Virginia Lee “Flex” Coote, 33, was a prostitute working in Parkdale when she was murdered. Police suspect she is a victim of serial killer Peter Dale MacDonald. Her body was found October 28, 1994 on Toronto’s waterfront, in Lake Ontario behind the Palais Royale. She used prostitution to feed her drug habit. Coote was a lesbian who was found in an area where she “wouldn’t likely have taken a customer to.”
Police set up an 11-person task force, called Project Breakwall, to investigate this and other seemingly related murders. In each of the three prostitute murders police believe were related, their clothes were neatly folded with shoes placed on top, and each had a foreign object placed inside her vagina. Coote was partially clothed when she was found.
By May 1996, there were 12 unsolved murders of prostitutes in Toronto in eight years, including those police would later determine were committed by Marcello Palma.
In 1998, police released a sketch of a “possible serial killer”, but the case remained unsolved until the charges against MacDonald were laid in 2010.
MacDonald was also charged for the murders of Julieanne Middleton, 23, and Darlene MacNeill, 35, who were found dead near the same area between 1994 and 1997, and Michelle Charette who was killed in 2000. He was convicted of the crime of murder of James “Jimmy” Campbell, 63, and eventually pleaded guilty to the charge of manslaughter in the death of Charette.
On October 28, 2010, MacDonald, then 52, was charged with the murders of Coote, MacNeil and Middleton. Police said that cross-checking DNA, comparing the modus operandi and considering other relevant information obtained only years later, is what allowed them to lay charges in Coote’s murder. DNA alone was not enough since, by the nature of their work, prostitutes would be expected to have multiple samples of DNA.
On July 16, 2011, police announced they dropped the charges against MacDonald in the murders of Coote, MacNeil and Middleton. “There is no longer any reasonable prospect of conviction,” said Crown representative Brendan Crawley.
Police maintained that the evidence in the case did not change, but that the prosecutor changed. The new prosecutor decided to throw the charges out.
On February 23, 2012, MacDonald pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death of Charette, from Windsor. He was sentenced to seven years in prison for that murder, and was already serving time for the second-degree murder of Campbell.
Police consider the case closed.
Murder Village Map
Name: Virginia Lee “Flex” Coote
Date of Death: October 28, 1994
Manner of Death: Strangulation
Location: Palais Royale
Suspect Name: Peter Dale MacDonald
Conviction & Sentence: charges dropped