By RON FANFAIR
Though in bed and ready to turn in for the night, Jacquie Hutchinson knew she wasn’t dreaming when a Scarborough double-murder on the late night television news caught her attention back in the summer of 1995.
She instantly recognized the residence and the street address as that of her god-daughter Tami Ottey, sister Marsha and their mother Avis and jumped into her car after making just one phone call to her mother.
By the time she arrived at the Ottey residence from her North York home just after midnight, the police investigation into one of the most gruesome murders in the city was well underway.
Last Monday marked 15 years since teenagers Marsha and Tami Ottey were brutally murdered in the family’s Alton Towers area home. Hutchinson and other family members and friends participated in an early morning five-kilometre memorial walk against violence and enjoyed an afternoon barbecue last Saturday just a few feet from where the sisters are buried at Armdale Free Methodist Church cemetery.
“I remember Tami as a little girl so full of life,” reflected Hutchinson, a close friend of Avis Ottey for over four decades. “She was incredibly talented and mentally and physically strong. She also loved to wrestle and she would always put a smile on your face.
“Tami would have been 31 now and some of the things I ask myself today is if she would have been a mother and what impact both she and her sister would have had in their community and in the world. These were two bright and positive young girls who had the world at their feet when they were cut down. It’s so sad, but even today, there appears to be little value placed on life that’s supposed to be precious. We see 15-year-olds killing other 15-year-olds without seeming to fear or care. It’s so cold.”
Tami, who was in Grade 11 at Agincourt Collegiate, also played soccer and was a summer intern with Toronto Community Housing while her older sister – an exceptional student athlete who graduated with honours from Sir Winston Churchill Collegiate – was preparing to take up a track and field scholarship at the University of Arkansas. Marsha, who died two days before leaving for the U.S., was also a member of Phoenix Track & Field Club and Scarborough United Spartans Soccer Club.
Avis Ottey discovered her daughters’ bodies when she returned home from work that fateful summer evening. Autopsies showed they died of multiple stab wounds to the neck and chest.
Tami was on her way to her summer job when she met either Adrian Kinkead or Rohan Ranger, who forced her to return to the Ottey’s Valley Stream Drive residence, where the girls were bludgeoned in the basement.
“When I got home that evening, the door was ajar but I didn’t think much of it then,” Avis Ottey, who was employed with Bell Canada at the time, recounted. “When I called out for the girls and there was no answer, I checked the living room and realized that it was in disarray. I ran upstairs to the bedrooms where things were also moved around so I decided to check the basement and that was when I saw Marsha lying at the bottom of the stairs.
“Immediately sensing that something was wrong and being too afraid to go down the stairs and make a check, I ran back upstairs and attempted to use the phone in the living room to call for help. There was no dial tone (the basement phone was off the hook), so I ran outside without shoes to seek assistance from a neighbour.”
It was only after she asked one of her neighbours to check on Marsha’s status was she informed that there were two dead girls in the basement.
“At first, I thought it might have been a friend of Marsha’s because Tami was supposed to leave shortly after me for work,” she said. “It was only after Mark Mendelson (one of the lead police officers on the case) started to provide a description of the other person and the clothes they had on did I realize that Tami was also there.”
In 2005, Ranger – Marsha’s ex-boyfriend – was found guilty for a second time of killing the sisters. He was originally convicted of first degree murder and manslaughter in 1998. His conviction was overturned on appeal seven years ago and a new trial ordered.
Kinkead, Ranger’s cousin, was arrested in Florida and convicted on two counts of first degree murder in 1999. Kinkead is also serving a life sentence for the murder of Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) ticket collector Dimitrija “Jimmy” Trajceski, who was robbed and fatally stabbed at Victoria Park subway station two months after the Ottey murders.
Avis Ottey, who testified for the Crown during Ranger’s second trial, joined the Toronto Police Service as a civilian on August 22, 2000, five years to the day that her daughters were buried. She said she was inspired to become a member after observing retired detectives Mendelson and Ron Whitefield – who were assigned to the case – in action during the many months leading up to the trials.
“When I became aware of the volume of work and meticulousness it took for a police officer to get a conviction, it dawned upon me that I should have been a policewoman,” said Ottey. “I remember seeing Mark going for days without much rest, seeking to get it right. They worked hard to get justice for my daughters. I was thankful that they had given so much in such a thorough and efficient manner that I wanted to do more than just say thanks for a job well done.”
Last Saturday’s memorial walk and barbecue was organized by Marsha and Tami Ottey Youth Solutions (MTOYS) formed to provide young people with alternatives to crime and violence.