The Disappearance of Shelley Desrochers

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EARLY LIFE:

Shelley Desrochers was born on February 4, 1974. According to her sisters, Laura Desrochers and Tosha Simas, she had a tough life growing up. The daughter of abusive parents, she was in and out of foster homes from a young age.

Despite her difficult upbringing, Shelley chose to look at the positives in life, with those who knew her describing her as a lovable, caring and happy-go-lucky person. She was well-known in her community and enjoyed spending time with family. Some of her favourite activities included reading, exercising, cooking and watching movies.

The mother of three children, as well as a grandmother, Shelley unfortunately fell on hard times. She struggled with PTSD and substance abuse, and had turned to working on the streets in order to earn money. At one point, she had attended rehab and returned to school, but did not achieve the success she’d hoped. Due to her lifestyle, she was known to those at My Sister’s Place, a women’s drop-in shelter and counselling agency located in London, Ontario, Canada.

LEAD UP TO DISAPPEARANCE:

Shelley’s sister, Laura, claims the last time she spoke to her was on December 31, 2015. Nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary, and Shelley had said she had plans to spend New Year’s Eve at her boyfriend’s house.

DISAPPEARANCE:

According to the London Police Service, the last confirmed sighting of Shelley was by a police officer at 2:00pm on January 2, 2016, in the area of Lorne Avenue and English Street in London’s Old East Village. This is also the last day she was active on Facebook.

There are some sources that state there was one more sighting of Shelley three days later, on January 5, 2016. The location was near the intersection of Hamilton Road and Rectory Street, an area known for prostitution.

On January 21, 2016, police were contacted by a citizen and asked to conduct a welfare check, as her family and friends had not heard from or seen her in a few weeks. They were unable to locate her, which prompted the start of a missing persons investigation.

INVESTIGATION:

As soon as they learnt Shelley was missing, her friends and family set to work putting up missing persons flyers in the area where she was last seen. They also knocked on the doors of local businesses, and investigators looked to obtain any surveillance footage she may have appeared on.

On February 1, 2016, police issued a public missing persons notice. According to them, Shelley had received her Ontario disability cheque on January 29, and they’d become more concerned for her welfare after she didn’t try to access her bank account.

Around the first anniversary of her disappearance, Shelley’s friends organized a rally to help raise awareness about the case. London police also set up a dedicated tip line in the hopes of prompting anyone with information to come forward.

Overall, police have recovered her purse and her health card. The purse, which contained her cellphone, was located in a home known for drug-related activity, and her health card was located three years after her disappearance, in the parking lot of a walk-in clinic on Hamilton Road.

In January 2018, police posted flyers featuring her image and details about the case across the downtown core and in other neighbourhoods she was known to visit. They also conducted a social media blitz and spent an afternoon in the Old East Village, in the hopes of drumming up renewed interest in the case.

In early 2021, Please Bring Me Home, a Canadian organization that works to solve missing persons cases that have gone cold, announced it had received information about the case. The information obtained suggests that one unnamed individual is responsible for Shelley’s disappearance, but before going to police they are first trying to verify how said individual had access to Shelley around the time she went missing. The organization also announced several awareness measures, including a plan to erect a billboard in the Hamilton Road area, conducting canine searches and creating an online map to show key locations in the case.

Shelley’s disappearance has received heavy media coverage over the years. Initially, her family did not want the public to know of her lifestyle, as they hoped she’d simply got into hiding or was partying somewhere, but when it became apparent that wasn’t the case, they decided to trust local news agencies and opened up about Shelley’s drug use and street work.

According to the London Police Service, the case is still ongoing and active. There have been hundreds of tips called in, all of which have been followed up on. Investigators have spoken with friends, family and anyone who may have been with Shelley in the lead up to her disappearance, and they have conducted numerous searches. There has been the forensic examination of evidence, and they have looked into her social media profiles and her financial records, all in the hopes of finding out what happened to her.

As of publishing, there have been no significant leads regarding Shelley’s whereabouts, but it has been said that investigators have narrowed their focus to the hours before she went missing and the events that occurred after she was last seen. They are currently considering the possibility that Shelley is dead, due to her lack of contact with loved ones and the evidence located, but they are continuing to explore all avenues of investigation.

Initially, the Desrochers family had been critical of how police had handled the case, stating that the official public notice regarding Shelley’s disappearance hadn’t been released until a few weeks after she was last seen. This raised questions about the way the department handles the disappearances of women considered “at-risk”, but police have said they initially didn’t have any cause for concern, as the circumstances surrounding her last-known sighting did not raise suspicion. However, Laura has said that she now feels investigators are doing all they can in her sister’s case and she is in constant contact with them.

THEORIES:

1) One theory that has been spurred on by rumours is that Shelley ran away to start a new life. There are some in the community who believe she is actively avoiding being located, but neither her family nor police believe this to be the case, given how close she was to her loved ones and the fact her bank account has not been touched since her disappearance. In the chance she is in hiding, they have publicly said she is not actively wanted by police and is not the subject of any other investigation that may make her not want her location to be known.

2) Some believe her death may have been the result of what’s been deemed her “high-risk” lifestyle. There are rumours that she met with foul play, the result of either her drug use or her work as a prostitute – could someone have panicked and tried to cover up her death? Given the little amount of evidence found in relation to the case, investigators can’t be certain Shelley is deceased, but they have stated it is highly possible that this is the case.

AFTERMATH:

Shelley’s disappearance prompted a coalition of city agencies in London to develop new ways to track those considered to be vulnerable, in the chance they happen to go missing.

A podcast has been created about the case, titled Finding Shelley. It is said to have sparked anger in those who knew the missing woman personally.

To mark in 44th birthday in 2018, her family unveiled a commemorative bench in Springbank Park’s Rayner Gardens, an area she was known to enjoy spending time in. Money was raised through a GoFundMe fundraiser, and her family held a gathering at the park to show their support for the investigation. As of 2020, the bench has been moved to a more public area of the park, along Commissioners Road.

CASE CONTACT INFORMATION:

Shelley Joy Desrochers was last seen in the area of Lorne Avenue and English Street in London, Ontario, Canada on January 2, 2016. She was 42 years old, and what she was last seen wearing is unknown. At the time of her disappearance, she stood at 5’2″ and weighed between 130-141 pounds. She has dark blonde-to-black hair that’s described as being long and straight, and she is said to have either brown or hazel eyes. She has three tattoos: a tiny blue bird on one shoulder, a heart with a rose on the other shoulder, and a whale with the word “Kevin” across the back of her shoulders. She is said to have a distinctive pigeon toe walk, meaning one of her feet is pointed inward.

Currently, the case is classified as a missing persons investigation. If alive, she would be 46 years old.

Those with information are asked to contact the London Police Service at 519-661-5670 or the official tip line at 519-660-5842. Tips can also be called in anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or the Please Bring Me Home tip line at 226-702-2728.

Image Credit: Global News

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