Canadian True Crime - Raymond LaRoche

Episode Date: March 28, 2024

Additional content warning: This case is about the death of a baby, and there is mention of domestic violence and animal abuse. Please take care when listening.After the disappearance of a baby in Win...dsor in 1990, lurid headlines on both sides of the Detroit River quickly turned the baby’s teen parents into sordid celebrities.The intention of this episode is to take a look back at a shocking crime sensationalized through headlines, how it captured public attention and inspired vigilante justice. It also reveals the stark differences between Canadian and American news coverage that played a pivotal role in the way this crime—and the stories about this crime—played out.To see news clippings and photos from this case, follow Canadian True Crime on Facebook or Instagram.Monthly Donation:Canadian True Crime has donated to the First Nations Child and Family Caring SocietyFull list of resources, information sources and credits:See the page for this episode at  Hosted on Acast. See for more information.

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Starting point is 00:01:23 Please take care when listening. Hi everyone, and welcome back to Canadian True Crime. I hope you're well. Today's case took place in the Canadian border city of Windsor, Ontario, which lies directly across from the US city of Detroit, Michigan. The two cities are separated only by a river about two kilometers wide. This story centers around the 1990 disappearance of a seven-month-old baby and how lurid headlines on both sides of the Detroit River quickly turned the baby's teen
Starting point is 00:01:56 parents into sordid celebrities. It's also a story about how the stark differences between Canadian and American news coverage played a pivotal role in the way this crime and the stories about this crime played out. An additional content warning. This case is about the death of a baby and there is brief mention of domestic violence and animal abuse. Please take care when listening. And with that, it's on with the show. July 17 1990 was a hot one in Windsor, Ontario. Not record-breaking hot like it had been two years earlier when the temperature broke just above 40 degrees Celsius,
Starting point is 00:02:46 a heat record that holds to this day. No, that Tuesday morning in 1990, it was 23 degrees, partly cloudy and a little muggy, a typical summer morning for Canada's southernmost major city. In the West End neighbourhood of Sand Sandwich at about 9 a.m., 19-year-old Raymond La Roche and his 15-year-old girlfriend Sandra Souleir stepped out of their third floor apartment to check on their laundry. They left their seven month old baby Raymond in his crib with a bottle. The laundry room was located on the main floor of their small, brown brick, three-storey apartment building on Peter Street.
Starting point is 00:03:31 The street runs parallel to the Detroit River, which is just a few blocks away. It ends at the iconic Ambassador Bridge, which links Windsor to Detroit. The young couple would tell police they'd been in the laundry room for about half an hour. When they returned to their apartment Raymond LaRoche didn't even notice his son baby Raymond was gone at first. He thought maybe Sandra was playing a joke on him or that a
Starting point is 00:04:02 relative had come and taken the child without telling them. He would tell a Windsor Star reporter, quote, I started to get a real bad feeling in my gut, but I don't think he's dead. I think he's in a house somewhere. I know he's still alive. Raymond then speculated about how the baby might have been abducted. He pointed out the buildings lack security, adding that resident children often left the
Starting point is 00:04:34 main door propped open. Sandra suggested that someone might have spotted their baby on the balcony where they frequently played with him. Her stepfather Larry speculated that whoever took the baby is probably someone who can't have kids of their own. By that Tuesday afternoon, 25 police officers were on the case, combing through the working class neighborhood, lifting lids off garbage cans and beating the brushes. Baby Raymond was described as blonde and blue-eyed,
Starting point is 00:05:11 with one lower tooth and a small bruise on his forehead, reportedly caused when a toy mobile hanging over his crib fell on him. By nightfall, nothing. No leads, no clues, no witnesses. The next day, the extended family held a vigil in the small apartment, waiting for any news from police. Sandra's distraught mother, Susan, hung a banner over their balcony that said, I want my boy back. Soon, neighbors started talking to the press about Raymond and Sandra, painting a picture of two seriously troubled teens.
Starting point is 00:05:57 Remember, they were just 19 and 15 at the time. One told the Windsor Star that even though they'd only been living in the building for two weeks, they fought all the time. The landlord at their previous apartment told the same paper the two had been evicted for rowdy behavior. She said she'd often called the police on Raymond.
Starting point is 00:06:22 She added that Sandra frequently appeared to have bruises all over her face. She could hear their baby screaming during their fights. Then there was the odour coming from their old apartment. It was so bad that the landlord called the Humane Society. They discovered dead ferrets in a cage and an apartment overrun with cats. Raymond also kept a pet piranha in a tank, reportedly feeding it hot dogs. Sandra was not immune to their neighbors criticism. One neighbor recalled running into her getting off a bus and offered to hold the baby while she folded up the stroller.
Starting point is 00:07:06 Sandra said it was freezing cold that day and a bottle had spilled on the baby, soaking him. He would have only been a few months old at that time. Another neighbour, who is 20 years old with a three-year-old child and twins on the way, told Detroit News, quote, If I can get my hands on her, I'd like to rip her apart, end quote. Reportedly, Raymond LaRoche had already been on probation for a robbery conviction when his baby went missing, so he was known to the police.
Starting point is 00:07:43 Investigators asked the young couple if they would take a lie detector test, and at first they agreed, but after speaking to a lawyer, they changed their minds. At the time, turning down a lie detector test would likely have been considered an indication of guilt, in the court of public opinion anyway, but it's worth mentioning that just three years earlier in 1987, the Supreme Court of Canada had found polygraph results to be unreliable, unnecessary, and risky as evidence
Starting point is 00:08:17 in criminal trials. Polygraphs or lie detector tests don't reveal or prove deceit. They only indicate a change in stress levels. They've been scientifically debunked, but are still used as an investigation tool. Raymond said he had the feeling that the police were trying to separate him and Sandra to get them to turn on each other.
Starting point is 00:08:41 He told a reporter that he, quote, hated when they started playing games. What began to emerge amidst the frantic search for this missing baby was a dark picture of violence and squalor. At the center, two teenagers barely able to take care of themselves, let alone their seven-month-old son.
Starting point is 00:09:21 8am, Thursday, 48 hours after baby Raymond was first reported missing. Three men from the Windsor side of the Detroit River headed out on a small boat for a day of fishing. They planned to drop anchor near Amersberg, a few miles south of Sandwich. One of them, a man named Russell, lived only a few blocks from the Peter Street apartment building and was aware of the drama brewing in his neighborhood. He would say that he and his two friends had planned to spend the whole day out on the river but the weather turned bad so they headed back. Near the shore Russell spotted what he thought was a doll bobbing in the river rushes. As they steered closer to the bank,
Starting point is 00:10:05 they realized it wasn't a doll. It was the body of a baby floating on its back, arms flung above its head, tangled in the rushes. Russell immediately thought of the missing baby. The three men moved the body to shore so it wouldn't float away, covering it with a plaid shirt to protect it from further exposure. They called the police and the tiny body was taken to Windsor's Grace Hospital to be formally identified. Later that night, the Windsor star
Starting point is 00:10:40 would run a photo of two of the men. Both were visibly shaken, eyes cast down, mouths set in grim lines. But if the search was over, the drama was just beginning. The evening news on both sides of the border featured stories of the gruesome discovery. By 6.30 p.m., an unruly crowd of about 150 people began to gather outside the Peter Street apartment building where Raymond and Sandra lived. Some of them chanted, baby killers, under their balcony.
Starting point is 00:11:20 Cameras from major Canadian news outlets as far away as Toronto and every major TV channel in Detroit dotted the building's small lawn. The crowd grew so large, police were called to disperse it and to escort Sandra to the hospital to identify the body. People yelled, hang her ass, bitch, and baby murderer at the 15-year-old, who was reportedly two and a half months pregnant with the couple's second child. Sandra's stepfather, Larry, hovered in the foyer of the building,
Starting point is 00:11:57 calling the crowd vultures. But he also told reporters that he had advised his daughter to tell the police if she knew anything. Tell them now, he said, or you'll both be charged. The body was indeed her son, baby Raymond. Not much else was reported about how he might have died, just that there were scratches all around his eyes, which could have come from being tossed around in the river.
Starting point is 00:12:27 More would be known after the autopsy, which would have to be conducted at Toronto's Sick Kids Hospital. Now the investigation shifted from a possible kidnapping to a likely homicide. This whole saga was taking a toll on the 15-year-old mother. Sandra reportedly hadn't eaten in four days. She was so distraught, her mother had suggested checking her into the hospital
Starting point is 00:12:54 while she was there identifying the body, but she refused. After returning to the apartment, it was Raymond's turn to see his son's body. Later, he told the Windsor Star, After returning to the apartment, it was Raymond's turn to see his son's body. Later, he told the Windsor Star, quote, I didn't believe it until I was there myself. I seen him and that was my boy. It was these kinds of candid, tossed off quotes that had begun to captivate the press and the public. Raymond was like one of the perpetrators from an episode of Cops, a wildly popular reality show
Starting point is 00:13:30 that had debuted on Detroit TV just a year earlier, on a channel available to Windsor audiences as well. In the show, handheld cameras are embedded with police units across the US. Drug busts, domestic violence, assaults, it was all captured by shaky cameras. Audiences were wrapped by police chasing perpetrators down streets and alleys. Sometimes the perpetrators' faces were blurred out, but you could hear anger and humiliation in their voices.
Starting point is 00:14:06 Copps would go on to be one of the longest running shows in television history. But back in 1990, local viewers on both sides of the border were just becoming accustomed to the raw, unfiltered tropes of unscripted TV. And Raymond's off-the-cuff remarks and emotional outbursts were ratings gold, as was his tendency to break out into a grin at a time when most other parents in his position would be beside themselves.
Starting point is 00:14:38 Julia Jackson, a reporter from Detroit's Channel 50, said it wasn't unusual for her station to cover Canadian stories for American audiences. But this kind of story, a very dramatic story, was very unusual for Windsor. Friday morning after the baby's body was identified, the couple's picture was splashed across the front page of the Windsor Star on top of the fold. It was above news about the ongoing standoff in Oka between the Mohawks and Quebec Provincial Police, which had been dominating the headlines that summer. In the photo Raymond and Sandra are sitting on their plaid couch. He's wearing only a dark
Starting point is 00:15:27 undershirt. His arm is casually slung around Sandra's shoulders. She is gaunt but fixated on his face while he chats on the phone, reportedly to his lawyer. Raymond is quoted in the article saying, We'll find the persons that did this. It will all come out in the end. He added that he was relieved that his baby son's body was found, saying, quote, now I know no weirdo is holding him. Raymond later told the Detroit Free Press, quote, I know I didn't do it. I know she didn't do it. I don't have to prove myself to nobody, let the police do their work.
Starting point is 00:16:12 The couple now was in a kind of limbo, still attracting intense media attention, still the target of anger and suspicion from neighbors, and still insisting on their innocence. They stuck to their story that someone came into their apartment that Tuesday morning, stole their baby from his crib and killed him. The results of the autopsy would determine the police's next move. and the And you can track every trip on the live map in the Uber app. Uber Teen Accounts. Invite your teen to join your Uber account today. Available in select locations. See app for details. This episode is brought to you by the Ontario Cannabis Store. If you're curious about cannabis products but have some questions or aren't sure where
Starting point is 00:17:16 to start, you should check out the OCS. They're there to help you out. Find high quality products that work for you and share what they know about legal cannabis products. You shouldn't have to rely on guesswork. You can find everything you need to know at the Ontario Cannabis Store. To get to know some of the trailblazers helping to shape the legal cannabis Sandra Suleer had been with Raymond LaRoche for two years. They first met at a high school Halloween dance when she was only 13 years old. At the time, she was a typical teen, hanging with friends and singing in the church choir, but she fell hard for Raymond, who was 17 when she met him.
Starting point is 00:18:14 She told a friend that she wanted to get married and start a family with him right away. Just five months after they met, Sandra became pregnant with baby Raymond. They said it was planned. Before she gave birth, she was assigned a case worker from the Children's Aid Society in Windsor, whose job was to help young, unwed mothers prepare for the arrival of a baby. By all accounts, Sandra's mother and stepfather were both active in her life and doted on their grandchild. And while they thought she was in a bad situation, living with Raymond, there seemed to be no getting her away from him.
Starting point is 00:19:00 After Sandra identified her son's body and refused a hospital stay to deal with her own declining health, her mother finally secured a court order that forced her to have a 72-hour medical evaluation. While in the hospital, Sandra's family also retained their own criminal lawyer, Patrick Ducham, to represent her. When reporters asked Raymond if this said anything about the case, he told them, we're sticking together. Though police still insisted the 19-year-old father wasn't a suspect, they began to informally stop by and question him. Raymond told reporters police asked him all sorts of questions about his drug and alcohol use and even the meaning of the pentagram tattooed on his shoulder. The five-point star is often associated with witchcraft and the occult.
Starting point is 00:20:01 Raymond claimed that Sandra's stepfather had drawn the tattoo on himself. He joked to a reporter that when police asked if he worshipped the devil, he told them, quote, Oh, yeah, all the time, end quote. The funeral for baby Raymond LaRoche the following Wednesday began with a high speed car chase breathlessly detailed on the front page of the Windsor Star. The normally press-friendly couple had tried to keep the details of the funeral private. They snuck out the side door of their Peter Street apartment in an attempt to evade reporters
Starting point is 00:20:40 still camped out on the lawn. Here's how the Windsor Star described the scene on its front page. It's a news story that reads like it was ripped out of a Bonnie and Clyde script, except they weren't bank robbers. They were two teenagers attending the funeral of their dead baby at the church where Sandra once sang in the choir. But curiously, after the service, her own priest told a reporter he didn't notice anyone break down during the proceedings. Later that night, things hit a fever pitch when Raymond's own father, Michel La Roche,
Starting point is 00:21:37 gave an explosive interview to WXYZ TV in Detroit. He told the reporter that his son had actually admitted to him that he killed baby Raymond. Michelle said Raymond, quote, went out of control and that he insisted it was an accident. Then Michelle said his son had the body ditched. The passive language implied that someone else had been involved in the crime. This story put Canadian news outlets in a difficult position, and it highlighted the radically stark differences
Starting point is 00:22:16 in libel laws on either side of the Detroit River. Under US law, the burden of proof falls on the subject of a new story to prove it's false. In Canada, the onus is on the news outlet to prove that it's true. And while WXYZ's reporting from Detroit, Michigan was highly criticized by media experts in Canada, audiences in Windsor, Ontario ate it up. They demanded to know why CBC or other Canadian news outlets weren't reporting these so-called facts as well. But Canadian news outlets did report Michelle La Roche's
Starting point is 00:22:56 inflammatory statements under the guise that they had to give Raymond the opportunity to deny his father's allegations. And Raymond denied them vociferously. He called his father unreliable and out for revenge, adding, quote, He's a burnout. He's trying to be a hero. Don't believe everything you see on TV. That news, of course, unleashed the local Peter Street vigilantes.
Starting point is 00:23:25 This time they were out for blood. 30 people reportedly followed Raymond to the store that night, chanting, kill him and get him. Raymond said one of them pulled his coat over his head and assaulted him, but that he got away without a scratch. An onlooker was quoted in the Windsor Star saying, give me a 30-30 rifle with a scope and I'll take him out right now. It's hard to blame Canadian viewers
Starting point is 00:23:51 for being more drawn to American news outlets now covering this sordid story nightly. Being unshackled from Canadian libel laws, their stories were more salacious and entertaining, filled with details of the story and the story itself. this sordid story nightly. Being unshackled from Canadian libel laws, their stories were more salacious and entertaining, filled with details Canadian journalists had to, by law, leave out, like a father accusing his son of murdering his grandchild. Some news outlets even nicknamed the victim, the River Baby. After that dramatic episode, The Windsor Stars editor-in-chief,
Starting point is 00:24:29 Carl Morgan, published an emotional op-ed. It was both an indictment of the American news for broadcasting the accusations and an explanation for why the Canadian press was given no choice but to respond to them. He wrote quote, By going on TV to make his allegations, Michel La Roche created a new set of events that created a story within a story.
Starting point is 00:24:55 The man wasn't accusing some mysterious stranger passing in the night. This was his son. That alone becomes a newsworthy event. Then the son says his father can't be believed. Once the father made the allegations, the son had a right to respond. It would have been unfair not to allow that to happen, but it was impossible to report the response without reporting what he was responding to. The police department calls a press conference, once more vaulting the events into the public domain. The Windsor Stars editor-in-chief closed his op-ed by writing,
Starting point is 00:25:35 The reality is, regardless of your personal feelings, no one has been charged by police with a single thing. Until that happens and until that person has been found guilty, in the eyes of the law, he or she is as innocent as you or I. A CP story about the Canadian reporting of American news coverage said, News reporting is a competitive business and no one in print or broadcasting likes to be beaten to a story. That presents a special problem these days when a flick of a dial brings US television programs into Canadian living rooms. In Windsor, viewers have been demanding to know why their stations have been lagging behind the Detroit media on the baby death story. Newsroom staff have been trying to explain to callers how libel and slander laws differ between the two countries.
Starting point is 00:26:34 In that same CP article, University of Windsor journalism professor Stan Cunningham speculated that the damage done by the news coverage was incalculable. He added, quote, It's very hard now for any of us to maintain an open mind and an objective attitude. They've poisoned the climate of justice for that young couple. A few days later, Raymond and Sandra left town. If not for their safety, said family, then at least for their sanity. They needed to get away from the cameras and reporters.
Starting point is 00:27:14 They decamped to nearby Holiday Beach, about 40 minutes away in Amherstburg. The Windsor Star followed them there, noting that the couple had made some friends with people their age and that Sandra played with their young children. But their peaceful sojourn only lasted a few days. Out of the spotlight and away from the cameras, Raymond admitted to a Windsor Star reporter that he grew bored. The couple returned home. It was the last night of freedom Raymond would have for a long while. Around 2pm the next day, several police officers dressed in plain clothes descended on the Peter Street apartment to finally arrest Raymond LaRoche. When they let him out of the building in handcuffs, a small crowd started to clap and jeer. Sandra was arrested too. So what prompted police actions on that day? The autopsy report came back from Toronto Sick Kids.
Starting point is 00:28:28 It laid out in plain, shocking details that seven-month-old baby Raymond had suffered a violent death and that he was likely dead before he was placed in the river. He had bruises all over his body and signs of strangulation around the neck. He also had a perforated heart, a ruptured liver and severe trauma to the abdomen and head.
Starting point is 00:28:54 Any one of those injuries would have been catastrophic, according to the coroner. Baby Raymond had them all. Police worried that once the public learned about the grim details of the baby's death, there would be even more unrest. So on August 3rd of 1990, 17 days after his infant son went missing, Raymond LaRoche was charged with his second degree murder.
Starting point is 00:29:23 Sandra was charged with mischief and for misleading police. While she was immediately remanded into her parents' care, Raymond was denied bail. He would spend the rest of the time before trial in the old Windsor jail. This time the court wasn't messing around with the press coverage. The judge issued a publication ban on any details stemming from the bail hearing or any pretrial hearings and threatened offending media outlets with contempt of court charges. The judge pointed to the US media in particular, despite having no jurisdiction over their reporting and no real way to hold them accountable.
Starting point is 00:30:09 He announced that Raymond LaRoche was entitled to a fair trial and the only way he was going to get it was if the press didn't poison the well. The band worked on the Windsor side of the border and there was a sudden drop-off of salacious headlines. The only notable exception was one interview published a couple of months into Raymond's jail stint when the 19-year-old told Windsor star reporter Scott Burnside that he intended to marry Sandra. There had been rumours that Raymond's mother encouraged Sandra to marry her son under some mistaken idea that this would somehow prevent her from testifying against him.
Starting point is 00:30:54 But other than that, the only stories that appeared were paragraphs here and there, updating readers on Raymond's legal proceedings. there, updating readers on Raymond's legal proceedings. With Raymond in jail and Sandra with her parents under court order not to speak to him, things on Peter Street were quiet for the first time in weeks. There was nothing left to do but wait until the trial, which was set to begin early the following year, 1991. Then came another twist. Raymond's preliminary hearing began in January of 1991, which would determine if there was enough evidence to go to trial. On day one, during the testimony of an unnamed witness, Raymond reportedly broke down crying.
Starting point is 00:31:46 These were the only details reporters could reveal since the proceedings were still under a strict publication ban. The preliminary hearing resumed in February, but before these proceedings even got underway, Raymond's lawyer and the Crown prosecutor held a last-minute meeting behind closed doors. Raymond was now represented by local legend Don Tate, a notoriously flamboyant criminal lawyer who often took on high-profile cases, usually ones involving bikers and gang members.
Starting point is 00:32:23 ones involving bikers and gang members. Tate had a knack for keeping his clients out of prison or bargaining for reduced charges. Rumors of a plea bargain quickly spread in the crowded courtroom. The two lawyers re-emerged, this time with Raymond in tow. He reportedly winked at his mother and waved to Sandra, her second pregnancy showing by now. Then he stood and faced Judge Saul Nosanchuk and pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter and for lying to the police. This was a stunning turn of events.
Starting point is 00:33:02 There would be no trial. stunning turn of events. There would be no trial. The judge asked Raymond if he understood the ramifications of a guilty plea. Raymond said yes, he did. The publication ban was lifted so Canadian news outlets could now report about the actual events that led to Raymond's arrest and the CBC could finally air a jaw-dropping behind-the-scenes documentary it had long been prepping. The documentary made clear that while American News was reporting out all sorts of unverified details about the murder, turbocharging viewer impatience with the investigation
Starting point is 00:33:42 and amping up vitriol against the teen parents, Windsor police had been quietly building their case against Raymond LaRoche. In the CBC documentary, lead investigator Murray Sinnott told reporter Colleen McEdwards that police had immediately suspected Raymond of murdering the baby. It wasn't hard to see why. The documentary re-aired an interview with the young couple on their couch, before the body of their infant son had been found. In it, Raymond says he believes his son has only got so much time because, quote, he's hurt and he misses his dad. The 19 year old breaks out in what can only be described
Starting point is 00:34:28 as a shit eating grin for a second before reeling himself in to add, and his mom too. Raymond says they miss their son very much and chuckles as he says, he's a cute little guy. His odd and inappropriate behavior in addition to the story he and Sandra told about the circumstances that led to their baby's so-called disappearance, suggested to Windsor police that the young couple likely knew a lot more than they were letting on, especially Raymond. letting on, especially Raymond. But they had no evidence, no witnesses, nothing that directly linked Raymond to the murder.
Starting point is 00:35:12 Not yet. They were waiting for the autopsy report or a confession. So they played it cool, telling journalists that the investigation was ongoing and that they still had no suspects. Hearsay wasn't good enough for an arrest. Raymond's father, Michelle LaRoche's claim on US TV that his son had confessed to killing the baby wasn't good enough either. In fact, days before senior LaRoche had gone on WXYZ TV with that inflammatory interview, he had also told Windsor Police that same story, according to the lead investigator.
Starting point is 00:35:54 But again, this was hearsay. While there are exceptions that may allow certain hearsay evidence to be admitted at trial, for example, a direct statement of an accused person admitting to the crime, it's not enough for an arrest. And neither were the stories of Raymond's past violence and drug and alcohol abuse. None of it was enough to charge him with anything. The documentary also showed a troubling scene with Sandra's mother, Susan, and her stepfather, Larry.
Starting point is 00:36:29 During a surprise appearance at police headquarters, they talked about a time Raymond had killed a kitten in front of them by repeatedly throwing it against the walls of their apartment. Susan added that her daughter was regularly covered in bruises on her face and body but when she confronted Raymond about it he insisted she had no proof he was abusing Sandra. Another friend told an officer that she witnessed Raymond's abuse first hand describing a distressing incident where he threw baby Raymond at Sandra after first blocking her from comforting the crying infant. The Windsor star was also able to fully report details from the preliminary
Starting point is 00:37:17 hearing that were previously under publication ban, including the fact that Raymond broke down crying during lead investigator Murray Sinnott's testimony. Sinnott was describing a time when police had made one of their unofficial visits to Raymond's apartment in the days leading up to his arrest. He said they found him, quote, in a strange state of mind. Raymond began asking him a series of what if questions, describing a hypothetical accident that might have involved his baby. The investigator prompted Raymond to say more.
Starting point is 00:37:57 If there had been an accident involving the baby, he asked Raymond, what would you do? Synott testified that in response, Raymond threw a pillow on the floor and pretended to resuscitate it by violently punching the pillow over and over again. One of the other officers present pointed out to Raymond that those kind of aggressive moves
Starting point is 00:38:20 could actually do a lot of harm to a baby. The police felt it was as close to a confession as they were likely going to get. This violent incident combined with the shocking autopsy report that found baby Raymond had bruises all over his body, signs of strangulation, damaged organs and severe head trauma was the evidence they needed to finally make an arrest. Lead investigator Murray Sinnott also referred to the police's first meeting with Raymond LaRoche
Starting point is 00:38:54 after the baby was reported missing, testifying that after just 20 minutes they knew in their gut that his story about the kidnapping was a lie. But they only ever had circumstantial evidence. Plus, they wanted to be 100% certain about how Sandra was involved, if at all. Sinnott added, quote, All of our investigators were united in believing La Roche was the author of the death. One problem was how Sandra may have participated. We almost had to eliminate her first.
Starting point is 00:39:31 He also testified that he agreed with the reduced charge of manslaughter in exchange for Raymond's guilty plea, because in the end, they never really had a lot of evidence. They even tried bugging the apartment to no avail. In fact, Sennett said, had the baby's body never been found, it's unlikely any arrest would have ever been made. He described the situation as quote, one in which you had a whodunit, but you had very little evidence. But Raymond wouldn't officially admit to the crime
Starting point is 00:40:08 until he'd been in jail for three months. He finally broke down one day and tearfully told his then-new lawyer, Don Tate, that he did it, that he was solely responsible, and that he had accidentally killed his son in a drunken rage because the baby wouldn't stop crying. The Windsor Star reported that the lawyer then laid out Raymond's options. If he went to trial on second degree murder charges, he stood a good chance of being convicted and that he'd be sent to jail for a long time. Tate added,
Starting point is 00:41:09 Everyone had heard about Raymond LaRoche and everyone had made up their minds." After Raymond confessed, that's also reportedly when Tate first met with the Crown prosecutor to discuss the possibility of reducing the charges from second-degree murder to manslaughter. At Raymond LaRosha's sentencing hearing on February 18th, 1991, Judge Saul Nozenchuk finally read his full confession out loud to another crowded courtroom. Another warning to listeners, the details that follow are disturbing. The judge began reading, quote, It was hot in the apartment. I remember the baby was crying a lot and would not stop.
Starting point is 00:41:49 All I remember is hitting the baby with my fists. I was in a rage and suddenly I stopped when I heard Sandra screaming at me. It seemed like a dream. Raymond said after the beating he put the baby in his crib and gave him a bottle. The rest of the details, he said, were hazy because he had drunk almost a case of beer that day. Judge Nozenchuk continued reading Raymond's statement. He seemed okay at the time. It was only a short time later when Sandra screamed that he was not breathing. I looked and he was turning blue.
Starting point is 00:42:26 I grabbed him and started screaming at him to start breathing. I kept shaking him but he wouldn't wake up. I kept pushing on his chest over and over again, but he would not breathe. I kept yelling, he's dead, he's dead. I remember standing up with him and falling down because I was so drunk. I don't know if I fell on him or not, but he was in my arms when I fell. I knew he was dead." Then came perhaps the darkest part of the story. After they knew baby Raymond was dead, Raymond
Starting point is 00:42:58 and Sandra brought his tiny body out to the balcony and pretended to play with him. body out to the balcony and pretended to play with him. It was all a ruse to give neighbours the impression that the baby was alive the night before his parents knew he was going to mysteriously disappear. One witness had told police that they thought the baby was a little overdressed for July. Another witness said at one point Raymond dangled the baby upside down by the legs and that the baby had seemed quote, oddly lifeless. The judge continued with Raymond's statement. I didn't know what to do so I carried him out of the apartment in a green garbage bag
Starting point is 00:43:40 and threw him in the river. I love the baby. I don't know why this happened. I need help and I hope I get it in jail." The hearing ended with Judge Nozhenchuk speaking directly to Raymond saying, the killing of your own son is one of the most serious types of offenses imaginable. You were in a position of trust and you failed that trust in a miserable way. You were pathetically unequipped to be a parent. Raymond LaRoche was sentenced to 10 years in prison. The maximum for manslaughter is life in prison, so critics, including Raymond's own father, complained that he got off easy.
Starting point is 00:44:25 Raymond's lawyer disagreed. Don Tate said he'd hoped for an even shorter sentence, but all the toxic media attention fueled public hatred against Raymond to such a degree that it made it impossible for him to seek any kind of leniency. Tate pointed his finger directly at WXYZ in Detroit, which reportedly won an award for their coverage of the story. Raymond would be eligible for parole after 40 months, but before he was shipped out to begin serving his time at Millhaven Institution in Bath, Ontario, he granted yet another interview to the Windsor Star.
Starting point is 00:45:08 In it, he thanked his mother and his lawyer, who he said inspired him to want to pursue a law degree while in prison. He said he was aware he'd be heading to a place that didn't take kindly to child abusers, but he wasn't afraid, telling the reporter, quote, I'm not worried, I'm a man, I've been through it. And while Sandra was under a court order not to contact Raymond,
Starting point is 00:45:35 he left the reporter with the impression that the two of them had made plans to move out west when he got out, and that he expected Sandra to visit him in prison with their baby daughter. At that point, the baby was due in just a few weeks. That never happened. This episode is brought to you by the Ontario Cannabis Store. If you're curious about cannabis products but have some questions or aren't sure where to start, you should check out the OCS. They're there to help you out. Find high quality products that work for you and share what they know about legal cannabis products. You shouldn't have to rely on guesswork.
Starting point is 00:46:28 You can find everything you need to know at the Ontario Cannabis Store. To get to know some of the trailblazers helping to shape the legal cannabis market in Ontario, visit Introducing Uber Teen Accounts, an Uber account for your teen with always-on enhanced safety features. and we'll be right back. Your teen will get assigned a top-rated driver. You'll get peace of mind. Uber Teen Accounts. Invite your teen to join your Uber account today. Available in select locations. See app for details. So what happened to Sandra Suleer?
Starting point is 00:47:25 A little over a year to the day after her son was killed, Sandra was placed on probation after pleading guilty to the charge of misleading the police. This meant her name was now under publication ban as a young offender. From that point on, the Windsor Star referred to her as a young mother, a young offender, and more poignantly, a girl, reminding readers that she was and had always been the other child at the centre of this horrendous crime. In sentencing her to probation, the judge told Sandra that her crime, quote, shocked the conscience of an entire community.
Starting point is 00:48:08 In a short lifetime, you have suffered the greatest loss that can befall any parent, the loss of a child. You found yourself under the influence of Mr LaRoche and unable to exercise any independent thought or will. By this point, 16-year-old Sandra and her now four-month-old daughter were living in foster care. It's unclear how she ended up there since it appeared that she had a decent relationship
Starting point is 00:48:39 with her own mother and stepfather. But according to her foster parents, Sandra was enjoying her second baby, though had bouts of difficulty dealing with the loss of her first. She had also been assigned four workers from Children's Aid to help her learn better parenting skills. She had plans to place the baby in daycare so she could return to school in the fall. As for Raymond LaRoche, his time in prison was marked by bouts of violence committed by him and against him.
Starting point is 00:49:15 It was also marked by long stays and solitary confinement, often by his own request and sometimes as punishment for bad behaviour. After serving a third of his original 10-year sentence, the now 23-year-old was eligible to apply for parole. He'd spent less than three and a half years in prison. At his first hearing, the parole board referred to a list of infractions. They first asked him why he had threatened to stab his cell partner during his first year in prison at Milhaven Institution. Raymond claimed that his cellmate was a homosexual pedophile, that's a quote, and that he shouldn't have been placed in a cell with him. The board also made reference to an attack committed against Raymond.
Starting point is 00:50:08 When asked about the exact nature of that attack, he admitted something happened, but that he was not, quote, fully raped, and claimed that any violence he committed was in his own defense. Raymond had a new lawyer by now, and he added that his client's mental health had declined after that attack. Then the parole board asked about the psychiatric reports which described Raymond as delusional and having bipolar disorder. Prison doctors reported that he claimed to be a miracle worker of some kind who could see into the future, and although he was required to take anger management classes,
Starting point is 00:50:49 he reportedly didn't get much out of them. Nor did he seek treatment for substance abuse while in prison. Then, the board asked him questions about killing his infant son to determine if he'd changed or if he could express remorse. Raymond told the board that he didn't think he was an angry person by nature. He claimed he had lost his cool that one time, but only after drinking 18 beers in six hours. He said the baby wouldn't stop crying even after he picked him up, which he admitted might have hurt his feelings. When asked if he'd ever been violent with Sandra, Raymond also
Starting point is 00:51:34 admitted quote, I smacked her a couple of times, never anything where she would require hospitalization. He also reportedly told a parole board member new details about his childhood, which he initially described as the best anyone could ask for. But now, he claimed his father, Michel La Roche, had beat him and his mother before they separated when he was five. He then described growing close to a man assigned to him from the Big Brother organisation, but he died of cancer when Raymond was around 12.
Starting point is 00:52:11 It was something he said he never got over. Raymond LaRoche was denied parole. Less than a year later, in 1995, he lost yet another bid. This ruling stated, quote, In the board's view, you are an angry and immature and disturbed young man who needs a great deal of professional care by mental health specialists. Raymond LaRoche's lawyer would later state his client did not seem to receive the mental
Starting point is 00:52:45 health help he needed, or at least not enough of it. During his first two years at Milhaven Institution, his growing anger and frustration was evident in a series of letters he sent to Sandra that were later published by the Windsor Star. In them, Raymond expressed his desire to marry Sandra when he got out and for them to continue having children until they had another son. He talked about lifting weights to become a quote, lean, mean fighting machine.
Starting point is 00:53:20 He also demanded that Sandra bring their baby daughter to visit his mother in Windsor more often. Then he demanded she write him back, threatening her with violence if she was cheating on him. He wrote, I want you to start writing me letters and sending me cards and pictures and stuff. I want you to start calling my mother at least once a week and I want you to call her today. You better not be fooling around on me or you'll end up like Jackie Robinet. Jackie Robinet was an 18 year old Windsor woman who was shot and killed by her boyfriend in
Starting point is 00:53:54 February 1991, the same month Raymond pled guilty to his crimes. His next letter was equally unhinged. He warned Sandra that she better be taking care of their daughter or quote, you will pay when you get out. You act like you don't care or love me anymore. You wait bitch. You think you're the boss because I'm in jail. I'm out in 36 months. You will answer to me. I will track you down. You can run, but you can't hide." Sandra's mother Susan kept the letters and sent them to the parole board before Raymond's first hearing back in 94. She asked the board to order him to stop sending them to Sandra. She said her daughter wanted nothing to do with Raymond and was trying to live a better life. The letters stopped.
Starting point is 00:54:54 After his stint at Millhaven Institution, Raymond LaRoche was sent to Kingston Penitentiary and then Walkworth Institution near Peterborough. In February of 2001, a little over a month after the Windsor star published excerpts of his prison letters, Raymond was scheduled to be released on full parole after serving out his full 10-year sentence. As many feared, he was heading home home back to Windsor. Raymond's imminent arrival stirred up strong emotions in the city. The Windsor star spoke with an old neighbor
Starting point is 00:55:32 who still lived in the same Peter Street apartment building. He stated that Raymond better not get in his face. The neighbor also admitted that he had once been part of the mob that had gathered on the lawn chanting for Raymond's arrest and claimed he even took a swing at him way back then but missed. Another neighbour said she heard rumours that people would be after Raymond, that he wouldn't be safe there. The now 29 year old Raymond LaRoche, whose dark hair had grown down past his shoulders,
Starting point is 00:56:08 would eventually move in with his mother. But he was first required to report to the Windsor Jail. Police asked the court to place several restrictions on his movements, citing his poor psychiatric reports and multiple complaints from both Sandra's family and his own. Those threatening letters he sent to Sandra had come back to haunt him. By then, Sandra had reportedly married again, had at least one more child and changed her name. But police still worried for her safety. They were certain that Raymond would offend again.
Starting point is 00:56:47 Judge Nozenchuk, the same judge who had sentenced him, agreed with police and placed a number of restrictions on Raymond, including a requirement for him to report to a parole officer every week. He was also not permitted in places that served alcohol or allowed to take care of children under the age of 14. He had to enroll in a substance abuse treatment program and seek ongoing psychiatric care for his mental illness. And if he wanted to leave the area for any reason at all, he had to give police 72 hours notice. Most importantly,
Starting point is 00:57:28 Raymond was forbidden from ever reaching out to Sandra or anyone in her family. He was also forbidden from reaching out to his own father. Raymond agreed to all of the conditions, adding, quote, I don't want anything to do with them. I have no interest in any of them. And I don't want to be around them. I have no intention of breaking the law. I just want to lead a normal life. The next time Raymond LaRoche was in the papers
Starting point is 00:58:02 was four years later, on February 16, 2005, almost 14 years to the day that he killed his baby. The Windsor Star published a short article with the headline, Traffic Stop, next to a picture of the then 33-year-old. He was standing by a police cruiser, his back to the camera and his long hair in a ponytail. An officer seated in the car is writing him a ticket for having too much snow on his windshield. The end of the article details Raymond's reply after being asked what he'd been doing with his life since being released from prison. He said, quote, I'm just going day by day. Raymond LaRoche's last lawyer Robert DiPettrio would later be quoted saying that life after prison was difficult for his client. He said Raymond was very mentally ill and would sometimes
Starting point is 00:59:01 call and leave strange messages on his phone. Quote, it's a sad situation. He needed significant psychiatric treatment, which I don't believe he ever got. The lawyer added that Raymond had moved to Kitchener for a time to restart his life, but he always returned home to Windsor. The last ever mention of Raymond LaRoche and the Windsor star was in 2012, seven years after he was ticketed for having too much snow on his windshield. The headline was on the front page under the fold.
Starting point is 00:59:40 It read, Baby Killer LaRoche Dead. On September 19th, 2012, the lifeless body of Raymond LaRoche had been found in a rooming house in Windsor's West End, just a few miles from the old Peter Street apartment building. He was about 40 years old. He was about 40 years old. At the time, the press reported that the cause of his death was unknown and there were no more follow-up reports about that story. But Murray Sinnott, former lead police investigator, now retired, has confirmed that Raymond LaRoche died of a drug overdose.
Starting point is 01:00:22 As for Sandra, who changed her name, Synnett also tells us that she and her family have been unable to be contacted for at least a decade. He believes that she has likely left the city of Windsor. The 1990 killing of seven-month-old baby Raymond in Windsor, Ontario, is a shocking enough story on its own. It's also a story about how the system not only failed to protect a vulnerable baby, but the other child at the centre of this horrendous crime, the baby's own mother. At 15 years old, Sandra Souleir was a victim herself of both mental health issues and domestic violence. Not to mention the vitriolic headlines and mob violence
Starting point is 01:01:15 sparked by the intense gaze the media placed on this crime and her troubled boyfriend. It's the kind of story that we imagine might be told differently today, perhaps with greater sensitivity to the evident problems plaguing the young couple. But in revisiting this story, it's not difficult to imagine how much worse these teens might have fared in the era of social media. Thanks for listening to this episode of Canadian True Crime. And special thanks to Lisa Gabriel who researched and wrote it and also to retired police investigator Murray Synnott
Starting point is 01:02:03 for answering our questions. This episode has been written from the news archives, most notably the Windsor Star and the Toronto Star. We'll be posting many of the news clippings and photos mentioned in this episode on the Canadian True Crime Facebook and Instagram pages, as well as a link to watch that jaw-dropping CBC documentary. They don't make them like that anymore, that's for sure. For the full list of resources we relied on to write this episode and anything else you want to know about the podcast, visit
Starting point is 01:02:38 The podcast donates monthly to those facing injustice. This month we have donated to the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, which works to ensure the safety and wellbeing of First Nations youth and their families. Learn more at Lisa Gabriel researched and wrote this episode. Audio editing was by Eric Crosby,
Starting point is 01:03:04 who also voiced the disclaimer. Our senior producer is Lindsay Eldridge, and Carol Weinberg is our script consultant. Narration and sound design was by me, and the theme songs were composed by We Talk of Dreams. I'll be back soon with another Canadian true crime episode. See you then.

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