June 2, 1996

Philip Mascoll, Theresa Boyle
and Peter Edwards
(Toronto Star Staff Reporters)

Accused triple killer
arrested in Halifax:

Suspect in Metro prostitute
slayings found outside hotel

Metro's most wanted man is behind bars in Halifax.

Marcello Palma, suspect in the slayings of three prostitutes, was arrested yesterday shortly before 6 p.m. Toronto time at an oceanfront hotel and casino by local police acting on a request from Metro officers.

Desk clerks at the Sheraton Hotel told Canadian Press that Palma, 30, checked into the hotel around lunch time yesterday, using his real name and an American Express card to book the room.

Officers from Halifax Regional Police were soon tipped off by their Toronto colleagues that Palma was in the exclusive hotel. His photograph was given to a team of officers who flooded the area.

Officers went to the hotel and by 3 p.m. had evacuated all third-floor rooms, telling confused guests only that there was an emergency.

When officers crashed into the room it was empty. Police hid inside to await Palma's return, clerks said.

Several hotel workers witnessed the commotion.

"I was terrified. I wanted to go home," one clerk said.

Palma was grabbed in a ferry terminal around the corner from the hotel. The ferry runs between Halifax and Dartmouth.

"He was arrested outside the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Halifax, at the waterfront. He was just sitting at the waterfront," said Halifax police Sergeant Mike Spicer.

"We knew he was staying at the Sheraton Hotel. We'd staked it out. He'd been at the hotel for the past day or two. A number of officers were deployed, some were heavily armed."

The married father of a 15-month-old child is suspected in the May 20 shooting deaths of transvestite prostitute Shawn Keegan, 19, transsexual prostitute Thomas "Deanna" Wilkinson, 31, and female prostitute Brenda Ludgate, 25.

Spicer refused to say whether Palma was armed when he was arrested.

"He is now in our cells at the regional police office on Gottingen St. in downtown Halifax.

"He is very calm. He is sitting down. He's very comfortable."

The hotel room was still sealed late last night as police looked for evidence.

Palma was found alone and was co-operative, Metro police Inspector Mike Sale said.

"We're taking steps to get him down there," Sale said last night at a hastily called news conference at police headquarters.

Metro homicide Detectives Scott Bronson and Jim Ramer were to leave this morning for Halifax to bring Palma back.

Palma could be back in Metro as early as today, although police thought it was more likely he'd be returned tomorrow.

The officers will have to appear before a judge or justice of the peace in Halifax to confirm that Palma is the man named on the Canada-wide warrant.

Bronson and Ramer may also have to investigate Palma's time in Halifax and the route he took from Metro, where he was last reported seen on Monday.

Metro police Constable Devon Kealey said Palma will appear in a Halifax court tomorrow morning and could be on his way back to Toronto by the end of the day.

Contacted last night, Palma's mother Teresa Palma was too overcome to speak.

"I do not feel well," she said.

A Canada-wide warrant was issued Wednesday night for the arrest of Palma, of Westdale Dr. in North York.

Keegan and Wilkinson died on Homewood Ave., near Jarvis and Wellesley Sts. Ludgate's body was found in an alley near King St. W. and Tecumseth St. All three were shot with the same gun.

Sale denied that the tip that led police to the Halifax hotel came as a result of police intercepting a phone call from Palma.

Sale confirmed that Palma had passed through Montreal en route to Halifax. But he couldn't say how he got to Halifax or how long he was there.

There was no indication that Palma had plans to head to Italy as rumored.

News that the suspect had been arrested brought enormous relief to Metro homicide detectives, who had been working round the clock on the case, Sale said.

"To say that they are tired is an understatement," he said. "These guys have been going for endless periods of time."

North York man was wanted in hookers' deaths

Members of victim Brenda Ludgate's family said they felt immense relief at the arrest.

"Justice can take place now," said Bill Ludgate, 27, an older brother.

"I prayed to God He would help find out who did it.

"It's kind of nice it happened on her memorial day. It makes the day that much brighter," said Ludgate, one of about 100 family and friends who turned up at the Downsview United Church yesterday to remember his sister.

"I just hope they have the right guy," Shawn Keegan's father Daniel Keegan said last night from his home in Belleville.

"We can't be relieved, not until police are certain," he said.

In Kingston, the city's police chief joined a small group of teens and gay rights activists yesterday to remember Keegan.

"This is all about respect for human beings, including Shawn," said Kingston police Chief Bill Closs.

He said Keegan had only just started prostituting when he was killed, and only did so because he had been evicted from a vacant building.

The teenager, who once lived in Kingston, was shot in the back of the head on May 20 as Victoria Day fireworks crackled and boomed above downtown Toronto.

"We will not accept Shawn's death passively," 15-year-old Ali Qadeera declared at the rally.

"His death was an awakening to many of us ... Shawn was proud of who he was, despite constant persecution by intolerant people."

Other speakers urged action to end violence against gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transvestites.

The turnout of 35 people was not as great as the organizers hoped. But a gay school board trustee, Richard Belzile, told the crowd that advocating gay rights is "a hard and lonely fight."

Last night, news of the arrest was greeted with relief by members of Metro's street sex trade.

"You're kidding," said Chelina, a transsexual wearing a tight black tube top who she sat across the street from Allan Gardens, where a vigil was held last week to mark the death of the three.

The location was just two blocks from Homewood Ave., the area known as "Tranny Alley" where the bodies of Keegan and Wilkinson were found.

Kids on Alley

Chelina knew them all and Wilkinson was a particularly close friend.

She said she was scared off the streets for about a week, but she needed the money and was forced to go back out.

"I didn't really work for a while because I was afraid," Chelina said.

"Sometimes you just need the extra cash. It's not that I enjoy doing it. They feel that they own you."

Since the publicity over the triple slayings, there have been more young kids trolling Tranny Alley, teasing the hookers, Chelina said.

"I knew Deanna - I'd seen him around," said Emily, who was with two other young women as they trolled for customers.

Jennifer, 17, who's been in Toronto only two months, said the slayings "kept me off the streets."

"We're kind of a group," she said last night as they worked the Jarvis and Carlton Sts. area.

"I only usually do two tricks a night, just enough to make $200," said Jennifer, an innocent-looking blonde in white.

By 11 p.m. yesterday, they still hadn't found a trick. "More people are scared. They think we're the police," she said.

"I just want to make enough money to get off the street, get on welfare get a job and go to law school."

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Created: June 5, 1996
Last modified: February 8, 1997

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