National Post

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Tuesday, November 09, 1999

Killers tell their galling love story
Christie Blatchford
National Post

... and Mary Barbara Ann Taylor, shown here in videotape frames, both profess to feel remorse about the killing of Det.-Const. Billy Hancox. But Taylor speaks far more of her own bad fortune, and Cece's prayers for Hancox seem like salt in the wound.

Elaine Rose Cece ...

There is a certain wrenching retributive symmetry to the story of Mary Barbara Ann Taylor and Elaine Rose Cece and what they did to Toronto Police Detective-Constable Billy Hancox.

The product of rape, Ms. Taylor was essentially an orphan, given up by her mother as a toddler; it was the determining event of her wretched life. If it is possible to say of someone who was then only four years old that things went downhill from there, they did, and pretty quickly: She was virtually on her own from the age of 11, out of school by Grade 8, working the streets as a prostitute as a teen of 16 and starting more than a decade of drug abuse by shooting cocaine.

The abandonment defined Ms. Taylor absolutely.

It still does, to this day.

As she said of herself last weekend in an interview at the Metro West Detention Centre, where she and Ms. Cece have been held since their arrest 15 months ago, "I've been rejected all my life." It even forms part of her attraction for Ms. Cece, who tenderly rubbed Ms. Taylor's back with her broad hand as she spoke of her miserable family and background, and who, as well as her lover, is Ms. Taylor's self-appointed protectoress. The refrain that runs clear and present through their relationship is, from Ms. Taylor, "But woe is me, for I am unloved," and from Ms. Cece, "Be still, poor Mary, for I love you."

People often find in their mates that which they lack in themselves; Ms. Taylor needed to be saved, and could not do it herself; Ms. Cece, having been dumped by her lover of 15 years, needed someone to save.

So what did the two women do?

They encountered Det.-Const. Hancox in the parking lot of a Scarborough strip mall one hot night in August of 1998. Ms. Cece, allegedly at Ms. Taylor's fevered urging, plunged an immense butcher knife through to his heart as he sat munching on a Snickers bar in his surveillance van, and thus did they guarantee that two children as innocent as Ms. Taylor once was -- Det.-Const. Hancox's daughter Sandra and his then-unborn son Spencer --would never know their dad, and would suffer as surely in this one profound way as Ms. Taylor had suffered.

To their credit, the women appear to recognize this.

The peculiarly cruel coup de grace contained in their killing of Det.-Const. Hancox may have been unintentional -- he was working undercover, and they didn't know he was a police officer, and could not have known about his family -- but they understand its special chill, Ms. Taylor especially.

"It's still hard to come to terms with killing someone," she said. "I cried about it on my own a lot." But what troubles her most, as properly it should, is the knowledge that Spencer Hancox "will never see" his father and that one night Sandra's lovely daddy suddenly "stopped coming home." As Ms. Cece said in her extraordinarily pragmatic way, "I don't think there's anything we can say. Saying you're sorry is not good enough."

In the main Toronto courthouse where they have been on trial for second-degree murder since Oct. 14 and where the Ontario Court jurors late yesterday began deliberating their verdict, the dynamic which emerged in evidence was of Ms. Taylor as the dominant force, Ms. Cece as the subordinate.

It was Ms. Cece, after all, who according to witnesses who saw them on August 4, was quiet, withdrawn, visibly affected by and sometimes staggering under the influence of the crack cocaine the pair had been doing on and off for days.

It was Ms. Taylor who appeared sober, who was able to articulate their litany of problems for those at a downtown native centre and later at Scarborough Centenary Hospital who sought to help them, and who erupted in furious, up-yours rage when it appeared they might not be admitted as a couple, and led the seemingly compliant Ms. Cece in storming out just hours before they spotted Det.-Const. Hancox. And, according to testimony from Ms. Taylor's mother, Gwen Herreman, it was Ms. Taylor who had egged on Ms. Cece in the deed, who cried, "Fuck it! Use the knife!" and called her a pussy if she would not prove her love.

But that view of the couple, it turns out, was but a function of Ms. Taylor's astonishing tolerance, earned over almost 15 years, to a wide variety of drugs, and Ms. Cece's relative newness to crack; she had begun using only nine months earlier.

The fact of their relationship is quite different.

Ms. Cece is the force majeure.

Part Ojibway, she is the better-educated ("four credits shy of Grade 12"). It is she who had the stable relationship (with another woman; it had ended just before she met Ms. Taylor), she who had the relatively stable life, working variously as a nanny, as a long-distance truck driver and school bus driver, and she whose childhood, at least by comparison to Ms. Taylor's, was almost sunny, but for an alleged molestation by her first stepfather. Ms. Taylor has been in and out of jail for years (she has known her lawyer, David O'Connor, for 15 of them); when they met, in the Vanier Centre for Women in late 1997, Ms. Cece was serving her first offence, 18 months for the assault and forcible confinement of her former lover. It is Ms. Cece whose family is supportive of her, and who gets the visitors in prison.

And it is Ms. Cece who has called the shots through the course of the trial.

She is the actual stabber; as Mr. O'Connor put it to her last weekend during the interview, she "could have said Mary had nothing to do with it," and taken the fall all by her lonesome, but would not.

Ms. Taylor and Mr. O'Connor were ready to plead to second-degree murder, but Ms. Cece would have none of it. She claims it's because Det.-Const. Hancox's family wouldn't "hear any of the story," which she believes may be important for them, and that a plea would allow them to wrongly believe the killing was "something that was planned ... It would be too easy to just plead guilty," she said last weekend, but the family wouldn't know "why they (the women) did it." But there may also be something less noble in Ms. Cece's motivation, a conviction that the pair should, as it were, hang together.

It is also Ms. Cece, now 41, who has known, for most of her life that she is gay. "I went with guys for a while," she said in the small interview room at the detention centre, "but it didn't do it for me." She admits she doesn't like men; it's her diary, parts of which were introduced as an exhibit at trial, which is filled with anger at her Mary -- "my womyn," she wrote, using the spelling of staunch lesbians and feminists -- going out on "dates" with johns.

For Ms. Taylor, the world was all about men, bouncing around from one bad one to another, and she has only ever worked, and earned money, as a hooker.

She had three children. The father of the oldest is dead of AIDS, and that daughter, now 12, is the object of a custody battle between Ms. Taylor's mother and her sister-in-law, who is currently winning and has just been appointed the little girl's foster parent; the father of her 10-year-old son she never knew, and the boy was adopted at six months; the youngest, another girl, is seven now, living with Ms. Taylor's ex-husband, and she hasn't seen the child for five years.

Ms. Cece is her first, and only, female lover. "I guess I've always had it (a longing for women) there," Ms. Taylor said, "but I never really experienced it."

They were living in different "cottages" at Vanier (a kink of the Canadian correctional system is that most female inmates have more freedom, and a cushier ride, than their male counterparts), but had a common lunch hour. Ms. Taylor, who is a decade younger, took one look at Ms. Cece in her white shorts and fell like a ton of bricks.

"That was 50 pounds ago," Ms. Cece said, with her trademark dry laugh, by way of explanation.

They made their first grand plans. Ms. Cece was released first, and headed out to British Columbia, and secured a gorgeous apartment in Steveston, near Richmond; Ms. Taylor was to join her out there when she got out.

Instead, on her first day of freedom, she used again, and was stoned to the teeth when she called Ms. Cece.

Ms. Cece gave up the apartment, lost her deposit, and drove to Toronto in record time, arriving at Council Fire, the same native centre where they showed up on the morning of the day Ms. Cece's knife went through Billy Hancox like butter, on Christmas Eve, 1997.

"She was my Christmas present," Ms. Taylor said.

Within three weeks, Ms. Cece was using crack too, and their last downward spiral began -- a try at sobriety in Kingston, and more drugs; a move back to Toronto and the drugs again; another try, and a welfare-engineered placement and apartment in St. Catharines; more drugs there, and back again to Toronto, sleeping in parks, and more drugs, another unattainable plan (they wanted, Ms. Cece wrote with a certain sense of entitlement in her diary, a place in the country, some pets, and peace) which culminated in the final, violent moments in the Scarborough parking lot.

Curiously, they have never been happier together than they are now.

When not in court, they spend their time in the common area of the Metro West's female protective custody area (7-D is what their range is called) playing cards (when they grew tired of spades, they took up a game called "spite and malice") and smoking. They are fat, drug-free and healthier than they have been since they met. Though they sleep in different cells, they hug one another good night, and are close enough that Ms. Cece can call out, "Goodnight, Hon" and know her lover hears her. Ms. Taylor, oddly ever the naif, is thinking ahead to when she might be free again -- she would like to work with abused children -- but Ms. Cece has a remarkable equanimity about spending the foreseeable future in prison. The pair has admitted responsibility for the killing; the best they can hope for is a conviction of manslaughter. There's no point, Ms. Cece said calmly, in looking down the road.

Perhaps this is why her oft-repeated prayer for Det.-Const. Hancox -- using sweetgrass, she performs a native ceremony called "smudging" as often as she can, in which she speaks the late officer's name aloud; "I call him William Hancox," she said -- seems less an incantation than salt in the wound.

For all their stated regret about what happened, in the almost-two hour interview, Ms. Taylor cried only once, when she described how an uncle had, when she was but a child, cuffed her hands behind her back, beat her, and "made me do some things." Here, she sobbed like a baby, drew her sweatshirt up over her face and head with her gnawed-to-the-quick fingers; Ms. Cece comforted her, that wide hand of hers moving on Ms. Taylor's back.

Their roles are straight. They have one another. They are in love. Behind bars, they hope to marry. The probation and parole people have told them, they said last weekend, that "there's no reason" they can't be together once they are sentenced. Theirs is a love story, really, the most galling in the world. Sandra, little Sweetpea as her dad used to call her, and Spencer have no father. Kim Hancox sleeps alone.

Copyright Southam Inc.