Woman starts serial podcast to investigate the disappearance of a sex worker Randy Richmond, Postmedia News Entrepreneur Karla Stephens-Tolstoy isn’t the kind of woman you’d expect to be walking down Hamilton Road at night, sniffing around London (Ontario’s) drug and sex work worlds. It surprised herself. “Walking the same streets, in some ways, was pretty unnerving,” she says. But Stephens-Tolstoy is determined to learn everything she can about a London, Ont., woman who walked those streets and disappeared — Shelley Joy Desrochers. She’s developing a podcast serial to reveal what she’s learned, and raise awareness that might prompt changes to protect women in the same situations as Desrochers.With only one segment broadcast, she’s already got an anonymous donor agreeing to erect billboards in London later in May to keep the search for answers alive.
“We know the reality is not going to be a happy ending, but it has to lead to something bigger,” Stephens-Tolstoy said. Desrochers disappeared in January 2016, with one of the last sightings in the Hamilton Road area.The 42-year-old London (Ontario) mother and grandmother worked in the dangerous street-level sex trade in London and may have fallen more deeply into drug addiction. The response to her disappearance raised questions about how London (Ontario) police assess the dangers to missing sex workers in the city, and prompted social service agencies to improve how they alert one another when people in risky lifestyles fall off their radars.Desrochers’ life was about as distant as a life can get from Stephens-Tolstoy’s. Born in Winnipeg and raised in Toronto, Stephens-Tolstoy began working in television in Canada and ended up for a time as chief executive of the multinational telecommunications giant Vodafone, still keeping her hand in developing television shows.Since the rise and fall of an online relationship site she started in Canada, Stephens-Tolstoy has moved into the world of social enterprise with clothing she calls Wearable Therapy and a focus on teenagers.That led to working on podcasts about missing women, human trafficking and foster homes.And that led her to Desrochers several months ago.“Do you ever have a story that finds you, instead of you finding it?” she asks. The story has sent her far down the paths into Desrochers’ world, interviewing family, friends, ex-boyfriends, a pimp and a drug dealer. Western University criminologist Mike Arntfield and this reporter have been interviewed as well. She spent an evening in London recently talking to homeless people and wandering the same paths as Desrochers did, with her adult stepson along for comfort and protection.“I kept thinking, ‘How did Shelley walk these streets alone?’”London police have not talked to her about the case, despite repeated requests, she said.“I might have talked to more people than they have. There is a mistrust (of police). There are so many possible leads. But we don’t have any idea what the police know,” Stephens-Tolstoy said.“There are people out there who know what happened. It is probably someone people are scared of.”The first segment of her podcast delves into Desrochers’ childhood, combining interviews with longtime friends and family with personal observations.“I really believe the story has caused family and friends to re-trauma,” Stephens-Tolstoy said. “Unfortunately, it’s going to open new wounds.”
The London Free Press
Posted in: News Tags: Canada, Karla Stephens-Tolstoy, Mike Arntfield, Shelley Joy Desrochers