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4 missing persons cases from 1990s being investigated as homicides: OPP

News Staff | posted Friday, Jul 26th, 2019

Provincial police say they are now investigating the disappearance of four seniors in the 1990s as homicides.

The seniors went missing in the Muskoka area in the 1990s and foul play was suspected in each case. The only connection they all had was where they lived.

All four of them lived at properties advertised as “retirement properties” and were used mostly by elderly people who were estranged from their families or couldn’t take care of themselves.

They were called Fern Glen Manor and Cedar Pines Christian Retirement Home, along with a third property referred to as the “farm property.”

Joan Dorothy Lawrence, 77, disappeared in 1998 and police said at the time that they believe she was murdered.

She had rented an eight by 10 foot wooden shed on the “farm property” for $600 a month. Lawrence lived there for two years until she moved into a broken down van. Two months later she vanished and OPP believe she was killed near the van.

John Semple, 81, John Crofts, 72, and Ralph Grant, 73, all vanished from 1997 to 1999 and lived in the properties at the time of their disappearance. Their remains have never been found.

Police have never named suspects in the investigations. The three properties were fun by four siblings: Kathrine, David, Paul, and Walter Laan. The OPP said these individuals never cooperated with police and by the mid-2000s, the properties were sold.

Det. Insp. Rob Matthews was working for the OPP in the Muskoka region at the time of the disappearances when he began investigating a fraud case.

Matthews said he first came in contact with John Crofts in 1997 at one of the properties during a fraud investigation. He said he had significant concerns about the level of care the residents were receiving.

He had also spoken with previous residents of the retirement properties who said they only left by “escaping.”

The OPP has identified 46 past residents who lived in one or more of the properties.

During the operations of these homes, 16 people died with 12 being reported to the authorities, the four remaining deaths are the four missing individuals.

“We know the four missing people are not alive … Someone out there has information,” Matthews said.

He wouldn’t say that the Laan family are “persons of interest” in the investigation, but said they are “of interest” to the OPP.

Police are urging any former residents or employees who have not come forward to contact police and are hoping the new information about the properties will tap into additional sources of information they haven’t had access to before.

There is still a $50,000 reward for information about the disappearance and death of each of the victims.

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