MANDEL: A mother’s nightmare in a box

The large cardboard box sat on her kitchen table all weekend.

The mother of the slain child had waited 27 years for this box. It had been stored at police headquarters, filled with little girl clothes taken from her closet as investigators desperately searched for clues to her disappearance from the courtyard of her Parkdale apartment building on that summer night in July 1991.

Back when an entire city came to a standstill and prayed for the return of three-year-old Kayla Klaudusz.

“I was ready,” says Keri Deon.

Keri Deon, mother of murdered youngster Kayla Klaudusz, with a box of her daughter’s belongings on Thursday August 23, 2018. Veronica Henri/Toronto Sun

After all these years, she was finally strong enough to see her baby’s last belongings before she was raped and murdered by neighbour Wayne Snowdon.

It would be the final, outstanding page she had to read before this horrific book could finally be closed forever.

Homicide Det.-Sgt. Rick Gauthier had retired long ago. Det. Henri Marsman of the cold case squad offered to bring it over before he left on holiday. ”

I’ve moved forward, I don’t want to go backward,” she told him. “Make sure there’s nothing in that box that I’m not supposed to see.”

Deon was assured there was not.

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All weekend, she looked at the brown box.

Her daughter Brittany, just 18-months-old when Kayla went missing, was away in Cuba with her husband and their twin baby boys. How she wished she was there for support.

Deon finally called on close friend Ida Munroe to be with her when she opened it on Monday.

“Let’s just get this done,” she said. “I can do this.”

She’s been shaking ever since.

The first thing they saw was a portrait of Kayla that had been used by police to publicize her disappearance.

(Veronica Henri/Toronto Sun)

Those big round eyes, that sweet angel face.

And beneath it were all the little dresses she used to wear — but not happily because she was a tomboy at heart who preferred her Blue Jays T-shirt and shorts.

There was a lot of purple.

“She was into Barney,” Deon recalls with a smile.

Her friend was folding the clothes when she pulled out a clear plastic bag stuffed in the side.

“Oh, she had one of those knapsacks with the teddy bears,” Munroe said as she took out the large furry animal.

The stuffed monkey puppet Kayla Klaudusz’s killer used to lure the youngster before her sexual assault and murder in July 1991. The item was in a box of evidence given to the victims mother by Toronto Police. Veronica Henri/Toronto Sun

But Deon knew Kayla’s knapsack at the time had been a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. It took the mom a moment before she finally understood what she was looking at.

And then it all came rushing back, a wave of pain and panic that she had struggled so long to bury:  She was holding the large monkey puppet Snowdon had used to lure Kayla to his rented room in their King St. W. building.

Two fibres from the puppet would later be found on the little girl’s panties.

Now the toy used by her daughter’s sadistic killer was right there in her apartment, gazing at her like some character from a horror film.

“You went into shock,” her friend recalls.

“It was PTSD in an instant,” Deon explains, still refusing to look in its direction.

“It brought me right back to 1991: All the smells of that summer. Everything was just so vivid.

“And then I saw another plastic bag. And I thought, what the heck is going on.”

(Veronica Henri/Toronto Sun)

Inside this bag were little brown leather sandals.

“It was the shoes she was found in,” Deon says softly, “the ones she was wearing when she went missing.”

The ones still on her tiny feet when they pulled Kayla’s body from the lake 23 days later.

All her progress, all her strength, seemed to ebb away.

“I picked up the shoes and I just lost it,” Deon says. “I’ve been crying every since. I’ve been angry. I’ve yelled. I’ve screamed.

“This is wrong in every way. These are exhibits that were used in the trial.”

And she should never have had to see them again.

The rest of us have gone on with our lives, barely remembering that painful moment in our history.

For Deon, the years since Kayla’s vicious slaying have been excruciating. She and her husband had another baby — Kyle — but parenting became an impossible struggle as her thoughts invariably drifted to the ashes of her murdered child resting on the shelf.

“I was torn between this world and that world.” she explained. “Your kids look at you and say, ‘We’re still here, mom.’ They didn’t understand.

“There’s literally not a day that goes by that I don’t think of her. What would she be doing? Would she have babies? She was my first born.”

Keri Deon (Veronica Henri/Toronto Sun)

Her marriage couldn’t withstand the torment. She moved away to Winnipeg for seven years; she returned and tried to drown her agony with alcohol.

Deon battled back. She hasn’t had a drink since Brittany’s wedding last November. She’s a grandmother now and she  needs to be there for her babies.

“Certain facial expressions remind me of Kayla,” she says wistfully.

At least she’s been spared any attempt by her daughter’s killer to seek parole. Snowdon is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder and while more than 25 years have passed, the child sex killer hasn’t dared to apply for release.

Instead, the blow she’s just endured has come unwittingly from Toronto Police who delivered evil right to her doorstep.

“How did this happen?” she demands. “What were they thinking?”

They obviously weren’t thinking at all. Deon plans to file a complaint.

The panic attacks, the anxiety, all have returned.

Deon had worked so long and hard to see Kayla only as she had been in her photos: happy, spunky, full of life.

Now the horror in that box haunts her every time she closes her eyes.

She can’t picture her sweet little girl except as she was when she was pulled from the water. And in her nightmares, a terrifying monkey is chasing her to her death.

A FRANTIC SEARCH

On the night of July 10, 1991, three-year-old Kayla Klaudusz was playing with her girlfriend in the enclosed courtyard of her three-storey apartment building at 1463 King St. W. in Parkdale.

Her mother Keri Deon, 23, had gone to play bingo with a friend, her father Steve Klaudusz, 28, was working at his printing job and Kayla and her baby sister Brittany were left in the care of the babysitter who lived one floor below.

David Wayne Snowdon, the man charged in the sex slaying of Kayla Klaudusz.

At about 8:30 p.m. Kayla was last seen running toward the stairway which would take her past the apartment where boarder Wayne Snowdon rented a room. When she didn’t arrive home, the babysitter began a frantic search. A few hours later, police were called.

In the meantime, Kayla was in Snowdon’s bedroom where he sexually assaulted her before suffocating her to death.

For three frantic weeks, her parents – and it seemed the entire city – searched for the missing child and pleaded for her return. Photos of her little face with the mischievous twinkle in her saucer eyes stared from virtually every lamp post and bus shelter.

We clung to hope, we prayed for a miracle. And then came the tragic ending we had all feared for the child who had touched our hearts.

Canadian Pacific rail yard workers found her small body floating in the murky water off Cherry St. on Aug. 2, 1991.

Eight months later, Snowdon was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. In 1996, he was convicted and sentenced to life behind bars.

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Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies