For a while this past summer, a cluster of gun murders in public places and the saturation media coverage left the vague but disturbing impression Toronto was heading for hell in a blaze of gunfire. Nowhere, it seemed, was safe any more.
In fact, however, the over-all number of shooting incidents in 2012 declined slightly from 2011, and the year-end homicide tally was unremarkable: As of Monday night, there had been 54 killings in the city, compared to 49 last year, 63 the year before and 62 in 2009. Of those 54 deaths, 32 involved guns, compared to 27 in 2011.
Hyped or not, here are 10 of the crimes that grabbed the city’s attention during the past 12 months:
* In the upscale neighbourhood of Leaside, a chilling find awaited the uniformed officers who in January knocked at the tidy bungalow shared by interior decorator Lisa Lebitka, 45, and and her business-executive boyfriend Paul Hindle. Greeting police at the door was Mr. Hindle, 46, who had called 911 to say his mate had gone missing. But when the house was searched, Ms. Lebitka’s badly decomposed remains were discovered upstairs, hidden beneath a cover, and a day later, Mr. Hindle was charged with second-degree murder. He now awaits trial.
* In Pickering, just east of Toronto, February saw the arrest of an embittered ex-husband who had spent more than a year building a custom-made dungeon in the basement of an abandoned farm house, complete with ceiling chains. Robert Edwin White, 45, later admitted the intended captive was his estranged wife’s best friend, and he pleaded guilty to breaking and entering with intent to commit an indictable offence. The sentencing judge handed him a jail term of two years less a day, describing his plot as “outrageous” and “horrifying.”
* In early June, to great public consternation, a burst of gunfire in the Toronto Eaton Centre’s bustling food court left one man dead and six other people wounded, The gang-related violence was a settling of scores, well-placed sources said, and a 23-year-old man faces multiple charges, including first-degree murder. The slain man, Ahmed Hassan, 23, was the first of at least young six Somali-Canadians to be shot dead in Toronto during the next three months, in clashes believed to be rooted in the drug trade.
* Later the same month, gun violence touched the same public nerve when low-level gang affiliate John Raposo, 35, was shot dead on the crowded patio of the Sicilian Sidewalk Café in Little Italy, as patrons watched a European soccer match on the big-screen TV. The killer wore a white hard hat, an orange safety vest with a fluorescent green “X” on the front and back and had a white filter mask on his face, witnesses said. Dean Wiwchar, 26, has been charged with first-degree murder. At Mr. Raposo’s funeral at an ornate neo-Gothic Catholic church, black-clad mourners remembered him as a skilled entrepreneur and devoted family man.
* In July, former lawyer Michael Ingram was charged with embezzling $2.3-million from a charitable foundation – the defunct Laughlen Centre, a onetime long-term care facility for seniors in downtown Toronto – and shipping most of the proceeds abroad. The principal victim was the Toronto Rotary Club, detectives said, but in an odd twist, the Rotarians denied having been defrauded of anything. Stripped of his licence to practice law, Mr. Ingram awaits his day in court.
* July also witnessed the worst mass shooting in Toronto’s history, when inter-gang rivalry at a barbecue outside a public-housing complex on Scarborough’s Danzig Street left two young people dead and 23 others wounded. Four teenagers have been charged with murder and numerous other offences, and Police Chief Bill Blair said recently he does not anticipate further arrests. The two gangs involved – the Galloway Boys and the Malvern Crew – have been active in the area for many years.
* Closing a chapter in one of the strangest murders the city has recorded, in September a young man who killed his tyrannical father in a public library by shooting him in the back with a crossbow and smashing his skull with a hammer was sentenced to life imprisonment. Zhou (Peter) Fang, 26, will be eligible for parole in 10 years, the minimum, after the judge concluded the mitigating factors – years of cruelty and domestic abuse by the slain father – were substantial.
* Few crimes stir wider concern than stranger-on-stranger sex attacks, so a collective sigh of relief went through the downtown Christie Pits neighbourhood in October with the arrest of a 15-year-old boy alleged to have targeted 16 women in nine weeks. Snared by an undercover police sting, the youth is alleged to have repeatedly groped women as they walked down the street. He has been denied bail.
* Then, in November, a still worse type of sexual assault occurred, this time in an upscale district of Avenue Road and Lawrence Avenue West. On a Monday morning, a man purporting to sell newspaper subscriptions rang the doorbell of a home, forced his way inside, pulled a knife and sexually assaulted two women aged 25 and 30. Alaa Hejazi, a 20-year-old Ryerson University student, surrendered to police two days later, accompanied by his mother, and faces multiple charges.
* Finally, Toronto heard an unusual, Christmas-flavoured tale of lost and found involving the Salvation Army. Late in November, David Rennie, former executive director of the charity’s main warehouse, was charged with stealing roughly $2-million worth of donated toys and other goods, in an operation that allegedly lasted more than two years. The good news: Almost all the 100,000 toys were recovered by police and returned to the Salvation Army in time for Santa Claus’s big around-the-world trip.