KELOWNA - Taylor Van Diest wasn’t embarrassed to be the teenager who’s too old for trick-or-treating but goes anyway. Halloween was her favourite day of the year, and she wouldn’t miss the chance to dress in costume, this year as a zombie, and go giggling door-to-door with her best friends.
She worked hard at her make-up, carefully painting her face with cuts and bruises.
She would have smiled into the mirror, dimples blossoming on her cheeks as she inspected her handiwork. She exchanged playful texts with her boyfriend; he wasn’t going trick-or-treating, but he wanted her to share the bounty. For the first year ever, she and her twin sister had different plans and wouldn’t be trick-or-treating together.
She texted “Herrooo Claaaaay!” to a friend who was going trick-or-treating with her that night. The friends, who called each other Clayseraptor and Taylorsaurus, texted back and forth, deciding to meet around 6 p.m.
“Hurrryy Zoe-Zoe is on her way we’ll meet you at your place :P” Van Diest wrote.
She departed on foot at 5:45 p.m. For reasons unknown, she didn’t wait for Zoe to get to her house so they could leave together. Perhaps she intended to run into her along the way to save time; she knew the general path her friend would be taking.
On her way, Van Diest cut along the railroad tracks between Rosedale Ave. and Pleasant Valley Road, a popular route in the small North Okanagan town. Around 6 p.m., it was getting dark in the thickly vegetated corridor. Whether it was footsteps behind her, a shadow or the figure of a man, Van Diest knew she was being followed onto the tracks. She texted her boyfriend she was “being crepped” which he interpreted as being “creeped” something she’d said before when guys were checking her out.
We don’t know exactly what happened next, except that it happened fast. People in the area heard screams but thought nothing of them because it was, after all, Halloween. Van Diest, petite at 5’4” and 126 pounds, was shoved to the ground. Her attacker strangled her with a thin cord, leaving a pair of red lines encircling her neck; his grip perhaps slipped as she struggled, shifting the ligature.
She fought hard for her life, scratching at the cord about her neck, swiping at her attacker’s neck. There was more: he struck the back of her head with a flashlight—six times, maybe more—splitting open her skull, real blood mixing with her make-up and pooling in her dark auburn hair.
Her attacker left her like this on the railroad tracks where she was found a few hours later by her friends, family, and boyfriend. Helpless, they placed their jackets over her body on the chilly October night. Her mom, a care aid, held her and said “Fight it, you’re going to make it. You’re going to survive.”
Van Diest died of her injuries that night in hospital. A sexual assault nurse clipped her fingernails. DNA wedged under one nail led police to a Cherryville man, 28-year-old Matthew Foerster. Van Diest had caught her killer.
Over two years later, his fate is now in the hands of a jury who heard this story, laid out in jumbled bits and pieces of evidence. The five women and seven men on the jury heard him fill in some details about the attack, himself. In a taped police interview, he said he hit Van Diest multiple times with a MagLite flashlight, and choked her with a shoelace. He said he spoke to her for what seemed like a few minutes. He said he was 'looking for sex.'
“I pushed her down and I just told her to keep quiet and she wouldn’t listen. I freaked out and I took off. I was scared when I realized what I’d done. I shouldn’t have never been there. I felt terrible for how everything worked out since then... if I could, I’d take it all back,” Foerster said.
For Van Diest’s family and friends, there is no changing the past. They cling to the only notion of justice on offer—a first degree murder charge and life in prison for her killer. Mother Marie Van Diest attended every day of the court proceedings, which included testimony from her daughter’s friends, the paramedics who tried to save her, and the doctor who described her injuries in clinical detail.
“I’m finding it extremely stressful and it just gets a little worse as time goes on. I think waiting for the jury’s decision is going to probably be the hardest part,” she said.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-309-5230. To contact the editor, email email@example.com or call 250-718-2724.