The death of the latest victim in a string of vicious attacks on mentally challenged residents of Parkdale was declared a homicide Tuesday night by Toronto Police.
George Wass, 62, was found early Monday in the second-floor hallway of the rooming house he shared with 13 other people and was pronounced dead on arrival at nearby St. Joseph's hospital. He is the city's 16th homicide of the year.
The autopsy revealed he died of blunt-force trauma, police said.
Nicknamed the “Gentle Giant,” the 6-foot-3 Mr. Wass was smoking a cigarette on the porch of his home near Queen Street and Jamieson Avenue when he was beaten by a man wearing a balaclava. He was treated for two broken ribs, and cuts and bruises to his head and face and released from hospital.
The assault was the fifth since January targeting mentally challenged Parkdale residents, and the third one near Mr. Wass's rooming house. Police believe one person is responsible. He's described as a burly man, between 5-foot-8 and 6 feet tall, who wears a balaclava and sometimes rides a bicycle.
Police have stepped up patrols in the area and formed a task force.
Meanwhile, the suspicious death of a 20-year-old prostitute whose body was found in a Caledon roadside ditch last Thursday appears unrelated to any unsolved homicides, police said Tuesday, but they would not speculate on whether it was murder, suicide or an accident.
Kera Freeland, who had worked for the Toronto-based escort company Cachet Ladies after moving from Calgary, went missing Jan. 15 from near Lakeshore Boulevard West and Queens Avenue. A friend reported her disappearance six weeks later to Toronto police, who issued an alert.
Now, as authorities piece together the last movements of Ms. Freeland, also known as Kera Gray and Meghan Parks, they are awaiting the results of an autopsy, including toxicology tests.
Because her body had been under snow for what's believed to be several weeks, decomposition was not advanced.
“Obviously, we have a timeline from when she was reported missing,” Ontario Provincial Police Constable Peter Leon said. “She is part of a very high-risk occupation, and our chief concern is to find out how and why she came to be in that ditch.”
After examining several suspicious deaths, particularly that of 42-year-old Sonia Varaschin, killed in nearby Orangeville last summer, “there's no reason to link any of these occurrences,” Constable Leon said.
In a statement from Cachet Ladies, lawyer Gregory Leslie said Ms. Freeland worked for the escort agency between Dec. 6 and Dec. 20, 2010, and had hoped to pay her way through college to earn a degree in social work before she found out she had cancer.
“She informed Cachet that she would be travelling back to B.C. to undergo cancer treatment, but asked the agency to keep her photos up on the website, since she planned to return in Feb. 2011 and didn't want potential clients to think she was gone or inaccessible,” Mr. Leslie wrote.
“Kera should be remembered as the sweet, spirited, friendly young lady who had aspirations to help foster kids and not a girl who moved to Toronto in order to work as an escort.”
And in a third suspicious death, a 37-year-old woman whose body was found on the 22nd floor of a west Toronto apartment building early Tuesday morning is thought to be the victim of a domestic-related homicide, a police source said.
Discovered around 5 a.m. at 65 Emmett Ave., near Jane Street and Weston Road, in response to a 911 call initially believed to involve a cardiac arrest, the unidentified woman had sustained visible injuries. A man was seen leaving the apartment shortly before the woman's body was found, but no arrests have been made.