Crime Beat: The haunting story of a city’s lost child

Retired detective Rolf Prisor says the case haunts him to this day. In December 1999, someone made a grisly discovery in a Toronto city park — the dismembered body parts of a young child were found stuffed in garbage bags that were buried beneath some rocks.

The horrific find that day, Dec. 7, 1999, sparked a massive police investigation, which in its early days turned up lots of evidence but no immediate answers.

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Police discovered more bags and more remains, but there wasn’t enough to identify the young victim. There was no surveillance footage and a canvass of local schools and daycares for any missing children came up empty.

Composite sketches were released of the mysterious couple. Tips poured in.

And then, the first break in the case.

Using DNA, investigators were able to confirm that the child was female, aged four to six, and likely of South Asian descent.

The revelation caught the attention of a local kindergarten teacher, Heather Cartwright, who taught at Second Street Elementary School.

Cartwright had information about one of her students — a five-year-old child whose name was Farah Khan.


Farah hadn’t attended school since Dec. 2.

The body parts were found five days later.

Cartwright told investigators that Farah’s stepmother had come to the school and explained that the family was flying back to Pakistan because Farah’s grandmother was gravely ill. She gave no indication of when Farah would be returning.

The police now had two key pieces of evidence: a plastic sippy cup that Farah used at school, and some of her artwork. Most importantly, a finger painting with a clear imprint of her left middle finger.
It was a match. They had identified Farah Khan.
Muhammad Khan and Kaneez Fatima had come to Canada from Pakistan with Farah in April of 1999. Police traced the family to an apartment building, close to the park where Farah’s remains were first discovered. But the couple had disappeared.
They were tracked to a house in North York. Arrest warrants were issued and Farah’s father and stepmother were charged with first-degree murder.

Officers question Farah’s father, Muhammad Khan. He agreed to take them to where he and Farah’s stepmother, Kaneez Fatima, had buried the rest of Farah — her head and torso. He says he’d put Farah’s head in a knapsack and taken public transit to get there.

Farah’s full remains would never be found, but the search was now over.

Crime Beat: Who was Farah Khan?
Crime Beat: Who was Farah Khan?

Farah’s birth mother Shahida Jabeen was still living in Pakistan. She arrived in Toronto to bury Farah.

But Farah’s father had other plans. Even though Khan was charged with his daughter’s murder, he had custody rights. And he wanted Farah buried in Pakistan.

Members of Toronto’s Muslim community stepped in to support Jabeen.

“Oh, my God. It’s an innocent child belonging to our community,” says Omar Farouk, the president of the International Muslims Organization and an imam there. Farah had attended his mosque on several occasions, along with her parents.

“And so we got involved.”

Crime Beat: The Impact of the Farah Khan murder
Crime Beat: The Impact of the Farah Khan murder

Khalid Usman, a Markham city councillor, also helped fight for Farah’s cause.

“She would have never got her justice,” he says. “She belongs here.”

Khan relented and allowed Farah’s burial to go forward in Toronto.

READ MORE: Toronto’s Farah Khan, 5, remembered 20 years after her murder by those who never knew her

Thousands attended to pay their respects.

Until Farah was identified, “we were her only family,” says deputy chief coroner Jim Cairns.

Five years after Farah’s murder, in 2004, the trial got underway.

The prosecution argued that Khan didn’t believe Farah was really his daughter and that he considered her a bastard child.

Initially, Khan and Fatima claimed they’d come home to find Farah had cut her own throat. They’d panicked and decided to get rid of the body.

But now their story had changed.

Defence lawyers said Khan accepted responsibility for Farah’s death. Khan said Farah was misbehaving; that it was an accident and he didn’t mean to kill her.

The jury didn’t believe the accused. His story didn’t add up.

There was the precision cutting of the body, which didn’t match someone in a panicked state.

There was also evidence of extensive bruising on Farah’s little body. Police suspected that slippers, hairbrushes and a rolling pin had been used to hit her in her final days.

Khan was found guilty of first-degree murder. Fatima was found guilty of second-degree murder.


Two decades later, Khan remains in custody. Fatima has reportedly been granted day parole, but Corrections Canada would not comment further.

To this day, Omar Farouk still visits Farah’s gravesite.

“It placed us in the position where we as community leaders, we had to be more responsible,” Farouk says.

He recalls proudly how members of his congregation worked alongside investigators and politicians to seek justice for Farah.

“Those interfaith programs bring out positivity. It brings out a sense of togetherness, of belonging.”

Rolf Prisor still knows Farah’s birthday off the top of his head.

“I celebrate her milestone birthdays, just like personally,” he says.

Crime Beat: Solving the murder of Farah Khan
Crime Beat: Solving the murder of Farah Khan

Farah would have turned 25 this year.

“It’s a case we’ll never forget,” Prisor says. “The impact is lasting until our last days.”

You can watch Crime Beat on Global TV every Saturday at 7 p.m.

And listen to the Crime Beat podcast hosted by Nancy Hixt.