National Post

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Thursday, October 21, 1999

Motherly love in short supply
In police killer's family, children are human footballs
Christie Blatchford
National Post


Kagan McLeod, National Post
Elaine Rose Cece and Mary Barbara Ann Taylor

The name of a little girl was introduced into evidence at a sordid murder trial yesterday.

It entered the formal record about mid-morning, and arrived in the dispiriting atmosphere of the courtroom as an indictment and incantation both, damning proof of the failures of family, faint hope that perhaps this child, this one luckless child, might yet be spared.

Annie we will call her, for the Ontario Court has asked that her anonymity be preserved, and this is how her mother's lawyer, David O'Connor, referred to her yesterday. Annie is 11, going on 12, going on as old as the hills.

She wasn't in the courtroom yesterday where her mom, Mary Barbara Ann Taylor, is with her lover, Elaine Rose Cece, now on trial in the Aug. 4, 1998, stabbing death of Toronto Police Detective-Constable Billy Hancox.

The two women have admitted the killing of the young officer in a shabby parking lot.

What their trial is about is whether they had the requisite intent for second-degree murder, or are guilty of the lesser offence of manslaughter; essentially, the case is reduced to a debate over what to call the women's crime.

But what their story is about is something much more universal -- a world where generations are ruined by drugs, pills, and booze, its members routinely living in one another's pockets in single rooms in other people's basements; where poverty and dependence are so ingrained that social assistance is casually described as being "on government."

It is a world where parenting is equal parts neglect, abuse and cold-hearted scorn, the women having babies as teenagers, then turning them back to the mothers they hated for raising, and where agencies such as children's aid make busywork with families for decade upon decade, but never seem to actually accomplish anything.

If ever you might have wondered how Ms. Taylor and Ms. Cece came, with little apparent thought of the consequences, either for Det.-Const. Hancox or for themselves, to boost a butcher knife and then use it on a man they had never laid eyes on before, an explanation, though not an excuse, may be found in a line from an old Janis Joplin song: Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.

Ms. Taylor's mother, Gwen Herreman, took the witness stand at her daughter's trial yesterday.

She is 49, a stocky red-haired woman with small eyes and a lumpy, swollen-looking face that, as someone remarked yesterday, with cruel but remarkable accuracy, bears a startling resemblance to a Planet of the Apes mask.

Mrs. Herreman was called by prosecutor John McMahon because it was allegedly to her that the two women, chiefly her daughter, made their most incriminating confessions.

While Ms. Taylor is a known "blabbermouth" in the family, and had hours after the killing told everyone within earshot at her brother's rooming house that she and Ms. Cece had stabbed a man, it was allegedly to her mom that she confided the most shocking details -- that minutes before Ms. Cece plunged the knife into Det.-Const. Hancox's chest that night, Ms. Taylor had egged her on by calling her "a pussy," by daring her to show her love, that finally, Ms. Taylor had said, "Fuck it. Use the knife."

Mrs. Herreman, briskly and almost cheerfully, confirmed all this for Mr. McMahon.

Then came Mr. O'Connor's turn, his clear goal to cast doubt on Mrs. Herreman's reliability and to bestow upon her a motive for wanting to cast his client, her daughter, in the worst imaginable light.

His first real question was this: "You hate your daughter and you want to get her, don't you?"

"I do not hate my daughter," Mrs. Herreman snapped.

But in short order, Mr. O'Connor established the following -- that Ms. Taylor was the product of a rape; that Mrs. Herreman had passed her back to her own mother for rearing when Ms. Taylor was but four years old; that Mrs. Herreman was for some time addicted to prescription drugs; that over the years, a children's aid agency had been deeply, if ineffectually, involved in Mrs. Herreman's family and that when, sure as the sun rises in the east, the cycle repeated itself and Ms. Taylor had a baby (this is Annie), she in turn had handed her off as a two-month-old, rather like a human football, back to Mrs. Herreman for bringing up.

Mr. O'Connor further determined that the night of the killing, when Ms. Taylor and Ms. Cece turned up at her brother's place (where Mrs. Herreman was then squatting with her boyfriend in her son's single room, as often she has), Mrs. Herreman and Ms. Taylor had a dreadful row, culminating with Ms. Taylor calling her mom "a pill-popping mother and a bitch" and threatening to take Annie away from her, and that Ms. Taylor, just this past summer, had helped make that threat come true when Annie's paternal aunt won custody of her.

Now, Mrs. Herreman, while admitting the salient bits, denied that any of this has made her hate Ms. Taylor, or that she might have had an axe to grind.

"I don't hate Barbara Ann," she said at one point. "I'll never hate Barbara Ann."

Did the juicy confessional happen, as Mrs. Herreman claims, in the bathroom of the rooming house the night the two women, having taken a bus and subway from the crime scene, showed up? Or is the version offered by Danny Herreman, Ms. Taylor's tragic brother, correct? He has testified that when Ms. Taylor and Ms. Cece arrived, they made a general admission before the whole family that was far less damaging and detailed than the one Mrs. Herreman says she heard in the loo. This will be a critical issue for the jurors.

What won't be a part of their deliberations is Annie who, before her 11th birthday, had attended 14 different schools and only then sporadically, who reportedly had gone about one of them begging for food, who has told children's aid workers that Mrs. Herreman and her boyfriend had hit her, whose "sexualized behaviour" at the age of eight had alarmed those workers.

Reading from reports yesterday, Mr. O'Connor reminded Mrs. Herreman that on Sept. 3, 1994, she had phoned the children's aid to complain that Annie "was acting inappropriately with her boyfriend," then changed her tune and "disappeared" for about five months.

Note the phrasing: Annie, at the age of seven, was the one acting inappropriately.

Throughout her mother's testimony yesterday, Mary Barbara Ann Taylor sat in the prisoner's box with her leg jiggling non-stop. She had wept and hung her head when her baby brother testified against her, but her eyes were dead yesterday. On the several occasions her mom walked past her, on her way to and from the witness stand during breaks, Ms. Taylor would not even glance at her. Her body was turned slightly in the opposite direction, toward her lover.

Gwen Herreman is a fan of sophisticated court-and-cops television shows. She watches Law and Order and Homicide: Life on the Street every day or night. Two days after Billy Hancox died, Mrs. Herreman gave Toronto Police a 90-minute statement damning her daughter. At the end of it, when the officer politely thanked her and said that was it, Mrs. Herreman replied, "And I missed my Law and Order."

Well, the stuff of the daytime soaps, that would be too familiar.

Annie has decided she doesn't want to see her grandmother. God willing, it is but her first smart choice.

Christie Blatchford can be contacted at cblatchford@nationalpost.com

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