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Authors: Jon Wells

Death's Shadow

BOOK: Death's Shadow
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Cover
Other books by Jon Wells

Some Kind of Wonderful
(with John Ellison) (2012)

Post-Mortem
(2009)

Vanished
(2009)

Poison
(2008)

Sniper
(2008)

Heat: A Firefighter’s Story
(2006)

Jon Wells

DEATH’S
SHADOW

True Tales of Homicide

Dedication

For my sister Jennifer, with love and appreciation

Contents
  • Acknowledgements

  • Preface

  • Part I: Witness

  • 1 Paint on the Walls

  • 2 Forever Young

  • 3 Cool Intensity

  • 4 “I’m Going to Be Okay”

  • 5 Cold Blooded

  • 6 “Did You Kill Char?”

  • 7 Bad Man

  • 8 Rock Bottom

  • 9 Death Sentence

  • 10 Underworld

  • 11 Evil Presence

  • 12 Hate Machine

  • 13 Pipe Dream

  • 14 The Right Thing

  • 15 Bitter Justice

  • 16 The Lost Boy

  • Epilogue

  • Part II: Darkness on Indian Trail

  • Part III: Eternal Pain

  • Part IV: Deadly Encounter

  • 1 Anybody

  • 2 A Silver Flash

  • 3 More Than a Feeling

  • 4 Cut and Run

  • 5 Intersection

  • 6 Cruel Cowardice

  • 7 A Gruesome Discovery

  • 8 White Heat

  • 9 “I Hate Cops”

  • 10 A Killer’s Shoes

  • 11 Three Kings

  • 12 “He Deserves to Die”

  • 13 Winding Roads

Acknowledgements

Above all I wish to thank the family members of the victims I write about in this book. They bear infinite burdens of loss, and I thank them for investing their trust in me to tell the stories of their loved ones. I also want to express gratitude toward those members of the Hamilton Police Service who spoke candidly in interviews and provided me with investigation documents, transcripts, and video to assist in my research in both the “Witness” and “Deadly Encounter” stories. Special thanks to Don Forgan, Dave Place, Mike Maloney, Greg Jackson, Peter Abi-Rashed, Annette Huys, Gary Zwicker, Ross Wood, Warren Korol, and Mike Thomas. Thanks to retired detective Don Crath for his indispensable help in my research for the “Eternal Pain” story, and also former Hamilton forensic pathologist Rex Ferris. Police sources were more difficult to access for “Darkness on Indian Trail”; it will become clear why that was. There were law enforcement sources who assisted me, but I cannot name them.

As part of my research, I interviewed three convicted men in person, all of whom are serving time in prison. It offered me a window into their psyches and backgrounds, and also provided me with information on how they committed their crimes. Jailhouse interviews are an intense and disturbing experience. There is no better feeling than seeing a prison in the rear-view mirror when it’s over.

Even in today’s changing media landscape, there is still such a thing as a robust daily newspaper, and the
Hamilton Spectator
is one. I have been fortunate to work at a place where I have been free to craft long-form narrative stories. At the
Spectator
I want to acknowledge the considerable talents of the photographers whose work appears in this book: Ron Albertson, Barry Gray, John Rennison, and Gary Yokoyama; I would also like to thank my editors and colleagues who assisted on the original version of the stories in
Death’s Shadow
: Carla Ammerata, Paul Berton, Agnes Bongers, Tammie Danciu, Jim Poling, Carmelina Prete, and Cheryl Stepan.

I would like to take advantage of this opportunity to thank former editors who have had a big influence on my career: Andy Bader, Chris Clark, Roger Gillespie, Kirk LaPointe, Don Loney, and Dana Robbins.

Thanks to Michael Carroll for welcoming me into the Dundurn fold, and to Dominic Farrell for his copyediting of the book.

Ed Mullen in New York City provided valuable legal counsel in closing the deal on the book contract.

As always, I thank lifelong friends and fellow former Lucas Vikings, Scott Petepiece and Pete Reinjtes.

Finally, I thank my family: the greatest a man could ever hope to have.

Preface

In my day job, I write for the
Hamilton Spectator
newspaper. I have grown to love Hamilton, a city that is a study in contradictions. A port city on Lake Ontario, it is a beautiful place, with more than 120 waterfalls and the Niagara Escarpment running through the middle; yet it is still commonly known by its old nickname of Steeltown, and to most outsiders, the image of Hamilton is solely the industrial smokestack view of the town available from the Queen Elizabeth Way highway.

It is a city with a big heart, perhaps the quintessential Canadian city; known, like other Canadian cities, for its low crime rates when compared to similar cities in the United States. But Hamilton has experienced its share of gruesome homicide cases over the years, perhaps owing in part to its status as a border town and in part to the disparity in the socio-economic well-being of its citizens, which is quite significant, depending on which part of the city you live in.

Like the city, the author of this book has, perhaps, his own contradictions. At the
Spectator
I write stories on subjects ranging from the arts to sports and the environment. I have also written eight multi-part narrative series about some of Hamilton’s worst crimes and killers. In
Death’s Shadow
I have polished and updated four of these stories for publication. All of the pieces, while written in a novelistic style, are true to the last detail; the facts and colour and dialogue are straight from reportage: interviews, documents, and first-hand observation.

I have never covered the police beat and don’t really consider myself a crime writer, even though I have now had five true crime books published (arguably six: my first book,
Heat
, is the story of Canada’s worst toxic fire, which was set by an arsonist, whom I interviewed). My book
Post-Mortem
was shortlisted for an Arthur Ellis Award for non-fiction crime writing. Perhaps my hesitation to embrace the title of crime writer is simply defensiveness on my part, stemming from the unease I feel writing in such detail about the most unspeakably terrible moments in people’s lives, and the killers who created such horror and sadness — and receiving awards for my efforts. (All four stories in
Death’s Shadow
have been so honoured.)

Researching and writing about homicide is not something I enter into lightly. Indeed, on occasion I have resisted returning to the genre at all. But at the same time, I have come to the realization that these stories have frequently done some good. They have often highlighted the excellent work of homicide investigators; and I have tried to present full portraits of the victims, which family members have told me has proved comforting. Moreover, the four stories in
Death’s Shadow
illustrate that families of victims often must live with incomplete justice, or sometimes no justice at all. I like to think that my stories provide something of a service to the families, and the public, particularly if no suspect was ever arrested and no trial held. That is, they shine a light on the investigation and the victim’s story, and the family’s grief that everyone in society to some degree should share.

I have also endeavoured to write about such things as courage and love and redemption in these disturbing true stories. The book’s title and ominous cover art suggest fear of violent death. But the title is inspired by Psalm 23, often quoted at funerals, in which mourners are invited to try and imagine their loved ones having found a calm and sacred place, even at the end, even at the darkest point: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for though art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”

Jon Wells

Hamilton, Ontario

If I ascend into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.

— Psalm 139:8–10

Part I

Witness

— 1 —

Paint on the Walls

Father’s Day

Sunday, June 18, 2000

Central Police Station

Hamilton, Ontario

The tape rolling, video recorder light blinking, the detective made note of the time: 9:42 p.m. Four hours earlier the witness had been wandering along King Street East downtown. He had been barefoot, wearing a dirty T-shirt — and a diaper. The witness was three years old.

“What’s your full name?” the detective asked.

“Eugene.”

“Eugene, what’s your last name?”

“Charlisa,” the boy said. His mother’s name.

“Who lives in your house?”

“Pat,” he said. Charlisa’s boyfriend. “Pat got paint all over the walls.”

“Who else lives with Pat?”

“Mama.”

“Could you tell me where Pat is?”

“My house.”

“What is Pat doing in your house?”

“I dunno. Sleeping in Mama’s bed.”

“Can you tell me what happened today?”

“Door locked.”

“When the door was locked, where were you?”

“With my shoes.”

“What did you do when you found the doors locked?”

“Open the lock.”

“Then what happened?”

“I opened the doors at my house. Pat’s in my house. Pat. All over … over the wall. Paint all over the walls. Mama’s wall.”

It had been cool earlier that day and it had rained hard. But the sky had cleared by late afternoon when Eugene entered a variety store on King East. He felt sick. And then, moments later, the boy saw the giant police officer.

The call had come over the police radio at 5:30 p.m. Constable Randy Carter had arranged to end his shift early, planning to get home for the Father’s Day barbecue he and his wife were planning with their kids. From what dispatch was telling him, the call — “found child” — would not take long. He’d be home in no time. Carter always shook his head at found-child calls. How could a parent be negligent enough to let a kid go missing in the first place? But the half dozen or so such calls he had handled before had all turned out fine: the child reunited with the parent.

He parked his cruiser in front of K&M Variety and went inside. Carter — hulking size, head shaved bald, silver goatee — saw the child with blond hair in a full diaper that looked ready to burst. A man behind the counter said the boy had thrown up on the floor. Carter greeted the boy, who said nothing. Then he took him outside for air, just as two women came running up the sidewalk. They said the boy’s name was Eugene.

“I know where he lives,” one of them said.

“Take me there.”

They led Carter to an apartment building nearby, went around back, and pointed to the unit on the second floor where the boy lived with his mother. The building was a low rise, the second floor not very high up. Carter climbed the eight metal steps on the outside of the building and knocked at the rear door of unit C. No response. He knocked again, harder.

“Police!”

There was no answer. This was the kind of thing that really grated on him: parents who let their child go missing — and then, what? Head to work? Take a nap? He thumped his big fist on the door again, this time with the intent to force it open. The door opened slightly but was stuck on something; it went no further. He moved back down the stairs. Another tenant showed. She said Eugene’s mother’s name was Charlisa; said there was a key hanging from the front door of her unit. Things were not going as expected. He knew something was wrong. The barbecue was going to be delayed.

“I’m at 781 King Street East,” Carter said into his radio. “Not getting any response from apartment C. Can you send backup?”

He wrote down information from the two women who knew the boy, and left him in their care. Eugene needed clean clothes, a drink, and his temperature taken. Carter moved around to the front of the building, met another officer, and entered.

“We’re going in, I need 10-3,” he said into his radio, meaning radio silence — no officers speaking on air unless absolutely necessary, keeping the channel clear so he could call for more help. Radio silence was important for another reason: if there was someone inside the premises with bad intentions, he didn’t want to advertise that he was coming.

Carter, senses on fire, muscles rigid, expecting to discover something bad, opened the front door to unit C, the keys still dangling from the front lock. He moved through the messy apartment. One of the rooms had art supplies in it, a couple of easels, brushes. He entered the main bedroom. And now he knew. He had gotten hardened on the job. He had been to nasty calls in the past. But nothing like this.

Paint all over the walls.

“Send an ambulance,” Carter said. “Make that two.”

Eugene, the little blond-haired boy, the first and perhaps only witness at the crime scene, met the detective for questioning later that evening. The detective spent time observing the boy chatting off camera at first. Build rapport, talk about colours, the alphabet, toys, the detective decided. Eugene had good language skills. The detective would start with general questions, then focus.

“Eugene,” the detective asked, “who put you to bed last night?”

“Mama. Mama’s gone.”

“What happened when you woke up?”

“Mama pillow wet. Paint all on Mama pillow.”

“What happened when you woke up?”

“Pat’s van gone. Man ride it.”

“Did you look at this man?”

“Van gone.”

“Tell me what happened last night.”

“I was sick.”

“Did you wake up?”

“Yeah. Mama gone.”

“Did you see anyone hurt your mom or Pat?”

“Mom and Pat. They are gone. Mom sleeping, Pat sleeping.”

That night forensic identification detectives moved gingerly through the living room of the apartment, the room lit only by the dull glow of the solitary light on the ceiling.
Don’t touch anything, not yet
. Hank Thorne was new in ident branch; his partner, Ross Wood, was a veteran at the grisly business. They noted that the door to the balcony, which faced King Street, was wide open. On the balcony, an open purse on a couch. A pair of men’s sandals.

Directly beside the living room was the front door to the unit; a key chain hung from the lock. About five paces from the living room, the first room on the left was a tiny bathroom; the light had been left on. Across the hall, on the right, was a child’s bedroom: Eugene’s room. The overhead light was on, and also the table lamp; the room was messy, toys and clothes all over the floor. The closet door was open.

Three more paces down the narrow hallway, Thorne was writing observations: “Blood noticed on the west wall of the hallway by the light switch, and also on the heating radiator.” The door to a second bedroom was open. “Blood on the door frame.” Small bedroom, two bodies on the bed, unclothed, male and female. Socks the only clothing on the male; also wearing a gold watch. Fabric anklet on the female; one-inch bruise on the left elbow. Pillow, sheets wet with blood.

Ident officers discovered the murder weapon — a baseball bat — under clothes on the floor of Charlisa’s apartment.
Hamilton Police Service.

Further along from the bedroom, on the right, was a room with art supplies in it, and then the kitchen. On the kitchen floor sat a bucket of dirty water with a mop. The back door was ajar, still partially open since Randy Carter had tried to enter there. The door had been caught on a chain-link lock, which was why it wouldn’t open completely before. The apartment was a disaster, littered with clothes. There was lots of work to do on the crime scene: photograph, videotape, label evidence.

In the bedroom the detectives saw it poking out from underneath clothes strewn on the floor.

“Okay. That’s interesting,” Wood said.

It was the handle of an aluminum baseball bat.

They exited the building and returned with the coroner, noted Thorne.

“Entered master bedroom to pronounce dead.”

BOOK: Death's Shadow
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