Suspended Justice: Kingston Police ‘don’t give up’

Staff Sergeant Jay Finn at the entrance of Kingston Police Headquarters. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

CONTENT WARNING: This article makes reference to certain historic criminal cases, the details of which some readers may find disturbing.

One of the most important jobs of journalism is to give a voice to the voiceless, and that includes victims of crime. Victims rely on journalists to tell their stories until justice is served. But what about when a case goes cold — when a crime goes unsolved and justice is not yet served? Journalists know they must not let the voices of the victims go silent.

Police feel the same way about their role. Kingston Police Staff Sergeant Jay Finn was adamant when he said “We don’t give up” on the cases in Kingston that have gone cold.

Finn took time late last year to chat about his time leading Kingston Police’s Major Crimes Unit. Some readers may remember back in 2005 when Kingston Police opened an official Cold Case Unit. Since that time, the model of investigation has changed, Finn explained, and cold cases have been added to the duties of the Major Crimes Unit.

The Oxford Dictionary defines a “cold case” as a crime that has not been solved and remains open to investigation if new evidence is found. The cold cases in Kingston stretch back over the last 50-plus years, and Finn explained that modern investigation techniques have been greatly improved by technological advances and the ability to communicate vast amounts of information online.

“The world was a bigger place back then — I mean [in terms of] technology,” Finn pointed out. “People didn’t need a photo on a driver’s license back then; you didn’t need a passport to cross the border.”

Not only were suspects harder to track and surveil, but police agencies also couldn’t communicate across jurisdictions as they do now. One thing that has changed with improvements in communications technology is the interconnectedness between police forces.

“The Paul Bernardo case really highlighted the shortcomings of our law enforcement in Ontario and inter-agency communication… Moving jurisdictions was huge back then,” he noted.

We now know that Bernardo committed a series of rapes in Scarborough, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto, between 1987 and 1990, before committing three murders with his then-wife Karla Homolka. Following his conviction, Bernardo confessed to 10 more rapes committed a year before the spree, ascribed to “the Scarborough Rapist.” 

Something that might have complicated Kingston’s crimes in the past is the fact that it is a border town, Finn pointed out; years ago people didn’t need a passport to cross from Canada into the U.S. or vice versa. Further, given all the prisons in the area, there were a lot of “drifters” who moved from place to place and would get lost in the daily workings of the police.

“That doesn’t happen anymore,” Finn said. Various agencies work together to follow up on crimes where a pattern has formed. A suspect in one jurisdiction might fit the pattern of a crime in another, and inter-agency communication and teamwork can help solve that crime. 

Also, he said, people are more connected now with friends and family because we all carry our phones with us and often check in via text and social media.

“Before the cell phone,” Finn explained, “someone might be gone four, five, six days before they were finally reported missing.” And once it finally was reported, “Police might say ‘Okay, we’ll check their house… Oh, it doesn’t look like there’s anything wrong here; they could have just gone on a trip and not told anybody.’” A crime scene might not be investigated right away, especially in an adult missing person case.

David Hannah. Kingstonist file photo.

Furthermore, Finn pointed out, “How things were investigated varied… There weren’t provincial standards like there are now.” And sadly, “Sometimes, if something was overlooked back then, you just can’t recover from it in any case.”

All these factors, he explained, played into cases going cold. But with the identification of human remains, DNA, and other investigative advances, there is new hope, the staff sergeant said.

“We don’t give up,” Finn expressed.

He gave the example of “The Dave Hannah file.” David Hannah was a 36-year-old Indigenous man and correctional officer whose remains were discovered by the Lennox and Addington (L&A) County Detachment of the OPP in the spring of 2023. Hannah, a resident of the Millhaven area, was reported missing in 1983, having last been seen withdrawing money from the Federal Services Credit Union in Kingston.

Finn said that Hannah was “gone without a trace — and then, suddenly, maybe now this mystery is solved. But there are still so many unanswered questions that we might never know the answers to.” 

The fact is that, even with all of the new technology afforded to police, sometimes it is just a lucky break that leads to a clue that helps put the puzzle of a cold case together. 

In the case of Hannah, police were removing a vehicle from Lake Ontario at the intersection of Bath Road (Highway 33) and County Road 6 when a second vehicle containing Hannah’s remains was spotted under the water not far away. It had presumably been there just beneath the surface for 40 years.

A vehicle was successfully removed from Lake Ontario on Friday, Feb. 24, 2023, by Ontario Provincial Police (OPP). However, dive teams discovered another submerged vehicle in the same spot; it turned out to contain the remains of David Hannah, whose body had been in the lake for four decades. Photo by Cris Vilela/Kingstonist.

Another factor that can help solve cold cases is the advancement in media coverage. With local stories being covered further afield and with the ability of social media to promote discussion, sometimes new leads reveal themselves. Media attention and any new public release of information can bring in tips. And “tips help,” Finn said.

He said that the police appreciate the media’s interest in their work.

“The media does great for law enforcement, but there are also things that we just can’t share,” Finn expressed.

“Hold-back” information has become a valuable tool in solving cold cases. Finn pointed out that in days past, police press releases often revealed too much about a case, increasing the likelihood of false confessions. 

“Years later,” he explained, “somebody might be a bit disturbed and wants to take credit for something that he reads. If everything is in the newspaper, then there is little that can corroborate their confession.” 

Finn gave the example of American murderers Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole. Both men were drifters and killers who met at a soup kitchen in 1976 and began killing together. Toole confessed to and then recanted murdering six-year-old Adam Walsh, the son of victims’ rights activist and America’s Most Wanted TV host John Walsh, in Florida in the early 1980s.

Lucas, who had murdered his own mother, among other victims, was a notorious self-proclaimed serial killer who confessed to committing as many as 600 murders alone and with Toole as his partner. But, as detailed in the Netflix documentary series The Confession Killer, most of these claims were lies. Lucas became adept at reading the news and saying what police wanted to hear.

Lucas and Toole both enjoyed the notoriety and the special treatment they received from police forces that were trying to get them to cooperate with investigations. Finn said,

”[Investigators] were taking them all around the United States into different places, feeding them steak dinners, and each was confessing to multiple murders that he didn’t do. And they were closing murder cases because of them,” Finn said, noting that Lucas and Toole’s names were even batted around for some of the Kingston cases in the 1980s before their falsehoods were discovered.

Finn also pointed out that people can go missing and be presumed dead, but that might not be the case. In this too, technological advances have played a part; it has become harder to hide in plain sight.

“There is so much surveillance video now. That never existed in the past… People don’t go unnoticed on video for very long now,” said Finn.

Also, using the internet makes it so much easier to track people today, he pointed out: “You can ask another police force to go in and interview a person in their jurisdiction.”

Finn shared some details he was told by members of York Regional Police about one of their missing person cases. Investigators and the family had all but concluded that the missing person had drowned in Lake Ontario, but investigators were “ready to close it off.”

“They couldn’t close it off,” Finn repeated.

“Lo and behold, the guy gets arrested two years later in Las Vegas.”

In some cold cases, investigators have a very good idea of what happened and who the guilty party is, Finn noted, and there are a few of these people still around in Kingston.

“We believe we know, but we just don’t have the evidence to lay a charge,” he admitted.

He gives the example of 92-year-old Henrietta Knight, whom Michael Wentworth brutalized in a 1995 home invasion: “We had a good idea that he did it… but once he confessed and bragged about it, we had him. That was a great feeling.”

Photos of the victims of Michael Wentworth (a.k.a. Michael Verney) were displayed at a joint OPP and Kingston Police press conference on Friday, Feb. 15, 2019. Henrietta Knight was one cold case victim by whom Finn was deeply affected when her case was solved. Photo by Cris Vilela/Kingstonist.

“If one of these old guys was in [Kingston General Hospital] on his deathbed,” Finn would be there because, as he said, “you never know when someone will want to clear their conscience.”

Having completed his time as Detective Sergeant in charge of the Kingston Police Major Crimes Unit, Finn has now taken charge of a Patrol platoon as a Staff Sergeant in General Patrol, while Sergeant Chad Parslow has taken over Major Crimes. But that doesn’t mean the cases have gone cold in Finn’s mind, and he admits it is frustrating.

“Some of them represent our failures. We failed some victims. I’m very humbled to have to say to people, ‘We failed, one way or another, rightly or wrongly; we’ve done our best, and we still failed.’ And I feel bad about that,” he said, admitting, “It is hard to look victims’ families in the eye and know that we failed them. It’s not pleasant.”

“The feeling that something just isn’t finished” nags at Finn and indeed most of his colleagues.

“If there are one or two cases that get solved before I retire, I would be so happy,” he concluded.

‘Suspended Justice’ is an in-depth column written by reporter Michelle Dorey Forestell, which examines cold cases in the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) region. Launched in January 2024, the column is published monthly in an attempt to keep cold cases on the minds of those living in the area, with the hope that, in doing so, anyone whose memory is jogged might reach out to police with information.

Kingston Police can be reached at 613-549-4660. Those with information who prefer not to reveal their identity can contact the Kingston Police general number (613-549-4660 ext. 0) and request to remain anonymous.
Information on Kingston Police cold cases can be found here.

The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) can be reached at 1-888-310-1122.
Tips about any crime can be submitted anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477), or online here.

If there is a case that’s gone cold in the KFL&A region that you would like Kingstonist to look into, please contact Editor Tori Stafford via email at [email protected].

2 thoughts on “Suspended Justice: Kingston Police ‘don’t give up’

  • Articles such as this are clear examples of the value provided by local news papers and reporters for their communities. Value that photo-copied syndicated papers lost long ago.

    Thanks to Staff Finn and the other members.

    • Thank you for your kind comment.

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