At about 5:30 p.m. on April 20, 1992, Cindy Halliday left Barrie after visiting a friend at a halfway house to hitchhike the 35 kilometres home to Waverley along Highway 27.
She was last seen getting into a light-coloured Chrysler LeBaron or Dodge Diplomat in front of the strip plaza on Highway 27 at Findlay Mill Road in Midhurst. It was between 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
But she never got home to Waverley.
The next day, her mom, Jackie, reported her youngest of four daughters missing.
On the day Cindy disappeared, Jackie recalls being in the kitchen when she experienced an odd feeling, “a complete loss,” she said in one of a series of videos called Simcoe County Case Files made by police and posted on YouTube in July 2017.
That sudden sense of emptiness, she suspects, is the moment her daughter died.
As investigators probed Cindy's disappearance and a series of clues surfaced over the course of the next two months, police concluded that she had been killed.
But just who was involved is still a mystery that has remained unsolved for nearly 30 years.
“If these cases were easy to solve, they would have been solved at the time,” said major case manager Det.-Insp. Matt Watson of the OPP Criminal Investigation Branch. “I know, in this case, the investigators at the time pulled out all the stops. It was a very thorough investigation and they spent quite a bit of time and resources on it.”
But it was one big puzzle, with small pieces of evidence periodically surfacing.
On Sunday, May 3, 1992, nearly two weeks after Cindy’s disappearance, a man collecting bottles found her wallet in a wooded area off the Old Second Line or Concession Road 2 in Vespra Township, near Horseshoe Valley Road.
A subsequent search by OPP using a tracking dog failed to find anything.
Yet, nearly two weeks after that, on May 16, a mushroom picker farther north up the same road found the red, white and blue jacket Cindy had been wearing the last time she left home. Police at the time said it must have been placed there after they searched the area.
Finally, on Tuesday, June 16, a man walking his dog discovered a skull in a reforestation area on the north side of Horseshoe Valley Road, about two kilometres northwest of where her jacket had been found. It was determined to be Cindy.
On Sunday, June 21, more of her clothes, a watch, a ring and shoes were discovered near where the jacket had been found.
Investigators at the time also suggested something that should have been there wasn’t, leading them to believe the killer may have kept a “trophy” from the killing.
While Watson wouldn’t say whether that occurred in the Halliday case, he did say it's something that is known to have happened in predatory-type homicides.
The following October, police said forensic tests determined she had been stabbed to death.
As police worked on the Halliday case, there was a great deal of speculation that somehow serial killer and rapist Paul Bernardo and his wife at the time, Karla Homolka, may have been involved. Kristen French was abducted while leaving school in St. Catharines just four days before Cindy was reported missing.
Bernardo was subsequently convicted of killing French and two other girls. He was also tied to a series of rapes in Scarborough between 1987 and 1990.
But investigators said he had no connection to Cindy.
And despite a $50,000 reward offered by the OPP in 2006, the case remains unsolved.
Watson says it's still considered active. It has been reviewed every 10 years, allowing investigators to look at it with fresh eyes and perhaps make use of new technology that has developed in the intervening years.
In 2006, some of the exhibits were re-examined and new DNA technology was employed.
Ten years later, in 2016, an investigator with the OPP in Central Region was assigned to it and has had it as part of their caseload ever since.
“We are likely to look at some more of the exhibits again. There have been significant advances in DNA technology even since 2006. So that’s the kind of avenue in this and other cold cases,” said Watson.
When there’s a deluge of information coming in during the initial stage of investigation, there is a possibility that something is missed, said Watson.
A thorough analysis of the evidence in historic cases, including cross-referencing witness statements for patterns or discrepancies, may well result in revelations that weren’t initially obvious.
“Sometimes, when you’re looking at a case 20 years after the fact, you’ve got the luxury of time and hindsight,” he said.
Watson hopes awareness that an investigator remains on the case might encourage people to come forward with information that might help to finally resolve Cindy Halliday’s killing.
Check out the Simcoe County Case Files police video and other information on Cindy’s case.
Marg. Bruineman, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, barrietoday.com