Toronto Star

Oct. 30, 02:00 EDT

Hadley's other victims face many torments

Jim Coyle
Toronto Star

HOW DOES a man imagine the day will unfold when he sets out to tackle a to-do list that includes the murder of his wife and his own suicide? Can he possibly suppose it's just a bit of private business, no muss, no fuss, and no one else's concern?

"I'm going to try and end this as quietly as I can,'' Ralph Hadley said in a taped message made shortly before shooting his wife Gillian and himself two Junes ago.

It likely never occurred to Hadley, then 34, what damage he would do in the quiet Pickering neighbourhood in which he once lived, never occurred to him what lasting pain he would cause others when his quiet ending became loud and public.

It was a few minutes before 8 a.m., June 20, 2000, when cab driver Gurdev Singh got the order from his dispatcher to collect a fare at the Scarborough address where Hadley had been living with his parents. It was a little over 12 kilometres to the place where the passenger, who'd booked off sick from his job at Canada Post, was dropped, around the corner from the home in which his estranged wife still resided.

Hadley put a white plastic lawn-chair beneath a rear window of the bungalow, climbed in and found Gillian. Naked, she fled from him into Hillcrest Rd.

It was not yet 9 o'clock on a lovely, warm morning.

Nearby, neighbour Deborah Gordon was sitting on her front stoop with her granddaughter, drinking a cup of coffee, her 17-year-old son Nowell upstairs. Katherine Kisielowski, 27, was babysitting her cousin's 2-year-old son at the house in which she was staying. Eighty-year-old Arthur Dodson was out on his customary morning walk. Matt Darby was driving his white Thunderbird back home after dropping his kids at school. John and Anna Wallace were getting their day going down the street. And, some distance away, Constable Paul McCurbin of Durham Region police had just stopped a motorist for running a stop sign.

Gillian Hadley made it just a few doors down the street before being overtaken by Ralph. As he struggled to haul her back to the house, Deborah Gordon noticed a commotion in the hedges, saw the couple and an excited dog jumping up and down around them. Just then, Nowell came running downstairs saying he'd heard someone calling for help.

Deborah Gordon saw a white car pull up and the struggling couple moving toward it.

"I'm thinking kidnapping," she told a coroner's inquest yesterday. "You don't know what to think when you're watching this kind of scene."

It struck her as odd, however, that the naked woman seemed to be struggling to get to the car, not away from it.

Gordon called 911. She reported the commotion, the naked woman, the white car she thought was a Buick. It was 8:57 a.m.

Within two minutes, McCurbin was on his way, the lucky motorist he'd waved over for running the stop sign sent off with a warning when the more urgent call came in.

The white car Deborah Gordon saw pull up, a T-bird as it turned out, belonged to Matt Darby, who had just dropped his kids at school. He'd also seen the naked woman running up the street, a man chasing her, and pulled over.

"She said, `Help me, mister! Help me, mister!' "

He opened the passenger door and told her to jump in. She was almost inside and Darby was about to hit the gas, when the man chasing Gillian grabbed her and hauled her out.

Darby thought he might be witnessing the aftermath of some partying gone wrong. He kept yelling at Ralph Hadley, telling him to have some decency, to let the woman get some clothes on, to let her go, demanding to know "what the f--- was the matter with him.''

"She's psychotic,'' Ralph Hadley kept saying, and he dragged Gillian to the house.

Before Darby pulled away, old Arthur Dodson had come upon the scene on his morning walk. He saw the struggling couple, noticed the white Thunderbird leaving, figured its hasty departure was ominous and focused on getting its licence plate, which he later phoned into police.

As soon as Darby got home, he called 911. He told police he had driven the white car.

By now the Wallaces, attracted by the disturbance, arrived in their car and knocked on the door of the Hadley house. Nowell Gordon, his mother told the coroner's jury yesterday, "has a mind of his own, God bless him, and he headed off to do whatever he could."

Ralph Hadley answered. Gillian tried to bolt from the house with her 11-month-old son in her arms, but her estranged husband grabbed her. "She's psychotic," he kept saying.

Nowell Gordon grabbed one of Gillian's arms. So did John Wallace. As they did so, she let go of her son and Anna Wallace snatched him up and fled to safety.

The rescuers thought they were gaining the upper hand. But Ralph Hadley pulled a gun, and Wallace and Gordon backed away and the door closed.

About this time, Deborah Gordon saw Paul McCurbin's cruiser pass by up the street.

Unluckily, there was a house with the same number as Hadleys on the street at the corner, with, even more unluckily, a white Buick parked across the road. That was where McCurbin stopped.

Matt Darby, returning to the Hadley house to see if he could help, spotted the officer. He directed him back to the correct address, running alongside. McCurbin told Darby to stay put, started running up the Hadley driveway, planning on shouldering in the door.

By this time, Nowell Gordon had rejoined his mother and told her Hadley had a gun.

"I opened my mouth to say something when we heard the shot, Deborah Gordon said yesterday. "It was that quickly. And not long afterward, we heard another shot. I would say not more than 30 seconds, 40 seconds later."

The babysitter, Katherine Kisielowski, heard it too, scooped up her 2-year-old charge, covered him in her arms and ran inside. So did neighbour Wendy Compton, who called 911. So did McCurbin as he was running up the Hadley driveway.

He crouched, reached for his service revolver and began retreating down the driveway, radioing in reports of gunfire, asking for help, following protocols for dealing with barricaded gunmen.

It was 9:06 a.m.

From the time that neighbourhood residents noticed the naked woman in the streets until the gunshots sounded - completing Ralph Hadley's task for the day - just 10 minutes passed.

Twenty months later, what they saw, the little things that might have gone differently, the horror they were unable to stop, haunts them still.

Katherine Kisielowski, now heading abroad as an English teacher, can still hear Gillian Hadley's cries of "Help me! Help me!"

Matt Darby almost had the woman in his car. Arthur Dodson, knowing what he knows now, seemed a little embarrassed at memorizing Darby's licence plate. John Wallace said this week he's heard it said he didn't do enough to save Gillian, that he shouldn't have retreated in the face of the gun.

Paul McCurbin told the inquest yesterday he has agonized in the months since over a turn he couldn't make en route because of heavy traffic, one that might have saved precious seconds.

He's agonized over the unlikely events that caused the address mix-up, over the distraction of the white car - horrified that it robbed him of the chance to do more.

Deborah Gordon said her family is a victim of Ralph Hadley's violence too, especially the son and daughter who saw it unfold before their eyes.

"These children have been very much affected by what took place," she said.

"I worry about Nowell. He was closest to the situation and he has closed down so entirely.... You just wonder when it's going to play out in his life."

From his point of view, Ralph Hadley may have ended it - though hardly quietly.

For the victims he never considered, the torment was just beginning.

Jim Coyle's column usually appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

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