A dumpster is not a grave

To: Xtra West

July 23, 1997

Re: "The issue that won't go away"
Xtra West, July 10, 1997. No. 102

(Not for publication)

When I was approached by Tomiye Ishida to talk about the issues involved in licensing prostitutes, I was thrilled. I know Tomiye from the classifieds department at Xtra West.

Last September Tomiye wrote an article ("Honour our children") for Xtra West, following the arrest of gay Clinton Elementary school principal William Bennest for child pornography. In that article Tomiye revealed that she is not only a mother but also "a lesbian who spent years working in the sex trade as both a youth and an adult, a political person of colour and a feminist ... [and] a survivor of childhood sexual abuse." Rather than condemning Bennest, Tomiye sensibly pointed out that he was highly respected, and called for a "critical examination" of the charges. I admire her courage in revealing her past and her political views at work. I had no idea she had been a whore. I was elated about the opportunity to talk politics with her.

Tomiye and I walked down Davie Street to Melriches on a sunny spring day and sat in the parking lot behind the cafe. As I suspected we had a lot of similar viewpoints. We comiserated on some topics, and recognized the challenge involved in discussions about some of the murky and sensitive issues involved in fighting for prostitutes' rights.

The federal elections came and went, filling all of Xtra West's editorial space. Finally, after four or five issues, there was word that the story was being printed. Sipping my morning coffee, I excitedly flipped to the cover story, "Thumbs out: The prostitution solution." I look at the picture, then stop to read the caption: "Vancouver's prostitutes keep showing up dead in trash compactors, notes activist Jamie Lee Hamilton." The photo is a flattering shot of Hamilton, leaning up against a dumpster. A pair of mannequin's legs, one foot in a high-heeled shoe, sticks out of the corner of the bin. I was stunned. Was this supposed to be some kind of sick visual joke? I couldn't even read the text of the article. My stomach turned. My voice quavered. It was something I've felt before. Obviously, I thought, no one else there knows this feeling. Don't they know that whores read Xtra! West too?

I phoned and abused a friend in Xtra West's advertising department, then I railed on the editor's voice mail. Then, with a bit of the steam released, I dialed Jamie Lee Hamilton. I was civil. She was sorry. I told her how "tasteless" I thought the photo was. She had had some second thoughts herself. She was unsure, but wanted desperately to draw attention to the issue. She apologized for my hurt feelings. And then, in search of a silver lining, she said, "Well, if this will inspire discussion, it will have been a good thing."

Fine, I thought, you want to dredge this issue up for people, then let's wade in a little. As a reader you can back out when you've had enough. If you're a friend or relative of Grayce Baxter, who was from Vancouver, you should consider not reading any further. The story I'm about to tell contains a graphic description of her murder.

I couldn't attend the murder trial. My friend, Anastasia who always thought that important political work takes place in a courthouse, sat through much of it. At the time she asked me if I wanted to hear it. I told her I couldn't, not when it's about a friend. I had heard snippets. That was enough. But now I called Anastasia. "I'm ready to hear it now," I told her. I asked her to spend some time recalling the details. Even though it's been almost five years, it's not easy to forget -- even when you wish you could. I know this from experience.

I don't know if it's still the case, but during the late eighties and early nineties the Toronto prostitutes' community was like a fine wool knit. No one necessarily knew everybody, but everybody knew everybody through somebody.

I first met "Candace" (Candace was Grayce's "working" name) shortly after hooking up with Executive Escorts. Executive Escorts and Exclusive Escorts were the same agency, two of the few big ads in the Toronto Yellow Pages that advertised both male and female escorts. All major credit cards accepted, three to four hundred dollars for a 40-minute hour. The year was 1990.

Candace and I were booked on a double call at the King Eddie hotel on King Street East. She came to pick me up. She pulled up in front of our communal house on Shaw Street and honked the horn. She looked like Kim Bassinger in the film Nine-and-a-half Weeks. A busty natural blonde, six-foot-one, with beautiful cheekbones, big black sunglasses and the voice of Loren Bacall. Sexy and commanding, she was driving a brand new, black BMW with tan leather interior and a sun roof.

On our way to the downtown call Candace lined up three consecutive calls on her cell phone. I was still pretty green; I had never done a double before. "Look, it's easy," she said. "We go in, we get him off, if he wants you to fuck me, just fake it. ... You bi? I'm in a hurry."

Once at the hotel, we knock and walk into the room, Candace does all the talking and gets the money. She undresses quickly, down to her black lingerie and garters. We worship and suck his dick (with a condom), I get behind her and pretend to fuck her, groaning. He shoots, we're dressed and Candace is dialing on the hotel phone, off to see another client.

"Shelley," who ran the service, once spoke about Grayce after she had dropped by to pay an agency fee. "I think she used to be a man. She can really drop her voice. She's a transsexual." "Naw," I said, "I've seen her thighs, she's a woman." She had all the right curves.

Candace had a reputation for her husky, booming voice. Church and Jarvis Street girls remember Candace when she used to work around Carlton with her cell phone. (In those days, a cell phone was expensive.) When a carload of yahoos would stop to harass the girls on the corner, Candace would stand up straight (she was 6'4" in hooker boots), drop her voice and boom, "Hey honey," walking towards the car. That's usually all it took to scare them off. Girls found it very hard to believe that she used to be a guy.

Candace loved to party, She loved to drink and she loved to snort. Everyone knew her in the gay after-hours bars -- great hooker/hustler after-work hangouts. She had lots and lots of friends. She loved both men and women. She was very interested in an ex girlfriend and old friend of mine, "Elaine" -- blonde, blue eyes, six-foot-two -- and had called her a couple of times under the pretense of wanting to do doubles together.

Candace specialized in domination -- a lucrative and mysterious sex trade art. Her friends joked that Candace always got a tip. "Oh, I really like that lamp," or "that painting," and next thing she'd be walking out the door with them both. Candace had a penchant for antiques, and she had a good eye.

I remember partying with Candace on Halloween, 1992, at Komrads, a gay late-hours dance club on the corner of Isabella and Yonge Street. Candace was dressed all in black leather, full dominatrix -- whips, chains, chaps -- showing off her ass. There was only one thing missing from the outfit. Candace dragged me by a leash onto the dance floor. I was wearing only a slave harness, army boots, and cop hat. (The harness was originally from Mack's Leathers. I earned it, along with a huge chunk of hash, from a German client because he thought it looked so good on me.) Candace teasingly gave me a lashing to punish me for us not winning. There were some extraordinary costumes.

Early in 1992 I had started working for Maggie's, the Toronto Prostitutes' Community Service Project. Maggie's was at that time very well-connected with most facets of the sex worker communities in Toronto: Street girls, strippers and escort service and dungeon owners alike. The place was directed and staffed by prostitutes. Maggie's was funded to provide health promotion and AIDS education for sex workers. We also ran the Bad Trick Sheet, a regularly published list of descriptions of assailants and their cars, maintained on a database.

The listing was started in 1990. By September, Maggie's Bad Trick Sheet had 107 entries -- 53 in 1992 alone. The breakdown of assaults on prostitutes was as follows:

  • 25 were rapes, including 4 gang-rapes;
  • 47 were other assaults;
  • 7 were incidents of forcible confinement;
  • 16 incidents involved knives, including 3 actual stabbings;
  • 5 incidents involved guns;
  • 4 incidents involved attempted strangulation;
  • 2 incidents were hammer attacks;
  • 3 incidents included attempts to run down women with vehicles.

Although the Bad Trick Sheet was intended for the streets, indoor girls also dropped by regularly to pick it up.

In early December 1992, discreet, nervous phone calls started coming into the Maggie's office. "Has anyone heard from Candace?" She hadn't been heard from in over a day. Many people around Maggie's knew Candace well. She had worked for escort agencies that supported Maggie's. She also advertised regularly in NOW Magazine -- Toronto's equivalent to the Georgia Straight. "Patricia," "Petal Rose," "April," "Nikki" and other girls had all worked with her. She was also an old friend of Danny Cockerline, who had co-founded the organization. A couple of days later, Candace's BMW was found abandoned in the Gerrard Square Mall parking lot.

The police conducted their interviews. One of those friends was the last person to hear from Candace that night. We used our network to gather what information we could get from the police. Two weeks passed. The not knowing, but knowing, leaves a funny feeling in your gut. Some of us claimed it was all just a crazy scheme -- Candace had taken off to another country. But Grayce had sent her parents airline tickets so they could come from Clearwater to visit her for Christmas. She had also planned a big party for her friends on December 18th, and had sent out her dining room chairs for refinishing. She never picked them up.

Finally, a headline appears in the Toronto Star:

"Search for T.O. woman baffles cops": "Investigators have yet to turn up a clue in the disappearance of Grayce Elizabeth Baxter, 26, who was last seen leaving a friend's Mississauga home at 3 a.m. Tuesday, December 8."

. . .

On Monday night, December 7, Candace went to a Mississauga hotel to work a stag party. Afterwards, she visited her friend "Desirée," who lived in the neighbourhood. Candace had been drinking and partying a bit that evening. It was about 3 a.m. when she got a page from the service. She jumped in her car and called the client, a regular she had seen three or four times before, from the phone in her car. Then she headed east down the 401 to Don Mills.

Dan Johnson was about six-foot-four-inches, 240 pounds. Twenty-three years old, he worked as a part-time guard at the Don Jail. He was a weightlifter and a football, rugby and hockey player. Johnson liked to drink and he liked to play rough. His friends had nicknamed him "Gentle Ben."

When Candace arrived at 3:30, they argued over the price -- Johnson only had $200. They finally agreed on 45 minutes.

Johnson fucked Candace for a long time. Maybe 40 minutes straight -- but he couldn't come to orgasm. His time was up. Candace told him, "Get off of me!" They struggled. Candace scrambled for her purse. She reached inside, pulled out her stun gun and zapped him. She also had a can of mace.

They wrestle some more and Johnson gets Candace into a headlock. He mounts her from behind, choking her as he rapes her. Candace gasps loudly for breath and then stops as he crushes her windpipe. Her body expires. Johnson ejaculates instantly. The entire assault takes place over just a few minutes. Johnson withdraws his prick and to his disgust he discovers shit on it, not having realized that he was in her ass. He runs to the bathroom and vomits violently and then washes his dick furiously. He returns to the bedroom. Candace's lifeless form lying on the floor has let go her bladder and bowels. From his experience in prisons he knows for sure that she is dead. Johnson kicks her body a bit with his foot.

Freaked out, unsure what to do, Johnson goes outside to sit and think a while. After what seems like a couple of hours, he goes back inside. He grabs Candace's body first by her arms, and notices her diamond ring and a Rolex watch. He slips them into his pocket. Pulling on her arms he feels the shoulders pull at the sockets. She seems much heavier now. Grabbing her by her feet he drags her body down the hall to the bathroom and flops her into the bathtub. He turns on the shower and slits open her throat. He leaves the shower running for a couple of hours to drain and wash away all the blood. It just keeps oozing and oozing, dark and thick -- like the smell.

Johnson returns to the bedroom and begins to clean up. Gathering together her belongings, finding her purse, he rifles through it and finds her keys. There's a key to her BMW. He looks for a pair of gloves. He goes outside and finds her car parked just up the street. Then he drives her car to a mall parking lot at Pape Avenue and Gerrard Street and leaves it there. Finding a hardware store he buys hacksaw blades and extra-strength garbage bags.

When Johnson returns home, he immediately takes his tools with him to the washroom -- as if to check if Candace's body is still there. He begins the job of chopping it up. First he must cut off her head, the sodden, washed flesh of her throat, already gaping open, still oozing jellied lumps of black. He then disjoints her arms, then her legs. As he cuts into her stomach her bowels spill out. The instant foul odour floods his nostrils, causing him to dry heave. Bolting from the bathroom he grabs a can of air freshener and sprays and sprays, emptying a couple of cans trying to cover the stink. Finally, using the hacksaw, he splits open the front of her chest and cracks back her rib cage.

Johnson gathers Candace's clothes and takes them to the bathroom. Wearing kitchen gloves he wraps her guts in her silver fox fur coat. Then he starts stuffing garbage bags, wrapping her body parts with bits of her clothing and then in bag over bag over bag. Back in the bedroom he hides the ring and the Rolex and begins to mop up the shit and piss out of the carpet. Sweaty and bloody, Johnson puts his own clothes in a garbage bag and anxiously takes a shower. Then, having to make several trips as inconspicuously as possible, he carries the bags one after another out to the dumpster behind his apartment building. It's just before noon when Johnson goes in search of something to eat. His heart thumps as he hears the clang of a garbage truck picking up a dumpster.

Candace's dismembered body was on its way in a truck to the Bermundsey Road transfer depot, where it was compacted. From there her body was carted off to the Metro-owned Brock West Landfill Site in Pickering, at Brock Rd. and Concession 3.

. . .

When a couple of Grayce's friends showed up at the front desk of the World Trade Centre condominiums at Queen's Quay, Pat McPherson, the concierge hadn't seen Grayce in a while. He already thought this was strange. Together they went up to Grayce's 32nd-floor apartment to discover only her cat, which had been obviously left unfed for several days.

On December 11, Johnson got together with his ex-girlfriend. "Everything seemed normal," she said in an interview later. But when she visited him on Boxing Day, Johnson "seemed angry." In reporting Grayce Baxter's disappearance the newspapers had started to reveal details about her life -- including the fact that she used to be a he, named Grant. December 29, Dan Johnson pawned Candace's ring and Rolex for a total of $1,650.

In the new year, the newspapers warned that police were about to start contacting the 100 regular well-to-do clients in Candace's date book. They were just starting their interviews when, on January 7, police finally tracked down Dan Johnson. Using records from the phone service, they traced Grayce Baxter's last phone call from her car to Johnson's number. Investigators questioned Johnson and he agreed to take a lie detector test the next day.

After the police left, Johnson sat and wrote two letters, one of which he sent to his parents in Abbotsford. The RCMP told Johnson's parents that they shouldn't read the letter because it was too graphic. But Johnson told them that he wanted them to read it. The other hand-written, six-page letter he sent to the Toronto Sun. With it he enclosed his Ministry of Corrections photo ID card. Johnson phoned his friends back home as well as his ex-girlfriend, and told them that he would be returning to BC in a couple of days. He claimed that he was being investigated by the prison for the mistreatment of an inmate.

When police returned on the 8th, they found Johnson with a number of self-inflicted, non-life-threatening knife wounds on his wrists, ankle and neck.

"You might as well take me in right now. You know I did it. It's been a living hell for a month. I didn't mean to do it. It was just an accident. It just went too far," Johnson said in a statement to police. Johnson was taken into custody and charged with first-degree murder. The newspapers announced his arrest the following day.

The Sun received the letter on the following Monday, January 11. They printed excerpts the next day.

The letter began: "Dear Friends, I am forwarding this letter to the Toronto Sun in hopes that they will publish this... and not have you only listen, read and talk hearsay and gossip." In the letter Johnson admitted that he had seen Grayce the night she was disappeared and claimed that she was drunk.

"I want to let the guys at the Don know I never knew she was once a he ... so quit the jokes," he wrote.

Johnson claimed to have just spent three days "having nothing but sex with my Quebec girlfriend ... doing it 14 times ... then stop cold fish."

Among references to God, Johnson claimed to be "good hearted" beneath his exterior as a "big, tough weightlifter, the womanizer, the loudmouth and joker."

An entire page listed numerous friends and co-workers, of whom he recalled fond memories. They included: "Tim: Like the brother I never had ... Guy: Thanks for making me laugh ... and Randy, Jeff, Willie, Black, McCarthy, Doug MacDonald and all the boys." Police wouldn't say if they knew where he had dumped Grayce's body.

The Toronto prostitutes' community was in shock when Johnson's picture and letter hit the front page. "April" had seen this guy too. She remembered him as a big guy, drunk, rough and aggressive. April went to the police station dressed entirely in black, wearing a wide-brimmed hat with a veil and dark glasses, and gave a statement. A girl phoned Maggie's and then Crime Stoppers with a tip that she had seen someone putting something that looked like it could be a body into a dumpster.

On January 12, the police psychiatrist who interviewed Johnson testified to the gruesome details of Grayce's murder, as Johnson had recounted them to him, at the preliminary hearing, which took two days. Johnson pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder.

On January 19, police held a news conference at the Pickering landfill site. Using dump log books, engineers surveyed and marked out the section of the site they believed was being used between the dates that Grayce's body would likely have ended up there. The area searched was about 350 feet by 150 feet, the size of a football field -- and 15 feet deep.

The area contained about 8,000 tonnes of household and industrial garbage, the equivalent of 1,200 tractor-trailer loads. Eight police officers and two equipment operators, using bulldozers and garden hoes, sifted through the garbage in a grid, 20 feet wide and 4 feet deep at a time, going through the area "scoop by scoop." Once they'd covered the entire area, investigators returned to the start of the grid to dig down another layer. Police searched the Pickering dump for eight weeks but failed to turn up any of Grayce's remains.

On February 5, 1993, Xtra! (Toronto's gay paper) published in its letters section a memorial I wrote, including a call for volunteers to start a "Bad Calls" warning system. Two women, "Nikki," who ran a large service in Missisauga, and "Diane," who worked independently out of NOW Magazine, began networking and keeping track of names and phone numbers of nasty clients. There had been some very similar stories of assaults and robberies told by different girls. They prompted Maggie's to set up the Bad Call List for indoor girls -- in memory of Grayce Baxter.

Later that winter, while out on the boystown stroll one night, I ran into a client I had seen several times before. A round, jovial man, well known for his charity fundraising and passion for art. He told me that he had seen a psychic, who told him that he was going to come to have the possessions of someone who died recently. She said it was all right because it meant that the person's spirit would wonder through his home. A couple of weeks later, he had the opportunity to buy much of Grayce's estate. He put all her cherished antiques in his farmhouse in the Ontario countryside. Somehow, hearing this made me feel a just little bit warm inside.

A year after Grayce's death her parents and friends published a memorial in the newspaper:

"Your presence we miss, Your memory we treasure
Loving you always, Forgetting you never..."

They have no grave to visit, no place to pay their respects.

In April, 1994, Patrick Daniel Johnson finally pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 25 years in a penetentiary with no eligibility for parole for ten years. He was prohibited from possessing firearms, ammunition or explosives for the rest of his life. Time served before conviction and sentencing counts as double. Before long Johnson will be eligible to apply for day passes.

A year later I moved to Vancouver and began coordinating the Sex Workers Alliance of Vancouver. I put out the first issue of the Bad Call List for Vancouver, available at the front desk of the WestEnder. I got a call from a girl named "Raigen," who was very interested in becoming involved. Later she confided that she had known Grayce too, in Vancouver and in Toronto -- although they didn't always get along. Raigen told me that she was the first person to put make-up on Grayce. Many years ago, Grayce was so excited, practically running all the way from Robson Street with the make-up bag she had just bought. Raigen recalls, "I thought at the time, girl, you are going to make one ugly woman." Raigen saw her a few years later, and thought, "Wow, look what's happened to you!" Grayce had bloomed. Raigen reminisces, "She was such a sweet, sweet person."

. . .

People often think that prostitutes have no community -- no family, no friends, no loved ones. This is often the reason that prostitutes are the target of violence -- because society cares so little that no one will hunt for the perpetrator. But it's not true. Even the most destitute and strung-out have people who care about them, who will miss them and feel pain when they're gone. In the last year, at least seven prostitutes have been murdered in this city. That means there are hundreds of people out there who knew and maybe loved those girls. And some of those people read your paper.

I finally read Tomiye's article. It's good -- very good. Thoroughly researched and "balanced," the story is careful in representing my point of view. Bravo! But a picture is worth a thousand words; illustrations editorialize the writing. So the next time you decide on a clever photo for a prostitution story, remember this -- we are people you might know. You might even work with someone who is, or used to be, a prostitute. We're not disposable like an old pair of mannequin's legs thrown in the trash. A dumpster is not a grave.


Andrew Sorfleet
the Sex Workers Alliance of Vancouver


More about Grayce... [SWAV Letters] [Rights Groups]

Created: August 8, 1997
Last modified: May 3, 1999
SWAV Sex Workers Alliance of Vancouver
Box 3075, Vancouver, BC V6B 3X6
Tel: +1 (604) 488-0710
Email: swav@walnet.org