Person of interest sought in Magill killing

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CRIME / Investigators await results of DNA analysis James Dubro / Toronto Xtra / Monday, December 22, 2008

More than four months after Ross Magill was brutally murdered in a bloody attack at his Yonge and St Clair area home police are appealing to members of Toronto's gay community and a mysterious "person of interest" for information.

"There are people in the community who know who did this," says lead homicide investigator Det Sgt Daniel Nielsen. "We want them to come forward."

Magill, 64, was brutally stabbed to death on the evening of Jul 14, 2008 after opening the door of his apartment at 40 Delisle Ave, near Yonge and St Clair in Toronto. Witnesses say at least two men entered the building just before the attack. Nielsen says one of them has been questioned but the identity of the other remains unclear.

"I can't release the names of persons of interest at this stage," he says.

Nielsen says he has not ruled out the possibility that other people may have been involved in the attack.

"I believe there are at least two suspects — only two actually entered the apartment — but possibly more," he says. "We don't know if the suspects left the area on foot, a personal vehicle, taxi or TTC. We believe that one of the two suspects probably didn't know what was going down. He should come forward."

Nielsen says forensic investigators are also evaluating DNA evidence found at the scene.

Pearse Murray and Jon Lidolt met Magill in the early '60s. Lidolt met him at a party hosted by Peter Marshall, his next-door neighbour in Rosedale. Marshall, the son of a wealthy businessman, inherited a fortune at 21.

According to Lidolt, Marshall "used to take a group to Letros, a gay bar near the King Edward Hotel, a popular gay men's watering hole from the '50s until it closed in 1970, and pick out the cutest and most sophisticated young men to invite back to his house on Glen Rd for dancing, conversation and booze."

It was at one of these parties that the 24-year-old Lidolt, then known affectionately by all in the Marshall entourage as Baby Jon, met the 22-year-old Magill. Lidolt says Magill was one of the best looking men in the Marshall circle. The two shared an interest in art and design. They tricked a few times and later became close friends.

Magill went on to build a successful career in interior design. He left Toronto for Florida in the early '90s and earned some professional success there too but returned abruptly in 2002. He told Lidolt he came back because of his health.

"He said that he could not afford the medical treatment down there," says Lidolt. "He was going broke just trying to stay alive."

"He almost died in a hospital down in Florida of AIDS," says Murray.

Lidolt and Magill rekindled their friendship, talking two or three times a week on the phone, frequently meeting for coffee and taking the odd trip to the country. Magill commissioned Lidolt to do some design and photography work for an interior design company, called DomuStyle Home Staging, he was running out of his apartment at 40 Alexander St in Toronto's gay village. The idea was to prepare houses and condos for sale by redecorating them, but the business never really got off the ground.

Often when meeting Magill for coffee in the gaybourhood Lidolt noticed that many of the grubby young men of the streets seemed to know him.

"Clearly he was fraternizing with some pretty grim-looking characters," says Lidolt.

Murray remembers a drive in the country about a year and half before the murder in which Magill "suddenly started crying and said that he had been doing crack for a long time." Around the same time Magill told Lidolt that he was "very insecure and very unhappy." But Magill didn't spell out what was troubling him. Lidolt "figured out that he was into drug use."

Magill told Lidolt and Murray that he moved from the gay village to the Delisle St apartment to get away from drugs and drug crowd he knew in the Alexander-Maitland area. But, says Murray, "he kept his old phone number and continued to use crack and see his street drug associates."

Lidolt last phoned Magill about a year before the murder. Lidolt recalls that Magill seemed disoriented, his speech was slurred and he ended the conversation abruptly saying that he was "busy with friends."

Lidolt suspected Magill's friends were the street-drug crowd. It was the last time the two men talked.

Agnes Forika, the superintendent at Magill's apartment building told the Toronto Sun in July that Magill "often brought young male prostitutes, many showing signs of drug addiction, back to his apartment." Forika said that at least three times in the year before Magill died he had called on her to help "get men out of his apartment who would not leave." She said Magill's car was stolen and that she had a confrontation with a man she calls "one of the junkies."

But it wasn't Magill's lifestyle that killed him as the Sun reported in its headline about the murder, "Risky Lifestyle Killed Him." It was a killer who took him by surprise by plunging a knife into him repeatedly. That Magill let the killer into the apartment without a struggle suggests that he knew at least one of the assailants. Nielsen says the person with the suspect in Magill's murder may not have known what was about to happen or that maybe neither of them did. Maybe it was unplanned. "Maybe things escalated," says Nielsen.

Murray remembers Magill as a very generous, talented person who had a great sense of humour.

"He loved to laugh" says Murray. "He was always hoping that love would come along and that it would solve everything for him."

But in the end — for the last year of his life — Murray says Magill was a victim of what calls the "disease of drug addiction." He stopped seeing all of his old friends including Lidolt and Murray. He wouldn't answer his phone or return calls to friends.

Magill at least once did try to stop using drugs. He went into a treatment centre for three weeks. He had beaten alcoholism years earlier by entering a 12-step program and remaining sober for decades. But he didn't shake the drug addiction, he gave himself over to it.

Magill's addiction and his dependence on street drug dealers and his many associations with what several of his old friends admit were unsavoury characters certainly led to his being targeted for violence, but Nielsen says that the murder is tragic and that "no one deserves to die like this."

Or as Murray puts it, "Nobody is asking to get murdered no matter who they are or what they are in.... Can you imagine yourself standing there and somebody is sticking a knife into you repeatedly, and what is going through your mind?"

Police are asking anyone with information about Magill's murder to contact Crime Stoppers at (416) 222-8477 or to call lead homicide det sgt Daniel Nielsen at (416) 808-7400. Tags: james dubro, murder, ross magill

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