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Key puzzle piece missing in probe of Toronto woman’s stabbing death, police say

Nighisti Semret

Handout photo

Six days after Eritrean expatriate Nighisti Semret was stabbed to death in Cabbagetown as she walked home from her overnight shift at a downtown Toronto hotel, scores of tips have been fielded, 200 hours of surveillance video have been gathered and the team of police officers assigned full-time to the investigation has grown to 13.

What's missing, said Detective-Sergeant Gary Giroux of the homicide squad, is the piece of information that will take police to the door of her killer.

On Monday afternoon, he released a short package of video clips that it's hoped will jog the memory of anyone who saw either Ms. Semret or the suspect in the minutes before and after the stabbing. They can be seen here, along with the press conference.

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Also released were pictures of the clothing worn by Ms. Semret at the time of her death – a blue raincoat, dark navy pants, blue shoes; she was carrying a blue shopping bag and a white umbrella. Images of the items can be found on the Toronto Police Service website.

As well, a more detailed description of the suspect is available: He's described as a white male of medium build, between 150 to 180 pounds. He has dark eyebrows and wore a heavy, three-quarter-length dark jacket with circular buttons on the cuffs, a dark peaked hat and a light-coloured scarf, tied at the back. He wore dark baggy pants and walked with a slight limp.

The attack took place around 7 a.m. in an alleyway near Bleecker Street and Ontario Street, a block and a half north of Carlton Street.

But investigators remain unsure of the victim's exact route as she headed toward her home on Winchester Street after her night shift at the Delta Chelsea Hotel on Gerrard Street, just west of Yonge.

She lived alone. Her husband and four adult children – two sons, two daughters – are in Uganda after the family fled Eritrea several years ago.

The hotel and the cleaning company, for whom she worked as a supervisor, have set up a trust fund with the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, and a fundraiser is to be held next month.

Ms. Semret was stabbed multiple times. Still unclear is the motive of the person who killed her, and whether she knew her attacker.

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"I can range across any number of investigative theories and I'm keeping my mind open to all of them," Det.-Sgt. Giroux said.

And with no quick arrest, "That suggests this is going to be a long investigation and a challenging one," he said.

"But I've got all the resources I need and I've been offered more by the (Police) Chief...and we're just going to keep going until we find this person."

Det.-Sgt. Giroux remains confident the killer is known in the area, and has likely broken the law before.

"This isn't someone who just ran out of the gate and attacked this woman," he said.

"They'll have some history of violence."

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About the Author

At The Globe and Mail since 1982, in assorted manifestations, chiefly crime reporter, foreign correspondent and member of the Editorial Board, Tim is now retired. More

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