Mystery and Fear in Smiths Falls: Unexplained Disappearances Leave Town on Edge

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From left to right: Lawrence Bertrim, Robbie Thomson and Steve Tate each disappeared over the past 14 months in Smiths Falls, Ont. Police continue to investigate each case separately. (OPP)

The quiet town of Smiths Falls, located 72 kilometres southwest of Ottawa, is currently shrouded in a disturbing mystery following a series of unexplained disappearances that have left the community of approximately 9,300 residents reeling with more questions than answers.

According to CBC News, the troubling series began in the fall of 2022 with the disappearance of 42-year-old Lawrence Bertrim. This was followed by the vanishing of his acquaintance, 34-year-old Robbie Thomson, a little over a year later. The situation took a grim turn earlier this month when the body of Steve Tate, 34, also believed to be an acquaintance of Bertrim and Thomson, was discovered in a ditch along Highway 15, just north of the town. The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) have not officially linked the three cases and have stated that their investigations are ongoing.

The lack of arrests and limited information from the police have fueled a whirlwind of rumours in this once tranquil community, a former rail hub. “Police haven’t said anything,” shared resident Bill Linton in an interview with CBC News. “Which rumours do you believe? Rumours aren’t facts.”

Ontario Provincial Police are shown along Highway 15 on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023, guarding a tent where the body of Steve Tate was found the day before. PHOTO BY SABRINA BEDFORD /Recorder and Times

The closure of the Smiths Falls Record newspaper earlier this year, coupled with Meta’s recent ban on Facebook posts by Canadian news outlets, has exacerbated the situation. Kelley Denham, who manages a Facebook group of about 8,000 local residents, expressed her concerns to CBC News: “It’s like people have forgotten how journalism works. Now we don’t have news. We just have rumours. Lots and lots of rumours.”

A gruesome, unconfirmed story about Bertrim’s fate has been circulating in the town, treated as an “open secret,” Denham added.

Mayor Shawn Pankow echoed these sentiments, highlighting to CBC News the harmful effects of rampant speculation, especially on the victims’ families. He also raised concerns about the decline of local community news and the Facebook ban contributing to the information void.

Police say Steven Tate, 34, was reported missing on Nov. 4. (OPP)

In February, five months after Bertrim was last seen, the OPP joined the Smiths Falls Police Service in the investigation. A recent news release marking one year since Bertrim’s disappearance revealed that authorities had been “receiving an abundance of second-hand information” and urged residents to provide factual information.

Linda Young, Bertrim’s mother, made a heartfelt video appeal released by the OPP: “I know that people are hearing things and have information,” she said. “Help bring my family some closure.”

The case of Robbie Thomson, described as a “gentle giant” by friends, remains similarly shrouded in mystery. Initially investigated by the Smiths Falls police, his disappearance soon came under the purview of the OPP’s Criminal Investigation Branch. OPP spokesperson Aaron Miller declined to comment on the rumours but emphasized the importance of people with first-hand knowledge contacting the police.

Steve Tate’s case is equally perplexing. Reported missing on Nov. 4, he was last seen near his home on Lavinia Street. His body was found near Highway 15, but police were quick to reassure residents there was no threat to public safety.

Miller informed CBC News that the OPP is handling the cases of Bertrim, Thomson, and Tate separately, but a senior officer is providing oversight to ensure effective communication and resource sharing between the three investigations. It was noted that all three men knew each other and had