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Authors: Jon Wells

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BOOK: Death's Shadow
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— 2 —

Forever Young

Sue Ross had had an odd feeling all that Father’s Day afternoon. Something was not quite right. Late that night, asleep in bed, she heard a voice, felt a hand. It was her husband. It was 2:00 a.m.

“You have to get up,” he said. “Put on your housecoat.”

She walked down the stairs and into the harsh lights of the kitchen. It seemed full of people: strangers in suits, nice clothes, just these … bodies she did not recognize. In fact there were four of them, two men and two women.

“Do you have a daughter named Charlisa?” a voice asked.

It was an uncommon first name, but one that Sue had pegged long before her daughter was born.

Sue had grown up on the water, on the Beach Strip in Hamilton. Her family name was Theroux. As a young girl, she was a star ballet dancer; at Christmas performed in
The Nutcracker
in Montreal; won a scholarship. At the National Ballet School in Toronto, she roomed with a girl from Memphis named Charlisa Lee Cato. Sue loved the name and decided that if she ever had a daughter, that’s what she would call the baby.

Sue would eventually marry a man named Al Clark. Al was a risk-taker, loved riding dirt bikes, helicopter skiing. She suggested they do an activity together, take up tennis or something.

“Tennis? You can’t get killed doing that,” he quipped.

His lifestyle changed dramatically after he broke his neck in a hang-gliding accident. He had been an accomplished glider, but one day crashed into a cliff. He was paralyzed from the neck down.

Their marriage did not last. After they broke up, she stayed single for 20 years, thought about changing her name back to her maiden Theroux, but figured no one could properly pronounce it, much less spell it.

Sue was a strong, plain-talking woman with a dry sense of humour. She was also tough. She had been robbed twice in Hamilton. Once, when she was 28 and working behind the counter of a variety store, a guy wearing a nylon mask pulled a sawed-off shotgun on her. She gave him the money, kept her eyes down, but gave police a decent description of him. They caught him. It was frightening, but she moved on, rolled with it. When Sue finally remarried, she took her new husband’s last name: Ross.

When she was still with Al, Sue had her first of two children. On October 15, 1975, Charlisa Lee was born. She later had a son, Greg. Charlisa would ultimately decide to keep her father’s last name: Clark. Char, as most came to call her, grew up to be very tall, nearly six feet; she had long hair, big dark eyes. Like her mom she took dance, but her passion and talent lay in art. She would draw on anything she could get her hands on, including her bedroom walls. After high school she left home, eventually had a boy she named Eugene Lee. Her relationship with Eugene’s birth father was a stormy one. He was abusive, was convicted for assaulting her. She and Eugene got away, struck out on their own.

On June 1, 1999, when Eugene was two, Charlisa’s grandfather — Sue’s dad, Camille Theroux — died at 74 from a heart attack. Camille was a great guy, a steamfitter, who had built and driven drag racers. The family was devastated, but took comfort that Camille went the way you’re supposed to, without suffering. In his casket at the funeral home, there was a smile on his face. One day Sue would wonder about the timing of it all, her dad going away, suddenly, as though he was needed to comfort a loved one about to enter heaven. At the time she sat down with Eugene and explained what had happened. “Papa became an angel,” she told him, “the minute he died.”

Charlisa wrote a poem for the funeral. “Raindrops fall and breezes blow but we know in our hearts that he’s near,” she wrote. “He will watch over us from heaven above and be our guardian angel.... We all will be reunited one day for eternity, and we will always love him, forever young at heart.”

Charlisa and her son Eugene.
Hamilton Spectator

Almost a year later, Sue helped Charlisa find a new apartment, at 781 King Street East, unit C, 10 minutes from where Sue lived on Parkdale Avenue. At the back of the apartment, just off the kitchen, Charlisa kept an art room where she painted and where Eugene had his own easel as well. Sometimes she’d go on errands with paint all over her hands. The art room overlooked the back alleyway, fences, and old brick homes; natural light poured in, unlike her bedroom, which was smaller and had no windows.

Charlisa volunteered helping inner city kids, teaching art, cooking for them, mentoring. The girls took to calling her “Mom”; she urged them to get off the street and go back home. Perhaps Charlisa offered that advice because she had left home at a young age herself and had regretted aspects of that decision. As an adult, though, she did enjoy a free-spirited social life. When her mom or 16-year-old brother Greg or her grandmother babysat Eugene, she often would hit a club, a rave, soak up the music, let go.

Her art career had started to bloom, and she thought about pursuing a career as an animator. On June 14, 2000, a painting of Charlisa’s was featured at an exhibit in Hamilton called The Power of Healing, and her name was mentioned in the newspaper as one of the artists.

Three days later, on June 17, she spent time with her son, and her boyfriend Pasquale (Pat) Del Sordo. She had known Pat for years, since they had attended high school at Orchard Park, but they had only recently started dating. Eugene got a kick out of Pat; he made him laugh. After spending some time with Charlisa and Eugene, Pat had had to go out, and so, later that night, Charlisa and Eugene were alone. She put the boy to bed, anticipated Pat returning after midnight. It was a warm evening, a night to open the balcony door to let in the breeze.

The next day, June 18, Sue drove with a friend downtown. She had taught ballet for years, and her class was presenting a recital that day. Sue and her friend stopped the car on King East, looked up at Char’s low-rise apartment unit, which faced the street, and honked the horn. No one appeared on the balcony, and Sue moved on.

She had been thinking about her daughter a lot lately, was certain that Char was pregnant with her second child. Char had seemed to hint at it to a family member.

“I’ve got something to tell you, but I don’t want to say just yet,” Charlisa had said.

At the art show, someone had taken a picture of Charlisa. In the photo her hand rested on her stomach in a motherly pose. She wasn’t showing, but Sue believed she could tell; she sensed Char was waiting for the right moment to tell her.

The recital felt odd that afternoon. Usually, Sue was backstage organizing the girls, but this time she sat on a table, let her assistants do the work. She didn’t feel like herself. She usually went with her friend for coffee but didn’t feel like that today. She just went home.

Now it was the middle of the night, and she was standing in her housecoat, trapped in the repressive light inside her kitchen, in a daze, hearing the voice from one of the bodies ask the question.

“Do you have a daughter named Charlisa?”

“Yes,” she said.

“I’m sorry. She’s been killed.”

Those were the words, Sue thought, but she could never be exactly certain. The words weren’t registering; her brain was not able to connect the dots.

She turned to her husband. “What — what are they saying?
What are they saying?

Sue bolted from the kitchen, downstairs to the basement where Greg had his bedroom, hysterical, jumping on top of him, slapping at him, screaming, “Char is dead, your sister is dead.”

— 3 —

Cool Intensity

Deep blue eyes meeting dark red; lead homicide detective Don Forgan — shaved head, wire glasses, suit — examining the walls and bedding in unit C.

“Extremely violent,” he said.

The scene was so bloody that some of the initial radio chatter among the cops suggested that the victims had been shot in the head. But that had not been the case. There was high-velocity spatter, on the walls, ceiling. Cast-off patterns. Transfer patterns. Forgan knew the blood patterns well, having worked in forensic identification with Hamilton Police for 10 years before transferring to homicide. He saw the male lying face down on the mattress, the female on the floor, 90 degrees to the bed, arms and head on the mattress, as though kneeling, her ankles crossed. An odd position.

In his 20 years as a cop, it was not the bloodiest scene he had attended. No, that had been years before, when he was in uniform. The deceased in that case was a physician who had severed a major artery and bled out in large volume, but not before moving through several rooms in his home. Looked like a homicide; was treated that way at first. But in fact the doctor had known exactly what he was doing. Suicide.

Homicide detective Don Forgan.
Ron Albertson, Hamilton Spectator.

The crime scene Forgan now examined was disturbing, but then he had long ago taken to heart advice from a veteran ident man who had trained him. The person was gone, he was told. It was now just the evidence left for you. That’s all it was. Forgan had tapped that mindset when he had worked as an investigator in the child-abuse branch. It helped, but then there was the case of a 14-year-old girl beaten by her father. The father had used a piece of garden hose. The attacks were so violent that you could see, on the skin of her back, the imprint of the metal coupling of the hose, and even the tiny threads of the coupling. Evidence. Just evidence. But Forgan could not shake that imprint in his mind’s eye, even many years later.

In this new case, he knew the little boy, Eugene, had not been hurt, not physically. But the little guy had to have been in the apartment a long time before he made it outside, perhaps 16 hours. What had the boy seen? How would it affect him? Forgan had too big a heart not to feel it.

Don Forgan had started as a cop straight out of high school, bugging an officer at the station until he got hired. He had grown up in Hamilton, the child of Scottish parents. At eight years old, he had been enrolled by his mother in bagpipe lessons. He resisted at first but grew to love the instrument. He eventually played in competitions and won his share. With the pipes you are judged not on the emotion you show while playing, but the emotion conveyed through the tune. Don let it flow through his music.

That was a long time ago. In 1998, after 20 years on the job, he was assigned to homicide, what was then called “the Major Crime Unit.” He was made for the work: he was quick-witted and thoughtful, carried a cool intensity, was always up for a case. He could put a family in pain at ease in the morning and grill a suspect in the afternoon with equal effectiveness.

On his first day on the job in homicide, January 4, 1998, he was assigned to partner with Warren Korol, who was riding high in the branch, having arrested Stoney Creek serial poisoner Sukhwinder Dhillon three months earlier after chasing the case all the way to India. Forgan walked in the door on the second floor at Central Station and Korol met him immediately.

“Don’t bother taking your coat off, Donny; we’ve gotta head out. New case.”

“But I don’t even know where the coffee machine is yet.”

The case was a missing person/suspected homicide; the victim’s name Sheryl Sheppard. The body was missing, so there was no crime scene. They started at her apartment. Rule number one: always start at the victim; start with people closest to her, and work out.

It was now more than two years ago that Forgan had started in homicide and he had tackled many investigations since, but as he cracked the new case notebook for the double murder, that first case, while still open, had gone nowhere. He remained frustrated that someone was walking around free out there who should be locked up.

In the bedroom of the apartment on King East, Forgan saw a mark on the floor: a tread from an athletic shoe, a print left in blood. And there was the baseball bat. Ident had removed the clothing that had partially covered it. Blood was visible on the fat part of the bat. The killer did not bring it to the scene; a neighbour told police that she had loaned Charlisa the bat to use for protection. Char always kept it by the front door. It was a weapon of opportunity. If it was the murder weapon, why did the killer leave it behind? Maybe he rifled through drawers looking for money, tossed clothes around, and accidentally covered the bat? How could he forget to get rid of it? Forgan wondered. But then who knew what your thought process was like after you’ve killed two people, Forgan reflected. Media would soon be on the story full bore. They would need to keep the bat a secret as holdback evidence. Only one person out there knows about the bat.

Police had started interviewing neighbours; no one had heard anything unusual coming from that apartment. Forgan exited the bedroom, walked up the narrow hallway to the living room, where the open door led on to the balcony. He chatted with Korol, who had joined him at the scene. They could hear voices in an adjoining unit, so the detectives spoke quietly. If the walls were that thin, how could no one have heard anything, with the violence that had happened here? Forgan listened to the old hardwood floor under his feet creak. Did the victims hear the guy coming?

He knew the investigation would be complicated. Two victims — two circles of friends and relatives and acquaintances and potential enemies and motives. The only witness so far was the kid, who was speaking in riddles. No sign of forced entry to the apartment. Did the victims, or at least one of them, know the killer?

Forgan left the living room and walked out the front door of the unit, saw the key chain dangling from the lock. It was the mother’s key chain. Who left it there? It would make no sense for the killer to lock the door and leave the key on his way out, unless he was trying to throw them off. The kid? The boy clearly had not exited via the chain-locked back door; more likely he had exited through the front, and then locked the door like he had seen his mother do many times before.

Forgan walked down a flight of stairs and out into the darkness, to the strip of grass in front of the apartment building. Shoe indentations on the grass. On the front concrete facade, the word
and an iron lamp fixture below the balcony of unit C. The second-floor balcony was maybe 10 feet off the ground. Someone with strength and purpose could grab the fixture, climb up to the balcony, and hop back down again. Might explain the pronounced footprints in the grass.

His night ended at 4:00 a.m. Forgan drove home, caught a few hours’ sleep, and was back in the office at Central Station Monday at 9:30 a.m. He had three voice mails from reporters about the case already. That afternoon he attended autopsies for both victims performed by forensic pathologist Dr. Chitra Rao. Her conclusion: both were bludgeoned to death; struck numerous times in the head and face. Multiple skull fractures and hemorrhages in the brain. Tramline bruising caused by striking by a cylindrical object. Later that day Forgan drove to Stoney Creek with Detective Dave Place, who had been among those called in to assist. The second of the victims, the male, had been identified by fingerprints. The family had to be notified.

BOOK: Death's Shadow
3.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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