When Ann Brazeau discovered the body of 22-year-old Tess Richey on November 29, 2017, she said her mind didn’t want to believe what her eyes were seeing, a court heard Friday.
During her testimony at the trial for Kalen Schlatter, the man accused of murdering Richey, Brazeau described the terror she felt when she made the grisly discovery that fall.
“I just saw her lying there. I went into complete shock,” Brazeau said. “I couldn’t make sense of what I was seeing. I was terrified.”
Brazeau said she had met up with Richey’s mother, her long-time friend Christine Hermeston, earlier that day to hand out missing persons posters and speak to residents and businesses in the city’s Church-Wellesley Village, the neighbourhood where Richey was last seen.
It had been four days since Richey was first reported missing to police and Richey’s family was frantically trying to find her.
Brazeau said she and Hermeston went by the bar Richey was at the night she disappeared and the pair dropped off posters at The 519.
When they ended up in the area of Church and Dundonald streets, Brazeau said she decided to check out some garbage cans at a house on the corner that was under renovation.
The building was fenced off with plywood and appeared to be vacant, Brazeau testified.
She said while examining the trash bins, she noticed a gravel pile in front of the building’s exterior stairwell, which led down to a metal door.
She said she peered over the railing beside the stairs and saw Richey’s lifeless body facing her.
“The moment I peeked over, I just saw her. She was just there,” Brazeau said.
She said Tess’s hair was “cascading” over her face and her hands were lying across her body.
She told the court that she did a scan of the young woman’s body but “didn’t want to look for very long.”
After making the discovery, Brazeau said she let go of the railing and started walking backward away from the stairwell.
She called out to Richey’s mother, who was a short distance away.
“I didn’t want to scream on the street that something was down there,” Brazeau said.
She said she told her friend about the body in the stairwell and Richey’s mother went over to look.
“She went directly to the front of the gravel and immediately started screaming, ‘God help me,’” Brazeau said, fighting through tears.
A man emerged from the business next door, Brazeau said, and he was the first to venture down the stairwell where the body was found.
She said he only went down a few steps before he came back up and confirmed that Richey was dead.
Two officers on bicycles were the first to arrive on scene, followed by a police cruiser and paramedics, she said.
Richey’s body was discovered the day before her 23rd birthday.
‘She was screaming and she told me she found her’
Rachel Richey, Tess Richey’s older sister, testified Friday about the earth-shattering phone call she received from her mother that day.
She said she first received a text message from her mother with a photo of the construction site at Church and Dundonald streets.
She said her mother was inquiring about whether Tess had been seen there the night she went missing.
“Within a few short minutes,” Rachel Richey said she received a devastating phone call from her mother.
“She was screaming and she told me she found her,” she said, adding that she repeatedly asked her mother if Tess was alive.
When her mother told her that Tess was dead, she said she ran out the door to go to the area where he sister was found.
“I forgot my shoes so I had to go back and get them,” she recalled tearfully.
She said she got into a cab with her baby in tow and was dropped off near the construction site she saw in her mother’s photo.
She said an officer was there when she arrived and when she asked him if her sister was OK, the officer shook his head “no.”
The cop directed her to a nearby ambulance, where her mother was waiting, she testified.
“I just cried a lot,” she said of the moments after her sister’s body was found.
Despite the eight-year age gap between the two women, Rachel Richey said she and her little sister Tess were close.
“She was my sister, my best friend. She was my soulmate,” she said.
She said the day before Tess was reported missing, the two went shopping for Christmas decorations and spent the evening together at Rachel’s home.
She told the court that she, her partner, and Tess played Pictionary for about an hour that night.
She added that she tried to convince Tess, who was trying to “slim down” following her breakup, to eat something before she went out drinking.
Tess, who had already had a couple of drinks, decided to meet up with her friend Ryley Simard at the Church Street bar Crews and Tangos later that night, she said.
She told the court that the last time she saw her sister alive, Tess was running toward an Uber to go out for a night of dancing and drinking.
She said she received confirmation that her sister made it to the bar when Tess texted her at around midnight.
The next morning, Rachel Richey made multiple attempts to contact her sister but was unsuccessful.
When she didn’t hear back from Tess that night, she sent her partner over to her sister’s apartment is Scarborough to check if she was home.
She said she called her sister’s friends and co-workers, along with local hospitals. She eventually phoned police to file a missing persons report.
She said she checked her sister’s Fitbit account to see how many steps she had taken since they last spoke and at one point, she discovered that Tess never met the Uber driver she called to pick her up shortly after 4 a.m. on Nov. 25.
Last person to see Richey alive takes stand
One of the last people to see Tess Richey alive was Michelle Teape, who also testified at the trial on Friday.
Teape said she was hanging out with a neighbour in front of her home near Church and Dundonald streets at around 3 a.m. on Nov. 25 when she heard three people running down the street, laughing.
Richey, she said, came up to her and apologized for the disturbance, introducing herself and the two people she was with, who were later identified as Ryley Simard and Kalen Schlatter.
She said she struck up a conversation with Richey, who opened up about a recent breakup.
“She seemed depressed,” Teape said. “When you looked in her eyes, she looked sad.”
She said she tried to reassure Richey that things would “get better” and the two later exchanged phone numbers.
At some point, Teape said, Simard made a comment to Richey, who immediately became upset.
She said she saw Schlatter come up behind Richey and lightly put his hands on her shoulders to try to comfort her.
She said at that point, Richey appeared to calm down.
Teape said she did not interact much with Schlatter, who didn’t appear to be intoxicated.
“He just seemed really quiet and shy,” she said.
Teape testified that Simard was the one who initiated the group’s departure when she started walking toward Yonge Street about 20 minutes after they first arrived in front of Teape’s house.
She told the court that she said goodbye to Richey, who then walked with Schlatter to the stop sign where Simard was standing.
Teape said she went into her neighbour’s apartment and did not see where the group went after that.
The trial for Schlatter, who has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, will resume on Monday at 10 a.m.