Trans Advocate Murdered

Julie Berman, Toronto trans activist murdered in her home
Julie Berman, murder victim

Julie Berman was an internationally known trans rights activist living in Toronto. Fifty-one-year-old Berman was found in her Brunswick Avenue and Harbord Street area home on Sunday, December 22, 2019. Police had been called to the scene, where they found her suffering from “significant” face and head injuries. She was pronounced dead in hospital.

Berman had been attacked by 29-year-old Colin Harnack, also of Toronto. He was arrested at the scene. Toronto police have charged him with second-degree murder. Berman had invited Harnack into her home, when he attacked her. Harnack is not a known member of the Gay community in Toronto. It appears the two met that day.

Community response to the news of Berman’s murder was quick. Pride Toronto tweeted out the news. Susan Gupta, an organizer with The 519, a community centre located in the heart of the Gay Village where Berman volunteered, said “We’re remembering her with respect and dignity.”

Berman had previously served on The 519’s organizing committee for the Transgender Day of Remembrance, an international day memorializing transgender people murdered in transphobic attacks. Over her 30 years working with the 519, Berman was active as an advocate and educational worker.

Her death was recognized not only in Toronto, but throughout North America, with articles from CNN, People and The Advocate.

Harnack’s social media accounts indicate he was left-wing, and supportive of trans and queer rights. He was critical of colonialism in many posts.

Police have not released a motive, and generally are not commenting about the case has not been before the courts.

Murder Village Map


Vital Statistics

Name: Julie Berman
Age: 51
Gender: Female
Date of Death: December 22, 2019
Manner of Death: Blunt Force
Location: Brunswick Avenue and Harbord Street area
Suspect Name: Colin Harnack
Conviction & Sentence: ongoing

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

Bathtub Murder

Black and white image of crime scene of Gracie Detzler
280 Dundas Street East

Fifty-four-year-old Gracie (James Edward) Detzler, described in news reports as a “would-be transsexual”, was drowned in a bathtub at 280 Dundas Street East, on May 28, 1997, probably between 10pm and 10:30pm. Her killer, Steven Todd Craig, 26, contacted a lawyer who then advised police of the murder. On June 1, four days later, police found Detzler’s body in a bathtub.

Detzler and Craig met while both people were serving long term penitentiary sentences. Detzler was described as a repeat offender when she was sentenced on November 28, 1990, for stabbing a man who refused to have sex with her.

Craig was originally charged with first-degree murder in Detzler’s death, however, Justice Harry Keenan of the Ontario Court’s General Division directed an acquittal on that charge, and the jury accepted Craig’s plea of guilty to manslaughter. Justice Keenan had been advised that Craig had spent his entire adult life in prison or on parole. He had been out of prison just three weeks before murdering Detzler. Keenan declared Craig was “a danger to society,” but reduced the charges. He was sentenced to 10 years.

The Justice did not allow the jury to hear a police statement that Craig admitted Detzler was handcuffed at the time of the attack. However, the jury did hear of Craig’s previous violent attack, nearly fatal, on a male lover.

On December 23, at the end of Craig’s trial, he shouted “You’re next, you @%#$$# pig!” to Detective Sergeant Michael David, the arresting homicide officer. He continued yelling expletives at other officials and struggled with guards as he was escorted from the courtroom.

Murder Village Map



Vital Statistics

Name: Gracie (James Edward) Detzler
Age: 54
Gender: Female
Date of Death: May 28, 1997
Manner of Death: Drowned
Location: 280 Dundas Street East
Suspect Name: Steven Todd Craig
Conviction & Sentence: Manslaughter, 10 years

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

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

Self-Defense Stabbing

Photograph of Centenary Hospital, Toronto
Photograph of Centenary Hospital, Toronto

Phillip Robert (Barbara) Filshie was murdered by his common-law wife, Joyce Lorraine Filshie, 47, in a domestic dispute on December 20, 1984.

Phillip had been seeing a doctor at the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry (now named the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) for “a long time.” At the time, the Clarke was the only institution that could authorize government-funded sex reassignment surgery, and was considered archaic, unsupportive and sometimes outright hostile to people seeking gender reassignment.

Phillip, a 51-year-old warehouse manager who was transitioning from female to male, was stabbed in the chest in their Kingston Road townhouse and was dead on arrival at Centenary Hospital. Joyce faced second-degree murder.

Photograph of Clarke Institute Of Psychiatry Gender Identity Clinic By Mateen Mahboubi
Photograph of Clarke Institute Of Psychiatry Gender Identity Clinic By Mateen Mahboubi

Joyce said she did not intend to kill Phillip, but that during an argument Phillip began to hit her. She grabbed a knife in an attempt to keep Phillip at bay, and that when she turned, she accidentally punctured Phillip. She ran to the neighbour’s and pounded on their door, asking for help and shouting “Come quickly! I’ve stabbed Phil!”

When police arrived, they found Joyce in the kitchen with blood on her hands, crouched over Phillip.

During trial, Joyce said she and Phillip loved each other and lived as husband and wife. Defense lawyer Mike Moldaver argued that Joyce was defending herself from Phillip’s attack, and that her intent had not been to harm Phillip. They had been together since 1976.

Then defense lawyer, now Justice Mike Moldaver
Then defense lawyer, now Justice Mike Moldaver

Hillsdon Smith said “In 30 years experience, I’ve never convinced myself that I’ve ever seen an accidental knife wound.”

Their daughter, 29-year-old Cindy-Lou Thibodeau, said in court she was devastated to learn Joyce was not her natural mother, and was “still trying to deal” with the revelations that Phillip had once been female and was in fact her birth mother.

The jury deliberated less than three hours before acquitting Joyce. “Thank God, thank God,” Joyce said after being found not guilty.


Murder Village Map



Vital Statistics

Name: Phillip Robert (Barbara) Filshie
Age: 51
Gender: Male
Date of Death: December 20, 1984
Manner of Death: Stabbed
Location: Kingston Road
Suspect Name: Joyce Lorraine Filshie
Conviction & Sentence: Acquitted

Strangled For Shouting

Alcohol bottles

Martha Babb was 38 years old when her roommate, David Thomas Muir, 39, grabbed her by the throat and strangled her.

Babb and Muir often fought because Babb was a prostitute who would bring clients home.

Babb, also known as John Alfred McDonald, was murdered on December 10, 1983, in their apartment on Wilton Street after a night of heavy drinking and fighting. Babb was shouting at Muir and Muir strangled her with his hands to keep her quiet. When Babb went limp, Muir said he thought she was faking it, and put her into a bathtub filled with water. When Babb was not revived, he covered her in a blanket and threw cat litter on top, then went out to continue drinking.

Muir, described as a long-time alcoholic, confessed that he had killed someone and left her in the bathtub. The friend called police, who found Babb in the apartment just as Muir was returning home. He was charged with second-degree murder.

Muir pleaded guilty to manslaughter in May, 1984 and was sentenced to five years in jail.


Murder Village Map



Vital Statistics

Name: Martha Babb AKA John Alfred McDonald
Age: 38
Gender: Female
Date of Death: December 10, 1983
Manner of Death: Strangulation
Location: Wilton Street
Suspect Name: David Thomas Muir
Conviction & Sentence: Manslaughter, five years

No Clear Motive

Murder house at 45 Badgerow Avenue, Toronto

Thirty-six-year-old Diane (Brian or Bryan William) Edwards was not the only person attacked when someone broke into a house at 45 Badgerow Ave. at 4:30 in the morning on October 21, 1979. Micheline Ferland, 35, Rosemary Doohan, 30 and Casey Doohan, 6, were also beaten. Edwards was the only one who died.

Edwards, whom police described specifically as a transvestite (and who may have been scheduled for gender reassignment surgery a week later) was brutally attacked with a butcher knife and baseball bat. The bat was later found in an alley two doors away. The knife was found in the home.

“He was after Diane in particular,” said Ferland. He said he was going to kill “the gearbox,” she said. Gearbox is a derogatory name for a gay man. Ferland said she and Doohan tried to prevent the attack. “Three of us ended up in hospital and one of us is in the morgue.”

Michelle Ferland photo by Don Dutton, Toronto Star
Michelle Ferland photo by Don Dutton, Toronto Star

Edwards, who was asleep on the couch at the beginning of the attack, was stabbed in the heart and severely beaten with the baseball bat.

Gregory Thomas Cooper, 25, also known as Robert Douglas Anderson, was arrested shortly after the murder, and charged with second-degree murder and three counts of attempted murder.

Police officer guards door of murder house- Photo by Jim Wilkes, Toronto Star
Police officer guards door of murder house- Photo by Jim Wilkes, Toronto Star

At trial, psychiatrist R. Wood Hill testified that Cooper experienced a “command hallucination” telling him to kill, but there was never a clear motive for the murder. After the initial attack, Cooper drank a beer and attacked Edwards again, who was still alive. He then slashed Edwards’ throat and left. Cooper had consumed about 20 bottles of beer prior to the killing.

On May 27, 1980, Cooper was found not guilty by reason of insanity on all charges and Justice John Osler sentenced him to be confined indefinitely at a maximum security hospital. His sentence will be reviewed annually.


Murder Village Map



Vital Statistics

Name: Diane (Brian or Bryan William) Edwards
Age: 36
Gender: Female
Date of Death: October 21, 1979
Manner of Death: Blunt force trauma, stabbed
Location: 45 Badgerow Ave
Suspect Name: Gregory Thomas Cooper also known as Robert Douglas Anderson
Conviction & Sentence: Not guilty by reason of insanity, confined indefinitely at a maximum security hospital, sentence reviewed annually

Swimming Leads To Murder

Police remove Shirley Hauser's body from schoolyard, photo by Boris Spremo
Police remove Shirley Hauser’s body from schoolyard, photo by Boris Spremo

Shirley (Peter Christopher) Hauser, 20, was stabbed to death on August 19, 1978 on the school grounds of Western Technical Commercial High at 125 Evelyn Crescent. Police reported that Hauser, who lived on Westminster Ave., was a trans woman, dressed as a woman and was undergoing a sex change. She was stabbed in the back, neck and chest. In all, there were 17 stab wounds.

Shirley Hauser also went by the name Christine. Hormone pills were found in her purse “way above therapeutic dosage,” said Dr. Luciano Sereno, who performed the autopsy. Hauser had gone to the school with a man at about 4 a.m., having met earlier in the evening at the Sunnyside swimming pool.

Photo of the man who found Ms. Hauser's body, photo from Toronto Star
Photo of the man who found Ms. Hauser’s body, photo from Toronto Star

Police found four pools of blood in a trail leading away from the body, making them conclude it was not Hauser’s. The wandering trail lead to Glendonwynne Road where it weaved back and forth along the street.

Continued investigation led the police of an apartment three kilometres away, where they found a blood-spattered motorcycle and a white helmet. The building superintendent told police she had been cleaning blood off the front stairs, and stairs leading to the second floor. That tenant told police they had been visited by a friend who was wounded and bleeding badly.

William Richard Andes, 20, of San Romano Way in North York, was charged with her second-degree murder.

We think this is Shirley (Peter Christopher) Hauser's grave marker
We think this is Shirley (Peter Christopher) Hauser’s grave marker

In court, Andes claimed he flew into a rage upon discovering Hauser was a transsexual, stabbing her 17 times. He pleaded guilty on April 9, 1979, but claimed he had originally walked away. Andes claimed Hauser had somehow gotten his knife and stabbed him, before he gained the knife back and murdered her.

Upon hearing the sentence, a newspaper reported that his mother shouted “Oh no. Don’t punish him for the homosexual. Oh please he is the victim. Don’t punish him.”


Murder Village Map



Vital Statistics

Name: Shirley Hauser, aka Peter Christopher, aka Christine
Age: 20
Gender: Female
Date of Death: August 19, 1978
Manner of Death: Stabbed
Location: 125 Evelyn Crescent
Suspect Name: William Richard Andes
Conviction & Sentence: Manslaughter, 8 years