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October 23, 2001

No simple answers to complex murder

Downward spiral preceded man's attack on wife

Christie Blatchford
National Post

TORONTO - How can men like that terrifying Ralph Hadley be stopped? How can vulnerable women like Gillian Hadley, his estranged wife, be kept safe?

It is already clear that these are the only real questions before the coroner's jury that yesterday began hearing evidence into the June 20, 2000, murder-suicide of the young couple. Technically, inquest juries must always determine the facts of a death -- the who, how, when, where and by-what-means -- but, as is often the case now, all of that is pretty clear from the get-go here.

It is the proceeding's preventive function, as coroner's counsel Al O'Marra said in his opening statement, "that some have said is the most important part of the modern inquest." These five jurors are being asked to "focus on what can be done, what should be done, to effect individual safety" in similar circumstances.

Mrs. Hadley was shot once in the head just inside the bungalow where she lived in the eastern Toronto suburb of Pickering. Moments later, Mr. Hadley took his own life, in the same way, in the bedroom the two had once shared.

At the time, he was facing five criminal charges for his alleged harassment of his former wife, and was ostensibly under two separate court orders which on paper prohibited him from contacting her, possessing any weapons or even venturing into Pickering except to "traverse" it.

You know how Mr. Hadley avoided all those supposed societal sanctions?

First, he made a terrible plan. The ghastly things he carried in a gym bag that day suggest he had in mind for his beloved a fate far more foul than mere murder and far more protracted than a simple shot to the head -- 13 pairs of women's underwear; binoculars; tools such as pliers; a pornographic magazine called Misty; three large rolls of silver duct tape; 50 feet of nylon rope; surgical gloves; a filleting knife; matches; cigarettes; pepper spray, oh, and a dog collar with the couple's wedding date engraved on it.

Then he got his hands on an illegal gun, a little black .25-calibre semi-automatic. He cleaned out his locker at work -- he was a Canada Post employee -- and paid off his debts there. He phoned in sick. And then he called a cab, headed to what family lawyers always call "the matrimonial home," broke in, and came upon Mrs. Hadley as, naked, she was about to get into the tub.

She ran from him, made it to the street and flagged down a motorist; before she could get inside the car, Mr. Hadley was right there, dragging her back to the house.

Three neighbours, two men and a woman, hearing her screams, bravely knocked on the door.

Mr. Hadley answered; they could see Mrs. Hadley, still naked, holding the couple's year-old son, Chase, in her arms. "She's psychotic!" Mr. Hadley said.

"He's a rapist!" Mrs. Hadley cried. She mouthed the words, "He's got a gun!"

The neighbours grabbed her; in the tug of war that followed, baby Chase fell to the floor, but the woman pulled him to safety. The two men held on to Mrs. Hadley; Mr. Hadley pulled out his gun; the two men must have relaxed their grip, for boom, Mrs. Hadley was dragged back inside, and boom, the first shot rang out, and then the second.

Mr. O'Marra's selection of Dr. Peter Jaffe, a well-known clinical psychologist, as his first witness likely set the tone for the weeks that are to follow. Dr. Jaffe is an expert in domestic violence who most famously testified at Paul Bernardo's murder trial in support of the prosecution's contention that Bernardo's former wife, Karla Homolka, was not a real accomplice but rather a woman who had been battered into submission.

He yesterday gave the jurors a quick tutorial, the effect of which was that while some men are abused by their wives, most of the worst abusers, and killers, are men.

The inference to be drawn appeared to be that if there were more resources available within and without the justice system, if the sanctions for battering men had more teeth -- such as the "break your bail and go to jail" notion, wherein men who breach court conditions once would lose their freedom -- women would not continue to get shot to death in their own homes.

Yet in Mr. O'Marra's opening, there was some evidence that the Hadley case is arguably more complex, as real life marriages often are.

The Hadleys' downward spiral appears to have begun in earnest when Mikey Jr., Mrs. Hadley's severely disabled son by her first husband, was noticed to have mysterious bruising.

The child abuse unit at The Hospital for Sick Children, where Mikey endured some of his 25-plus surgeries, investigated, but the probe was inconclusive. A second investigation, conducted jointly with the local police, came to a similar end. But in February of 1999, the area Children's Aid Society temporarily took the little boy into custody. Two months later, Mr. Hadley was charged with criminal negligence causing bodily harm, and thereafter allowed to see Mikey only under supervision.

Mrs. Hadley reportedly went from a position where she supported her husband and believed in him to suspecting he might have hurt the boy.

In June that year, she gave birth to her second son, Mr. Hadley's first. This was Chase, and within three months, the Children's Aid had added him to Mr. Hadley's supervision order too, which meant he now could see neither of the boys by himself.

By the fall of 1999, Mr. Hadley's charge was withdrawn in exchange for him agreeing to what's called a peace bond, Mrs. Hadley had apparently pretty much decided he was guilty, and had begun an affair with another man, whom she didn't tell she was already married.

In January last year, some of Mr. Hadley's relatives told him about the affair, and even drove him to the man's house, where Mr. Hadley walked in through the unlocked front door, heard telltale noises, and found Mrs. Hadley in bed with her boyfriend, in flagrante delicto.

He kept his cool apparently, until she got dressed. On the way to the car together, he allegedly slapped her. Mrs. Hadley fled, went to the home of her first husband, called the police, and on Jan. 8, Mr. Hadley was charged with assault and breaching his peace bond.

He was released under a court order to stay away from her.

By February, after Mr. Hadley allegedly broke into the house and repeatedly called her, Mrs. Hadley again went to the police, and he was charged with the serious offence of criminal harassment and another breach of recognizance. This time, he spent three days in jail before being freed on bail and under a sheaf of conditions he proceeded to ignore.

In almost exactly a year, this 35-year-old man was accused of a vile crime -- hurting a little boy who was deaf, blind and quadriplegic -- and then had the awful charge quietly withdrawn. He had the joy of his own first child for only a few months. He was theoretically banished from the house he had bought with Mrs. Hadley, and was back living with his parents. And he lost not only his marriage, but also learned it was gone in the most traumatic imaginable way.

These days, even to take note of such things risks being misunderstood. But a world that paints anyone in only one dimension -- Karla Homolka as one extreme of womankind and Gillian Hadley as the other; Bernardo or Ralph Hadley as two variants of the same rampaging male -- is too simple.

Christie Blatchford can be contacted at

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