Alicia Ross Case: The Timeline

Her disappearance was one of the most mysterious in recent memory. What could have lured a woman outside from her locked apartment in the middle of the night for a fateful encounter with her killer? The murder of Alicia Ross sparked one of the largest searches in Ontario history and ended with one of its shortest murder trials. Her neighbour, Daniel Sylvester, was found guilty of second degree murder in the terrible crime and will serve a life sentence for his actions that night.

Here’s a look back at the timeline that made up this incredible case:

August 16-17, 2005

Alicia Ross, a 25-year-old Markham woman, returns home from a date with her boyfriend, Sean Hine. He claims to have dropped her off and watched as she went inside her Bronte Road home. Her mother comes to her basement bedroom to borrow a purse and briefly chats with her daughter. Then, for the first time in months, Sharon Fortis goes to bed early. It is a move she will come to forever regret. “I never go to bed early,” she recalls later. “It was just that one night.”

Something happens between that moment just after midnight and the time the sun comes up. Alicia is gone, somehow lured out of the house again. She disappears without her keys, her purse or even her shoes. Her car remains in the driveway. But despite a massive search of the ravine behind her Bayview and Green Lane area home, there’s no trace of her.

Her frantic family and her boyfriend call police, who start a search but come up empty. They admit they’re baffled by the disappearance and agree there’s cause to worry.

“Normally when you leave the house … as a woman, you would take a purse or car keys or a wallet or something. All of that has been left behind,” York Regional Police Cst. Laurie Perks reveals.

August 18

A helicopter and the K-9 unit scour the area around Ross’ home for any sign of her. When she fails to show up for work at a computer firm, her family fears worsen. Cops say the case is unusual but refuse to use the word ‘foul play’. They admit to having taken a close look at her boyfriend. Hine is the last person known to have seen Alicia alive, but despite a search of his home and his car, cops insist he’s not a suspect.

Stung by the suspicions, he issues an emotional appeal for information about her whereabouts.  “Look at these pictures,” he points out, rifling through some recent photos that show a smiling Ross. “This is from last weekend in Quebec on the Rouge River. O.K.? You understand how happy we were? This is – this is breaking my heart,” he concludes, his voice shaking. “I loved her”. 

“From our perspective, he’s not a suspect,” confirms Inspector Tom Carrique. “He’s a witness that potentially has valuable information for us.”

Hine claims he looked around the outside of the family’s home, and saw signs of a struggle. But police won’t confirm anything as the hunt widens.
August 19
Friday dawns with no word but lots of willing help. More than 200 volunteers show up to help police look for Alicia, painstakingly going over every inch of ground in an ever widening search pattern. So many come out, cops plead with people to stay home.

Robert Binstock cancelled his plans for the day. “This could be my child who is missing so I thought it was important to take off work and come out and do whatever I can do,” he explains. Bad weather hinders the search, but despite all the efforts, nothing is found. “We have searched a number of areas, green belt areas, ravines, and things of that nature in the immediate area south of the 407 Highway to Steeles Avenue and on the east we’ve searched over to the 404 and to the west we’ve searched Bayview Avenue,” outlines Inspector Craig Rogers. “There has been no evidence of Alicia anywhere in that area at this point in time.”

August 20

Her eyes red and voice shaky, Alicia’s mother faces the cameras in a desperate plea for information about her daughter now gone four long days. With great courage she utters a message to her absent child. “Alicia, I have never broken a promise to you and I promise you, you will come home soon,” she vows. Then, addressing the public, she adds, “I beg you to come forward, I wish no harm to anyone. Just the safe return of my daughter.”

Her wish goes unanswered.

August 21

Day five and hope fades. The search area expands but the results are the same. Ross continues to be missing and there’s simply not a single clue about where she went or why she left.

August 22

It is now day six and police finally utter the words everyone is thinking – foul play. “Although there is no evidence to suggest foul play, and the lack of evidence, we are concentrating on the possibility that foul play may exist and be responsible for her disappearance,” admits Carrique. A police command post at a nearby school remains, but the massive search starts to be scaled back, as police choose to focus their investigation elsewhere.

Despite the grim possibility, her family tries to stay optimistic. “We love her and we’ll be seeing her soon, and she’s a strong, bright, intelligent woman, and she’s going to be home,” predicts Randy Fortis, the missing woman’s step-sister. “She’ll be home soon.”

August 23

In the first significant movement since Ross vanished, police tow her Toyota Corolla from the driveway of her home. But as the case hits the one week mark, cops refuse to say what they’re looking for. It’s hoped fibre evidence may lead to a clue searchers missed the previous seven days. The search is also scaled back, as the family thanks all those who volunteered for contributing their time.

Police insist they haven’t given up – and neither will the relatives. “We can’t lose hope,” maintains brother Jamie Ross. “We’re trying to keep as positive an outlook as we can, and we’re going to keep looking . We’re just trying to stay positive and, you know, hope to bring my sister back home.”

In a bizarre twist in an already strange case, Hine is arrested – but not for Alicia’s disappearance. The man who was the last to see Ross and the first to call police, was taken into custody and charged with impaired driving in Newmarket.

Hine is held overnight and has his license suspended for 90 days.

August 25

It is the day police drop a new nugget of information. Acting on information from the O.P.P.’s Behavioural Unit, cops confirm they believe Ross was abducted, likely by someone she knew. And for the first time, they begin actively calling the investigation a ‘crime’. With nowhere else to turn, police take a second look at  Hine, asking his neighbours if they saw anything suspicious in the past week, and wondering if they’d seen him putting out garbage bags in front of his house.

It’s also revealed they’d searched near his cottage in Haliburton. But the leads fizzle, and Hine remains only a ‘person of interest’. Cops also set up a special hotline to take tips, and it initially attracts hundreds of callers. But none of the suggested leads pan out.

Forensic testing of Alicia’s car is ended, but authorities won’t say if they found anything useful. And the case gets international exposure, after being listed on the America’s Most Wanted website. Despite the grim pronouncements, Ross’ mother remains strong. “My message is, ‘I love you with all my heart,'” she sobs. “I would give my life just to have her come home. I’m not even looking for punishment, you know? I don’t wish harm to anyone. Just her return. That’s all I want.”

Her message to her missing daughter? “Don’t, don’t, don’t give up,” she pleads. Cops assure her they won’t either.

September 14

It’s been almost a month and the story has dropped out of the headlines, as cops continue their probe and the family endures an agonizing wait in limbo. “I need that phone call,” Fortis pleads. “I need my daughter back. And I hesitate to say it but I will say it – in whatever circumstances.” Exactly a week later, she’ll finally get her answer.

September 20

Thirty-one year-old Daniel Sylvester walks into 1 District York Regional Police Headquarters with his lawyer. He apparently gives detectives enough information to send them to a specific location north of the region.

September 21

More than a month after the case began, police make the stunning announcement – Sylvester has been charged with second degree murder and they’ve recovered body parts they believe may be Alicia’s. Forensic testing will tell them for sure.

The accused makes the first of many appearances in a Newmarket courtroom, as the shocked neighbourhood learns the news. Cops are tight lipped about the motive or how Alicia was lured out of her home that night.

Oct. 7, 2005

More than 1,500 people attend Alicia Ross’ funeral at Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda Synagogue in North York. Jewish tradition says the deceased should be buried within about 24 hours of their death but Alicia’s killer robbed her family of that ritual.

Apr. 30, 2007

Jury selection begins in the murder trial. Daniel Sylvester faces a charge of second-degree murder. He tried to plead guilty to manslaughter, but the plea is rejected.

May 10, 2007

Sylvester reveals the long awaited reason he killed Ross. The two met in a laneway straddling their homes and an argument broke out. When she called him “a loser” he lost his temper and attached her, hitting her head against the pavement. He would later recall how he disposed of her remains, even going back to move them to another location.

May 29, 2007

After deliberating for less than seven hours, a jury returns with its verdict – second degree murder, ruling Sylvester intended to kill the woman.

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