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Friday, October 22, 1999Killers had their own death on their minds
They say close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, but how near, how very near, did Billy Hancox come to getting home safely the night he drowned in his own blood on the pavement of a strip mall parking lot.
The 32-year-old Toronto Police detective-constable died on Aug. 4, 1998, after he was ambushed while eating a Snickers bar in his unmarked surveillance van by a woman who plunged a butcher knife through his half-open driver's side window and into his chest.
That woman was Rose Cece. She and her lover, Mary Barbara Ann Taylor, are now on trial for second-degree murder in Det.-Const. Hancox's slaying. They have admitted responsibility for the killing, but their efforts to plead guilty to manslaughter were rejected by the prosecutor, who alleges they had the intent required for the more serious offence.
But yesterday, the Ontario Court jurors who will decide what to call the women's crime heard that on the night the young officer was slain, the two wanted to kill all right -- but that their rage and despair was directed at themselves.
A counsellor with a downtown native centre told the jurors that just hours before Ms. Cece turned the knife Ms. Taylor had stolen from a nearby Dominion store on Det.-Const. Hancox, she was in her small office, weeping, suicidal and suffused with shame. And Ms. Taylor, who allegedly had egged on Ms. Cece in the act, calling her a "pussy" if she didn't prove her love by using the knife, was almost as ruined and inconsolable.
Liz Jocko, a veteran counsellor then working for the Council Fire organization, painted a vivid picture of two desperate, broke, homeless crack addicts who that day had made -- given their circumstances -- extraordinary efforts to get help.
Ms. Jocko, who like Ms. Cece is an aboriginal woman, said that early on the morning in question, she first saw Ms. Cece at Council Fire; Ms. Cece was helping to unload goods for the outfit's food bank. A little later in the day, while she was having her lunch, Ms. Jocko was paged by a colleague, Mike Eshkibok, who asked if she would speak to a suicidal client who turned out to be Ms. Cece.
The two went into a small office, and there, Ms. Jocko said, slowly and with great difficulty, Ms. Cece poured out her story.
A year earlier, she said, she had begun using crack cocaine, and the drug was taking over her life. She told Ms. Jocko she had tried other agencies, tried to get help, "but wasn't getting the help she was asking for." When Ms. Cece described how she had already sold off "half the stuff" her grandmother had given her, she began to cry. "She broke down," Ms. Jocko said in her soft voice. "She felt she was letting her family down, hurting her grandmother and mother." Shame, she said, was a big issue for Ms. Cece; she was eaten up by it.
Ms. Cece said she and Ms. Taylor had slept in a park the night before, that they had planned to kill themselves, and here, Ms. Jocko said, Ms. Cece took out the small pocket knife she had intended to use. At some point, Ms. Taylor came into the room, tried to comfort her lover, "tried to support her." Ms. Taylor, Ms. Jocko said, was "going through the same things." There came a moment when both women brought out pocket knives, "similar and almost identical," placed them by a "smudge bowl," part of a native healing ceremony, in a gesture Ms. Jocko interpreted as an act of good faith and a demonstration of their willingness to be helped.
She asked Ms. Cece if she wanted to be "smudged;" Ms. Cece cried, and said she couldn't, she wasn't worthy because she and Ms. Taylor had smoked crack that morning, and one is supposed to be sober and clean for this serious ritual. "I told her I believed she needed that," Ms. Jocko said, "that I didn't judge her for that, I told it would be okay."
She lit some sage, considered purifying in the native community, in the bowl, took an eagle feather, and with it wafted the sanctifying smoke before Ms. Cece; native teachings say that as it rises upward to the Creator, it gives balm to the wounded soul. As she moved the feather through the smoke, Ms. Jocko said "some prayers" in her language, prayers that Ms. Cece might find the "strength and encouragement to deal with her problems."
Ms. Jocko took the suicide talk seriously, as did Mr. Eshkibok. Though Council Fire routinely deals with street people and the homeless, very few of them ever talk this way, Mr. Eshkibok said. Ms. Jocko knew immediately they needed professional help, psychiatric help, and asked if they would accept treatment; they said they would.
Ms. Jocko referred them first to a downtown hospital, but Ms. Cece said she had been to Scarborough Centenary before; she would rather go there. Ms. Jocko phoned the hospital, told them she was sending two suicidal clients; she arranged for Mr. Eshkibok to drive them there.
But while the van was being readied, the paperwork done, Ms. Cece and Ms. Taylor disappeared for a few minutes, to gather the two bags that held all their worldly possessions, and when they returned, though Ms. Taylor was much as before, Ms. Cece was dramatically changed. Her balance was gone; she was staggering, swaying. Her speech was slurred, "her eyes didn't seem the same." Ms. Jocko sniffed for the smell of alcohol, and finding none, wondered "if maybe she took something."
She and Ms. Taylor had to help Ms. Cece into the van; Ms. Jocko buckled her into the seat belt as one might a young child.
The next day, Ms. Jocko said, she phoned the hospital to see what had happened, how the women were doing. Ms. Cece phoned her at some later point, telling her they had been released, that at the hospital, they had been told that they would have to be separated, that they both couldn't be admitted because they were lesbians. Ms. Taylor, Ms. Cece told her, "had put up a fuss" and they had been "asked to leave."
Ms. Cece did not tell her that after they left the hospital, they walked kitty-corner across the street to the little mall, where Ms. Taylor stole the butcher knife and they made their plans to steal a car and get out of the city, and then spotted Billy Hancox, so handsome in his jeans and golf shirt, and then killed him in a crime that was startlingly clumsy -- Ms. Taylor leaving her fingerprints on the empty knife package in Dominion, Ms. Cece leaving hers on the window and tailgate of the officer's van and on the phone booth nearby from whence they had cased the place, the pair of them ditching their bags in a nearby park with Ms. Cece's identification in hers.
When Liz Jocko was describing how the women had left the hospital, and why, she used a native expression for "lesbians" that is surely the gentlest imaginable. Ms. Cece and Ms. Taylor, she said, had been turned away because they were "two-spirited."
The term seemed to speak to something else, too, that was at work that awful night: Two broken women who may have meant to hurt only themselves, but did something entirely different.
Christie Blatchford can be contacted at email@example.com
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