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True Crime Forensics

The Ghosts That Haunt Me

Memories of a Homicide Detective

by (author) Steve Ryan

foreword by Joe Warmington

Dundurn Press
Initial publish date
Sep 2022
Forensics, Law Enforcement, General
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Sep 2022
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2022
    List Price

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After years working in homicide, retired Toronto detective Steve Ryan reflects on six cases he will never forget.
Retired detective Steve Ryan worked in Toronto’s homicide squad for over a decade. For Ryan, the stories of Toronto’s most infamous crimes were more than just a headline read over morning coffee — they were his everyday life.
After investigating over one hundred homicides, Ryan can never forget the tragedies and the victims, even after his retirement from the police force. In The Ghosts That Haunt Me, he reflects on six of the many cases that greatly impacted him — seven people whose lives were senselessly taken — and that he still thinks about nearly every day. While the stories are hard to tell for Ryan, they were harder to live through. Yet somewhere between the crimes and the heartache is a glimmer of hope that good eventually does prevail and that healing can come after grief.

About the authors

STEVE RYAN began his career with the Toronto Police at the age of eighteen. After nearly thirty years of policing — most of which he spent working as a detective—Ryan retired and began a career with CP24 as a crime specialist. He lives in Toronto.


Steve Ryan's profile page

Joe Warmington's profile page

Excerpt: The Ghosts That Haunt Me: Memories of a Homicide Detective (by (author) Steve Ryan; foreword by Joe Warmington)

Holly Jones: Tragedy in The Junction

It was May 2003. The trees were budding, the birds still making their arrivals back to the city after a long winter away. The city was reawakening.

Toronto winters can so often feel like an eternity of ice and cold. Springtime is a much-needed dose of optimism woven back into the fabric of the city. People, too, seem to awake from their winter slumbers, the parks become busier, recreational cyclists wheel their bikes out of their garages, restaurants open their patios and patrons sit with faces like sunflowers soaking in the sunshine that lengthens daylight minute by minute each day.

In early May that year, I recall in particular driving home from an overnight call. I was working as a detective in the Sex Crimes unit then, investigating sexual assaults in Toronto. It was a hard job. Unlike in Homicide, the survivors of sexual assaults are there to recount their stories to investigators. I couldn’t imagine the impact such crimes had on survivors but could see the pain in their eyes and hear it in their words as I interviewed them. Nor could I conceive how invasive the process of sexual assault investigations must feel to them. First, every inch of their bodies was examined by medical doctors at Women’s College Hospital. Then they went to Toronto Police Headquarters at 40 College Street to tell detectives their stories, reliving the incidents where their consent was violated — a moment I’m sure they wanted to bury deep and never again remember.

“I wish he would’ve killed me so it would’ve been over,” one survivor once said to me during an investigation. Such pain to wish yourself dead is unfathomable. I met true monsters working in Sex Crimes, but I also encountered the resiliency and bravery of victims who spoke out against their attackers.

Work was on my mind as I drove the long way back home. It always was. While I was heading out of Toronto, most other people were making their morning commute into the city for work. As I drove past farm fields and pastures, the early morning drizzle slowed. It was common for the first days of May in southern Ontario to be chilly and rainy. A vast expanse of clouds still hung in the grey sky, assuring me the rain would soon be back. I squinted at the umbrella that rested in the seat beside me.

After driving for what seemed like hours, I pulled into the driveway of the house where I now lived with my wife and children. Making my way through the garage and inside the house, I dropped my keys on the kitchen counter. I was so very tired. A sort of tired I can’t fully describe in words — every muscle in my body ached for rest.

Anyone who does shift work can tell you how out of step it makes you feel with the rest of the world, as if you’re existing on a different plane, awake all night, asleep during the day. Vampiric almost, not only because of the nocturnal schedule but also because working all night makes you feel like a walking corpse eager to crawl back into its grave. As a younger man, I could work overnight without feeling any effects whatsoever. I could work overnight and go for a long run in the morning. But as I got older, late nights became more and more difficult. Indeed, work all night past the age of thirty was a strain on my entire physiology. Each time I woke up I felt as though I had aged a hundred years. My bones were creakier, my eyelids felt as though they were made of sandpaper, my skin appeared as though it had lost all its vibrancy. Yes, night shifts are, for lack of a better term, the worst. I would often dream of how nice it would be when I no longer had to work such strange hours, but for as long as I was in police work, I would be doing nights.

On my typical return home from work after a day shift, my family would be home. They’d come and greet me as I entered the door, the house would bustle with the energy of my two young children, we’d eat dinner as a family, go to bed, and wake up on the same schedule. It was great to feel in step with the rest of my family. In no way was it convenient to work nights. By the time I got home in the morning following a night shift, everyone had already left for their days at work and school. I entered a house without any occupants. Just me and my thoughts to keep me company, acutely aware of the time my family had spent without me, the moments I could never get back away from them, as I stood in an empty kitchen. Such is the struggle of anyone who does shift work. Sometimes you go entire days without seeing the people you love most. Until they returned home, I was alone in the silence, rummaging through cabinets to find something quick to eat for breakfast before drawing the bedroom curtains and tucking myself in for a long nap.

Opening the refrigerator door, I picked at leftovers of the dinner I’d missed the night before, straight from the Tupperware container that sat on a shelf. I was so hungry I didn’t even bother to put the food on a plate. As I stood in front of the fridge eating food like a raccoon digging through a garbage can, I heard the buzz-buzz of my pager coming from the counter where it sat next to my car keys. A notification to call into work.

Getting a notification on my pager was never good news. As a detective working in Sex Crimes, being paged into work usually meant someone had been sexually assaulted and there was a case to investigate.

I blinked the sleep from my eyes as I called the office from the telephone mounted on the wall in the kitchen. Each ring felt as though it lasted a thousand years. Already I started imagining what terrible thing had occurred and who it had happened to. I conjured up the worst scenarios in my head, reliving all the awful things I’d seen looking into sexual assaults over the years. Even the worst of my imagination couldn’t prepare me for the reality that would soon be revealed.

Someone picked up on the other end of the line: Ten-year-old Holly Jones went missing last night. She hasn’t been found.

It’s unusual for a child to go missing and for neither parent to be involved in the abduction. Often one parent grabs a child to hide him or her from a partner. But that wasn’t the case with Holly Jones. The detectives investigating her case immediately recognized her disappearance was different.

Neither of Holly’s parents knew where she was. On the night she vanished, they sat expectantly in their home in The Junction, a neighbourhood in Toronto’s west end that felt like a village within the greater city. It was largely occupied by young families residing in early and mid-twentieth-century semidetached houses built along pleasant tree-lined streets. The parks in the neighbourhood were filled with the giggles and squeals of their children. The Joneses were one of those families who believed The Junction was a safe and respectable environment to raise kids.

The night Holly went missing, her parents waited anxiously for her to come home. The last time they’d seen her she was headed out their front door to walk a friend home after an after-school playdate.

Perhaps she got caught up playing or was invited in for a drink, I’m sure they thought to themselves. Ten-year-olds can be absent-minded, so perhaps she’d forgotten to call to check in. But her friend only lived a few blocks away; she should have been home sooner. Daylight slowly faded with no sign of Holly. Had she gotten lost? This was her first time walking home by herself, maybe she took a wrong turn, went down the wrong street. But Holly had grown up in the city her entire life. She frequently strolled through the neighbourhood with her parents; she knew her way around. So, as night crept in, her parents called the police.

Holly never made it home. It was as if she’d vanished into thin air. Nobody could find a trace of her on that stretch of road between the Joneses’ house and the home of Holly’s friend — not a shoe, not an article of clothing, nothing. Nor could any of the Joneses’ neighbours say they’d spotted her.

When a child goes missing like that in Toronto, a special abductions protocol is implemented. According to the protocol, both Sex Crimes and Homicide units set up a case jointly even before any confirmation of death or sexual assault. The two units investigate the abduction together. They establish a command centre for the case that consists of one detective sergeant and two detectives from each unit, as well as constables from the local division. The investigation proceeds jointly until the child is found.

I was one of the detectives from Sex Crimes called in to work on Holly’s case. I was to report immediately to my detective sergeant, the lead for my unit, at the command centre at 12 Division on Trethewey Drive in North York.

So I picked up my keys again and headed out the door. The rainy sky had cleared a little bit, but it was still overcast. A sunny day would have felt wrong given the circumstances.

I started my car’s engine and backed out of the driveway, barely an hour after I’d pulled in. Holly was in my thoughts on the drive into headquarters, hoping the entire time she’d be found safely.

Editorial Reviews

This stark and honest account is sure to move true crime and police drama fans.

Publishers Weekly

True crime readers will likely have a difficult time putting the book down.

Library Journal