Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Mom spins 'crazy' tale of ransom, limo ride

Wed, April 29, 2009

The mother of missing eight-year-old Victoria (Tori) Stafford raised more questions than provided answers yesterday trying to explain an admittedly "crazy" tale of a secret limousine ride and offer of ransom money.

Oxford police, who last night announced a $50,000 reward in the case, refused outright to address the credibility of Tara McDonald's tale that she said took place last Thursday.

But a former Toronto abduction investigator said it's unlikely any ransom deal would be set up the way McDonald and her mysterious benefactor described it -- with money provided after Tori is returned safe and sound.

"It's ridiculous," said Dave Perry, a former Toronto police officer with 27 years experience.

Perry questioned the idea of ransom being part of the abduction at all.

"I find it odd she (McDonald) would be walking down that road, talking about ransom. Are they going to take that child from that family for money? A ransom, you have to have the ability to pay."

The focus on the investigation is likely still a family dispute, not a random kidnapping, Perry said.

"That's what I would be focusing on."

Oxford police announced last night they are offering a $50,000 reward in the case of Victoria (Tori) Stafford, last seen April 8.

Tori was abducted April 8 while walking home from her Woodstock elementary school.

Investigators released video footage from a security camera at a nearby high school showing Tori walking with an unidentified woman.

McDonald said yesterday she knows her story about meeting a benefactor is a strange one.

"People are going to think we are nuts," she said.

Last Thursday, a limousine parked around the corner from her house on Dover Street while the driver sneaked past reporters into her backyard, she said.

The driver offered to take her to Toronto to meet a mysterious and wealthy person.

"They said the person just wanted to speak with me."

McDonald said she thought she was going to meet television psychic Sylvia Browne, whom she had tried to contact earlier.

The limousine came back at 5 p.m. and drove her, her brother, boyfriend James Goris and a friend named Sarah to the Sheraton Gateway Hotel near Pearson International Airport.

She went up to a room by herself and spoke for about two hours with the person, McDonald said.

The person explained their child had been abducted for a ransom, but killed after police advised against paying it.

"They didn't want me to have to go through that," McDonald said.

The person offered to pay whatever ransom was sought in return for Tori, and gave McDonald two phone numbers for any kidnappers to call.

"When they bring my daughter back safely, whatever they ask for is going to be deposited into a safe account for them," McDonald said.

Pressed by reporters yesterday, McDonald said she did not ask for or receive the name of the person.

Nor would she reveal the person's sex or colour, or allow reporters to listen to the answering machine for the phone numbers.

McDonald said she had no doubts about the mystery person's offer. The person held up a keepsake from their dead child.

"They had a little baggie of hair the same colour as my daughter's and that broke my heart. It was someone genuine."

To prove the ride took place, she held up photos taken on her iPhone of inside the limousine.

Tori's father, Rodney Stafford, was not invited on the ride.

"If somebody is willing to help, that's great," Stafford said yesterday.

Oxford police announced the reward hours after McDonald revealed her story about the mysterious benefactor.

Const. Laurie-Anne Maitland, an Oxford police spokesperson, said the two events aren't linked.

"I know it doesn't come across like that," Maitland said.

"We're hopeful that this incentive will be the catalyst for anyone with information to come forward."

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