TORONTO — An Alberta man was charged with counselling to commit suicide of an 11-year-old girl and stealing her photo with the intention of using it in a blackmail campaign that spanned five provinces, police said Monday.
Mark Edward Turpin, 44, of Calgary, is also accused of impersonating an Alberta Justice officer and trying to coerce an officer in Canada’s most populous province to help him, Peel Regional Police said.
He was arrested Friday at an apartment complex in Scarborough, north of Toronto, police said. A police investigation was sparked by an Ontario coroners office, which had received an anonymous email regarding the child’s death.
Police didn’t provide details about the homicide that led to the fraud complaint, but they said Turpin had been charged with first-degree murder in that case.
“Fortunately the anonymous tipster came forward,” Detective Kaitlin Lozan said. “We were able to make an arrest and go into detail on this fraud and extortion case.”
Police said Turpin extorted a girl into agreeing to have her photo taken by giving her an address in Brampton, north of Toronto. He “would then re-send the image with a message threatening to release it,” Peel police spokesman Jessica Curtis said.
“As a result, she was able to provide a strong enough safety response to cancel the line of communication,” Curtis said.
Turpin’s relatives went to the apartment complex after police informed them of the charges, Curtis said.
“It was definitely surprising,” said Shirley, an aunt of the girl, who didn’t want to give her last name. “You know, I wish there had been more thought put into this.”
Curtis said a 14-year-old girl who was asked to play the role of the 11-year-old fell victim to the fraud.
“In that case, the child played along and was viewed on social media. She went into a situation that could have resulted in her kidnapping, and being put to work as a prostitute or something like that,” Curtis said.
Curtis said the teen wasn’t able to provide enough information to report the case to police.
“She was very calm, very responsible,” she said. “She showed herself to be very vulnerable.”
Jung Lee, whose son Justin is a friend of the girl, said she realized something was wrong when she heard police were seeking help in Scarborough.
She said the girl’s mother recently moved to China, and Justin hasn’t seen his friend since she was a toddler.
“Even though Justin might not have known her that well, she was close enough to call him brother,” Lee said. “I’m upset by this, but because of all the other children it affects more than just Justin.”
Lee said she couldn’t believe how close her friends were: “They would go on camping trips. And from what I understand, she loved animals and loved to cook.”
She said the girl’s mother has always held a very close bond with Justin.
“She knew all the time Justin would be there if she needed him,” Lee said. “She would call him when she needed him and he would be with her.”
She said she didn’t know whether the child had been taken away by police as a result of the latest charges.
The Canadian Press