A Toronto man seen with 22-year-old Tess Richey in the hours before she was strangled to death in the city’s Church-Wellesley neighbourhood has now been charged with second-degree murder.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Det.-Sgt. Graham Gibson said Richey was reported missing on Nov. 25, 2017 after a night out with a friend at a bar in the downtown neighbourhood.

An investigation was launched into her disappearance and four days later, her mother, who had been searching in the area with family, found her daughter’s lifeless body in the exterior stairwell of a building under construction near Church and Dundonald streets, a short distance from where she was last seen.

Police initially told reporters that Richey’s death was not considered to be suspicious but a post-mortem exam revealed her cause of death to be “neck compression.”

The Toronto Police Service’s homicide unit took over the case and in December, investigators released images of an unknown male who was believed to be the last person with Richey on the night of her disappearance.

On Monday, Gibson confirmed that the male in the photos, a suspect identified as 21-year-old Kalen Schlatter, had been arrested in her murder.

Investigators believe Richey and the accused met for the first time on the night she was killed.

“We believe that they were together, alone, in that area and they were together for some time and that Mr. Schlatter left the area and that by the time he left, Tess was already unfortunately deceased,” Gibson said.

Police have not yet determined a motive but Gibson said investigators believe Richey was targeted simply because “the opportunity presented itself.”

When asked if police investigated information that Richey may have been involved in the sex trade, Gibson said that had “no bearing” on the case.

Gibson said Schlatter was on their radar “fairly early on in the investigation.”

“There was quite a bit of work involved to bring us to the point where we were able to place him under arrest for the homicide,” Gibson added.

Schlatter was arrested late Sunday night near his home in the city’s west end, police said.

Richey’s family was inside the courtroom when Schlatter made a brief appearance at the College Park courthouse on Monday morning.

The family has not spoken or released a formal statement about the arrest but Richey's sister posted a message on social media saying her family has a "long road ahead" and does not want to jeopardize the legal proceedings by commenting further about the case.



Neighbours of accused ‘shocked’

Neighbours in the west-end neighbourhood where Schlatter lives with his parents and brother said Monday that it’s hard to believe the young man has been charged.

“I’m shocked,” said one neighbor who has lived near the family for around 10 years.

“He’s a really nice guy. I just saw him the other day and he helped me shovel the snow,” the woman told CTV News Toronto. “He was a very nice boy – quiet.”

Police said Schlatter worked as a general contractor doing exterior work on homes.

One acquaintance of Schaltter who didn’t want to be named told CP24 that he seemed like “just a sweet boy. Very respectful and very polite.”

In a twist, neighbours said Schlatter was known for a heroic incident in Earlscourt Park in August 2017 when he ran to the aid of a man who was allegedly being attacked.

“He heard the screaming and he ran over to help the guy,” a neighbour said.

One person was later charged with attempted murder in that case.Police have not said there is any connection between that case and Richey's murder.

Professional standards investigation continues

A separate investigation is being conducted by the professional standards unit following concerns about how Richey’s disappearance was initially handled by members of the police service.

When asked about that investigation, Gibson said he could not comment but noted that his team in on “good terms” with Richey’s family.

“I speak to Tess’s mother probably twice a week,” Gibson added.

Gibson thanked members of the community and businesses in the Church-Wellesley village neighbourhood for their assistance.

“We did receive tremendous support from the community… businesses and private individuals who were able to assist us by supplying us with video surveillance in that area for the night that Tess went missing,” he said.

“All of that assisted in our investigation.”