Toronto Canada Police’s handling of the disappearance and death of Alloura Wells in 2017 drew much criticism.
The second half of Investigation Discovery’s Still a Mystery: Danger at Close Range follows Alloura’s early life and the events that led to her sudden disappearance. The show also tells what the police did when she was reported missing. Here’s what we know about what happened to Alloura, in case you’re interested.
How did Alloura Wells die?
Alloura was born a boy but she told her family she was a girl when she was 18. She was the third of four children and when she was young people said she was shy but kind. Alloura’s family experienced periods of poverty from an early age, so that she often did not come home for weeks or months. The 27-year-old man was living on the street in Rosedale Lavine, Ontario, Canada when the incident occurred.
Alloura spent most of her time talking to her family on Facebook. When she stopped updating her account in late July 2017, they began to worry. However, Alloura was not reported missing until November 2017. There she was dead. On August 5, 2017, two hikers in Ontario found her body near a road in the Rosedale Valley. The severely smashed body parts were found next to a tent along with drug paraphernalia and a handbag.
But the bodies were not found until the end of November 2017. The autopsy showed that the person had been badly injured around the time of death and in the months before. Alloura may have died from blunt force trauma in the period leading up to her death. Police thought there was no third-party fault and the coroner wrote that the cause of death was unknown.
Alloura Wells died, didn’t she?
Alloura had many serious injuries including two broken bones in her spine which happened shortly before her death. Then, in the months leading up to the incident, there was another series of injuries. Alloura’s rib, sternum, and manubrium were all broken. They could have been caused by a blow to the body. The coroner also said they didn’t know what killed Alloura, but it’s possible it was a crime or an accident.
Alloura’s Facebook page has not been updated since July 26, 2017. It was difficult for her in the previous years. Alloura’s mother died of cancer in February 2013. After that, the young woman lost her apartment and had to live on the streets. She had to do sex work to make money and had been in prison for shoplifting and for talking to people about prostitution.
In August 2017, Monica Forrester, who knew Alloura well, was contacted by Alloura’s sister, Michelle Wheeler. At first they thought Alloura was in prison. Monica called the jail and asked for Wheeler, thinking that was her last name. When she heard “Yes,” she thought it was Alloura. But the 27-year-old person didn’t use that last name. The family only learned in November that Alloura had never been detained.
Then on November 4, 2017, Alloura’s father, Michael Wells, went to police but said the officer didn’t take him seriously. Then, on November 6, he had to go to another police station and say that she was missing. Authorities eventually found the body found in August 2017 belonged to Allouras by testing its DNA. But when the body was found at the time, the police didn’t issue a press release or call Homicide. Even the local community center, which knew about the body, didn’t tell anyone about it.
Police then learned of Augustinus Balesdent, who was dating Alloura at the time and may have been the last person to see her alive. People close to her said their relationship was abusive, and Alloura said he once hit her with a brick. In addition, both took a lot of drugs. Augustine had previously been in trouble with the law, and one transgender woman said he broke into her home and threatened her. He was accused of sexual assault but admitted he made a threat instead.
Augustine told Alloura’s family that he was in prison when she died, but the records showed that was not true. The police took an interest in him, but although he was arrested in July 2019 and June 2020, they did not speak to him about Alloura’s case. An outside review of how the Toronto Police Department handles missing persons cases found that there was systemic bias. The report also said some officials didn’t know enough about, or thought stereotypically about, the LGBTQ community.
Wells was the third of four children in a poor Toronto family. Her mother Mary worked as a manager at Tim Hortons and her father Mike worked as a laborer.
Wells attended Wexford Collegiate School for the Arts, which had a special acting program. When she was 18, she told her family she was gay and they were happy for her.
Wells was missing for a long time as a teenager. She often went downtown, where she was caught trying to sneak into the bars in Toronto’s gay village of Church and Wellesley.
She befriended drag performers and asked them how they dressed up and “glamorized.”
Wells joined the Ontario Works income support program around 2012 and rented an apartment near her sister in Scarborough. When her mother died in February 2013, the family broke up. Her father and older brother lost their homes and Wells was evicted from their apartment. She mainly lived in a tent at Rosedale Ravine Lands Park after being kicked out. Wells was found asleep on her sister’s doorstep in 2015, all jumbled up and difficult to spot.
Monica Forrester, a transgender and sex work activist, said Wells had many friends. She called Wells a “community cornerstone.” Forrester said Wells had fallen on hard times, couldn’t afford an apartment and now lives under a bridge. Wells spent a short time in the Vanier Center for Women prison. Her father thought it was for theft, burglary and intrusion. Well’s father said that she did sex work and turned down offers to stay at his apartment. Friends of Wells said she sometimes did sex work for survival when necessary. Wells had not spoken to her father since March 2017.
Wells was dating Augustinus Balesdent, the only boyfriend she had ever told her father about. Balesdent said their relationship was “tumultuous” and marked by injecting drug use.
After July 26, 2017, her Facebook account went unused under the name Alloura Hennessy. One of her last two posts was about how proud she was of her younger brother’s service in the military, and the other said: “Wonders what happened to me in life, love and loss. It’s too much to deal with at the moment.”
On August 5, 2017, a woman named Rebecca Price and a friend found the body of a dead woman at a park in Midtown Toronto called Rosedale Ravine Lands Park. She reported this to the Toronto Police Service (TPS), and 53 Division investigators and the coroner went to the scene to investigate what happened. The body was found next to a tent containing drug paraphernalia, but no identification was found. The body was dressed entirely in women’s clothing and was found with a blonde wig and a handbag. There was no sign of foul play. The autopsy couldn’t determine why the woman died or what race she was, but the medical examiner found she was transgender. The body was badly dismembered, and the person was believed to have died three to four weeks before being found.
When the body was found, the TPS did not issue a press release, as is customary. Meaghan Gray, a police spokeswoman, said there were no details to be released and investigators were working to find out more so they could ask the public for help identifying the person.
The 519 Neighborhood Center
Price spoke to a detective a couple of times, but he saw that not much was being done. When Detective Price said the woman was transgender, Price searched the Internet for groups that help transgender people and called The 519 Community Center in Church and Wellesley on August 17. On August 25, The 519 Price said staff were investigating the situation and would be in touch with police. However, it later emerged that the staff had only read police press releases, and when they found no mention of an unidentified body, they did not call the police or any other agency.
Around mid-August, TPS sent out a bulletin to other police departments.
The Ontario Provincial Police notified the Toronto Police Service that a transgender person from Northern Ontario is missing. However, the age of the body found in Toronto did not match the age of the missing person. Another Alberta case was about the same age, but DNA testing ruled that out.
The disappearance of Alloura Wells
In early August, Forrester’s advocacy group, Maggie’s: Toronto Sex Workers Action Project (Maggie’s), called Wells’ family. They worried that she hadn’t posted on Facebook in a while. Forrester called the Vanier Center for Women and found they had a prisoner named Wheeler. Since she thought Wells’ last name was Wheeler, she figured Wells was safe.
In late October or early November, Forrester called the Vanier Center again and was told that Wells had not been in prison that summer. Forrester told Wells’ father, and Wells’ father’s other daughter later told him that Wells was not in a drug rehabilitation center. Wells’ father told police she went missing on November 6, 2017, four months after she went missing. He notified the 51st Division, which was in charge of Church and Wellesley, that she was missing. On November 8, TPS sent out a press release with two photos of Wells stating that she had disappeared. On November 9 and 10, police returned to the ravine to search for Wells.
Maggie’s told the media that Wells had disappeared, and both Price and Maggie’s were shocked that neither TPS nor The 519 had made contact with Maggie’s or other social organizations in the area. The missing persons report and the body found in the ravine had some similarities, so police obtained a DNA sample from a family member for testing.
Maggie conducted a search for Wells in the Canyon and along Bloor Street East on November 11, where he was often seen.
Wells’ body was not easily identified, and it took the Ontario Center for Forensic Sciences months of work, including DNA testing, to figure out what happened to him. On November 23, it was proven that the body belonged to Wells.