It was the memory of killing that Michael Wayne McGray says he liked most. It was all so easy, he explains. He preyed on the vulnerable -- gay men who were anxious to take him home, prostitutes and homeless people he could lure with drugs.
The man who claims to be Canada's worst serial killer says he worked almost exclusively with a knife, and he preferred doing it sober because the details were sharper later. When it was over, he drifted out of town the same way he had arrived: anonymous and unnoticed, a stranger's death staving off his "hunger" for a while.
"It's a tremendous, tremendous high for me," he said yesterday, in the same easy tone you would use to order a hamburger. "I got very good at it."
Mr. McGray is in the Renous penitentiary serving a life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years after pleading guilty on Monday to slashing the throat of a woman in Moncton.
In a face-to-face interview inside the maximum-security prison, Mr. McGray said that he is prepared -- under certain conditions -- to confess to as many as 12 killings, from Nova Scotia to British Columbia. He is already charged with three other murders in Montreal and Saint John dating back to 1987.
It began, he said, in his teens, with the killing in 1985 of a 17-year-old girl he picked up while she was hitchhiking. The body of Elizabeth Gail Tucker, who disappeared on her way to Digby, N.S., was found a month later. He could lead Toronto police, he said, to the remains of an alcoholic he buried in High Park, and give them details on as many as three other killings in the city. He could offer Vancouver police information about the two prostitutes he says he stabbed there in the mid-1990s -- though he is not sure whether they lived or died. He has even crossed the border, he said, and committed a couple of killings.
By the end, he said, he can provide telling details on 16 deaths, including unsolved homicides in Ottawa, Calgary and Saint John.
Last year, he started talking about the crimes he says he has committed, first in a letter to Moncton's Crown prosecutor and in interviews with police investigators.
If his story proves true, the Ontario-born man would be the worst serial killer in Canadian history.
"They'll never solve these cases," he said, "without my help."
In exchange, Mr. McGray said he wants three conditions: Although he never expects his freedom, he wants treatment; he doesn't want to be charged with any more murders, since, he said, he can only serve one sentence; and he wants two alleged accessories to be given immunity from prosecution -- one of them, though he won't identify her, is apparently his girlfriend of the past five years.
"There's nothing spectacular about me," he said. "I just want to get help. I'm not criminally insane. I've always been well aware of what I was doing, and the consequences of what I was doing. . . . I used to spend months thinking things through."
For the interview, Mr. McGray stays behind a glass barrier, speaking softly though a telephone. At 34, he is a tall, heavy man with a bushy beard. He looks strong. Prison staff are cautious with him, and he is kept in segregation, away from the other inmates. He has talked about killing someone in prison: "I'm on the verge right now where I'm ready to do another one."
He answers questions calmly, for the most part -- describing in this deep, silky voice how hard it is to strangle a person, how he liked to kill when he was not drinking or using drugs, "so he could enjoy it."
But when asked why people should believe him, he curses viciously into the phone, his anger quick and intense.
"Give me what I want," he said, "and I'll prove that to you, that I'm not lying. There will be no games."
Mr. McGray says he knew he was going to get caught after he slashed the throat of a Newfoundland woman named Joan Hicks, who had moved to Moncton only three months earlier.
She was the only one of his victims he knew. They met, through his girlfriend, at a local homeless shelter. It happened, he said, after a night of heavy cocaine use. He said he and another man had gone looking for a victim. "We couldn't find anybody who we could grab on the street."
So they ended up at the basement apartment where Ms. Hicks lived with her 11-year-old daughter, Nena. Before daybreak, both were dead: the mother left bloody on the bedroom floor, Nena strangled and hung in a closet.
Mr. McGray pleaded guilty on Monday to the murder of Ms. Hicks, but a second charge in Nena's death was stayed. Mr. McGray denies killing Nena -- and he pushes this point in the interview.
"I've killed a lot of people," he said, "but I never hurt a child." (The other man, who was with him that night, tipped police to Mr. McGray. He has not been charged.)
This is not the first time Mr. McGray has spoken openly about the victims he claims to have killed. His statements to police have already led to three other murder charges, one in Saint John, where he is accused of killing an acquaintance after a botched taxi robbery in 1987, and two in Montreal, where he is facing trial for the 1991 stabbing deaths of two gay men.
But yesterday, Mr. McGray said he gave statements on those killings "to give them a little incentive" and is not prepared to speak further to investigators until his conditions are met. He was vague yesterday when asked to put dates on his crimes and names to his victims. He said he did not know most of their names, and he had travelled the country so much in the past 15 years that he was fuzzy on the dates.
"I remember enough details to know," he said. "Half of the fun for me is remembering the details."
Mr. McGray was born in Collingwood, Ont., but his family moved to Yarmouth, N.S., when he still a child. He was the second youngest of six siblings, the son of a welder.
When he was a teenager, he says he was put in a group home where he suffered physical and sexual abuse. By 16, he was on his own -- by his own description, a pot-smoking, boozing teenager consumed with rage and a dislike for people, and already fascinated by serial killers.
He began the first of his varied run-ins with the law. And in 1985 -- though he only recalls the date approximately -- he says that he and a friend, driving a truck on an empty road in Nova Scotia, came across Ms. Tucker thumbing a ride to a new job at the Digby fish plant. Even before his statement yesterday, Halifax police were investigating his role in her death.
"I liked it," he said. "I liked it a lot."
Mr. McGray said he is not sure where his "urge" comes from, or how it started, he only knows that he cannot control it. Since his first killing, he estimated that he has killed at least once a year, but sometimes twice. The killings, he said, were never sexually motivated, and he often stalked his victims beforehand.
Though he was vague on a time line, he said he knows the cities where he has killed. On request, he matter-of-factly listed them off: the two prostitutes in Vancouver, a pair in Seattle, Joan Hicks, of course, in Moncton. Beyond the two murder charges in Montreal, he claimed to have killed another gay man in the city about four years earlier. "It was just unbelievable how easy they tried to take you home, a total stranger."
In Toronto, in addition to the body in High Park -- a lonely addict on welfare he lured there in the summer of 1997, he said -- he claims to have killed several homeless people. "I always kept going to Toronto," he said. "I went from city to city."
He claims to have killed a man he met in Calgary. His Ottawa victim was a prostitute.
He suggests he is almost "relieved" he's behind bars.
At night, he says, he has to contend with the nightmares.
"I hear the voices of my victims," he said. "When I'm awake, but it's worse when I'm asleep. I hear them calling, screaming my name."