It’s been nearly two decades since April Dobson was shot and killed while sitting on the front porch of a co-worker's Browning Trail home in Barrie's west end, but her friends and family still don’t know who killed her — or why.
Dobson, who was 40 years old at the time of her murder, had come to help fix a co-worker’s car following her shift at the south-end Swiss Chalet on Friday, Oct. 14, 2005.
Afterwards, city police say the two women — along with a female roommate — were sitting on the front porch enjoying Thanksgiving leftovers and drinking some wine when gunshots rang out just after midnight early Saturday morning.
Dobson, who had been seated with her back to the street, was struck in the head and was ultimately pronounced dead at the scene from a fatal gunshot wound.
A few moments after the shooting, a witness reported seeing a young male running eastbound from the area and then getting on a mountain bike before riding away southbound on the catwalk leading from Browning Trail to Bronte Crescent.
Police released a sketch of someone they called "a person of interest" who was described as being a white male between 16 and 18 years old with short brown hair and a thin build. Witnesses had described the young male as wearing beige cargo pants, a long-sleeved shirt and riding a beige or sandy-coloured mountain bike with straight handlebars.
According to the Simcoe County Case Files video, police conducted an extensive canvass of the area, speaking to nearly 800 people and interviewing 300 potential witnesses. However, no clear motive has ever been established and no suspect has been identified.
The lack of answers has left Dobson’s 82-year-old mother Barbara Monaco angry and heartbroken.
“I have waited 17 years coming (as of) this October. They have no clue who has done it; they don’t have enough evidence ” Monaco told BarrieToday from her home in Burlington.
Monaco says she has tried multiple times to contact Barrie Police Chief Kimberley Greenwood to discuss the case, but is redirected to a different department.
“I have to go through another damn department, and I am sick and tired of getting the same answers all the time: they have no clues. I feel like I was nothing. I don’t even know if they’re doing their job," she said.
Monaco believes investigators have dropped the ball on her daughter’s murder case and she said she feels like every time she calls for an update, she gets the “same old story." She says she’s also concerned about the lack of consistency throughout the course of the investigation.
“I’ve gone through at least 16 detectives in 17 years and I am just getting tired. I am 82 years old and I would like this solved before I die,” she said while fighting back tears. “It’s the same old story all the time. I am fed up with them.”
Monaco told BarrieToday she simply wants some answers and to feel like her concerns are being heard.
“I want someone to solve this case, (but) they’re always just telling me there’s not enough evidence. Maybe there’s not, I don’t know, but it’s the same old story year after year. Probably next year I will go through another two new detectives,” she said.
Monaco said two detectives came to speak with her at her home this summer, however, they weren’t able to provide any new information about her daughter’s case.
“I am so angry. … If someone knows something, they don’t give a damn. No one will talk,” she said. “I just can’t take it anymore. They’ve got to do something.”
The Letitia Heights neighbourhood where Dobson was killed is mostly residential and one of the city's more established neighbourhoods, made up of a mix of single-family homes and semi-detached townhouses built in the 1970s and '80s.
With a number of streets named after famous authors, many of the neighbourhoods are connected by catwalks and walkways. The murder scene is also only a few blocks away from the Lampman Lane Community Centre, skate park and splash pad.
Barrie police communications co-ordinator Peter Leon, who is also a retired OPP officer and familiar with the ongoing investigation, told BarrieToday he recognizes the frustration Dobson’s family must be feeling, but noted the investigation is open and ongoing.
“Seventeen years is a long time, but we are dealing with a complex investigation, to say the least,” he said. “We do have some of the best officers and investigators assigned to that case. We understand, it’s been a long time, but these things do take time. That’s why a case is never closed until there’s an arrest made or it’s cleared by investigative means.”
Dobson’s murder investigation has been the focus of a number of investigative initiatives, Leon said, including the Simcoe County Case Files, which highlighted the unsolved homicide investigation, as well as the creation of a $50,000 reward in September 2013.
“Unfortunately, as years pass, there is a level of concern and we can understand she may be upset that things haven’t progressed to a point where a person has been identified and can be held accountable for the murder of her daughter,” said Leon.
“The cases that remain unsolved at this time, we are working very diligently to find a resolution to them," he added. "We respect the fact that there will never be closure for these families because you can never bring back a loved one when they’ve been taken in a violent way, but we hope that we are able to find a form of resolution.”
Leon said he was aware that Monaco had reached out wanting to speak to the police chief, but told BarrieToday it's not normal practice, nor would there be a reason for the chief to speak to family members when it comes to any active and ongoing investigations.
“I can assure you, (Chief Greenwood) monitors these unsolved occurrences closely and does receive regular updates, especially if and when there are developments,” he said. “We must remember that this is a homicide unit investigation and I know that our staff sergeant who oversees that unit has spoken to Ms. Monaco on a number of occasions and did so again late last week when she has called in.
"The staff sergeant is the best source of information and that is why he spoke with Ms. Monaco and not the chief," Leon added.
It’s also not uncommon for arrests to be made in a homicide investigation years after the murder. One example is the January 2021 arrest of a 58-year-old Barrie man in the stabbing death of 20-year-old Katherine Janeiro, who was found murdered in her Dunlop Street West apartment on Oct. 10, 1994.
“There are, regrettably, cases in other jurisdictions that I know have been open for decades and we don’t need to look terribly far for unsolved homicides," Leon said. "It would be incredible to get that little piece of information that we need. The reality of it is, somebody out there probably has that information, they just need to share it with us.”
Leon said he's confident police will one day find out who is responsible and the Barrie Police Service will hold them accountable, noting all it takes is the right information to be received by police and then properly followed up.
“It is almost like a puzzle you have been making and you are missing some pieces; once you find them, they fit perfectly and the puzzle is done,” he explained. “That piece, or pieces, for our investigators is still out there and once it is received, the investigators will know. That is why we regularly encourage the public to share any information they may have with us or anonymously through Crime Stoppers when we are asked about these unsolved cases.
“I can assure you that the investigation is active, ongoing and the day will come when we identify, arrest and charge the person or persons responsible and hold them accountable for this horribly unthinkable act that took April’s life,” Leon added. “Barrie police is prepared to go where any information received takes us and will move mountains, if necessary, to solve this case.
"We have excellent investigators whose specialty is dealing with these complex investigations and I am confident that one day they will help the family find the resolution that they are seeking.”
Ellen White, who launched Whereabouts Unknown just over a year ago to assist families of the missing in bringing attention and awareness to their cases across Canada and the United States, knows all about working “cold cases."
White and her team of volunteer private Investigators, retired police detectives, researchers, cyber-security and digital media specialists have agreed to look at the Dobson case and started with some posts earlier this week to see what information may be out there.
White noted they have a tip line where people can talk or text anonymously to 289-975-0909 or they can email [email protected].
“While we receive requests on an almost daily basis to assist on cases, we felt compelled to lend a hand in this one. April’s grieving mother has truly suffered for more than 16 years,” she told BarrieToday. “We see a mother deprived so suddenly of a much-loved daughter, and a son deprived of his mother.”
The Dobson case is also a reminder of how quickly bad things can happen to good people, White added.
“We have all sat outdoors with friends on a lovely evening and felt entirely safe. Seeing what happened to April is a wake-up call," she said. "The person who killed her in such a cold and calculated manner has the potential to harm others, and that means the world is less safe until they are identified. My heart breaks for her.”