Ontario Provincial Police are asking for the public’s help in a decades-long missing persons’ investigation.

During the late 1990s, four seniors went missing in the Muskoka area of Ontario’s cottage country and authorities had suspected foul play was involved. But they hadn’t named any suspects at the time.

Now, police are once again asking for the public’s assistance.

“Our goal is simply to find out what happened to these poor souls,” OPP Deputy Commissioner Paul Beesley told reporters in Vaughan, Ont. on Thursday.” “We cannot solve these cases on our own.”

Between 1997 and 1999, four senior citizens – John Crofts, 70, John Semple, 89, Ralph Grant, 69, and Joan Lawrence, 77 -- vanished and were presumed dead.

In 2007, the Ontario Provincial Police told W5 that authorities were treating their nine-year investigation as homicides. At the time, the seniors were similar in that they were all cut off from family and friends because of mental illness and advanced age.

They were also all connected to the Laan family that owned Christian seniors’ residences - Fern Glen Manor and Cedar Pines -  near Huntsville, Ont.

The three men had lived at the residences before they disappeared; and Lawrence had lived in a small dilapidated garden shed on the family’s property.

Detective Inspector Rob Matthews described the three men as having “significant health issues and did not have the ability to leave the properties on their own.”

He stressed authorities “know they are not alive.”


16 PEOPLE DIED ON PROPERTIES OWNED BY LAAN FAMILY

On Thursday, OPP authorities said 46 people were residents of the properties operated by the Laan family. During the time they ran the properties, 16 people died with 12 being “appropriately” reported to authorities, Matthews said.

The four who weren’t reported were Crofts, Semple, Grant and Lawrence. Matthews added that their bodies were never found but that he was “confident” they died on the properties.

He stressed that “the owners of the properties have never co-operated with police.”

Matthews hopes former employees or residents come forward to provide statements to police because “there’s no statute of limitation on fraud or homicide in Canada.”

In 2003 and 2004, the Laan siblings—Kathrine, Walter and Paul—were convicted for embezzling money from seniors who had resided at their retirement homes.

The siblings were all given conditional sentences.

Matthews wouldn’t state whether the Laans, the owners of the land, were official witnesses, persons of interest or suspects. “But they certainly are of interest to police,” he said.

He said he was concerned if the Laans were still working with seniors.

With files from W5