Toronto Sun

October 19, 2001

System's best wasn't enough

By HEATHER BIRD -- Toronto Sun

Nobody ever thought that Ralph Hadley was capable of killing -- not even the woman he was terrorizing. Perhaps that's because the beefy postal worker -- when the occasion called for it -- was capable of great charm.

In fact, on the night before Gillian Hadley's death, she joked with one of her best friends about her estranged husband's stalking habits.

They were in the bedroom at the Pickering house Gillian used to share with the 34-year-old whose initial declarations of love during their courtship had given way to controlling, violent behaviour post-marriage.

"The air-conditioning unit was out," recalls Kim Nicely, "And there was an opening in the window. And I said to Jill, 'you better get that covered.'

"And she looked at it and laughed. 'Ralph's too fat to fit through that window'," she said. "And that's how he got in the house, the very next morning."

Armed with a loaded gun and a seven-page suicide note, Hadley surprised his petite wife in the bath. He chased her out on to the lawn, where she managed to hand off her one-year-old son to neighbours before Hadley dragged her back into the marital home and shot her, then himself, to death.

What happened to Gillian Hadley and why is scheduled to go under the microscope on Monday morning, when an inquest gets underway.

Her death, say the experts, was a classic case of intimate femicide, where the woman dies at the hands of a partner. The motive, more often than not, usually centres around a recent estrangement or the woman's involvement with another man.

The jury will be asked to ponder the fact that, at the time of her death, Gillian Hadley was enjoying the best protection that the legal system had to offer.

When Hadley was assaulted, it was Nicely who talked her into calling the police. And the police responded quickly, with an appropriate amount of concern. "They were great."

But that didn't stop him. Even though there was a peace bond, he continued to harass her -- stalking her, phoning her and hiding in the bushes. He was arrested and charged again. He spent three days in jail and was released on bail to live with his parents.

And that, says Nicely, is where the system ultimately failed. "It's one thing if he gets released and follows the conditions. But when he gets brought up a second time, he should have been kept in jail.''

And during that incarceration, the situation might have changed. "Anything could have happened by the time he got out. She could have relocated. And he could have had time to think."

Housing -- or lack of it -- will also be one of the issues examined through the expected 60 witnesses, says inquest co-counsel Al O'Marra.

According to Nicely, Gillian Hadley was living in the marital home -- with Ralph's cousin staying in the basement -- because she simply had nowhere else to go.

"Gillian didn't want to live there," says Nicely. Some of her friends had wanted her to move into a battered women's shelter but Gillian insisted on staying in the house until her oldest daughter had finished her school year.

The conclusions of this jury will be measured against the findings of another, only a few years ago in a similar case.

In March 1996, a man named Randy Iles shot his ex-girlfriend Arlene May through the heart and then turned the sawed-off shotgun on himself. At the time, he was out on bail for assaulting May.

By comparing the two cases, says O'Marra, they may be able to gauge whether any progress has been made in the area of domestic violence.

My guess is that they'll find there has been little or no headway made, even though we now readily recognize the patterns of the Ralph Hadleys and their ilk.

They already know that the coroner's office released a report a year after the May inquest on the progress of the recommendations. While the coroner found 73% had been implemented, the statistics showed that the same number of women had been killed.

Heather can be e-mailed at or visit her home page.
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Copyright © 2001, Canoe Limited Partnership.