National Post

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Tuesday, October 26, 1999

Killers' psychiatric ward visit on video
Officer also caught by store camera just prior to slaying
Christie Blatchford
National Post

Security videotape, in all its spooky, jerky glory, has become a regular feature of the criminal courts.

Often now, either victim or accused are captured by the little hidden cameras that are everywhere in the modern nation's public institutions, subways and corner stores; at the trial of Elaine Rose Cece and Mary Barbara Ann Taylor, now in its second week, all the key players were caught on this sort of tape.

Ms. Cece and Ms. Taylor have admitted responsibility for the stabbing death of Toronto Police Detective-Constable Billy Hancox, and, through their not guilty plea to second-degree murder, are merely quibbling over the legal description that will be attached to their crime in the record books.

The Ontario Court jurors hearing the case have already seen Det.-Const. Hancox on videotape, this taken from the Becker's convenience store where he went -- moments before a butcher's knife came through the half-open window of his surveillance van, entered his chest and ended his life -- to buy a drink and a Snickers bar. What the camera shows is a sweet bear of a young man, bearded and nice-looking with a yummy hint of tummy visible under his golf shirt as he hovered over the candy display; he was the kind of man women often call cuddly.

Yesterday, the jurors saw Ms. Cece and Ms. Taylor on tape, this a compilation from the approximately 40 cameras within and without Scarborough Centenary Hospital, where the two women had been taken for psychiatric help from a downtown counselling centre the day they ambushed Det.-Const. Hancox.

But for how their visit ended, and what happened after it, the tale of the tape is remarkably ordinary.

Ms. Cece and Ms. Taylor are shown making their way through the bureaucracy that is the hallmark of Canadian hospitals -- entering emergency, going to the registration desk and being directed to the triage nurse for assessment, then back to registration desk to give a history, then back to triage with duly completed forms, then into a "quiet room" to sit on their hands and wait. Eventually, they were taken by an attendant to the main part of the hospital, its main floor by then deserted, to a bank of elevators and up to the 10th floor and a psychiatric "crisis unit."

They arrived at the hospital at 3:41 p.m.

At 6:29, the camera on the 10th floor caught them leaving, in a huff, apparently, for, as the two women later told the relatives to whom they confessed all, the hospital wouldn't admit them together because they were lesbians.

Just before getting on the elevator, Ms. Cece briefly raised her arms straight in the air behind her, apparently clutching a bag in her hands; it could have been an expression of frustration, or sheer weariness, or exultation.

At the time, Ms. Cece and Ms. Taylor were, in the words of Better Days, a recent pop hit by Citizen King, faded, flat busted, jaded and dusted -- homeless, sleeping in park, their money gone to crack cocaine, and at the end of their collective rope.

They had been taken to Centenary at the direction of a counsellor at the Council Fire organization, who took their suicide talk so seriously she promptly dispatched a staffer to drive them there. On their hospital charts, they were reported as having "No fixed address," their chief complaints that they were both having suicidal thoughts, were depressed, and were drug abusers; they were assessed as needing "urgent" attention, meaning they should be seen within four hours.

In fact, they worked their way through the hospital maze pretty quickly, but not, it appears, because anyone was particularly unnerved by their plight, but rather because, with the clock approaching 5 p.m. and the closing of the "crisis unit" (Centenary patients, it seems, are urged to have their crises within regular working hours), the emerg staff wanted to get them seen pronto, before the crisis folk quit for the day.

There is no evidence thus far that anyone doubted the genuineness of either the women's situation or their desire for help.

Triage nurse Gloria MacDonald testified that she found Ms. Taylor, who did virtually all the talking for the pair, co-operative, though she said that when she remarked that Ms. Taylor and Ms. Cece must be awfully good friends for Ms. Taylor to know so much about the other woman, Ms. Taylor "told me they had been lovers for over a year." Ms. MacDonald said she found Ms. Taylor's "tone of voice sarcastic," she also said, so far as she knew, there was no hospital policy that would have precluded the two women, or any other couple involved in a relationship, from being admitted together.

Another emergency room nurse, Marlene Tamblyn, who was sent to take Ms. Cece's and Ms. Taylor's vital signs, noted when she entered the quiet room, that Ms. Cece was on the couch, "gently rocking back and forth, crying to herself." Ms. Tamblyn had been told by Ms. MacDonald that the women "were coming down off a high from drugs;" she knew they were suicidal; she saw Ms. Cece sobbing. Yet she didn't look at Ms. Cece's face, or in her eyes.

Dr. Martin Huebel, the doctor who formally referred the women to the crisis unit for further assessment, saw them for perhaps a minute or two. But for looking at his notes, he appeared yesterday not to remember either one of them very well, if at all.

Whatever happened on the 10th floor, Ms. Cece and Ms. Taylor didn't stay long.

Yet neither did they seem keen to leave the hospital. The elevator camera caught them leaving the floor at 6:29 p.m., and a minute later, they were seen apparently on their way out the main doors. But they kept returning, Ms. Cece to go to the bathroom, then to the adjacent drugstore; Ms. Taylor went back in at least once, too. They futzed around the place for more than another hour.

It was only at 7:46 on the night of Aug. 4, 1998, that the two women actually left. A camera on the 15th floor on the outside of the hospital caught them leaving the parking lot, heading north, walking toward Ellesmere Road.

About two hours and 20 minutes later, in the little plaza kitty-corner from the hospital, Det.-Const. Hancox' frantic partner, Detective Steve Pattison, put out the first "officer down" call on the police radio.

Martin Green, the hospital's director of security, yesterday testified that there are now 10 more cameras in and around Scarborough Centenary than there were the night Billy Hancox was killed across the street. Probably, Mr. Green meant it to be reassuring, though how it could possibly be so is beyond me. So Big Brother is watching? There could be cameras covering every inch of the joint. In reading human behaviour, in recognizing distress as it mutates into something far more destructive, Big Brother is just like the rest of us: He doesn't know his ass from two dollars a day.

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