On 31 October 2011, 18-year-old Taylor Van Diest left her home in Armstrong, British Columbia dressed as a zombie for Halloween. With plans to meet friends and enjoy a fun night of trick-or-treating, her walk alongside the railway track in the small farming town around 6 pm that evening took her through a secluded area. In the dark, with no one around her, she sent a text to her friend that she was ‘being creeped’. It was the last message received from her before she was brutally attacked, clubbed over the head and strangled, being left on the ground to die as her attacker ran off into the night.
She was found almost three hours later lying face down and barely alive. Taylor Van Diest was rushed to hospital with her friends and family following behind but died soon after without ever regaining consciousness.
The night of Halloween on the 31 October each year is traditionally one of costumes and bonfires intended to protect against ghosts. In more modern times it has evolved into pranks and candy with children going door to door asking “Trick or Treat?” With its backdrop of dark nights, ghouls and mischief it has unfortunately seen a number of horrific crimes take place in amongst the trick-or-treaters taking advantage of the dark skies.
Ronald Clark O’Bryan known as the ‘Candy Man’ being the case which quickly comes to mind. O’Bryan was a husband and father of two who took his children trick-or-treating on Halloween night on 1974 in Pasadena, Texas. While out he gave his children Pixy Stix candy straws offering them more when they returned home and before bed. His son, Timothy O’Bryan, complained immediately of feeling unwell, vomiting and going limp before he took his last breath. His autopsy revealed cyanide in his system and examination of the candy treats confirmed the poison had been mixed in with the candy sugar. Ronald O’Bryan was heavily in debt and about to lose his job and he had taken out a $60,000 life insurance policy on his children. Arrested, he was convicted of the murder of his son and sent to death row. He was executed on 31 March 1984 by lethal injection.
After the death of Taylor Van Diest, an autopsy revealed she had suffered six separate injuries to her head causing her skull to fracture along with clear evidence of strangulation on her throat. Taylor had bravely tried to fight off her attacker leaving marks on her neck from her own nails desperately trying to remove the ligature she was being strangled with. Local residents heard her screams at the time of the murder, but being Halloween night both did not think anything of them or investigate them further. Pathologists were unable to determine whether she had been hit over the head first or strangled first but, there was no doubt this young girl suffered a terrifying ordeal in those minutes before she lost consciousness.
Taylor Van Diest scratched her attacker, obtaining his DNA under her fingernails. It was this evidence that found and eventually convicted the man who was responsible for her horrific death.
That man was Matthew Foerster, a 26-year-old who had come into the small town looking for sex that night before fleeing the area and going into hiding after the attack. He was arrested for the murder of Taylor Van Diest in April 2012 in a motel room in Ontario.
Matthew Foerster was 28-years-old by the time the case went to trial in March 2014 at the British Columbia Supreme Court in Kelowna. The prosecution claimed he had followed Taylor Van Diest down onto the secluded track and attacked her with the intention of rape. When she fought back and screamed he smashed her over the head with a heavy object, possibility a metal flashlight.
His defense claimed he was hoping for consensual sex, however, when she resisted he pushed her to the ground where she hit her head on a steel pipe that was already there. Foerster’s admittance of being responsible for her injuries meant the question for the jury was whether his actions amounted to first-degree murder or manslaughter. His DNA was found under Taylor’s fingernails and her DNA was found inside his truck.
In May 2014 he was found guilty of first-degree murder, which carries a mandatory life sentence in Canada with no chance of parole for a minimum of 25 years.
“The fact he chose not to speak, speaks volumes in how cowardly, dysfunctional and deviant this individual is,” said Marie Van Diest, Taylor’s mother after the verdict reported the Huffington Post Canada.
Matthew Foerster’s father, 60-year-old Stephen Foerster, was also arrested in relation to this murder, charged as an accessory to murder after the fact due to evidence uncovered by police that he had lied for his son. He was sentenced to three years in prison after his son’s conviction for helping his son evade capture by the police. His conviction came after it was revealed that in the three months after the murder, he left his job, paid money for a driving licence, social insurance number and bank card for his son and lied to police telling them his son was away working on oil rigs when in truth he was hiding out in Ontario. The father and son communicated on disposable cell phones to avoid being recorded or traced. In late March and early April 2012, the police were recording their communications and heard him tell his son not to call home as police surveillance was in place and he needed to lay low.
In March 2017, the CBC Radio Canada reported that a new trial has been granted for Matthew Foerster based on his latest appeal. Within that appeal, his lawyers argued how the judge in his trial had instructed the jury on the interpretation of Taylor Van Diest’s last text messages and her use of the term ‘being creeped’ was incorrect. Further issues raised were that the jury was not informed that the disposal of a shoelace and flashlight by Matthew Foerster did not have “any bearing on whether he was guilty of murder or manslaughter”. “The use of a flashlight and a shoelace to attack someone is as consistent with manslaughter as with murder,” the appeal Judge commented in his ruling, said the Vancouver Sun.
As Foerster has admitted being responsible for the injuries that killed Taylor Van Diest, it is assumed he is looking to have his conviction of first-degree murder reduced to manslaughter at this second trial. For the Van Diest family, a second trial means reliving the brutal death of their daughter all over again. Marie Van Diest told CBC News “It’s like a nightmare case of déjà vu. We are back at square one.”