shown in an undated handout photo.
Melissa Todorovic is shown in an undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO

KITCHENER, Ont. – A young woman who sexually blackmailed her boyfriend into killing a 14-year-old girl nearly a decade ago was so consumed with jealousy at the time that she asked him to kill at least two others she perceived as rivals, she told a parole hearing Wednesday.

Melissa Todorovic gave new insights into what led her to orchestrate the killing of Stefanie Rengel as she asked a Parole Board of Canada panel to grant her three unescorted three-day absences from prison – a request the panel granted, saying the 25-year-old had made progress in handling her emotions.

The details from Todorovic came as the parole board panel questioned her on the motivations behind Rengel’s killing.

READ MORE: Mastermind of Stefanie Rengel murder appeals

Intense jealousy and rage, as well as a desire to exert power over her partner, dominated Todorovic’s relationship with David Bagshaw, who carried out the killing at her command, Todorovic said.

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“It was a game that we would play continuously,” Todorovic said during the hearing at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ont., where she is held.

Those feelings also played a role in an earlier relationship that ended abruptly after Todorovic told that boyfriend she wanted a girl he was talking to killed, she said.

“My thinking at the time was that if (the girls) were out of the picture, I could be happy with my boyfriend,” she said.

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READ MORE: NBC nixes segment on murdered teen Stefanie Rengel after mom’s plea

Todorovic had previously maintained that while she had pushed Bagshaw to kill Rengel, she didn’t believe he would actually do it.

The two-member parole board panel authorized Todorovic’s absences to a halfway house, saying the woman had since worked to manage her jealousy, anger and manipulation, but stressed she still needed to work on her self-esteem and other issues.

“While there’s still lots of work for you to do on yourself, you are moving in the right direction,” Lynne VanDaylen said.

Todorovic was 15 when Bagshaw stabbed Rengel six times and left her to die in a snowbank outside her house on New Year’s Day, 2008.

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The two girls had never met but Todorovic grew intensely jealous of Rengel, who had briefly dated Bagshaw two years earlier. She also believed the younger girl was spreading rumours about her.

READ MORE: Woman who sent texts to boyfriend urging him to commit suicide given 2.5 year sentence

Todorovic was convicted in 2009 for masterminding Rengel’s murder and was sentenced as an adult to life in prison with no chance of parole for seven years – the maximum adult sentence for someone her age.

She later sought to have a new trial ordered on appeal, arguing that self-incriminating statements she made to police should not have been admitted as evidence at her trial. But the appeal court upheld her conviction and sentence.

Todorovic told the parole board Wednesday that she didn’t feel she had done anything wrong until the moment she was arrested.

“When I saw it on the news, I felt guilt then but I didn’t really understand the impact,” she said.

Now, she said, “I feel like I’m a monster for telling someone to kill somebody.”

Her parole officer noted Todorovic initially showed a lack of insight and empathy but made “significant gains” after her appeal was denied.

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Through various programs, counselling and medication, Todorovic said she has learned to get her emotions under control and to ask for support.

Her newfound skills were put to the test when she received a letter from Bagshaw, who is also serving an adult life sentence after pleading guilty to first-degree murder, she said.

READ MORE: Convicted child abductor Randall Hopley still at risk to reoffend: parole board

“I was caught off guard, I didn’t expect to hear from him ever again,” she said. Though she felt angry and frustrated, Todorovic said she stayed calm and talked to her parole officer and her parents, who were present at Wednesday’s hearing.

Asked whether she still had feelings for her accomplice, Todorovic said: “I don’t want anything to do with him now.” Nor is she looking for another relationship at the moment, she said.

During her unescorted absences, Todorovic plans to continue her therapy sessions, which she said she can no longer access in prison because she is not considered to have a severe mental illness. She also plans to work with an employment counsellor to see what options she could have once released.

Her parole officer, Angie Strome, said the absences will also help ease Todorovic’s anxiety at reintegrating society, noting the young woman has “grown up in prison.”

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