Sex Worker Strangled

Black and white photo of murder victim Cassandra Do
Murder victim Cassandra Do

On August 25, 2003, Cassandro Do, 32, was found in her bathtub sexually assaulted and murdered in her 60 Glouster Street apartment by police who were responding to a call. An autopsy showed she was manually strangled. She had been scheduled to meet a client that day.

Do, a preoperative transsexual who had once worked as a nurse, was saving money for her operation, and working as a prostitute in the Gay Village. Do, who also went by the name Tula, solicited clients on her website and ads in the back of weekly Toronto newspapers.

Do’s death occurred within days of two other women’s deaths, prompting concerns from citizens and the media. Police said there was no connection, and had not at that time confirmed how one woman, a drug addict found in Parkdale, had died.

Black and white photo of murder victim Cassandra Do

On October 4, 2003, police issued a description of the suspect in Do’s killing: a black, muscular man, aged 30 to 40, 6′ 5″, about 230 pounds, wearing wire-rimmed glasses. He went by the name “Victor”. They warned all sex trade workers to be extra vigilant. DNA tests linked the assailant to the sexual assault of a prostitute in 1997, and that is where police drew their description of Do’s murderer from.

After the suspect description was released, four prostitutes contacted police to say they were beaten and sexually assaulted by a man who fit the description. On October 15, police reported the murder of another prostitute. She was from Vietnam, although her escort ads said she was from China. Do may have been the victim of a serial killer.

Police have not yet solved Do’s murder.


Murder Village Map

 

 

Vital Statistics

Name: Cassandra “Tula” Do
Age: 32
Gender: Female
Date of Death: August 25, 2003
Manner of Death: Strangulation
Location: 60 Glouster Street
Suspect Name: Victor

Spree Killer’s Last Victim

Wilkinson murder - laneway photo by Moira Welsh
Police investigation in laneway, photo by Moira Welsh

Thirty-one-year-old Deanna (Thomas) Wilkinson was the last victim of spree killer Marcello Palma, who killed three prostitutes within just a few hours on Victoria Day weekend, May 20, 1996.

Wilkinson was also a songstress who had performed at various venues, and was a poetess and short story writer. The Sex Workers Alliance of Toronto held a 150-person vigil in Allan Gardens on behalf of all victims.

Wilkinson was shot with a .357 Sturm Ruger owned by Palma, just minutes after he murdered 19-year-old Shawn Keegan on the same street. Palma had murdered Brenda Ludgate, 25, about two hours previously. Palma used Supreme Expanding Talon hollow point bullets, which inflict more damage than a regular bullet.

Marcello Palma -photo by AndrewStawicki. Brenda Ludgate, first victim, inset
Marcello Palma -photo by AndrewStawicki. Brenda Ludgate, first victim, inset

Palma had become enraged earlier in the day and had damaged cars and his office just hours before starting his spree. Palma legally owned six guns. His wife would later testify that he struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts and that even though she called his psychiatrist out of concern, she was told Palma had “not much wrong” with him. He had been seeking psychiatric help for at least five years.

Palma had admitted to a psychiatrist that he wanted to kill street people, whom he called “scum.” He was familiar with Homewood Avenue, then a well-known strip for finding trans prostitutes referred to as “Transvestite Alley”. After killing Keegan, Palma walked up Homewood Avenue, and found Wilkinson. The combination of Victoria Day fireworks and a thunderstorm may have covered the noise of the gunshots that killed Keegan.

Wilkinson was not found until 9am the next morning, shot in the head. Palma remained in Toronto for about a week before fleeing to Halifax, where police tracked him through the use of a credit card.

Marcello Palma -photo by David Cooper
Marcello Palma -photo by David Cooper

In court, heard before a judge only, Palma’s claim of insanity was denied. On April 20, 2001, Palma was sentenced to life in prison for first-degree murder with no eligibility for parole for 25 years.


Murder Village Map

 

 

Vital Statistics

Name: Deanna Wilkinson (aka Thomas Wilkinson)
Age: 31
Gender: Female
Date of Death: May 20, 1996
Manner of Death: Shot
Location: Homewood Avenue
Suspect Name: Marcello Palma
Conviction & Sentence: First-degree murder, life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years

Charges Dropped In Serial Killer Case

Victims and suspected victims of Toronto serial killer Peter MacDonald
Victims and suspected victims of Toronto serial killer Peter MacDonald

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.

Photograph of police recovering the body of Virginia Coote, by Jim Wilkes 1994

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.

Peter Dale MacDonald Toronto serial killer
Peter Dale MacDonald Toronto serial killer

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.

Black and white photo of murder victim Virginia Coote
Virginia Coote

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.

Black and white photo of murder victim Virginia Coote
Virginia Coote

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

 

 

Vital Statistics

Name: Virginia Lee “Flex” Coote
Age: 33
Gender: Female
Date of Death: October 28, 1994
Manner of Death: Strangulation
Location: Palais Royale
Suspect Name: Peter Dale MacDonald
Conviction & Sentence: charges dropped

Was Prostitute Victim Of Serial Killer?

Victims and suspected victims of Toronto serial killer Peter MacDonald
Victims and suspected victims of Toronto serial killer Peter MacDonald

Prostitute Julieanne Middleton, 23, was working the Parkdale neighbourhood when she was murdered. Police suspect she is a victim of serial killer Peter Dale MacDonald. She was found July 7, 1994 in Lake Ontario, just a few minutes’ walk from the Palais Royale at 1601 Lake Shore Blvd West, along Toronto’s western waterfront. Middleton was a lesbian drug addict who used prostitution to support her addiction.

Black and white photo of murder victim Julieanne Middleton
Murder victim Julieanne Middleton

She was found in an area popular with gay couples, and police pursued the theory that the location was specifically chosen for that reason.

Middleton washed up on shore wearing only her bra. Middleton had strangulation marks around her neck, but died of drowning.

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.

Peter Dale MacDonald Toronto serial killer
Peter Dale MacDonald Toronto serial killer

MacDonald was also charged for the murders of Virginia Coote, 33, and Darlene MacNeill, 35, who were found dead near Sunnyside Beach 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 other relevant information obtained only years later, is what allowed them to lay charges in the prostitute murders. DNA alone was not enough since, by the nature of their work, prostitutes would be expected to have multiple samples of DNA.

Patrick Middleton, Julieanne’s brother, said “He’s cold. He’s evil. You felt the evil off of him.” Her father visited her grave weekly for years. She left behind a 6-year-old son.

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 consider the case closed.

Julieanne's father Sherman Middleton, photo by J.P. Moczulski for The Globe and Mail
Julieanne’s father Sherman Middleton, photo by J.P. Moczulski for The Globe and Mail

 


Murder Village Map

 

 

Vital Statistics

Name: Julieanne Middleton
Age: 23
Gender: Female
Date of Death: July 7, 1994
Manner of Death: Strangulation, drowning
Location: 1601 Lake Shore Blvd West
Suspect Name: Peter Dale MacDonald
Conviction & Sentence: charges dropped

Dominating In Death

Police search for Grayce Baxter's body by Dale Brazao, 1993
Police search for Grayce Baxter’s body, photo by Dale Brazao, 1993

On December 8, 1992, Grayce Baxter went missing. It was weeks before her friends reported her missing. Baxter was a transsexual high-priced call-girl who, according to her friend “Mary”, was also a former crack-cocaine addict.

Baxter was very cautious. She always valet-parked her car when she arrived at her condo and secured her alarm when she got inside. She carried a stun gun and a can of mace to all her calls. Baxter stood 6-foot tall and weighed 160 pounds, and her clientele was mostly submissive wealthy married businessmen.

Black and white photo of murder victim Grayce Baxter
Murder victim Grayce Baxter

Baxter, (26 or 28 years of age) disappeared with her 1989 black BMW. The car was found two days later in the parking lot of Gerrard Square, a shopping mall at Gerrard St. and Pape Avenue. Police say she was last seen by a friend in Mississauga, where she got a 3am call from an escort agency she worked for. She drove off in her BMW.

When advised their daughter was missing, Baxter’s parents flew to Toronto to aid in her search.

Black and white photo of murder victim Grayce Baxter
Murder victim Grayce Baxter

By the end of the year, police had her client list, rumoured to be a very large list of names, and were requesting through the press that her former clients voluntarily contact police to avoid embarrassment. “If they don’t come to us, we’ll have to seek them out and that could be embarrassing in some cases,” Detective Jim McDermott said. By December 31, police suspected foul play.

Baxter lived a wealthy lifestyle with a waterfront condominium at 10 Yonge St., and was known to host lavish parties. Grayce, born with the name Grant, also went by the street name Candice. She charged $350-$400 an hour and worked at two agencies. Normally, a client would go through the agency where they can be vetted. This did not appear to be the case on December 8.

Police got a break in the case through a cellular telephone record linking the killer directly to Baxter. On January 7, 1993, police approached Patrick Daniel Johnson, 23, of 55 Wynford Heights Crescent with the telephone record.

Black and white photo of Murderer Patrick Johnson
Murderer Patrick Johnson

When police went to the home of the suspect to give him a lie-detector test and they found him with self-inflicted wounds, but he was still alive.

On January 9, police announced they had arrested Johnson for first-degree murder. Her body was not found at the time of the arrest. Johnson was a former client of Baxter’s, and a part-time prison guard at the Don Jail in Toronto, although police did not know that until the time of his arrest. During his trial, it was reported that he told police, “You might as well take me right now. You know I did it. It’s been a living hell for a month… It was an accident. It just went too far.”

He had called her to his apartment after agreeing to pay her $200 for 45 minutes of sex. A fight ensued because Johnson was having difficulty coming to orgasm but his time was up. He strangled her. He cut up her body, dumped her in the garbage dumpster, and, 11 days later, pawned a diamond ring and Rolex watch.

Police search for Grayce Baxter's body by Dale Brazao, 1993
Police search for Grayce Baxter’s body photo by Dale Brazao, 1993

A man had told detectives his friend had information about the killing and had sent a letter to the Toronto Sun newspaper. A handwritten, six page letter arrived in the newsroom on January 11, 1993, mailed before but received after, the murderer’s arrest.

Contained in the envelope was a Ministry of Corrections identification card bearing a man’s photo and signed “Dan Johnson”. In the letter, the killer said he never knew Baxter was a transsexual, and he would go on to boast about having sex with his girlfriend 14 times over three days.

Ten days later, police began the gruesome task of using bulldozers and garden hoes to dig through a Pickering garbage dump for Baxter’s body. They estimated it could take a month to find her, as they believed her body had been dumped into a garbage bin. On March 17, 1993, police announced they called off the search for Baxter’s dismembered body. They had sifted through millions of kilograms of garbage in their fruitless search.

On April 18, 1994, almost a year and a half after Grayce Baxter went missing, Johnson pleaded guilty to second-degree murder just before his trial started. He was sentenced to life in jail with no eligibility for parole for 10 years.

Grayce Baxter has never been found.

 


Murder Village Map

 

 

Vital Statistics

Name: Grayce Baxter
Age: 26-28
Gender: Female
Date of Death: December 8, 1992
Manner of Death: Strangled
Location: 55 Wynford Heights Crescent
Suspect Name: Patrick Daniel Johnson
Conviction & Sentence: Life with no eligibility for parole for 10 years

Spontaneous Confession

Example of cash seized by Toronto Police
Example of cash seized by Toronto Police

On March 2, 1987, police received a call for help at Northcote Avenue. They arrived to find Lisa Janet Black (aka Leo James Black), dying. Twenty-three-year-old Black died in hospital just two hours later of head injuries.

Black also worked as a prostitute in Parkdale. She had contacted police just hours before being killed, saying a “john” had robbed her and stolen her money and identification.

Black and white photo of murder victim Lisa Black

It took police four months to arrest Synthia Anne Kavanagh (aka Richard Chaperon), 25, of St. Patrick Street. She was charged with first-degree murder on July 31, 1987. Police also arrested Brian Thomas Inch, 35, of Eastern Avenue on August 28, 1987.

Kavanagh and Black were roommates, both working in the Parkdale area. During interviews with homicide detectives, Kavanagh said she murdered Black with a hammer and a knife. She built up her courage to commit the murder by drinking beer and taking tranquilizers with Inch before eventually hitting her in the head repeatedly with a hammer and plunging a knife into her eye. Kavanagh blamed an unnamed person who put a .38 gun in her mouth and told her to retrieve $700,000 in cocaine and jewellery stolen by Black. She was told “either you get that back or you kill (Black)”, and Kavanagh decided it was easier to kill her friend.

Toronto police said that until her spontaneous video-taped confession, Kavanagh was considered a witness and not a suspect. Inch was in the apartment and was treated as a witness after pleading guilty to manslaughter.

Witness Crystal Anderson, Inch’s lover, told homicide investigators Black was killed for informing on Anderson and Kavanagh implicating them in a robbery. Charges were dropped when Black failed to show up for court. Anderson’s taped interview was played in court, saying Inch was an active participant in the murder and stabbed Black in the heart. Anderson was in prison for burglary and possession of stolen property when she testified, and said that she was now in danger because she was a “rat.”

Inch refused to testify at Kavanagh’s trial, and had already been sentenced to seven years. Kavanagh recanted her confession during the trial, saying another person killed Black while she waited in the kitchen. She maintained her innocence even after the trial.

Murderer Synthia Kavanagh by Ian MacAlpine for Toronto Star
Murderer Synthia Kavanagh by Ian MacAlpine for Toronto Star

Kavanagh was found guilty of second-degree murder in May, 1989, and sentenced to life in prison with no parole for 15 years. Although the trial judge recommended a women’s prison, Corrections Canada placed her in a men’s penitentiary.

Kavanagh filed a human rights complaint arguing the Canadian government had a responsibility to provide adequate medical care including sex reassignment surgery. She won the case.

Kavanagh appealed her placement in a men’s penitentiary and was successfully placed in a women’s correctional facility after gender-reassignment surgery in 2000. She was eventually reassigned to a maximum security prison facility for women after “trashing” a room.

 


Murder Village Map

 

 

Vital Statistics

Name: Lisa Janet Black (aka Leo James Black)
Age: 23
Gender: Female
Date of Death: March 2, 1987
Manner of Death: Stabbing and blunt force trauma
Location: Northcote Avenue
Suspect Name: Synthia Anne Kavanagh (aka Richard Chaperon) and Brian Thomas Inch
Conviction & Sentence: Inch: Manslaughter and 7 years; Kavanagh: second-degree murder with life and no chance of parole for 15 years