Paul Croutch, a homeless man who friends say was harmless and avoided trouble, spent the last night of his life in a sleeping bag in a downtown Toronto park, weathering the wet remnants of hurricane Katrina.
The 59-year-old had spent the past three years sleeping on the streets, or sometimes in shelters. Until recently, Mr. Croutch spent a lot of his time on a traffic island two blocks from where he was killed. But, worried about drug dealers, he picked up his meagre possessions and began sleeping in Moss Park, an area frequented by transients and close to the Moss Park Armoury, home to the Queen's Own Rifles of Canada regiment.
He told friends he felt he would be safer there.
But in the pre-dawn hours last Wednesday, he was beaten to death, allegedly by three part-time members of the Canadian Armed Forces Reserves now charged with second-degree murder.
Shortly before 5 a.m., after receiving two 911 calls, police arrived at Moss Park and found Mr. Croutch unconscious in his sleeping bag. He was taken to nearby St. Michael's Hospital, where he died with his case workers from a local hostel at his bedside, said Dion Oxford, of the Salvation Army's Gateway Shelter.
"He didn't cause trouble, he didn't cause fights, he was harmless," said Mr. Oxford, who had known Mr. Croutch since he started going to the hostel in December of 2002.
Mr. Croutch usually slept outdoors but periodically stayed at the shelter, Mr. Oxford said. The Armoury is often used as a shelter for the homeless, for example during this summer's extreme heat alerts.
Toronto homicide Detective Wayne Fowler said there was no sign that Mr. Crouch put up much of a fight when he was attacked.
An autopsy showed that his injuries were consistent with being punched, kicked or stomped upon, police said.
Det. Fowler credited people in the area with coming forward "with any information they had," which led to the arrests on Friday.
Jeffery Hall, 21, Mountaz Ibrahim, 23, and Brian Deganis, 21, all of Toronto and all members of the Queen's Own Rifles, have been charged with second-degree murder and assault causing bodily harm. The three appeared in court on Saturday and are expected to be back in court later this week.
Captain Mark Giles, spokesman for the National Investigation Service with the Canadian Armed Forces, said that each of the three accused had at least two years experience with the forces, and that all were trained for combat.
"This is a tragic situation, it's a very serious matter," he said in a telephone interview from Ottawa yesterday.
Capt. Giles said that the case is now before the courts, and so he could offer no further details about the accused. Toronto police and the National Investigation Service were involved in the investigation.
Army officials confirmed that a regimental social event took place at Moss Park Armoury last Tuesday night, but could not confirm whether the accused men attended the party.
Police said a woman who tried to intervene on behalf of Mr. Croutch suffered bruising. The woman lives in shelters and was prompted by members of the community to contact police, Det. Fowler said.
"She sought her own medical treatment," he added. "She's sore, but she's going to be okay."
Mr. Croutch spent every day at the Good Neighbours' Club, a day centre for homeless senior men located in a nondescript white building near the Moss Park Armoury.
Mr. Oxford said Mr. Croutch was in good physical health, adding that he last saw him at a softball game in Moss Park last Monday.
Bob Seguin, a support-care worker with the Good Neighbours' Club, said Mr. Croutch was essentially a good man but suffered from paranoia and could sometimes be a bit of a handful.
He had been barred from most of the local shelters and so slept outside most of the year, only sleeping indoors during severe weather. Mr. Croutch came by the club to shower, do his laundry and sleep.
"He slept a lot here because he didn't sleep a lot at night," Mr. Seguin said.
Mr. Seguin said he believed Mr. Croutch ran a newspaper in a small town in British Columbia some years ago, but fell on hard times and suffered mental problems.
"He kept to himself," Mr. Seguin added. "He had a good sense of humour, a witty, intellectual, dry type of humour."
The Gateway Shelter will hold a memorial service for Mr. Croutch next week.