May 23, 1996

Dale Brazao and Jim Rankin

Serial killer sought:
3 prostitutes shot to death within 3 hours

TORONTO - Metro police have linked the weekend murders of three prostitutes, sparking fears that a serial killer is loose on Toronto streets.

Autopsies and ballistic testing have confirmed that the same gun was used to kill three victims in the span of three hours.

"They all died of gunshot wounds to the head and they were all killed by the same gun," Detective Sergeant Jim McDermott told a news conference at police headquarters yesterday.

Police had already suspected a link between the murders of two well-known prostitutes - Shawn Keegan, a transvestite, and Thomas Wilkinson, a transsexual who went by the name "Deanna."

Both were found dead Tuesday morning.

So was Brenda Ludgate.

Last night, detectives revealed Ludgate, found shot to death in an alley in the west end Monday night, had been killed by the same gun. She was originally thought to have died of a beating but was found to have been shot after the blood was cleared away.

"We have three people that are known prostitutes ... and have all been killed in a short span of time, with the same weapon," McDermott told reporters, adding police are "quite concerned" for the safety of prostitutes and people in areas where they work.

There are no suspects, although there were reports last night that police were looking for a certain vehicle in connection with the slayings.

Police are asking the public for information that may help trace the final steps of all three. Police believe they didn't know each other.

Then came the question homicide detectives knew was coming.

"I guess we have a serial killer on our hands?" a reporter asked.

After a long pause, McDermott gave a measured reply.

"I'm not calling it that yet, but if you wish to call it that, that's up to yourself. There are three deaths, two in close proximity and there is another one ... so, certainly multiple people have been killed.

"Serial killers are usually defined as more than three people, random kills where there is no connection between the killer and the victims," McDermott said.

"At this point, we are not able to say whether there is any sort of connection between any of the three victims and the killer," he said, adding he would not speculate on whether their killer was also a customer.

What is obvious is that the killer is targeting prostitutes. And, police believe, none of them knew they were about to die.

"Gunshots to the head, I don't really think any of these people were aware that their deaths were imminent," McDermott said.

A team of four detectives is checking police computer data banks across the country for unsolved murders and violent offenders who may fit the profile of someone capable of a killing rampage.

They'll also be looking at a string of recent unsolved murders of prostitutes in the Parkdale and west-end waterfront areas.

"We'll be looking at everything," McDermott said after the news conference.

As rain fell and fireworks boomed in the late hours of Monday's Victoria Day holiday, the three prostitutes were shot execution-style in the back of the head.

Keegan, 19, a bisexual street youth who sometimes relied on prostitution to get by, was found just after midnight in a stairwell where hookers often turn quick tricks.

Security guards at a highrise condominium at 40 Homewood Ave. found him lying on the steps of the concrete stairwell leading to underground parking.

Keegan had been working that night, wearing a miniskirt, black platform shoes and a wig a friend had given him. Eight months ago, Keegan, whose street name was Junior, learned he had contracted HIV from unprotected sex with a man.

It would be nine hours before the second victim would be found on the same street, near the Jarvis-Wellesley track where prostitutes ply their trade.

Wilkinson, 31, was found at 9:15 a.m. - slumped against a fence in a laneway behind 61 Homewood.

Police believe the two were shot around the same time.

Across the city in an alley near King St. W. and Tecumseth St., a 911 call at 11:30 p.m. Monday led police to Ludgate's body. She lay fully clothed, her eyes staring skyward.

Police originally said Ludgate, 25, had died from a beating. An autopsy showed she too had been shot in the head, and yesterday ballistic testing revealed all three had been shot with the same gun.

"What connects them is their lifestyle, their occupation, how they were killed, and the weapon they were killed (with)," said McDermott.

While the police seemed to tiptoe around the serial killer question, Toronto Councillor Kyle Rae didn't mince words.

"Well, it's a serial gun -- three individuals have been murdered. In the style that was described to us today by the police, it sounds like execution-style murders.

"It's terrifying to think that that has arrived here in Toronto," said Rae, who added that Homewood Ave. is a "bucolic stretch," but transforms into "one of the busiest prostitution streets in downtown Toronto."

The streets have become a dangerous place for prostitutes, Valerie Scott, spokesperson for the Canadian Organization for the Rights of Prostitutes, said yesterday.

And she says the law is to blame.

It penalizes prostitutes for working in "bawdy houses" by seizing bank accounts and imposing stiffer sentences than for those who work on the street, she said.

"Legally speaking, the safest place to work is the street and it's also the most dangerous place," Scott said.

Even more dangerous for transvestites and transsexuals, she added.

"They're really outcasts. The gay community doesn't want to help them, the prostitute community doesn't want to help them."

Wilkinson was a male transsexual. He had the physical characteristics of a man, but felt like a woman.

Police are asking anyone with information to call a special homicide hotline at (416) 808-7400.

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Created: May 28, 1996
Last modified: February 8, 1997

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