Warning: Story contains graphic content, reader discretion is advised.
TORONTO – A man sexually assaulted and strangled a young woman in the hours after they met, left his DNA on her clothes, then discarded her body at the bottom of a concrete stairwell, a prosecutor told his murder trial Thursday.
Kalen Schlatter, 23, of Toronto, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the November 2017 death of Tess Richey, 22, a woman the prosecution said he first encountered outside a drag bar in the city’s gay village.
Richey was reported missing Nov. 25 after a night out with a friend. She had just gone through an “emotional” breakup and wanted to let loose, court heard. She never made it home.
Her body was found by her mother days later “in a heap” in the stairwell at a construction site, Crown attorney Beverley Richards said in her opening statement.
Prosecutors said a video, one of several expected at the trial, will show Schlatter leading Richey toward the stairwell of a building under renovation around 4:14 a.m. and leave without her later.
“Tess Richey is never seen alive again,” Richards said. “Kalen Schlatter is the male seen on surveillance footage leaving the crime scene alone, 45 minutes after Tess Richey followed him in.”
Schlatter’s semen was found on the front of Richey’s pants, his saliva inside her bra, Richards said.
A forensic pathologist is slated to testify Richey was strangled and had injuries on her head, arms, wrists and hands that might have occurred during a struggle, the Crown said.
“They were defensive injuries,” she said.
Richey had gone to Crews & Tangos that night to meet an old friend, Ryley Simard, with whom she had recently reconnected, Richards said. The two women arrived shortly after midnight, got drunk, and left sometime after 2:15 a.m.
Surveillance footage will show Schlatter was also at the club, though he did not interact with Richey or Simard, prosecutors said.
Simard did have a brief exchange with him outside the club, then the two women walked north, the Crown said. Around 2:30 a.m., Schlatter can be seen walking in the same direction, the lawyers said.
A hotdog vendor is expected to testify he saw Richey, her friend and a tall blond man who paid for their food, noting all three arrived and left together.
A woman, Michelle Teape, also described seeing the group when she went outside her home around 3 a.m., and said Richey introduced them all before chatting with her for roughly 20 minutes, the Crown said.
Teape is expected to testify that Richey was drunk but “not slurring her words or stumbling around.”
More surveillance video will show Simard left the group around 4 a.m. and Richey walking alone, with Schlatter “trailing well behind her,” Richards said.
Richey ordered an Uber that was meant to pick her up around 4:14 a.m., but she never arrived and her order was cancelled, the Crown said.
Her sister Rachel grew worried when Richey, who was always near her phone and kept in touch almost daily, didn’t respond to texts the next day, prosecutors said.
Richey’s mother travelled to Toronto from home in North Bay, Ont., to help in the search. She found her daughter’s body a day before her 23rd birthday.
Schlatter was arrested in February. Prosecutors said two undercover officers will testify he bragged to them while in custody about picking up women in gay bars and that he said it was sometimes necessary to push women’s boundaries to “see where it goes.”
The officers are expected to tell the court Schlatter described taking Richey down an alley so they could have some privacy, the Crown said.
Schlatter told the officers he and Richey were making out and grinding in the alley when he ejaculated in his pants, Richards said. He told them he wanted to have sex with Richey but she rebuffed him because she was on her period, Richards said.
“Kalen Schlatter was upset because Tess Richey told him no,”she said.
Police have faced criticism for failing to find Richey after she vanished. Two officers are facing related disciplinary charges.
Their hearing has been put off until Schlatter’s trial is over.
Richey’s death is one of several missing person cases connected to the gay village that sparked public backlash against police, with many in the community alleging officers were not protecting them.
The force has launched a review of how it handles such cases, conducted by retired Ontario Court of Appeal justice Gloria Epstein.
It was supposed to wrap last year but is now expected to finish next January.