Toronto police make 'needle-in-a-haystack' discovery, find missing man's remains in landfill

Nathaniel Brettell, 57, is shown in this handout photo. (Toronto Police Service)

Toronto police officers scouring a gigantic city dump for months have found the remains of Nathaniel Brettell, CTV News Toronto has learned — a needle-in-a-haystack find that has given his family peace and could give an ongoing murder case a major boost.

Police found the corpse of the missing 57-year-old after searching since late June at the Green Lane Landfill near London, Ont., about seven months after he went missing at his home in Toronto.

“In the sense that he’s been found, it gives me peace,” said Brettell’s sister, Lois Brettell. “I’m thankful that my brother’s remains have been found because it gives me closure.”

But she said her family still suffers the anguish of his death — and have many questions about how he died, and how his body ended up in the landfill in Sothwold, Ont., some 200 km from where they believe he was murdered.

“The Toronto Police will not stop in their pursuit of evidence and the recovery of people for their family as they investigate these criminal acts,” said Detective Sergeant Keri Fernandes.

Fernandes said the search is the largest of its kind in the history of Toronto, she said, involving hundreds of officers and multiple units, with some officers putting in volunteer hours.

The crucial break in the case involved records kept by the city’s solid waste management system, which allowed them to pinpoint the most likely location amid a landfill that sprawls over some 130 hectares, and which takes about 800,000 tons of waste from the City of Toronto annually.

“They keep meticulous records and because of that we were able to recover him and bring closure to the family and assist in the prosecution of the people responsible for this,” she said.

Brettell, 57, lived with Asperger’s syndrome and other disabilities, his family said. He went missing in January from his Etobicoke rooming house on Westona Street.

Officers looking for him on Feb. 2 were attacked by a man with a butcher’s knife. A 34-year-old man named Ahmed Al-Farkh was charged with attempted murder by the officers. Police found blood in Brettell’s apartment and concluded that he had been murdered — but there was no sign of a body.

Al-Farkh was charged with second degree murder in Brettell’s case in May. In online writings confirmed by CTV News Toronto, Al-Farkh describes his time in City of Toronto homeless shelters, referring to the Freemasons and the Illuminati.

Police obtained a warrant and started searching the dump in late June. 

“It’s essentially looking for a needle in a haystack. It’s not an easy job. The mere fact they’ve found a body is miraculous,” said former Toronto homicide detective Mark Mendelson.

“It’s huge, many acres in size, and it’s very deep. As they plow over the garbage it gets higher and higher and you don’t know how deep you have to go,” he said.

“The odds were infinitesimal when I conducted these inquiries as the record keeping wasn’t as good as it is now. They know what trucks come in from what day and what area they’ve emptied into. From an investigative point of view that’s very helpful,” he said.

Next is likely an attempt to find the cause of death — something that may be difficult depending on how long the body was exposed to the elements, he said.

Officers found the body last week, and confirmed that it was Brettell shortly thereafter, his sister said.

“Now that they have a body they will be able to properly prosecute the person who has been charged in my brother’s death,” said Brettell.

Now that his remains have been discovered, Brettell said she hopes to cremate the remains and have a funeral.