Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone
Rarely has any murderer in Canada been so thoroughly castigated by a judge as was money-loving Toronto real estate developer Peter Demeter.
“Your evil knows no bounds,” Mr. Justice John O’Donnell said in July, 1988 while sentencing the then-55-year-old Hungarian immigrant to two concurrent life terms in prison for conspiring to kidnap the daughter of a lawyer and have the teen killed if a $ 400,000 ransom was not paid.
“In my opinion, this man should never, ever, ever, be released on parole,’’ the judge said.
It appears that will indeed be the case for Demeter, who on April 19, will turn 84 years old behind bars. Demeter has suffered a stroke, heart attack and been treated for cancer during his 40-plus years in the Ontario prison system.
Why was the judge so adamant in his condemnation? It helps to recap Demeter’s criminal history and what seems to be his motivations — a vengeful nature and cold hard cash.
Demeter was no stranger to a jail cell.
In 1974, Demeter was given his first prison sentence for arranging the July 18, 1973 murder of his wife, Christine, after taking out a $ 1 million life insurance policy in her name. An attempt to cash it in after her death failed.
The 33-year-old former model was found bludgeoned to death in their Mississauga home. Demeter told police he returned from a shopping trip to Toronto with guests to find his wife sprawled on the garage floor beside a Cadillac, her head bashed in. No murder weapon was found. The couple’s 3-year-old daughter was discovered unharmed inside the home, watching TV.
No one was ever charged with the actual physical deed and Demeter has always denied plotting the killing. In a 2006 interview with the Star’s sister paper, the Mississauga News, the then-82-year-old again said he wasn’t responsible. He told reporter Louie Rosella he was so “money-minded that if I would have arranged my wife’s murder, it certainly wouldn’t be in a luxury home that I was living in because the value would drop by half.’’
A jury didn’t agree. Evidence at the 1974 11-week trial — one of the longest in Canadian history — indicated the couple’s marriage was unhappy. He also had a 29-year-old Austrian mistress at the time, Marina Hundt.
After his conviction, Hundt told a Toronto Star reporter that while she still felt he was innocent, she was going back to Austria and taking Demeter’s spaniel, Beelzebub, with her.
Demeter didn’t testify at his trial. But Csaba Szilagy, a one-time friend and fellow Hungarian immigrant, told the court that Demeter not only talked of killing his wife a number of times over the previous five years, he had asked Szilagy to do it. Szilagy declined. He admitted he knew Demeter was seriously plotting to kill Christine just two days before her death and didn’t warn her.
Another prosecution witness, who was hooded in court to protect his identity but was later revealed to be jailhouse snitch Gyala Virag, testified that Demeter had hired a Hungarian hit man called “The Duck.’’ The latter was later identified as Imre Olejnyik, but he died before police could extradite him from Hungary.
The trial ingredients of love, sex and murder inspired a 1977 book by journalists Barbara Amiel and George Jonas, By Persons Unknown, and a 1978 movie, I Miss You, Hugs and Kisses.
In 1983, after serving 10 years of his sentence for Christine’s murder, Demeter was on day parole at a Peterborough halfway house. The smooth talker met a 29-year-old local woman, Lisa Ross, who quickly fell in love and became his girlfriend.
Demeter’s cousin Steven had custody of his daughter and some control over his financial affairs. Demeter hated Steven and while living at the halfway house, he plotted with two former inmates, one being Tony Preston, to kidnap and kill Steven’s teenage son Stuart.
In August that year, Demeter paid Preston $ 8,000 to burn down his Mississauga home. Preston got caught and proceeded to tell police about Demeter’s plans for Stuart.
Demeter was charged with conspiracy to kidnap and murder, and Preston agreed to be a crown witness and testify at Demeter’s trial. Arson charges against Demeter were later stayed, but once again Demeter failed to cash in on an insurance policy.
The trial heard a police tape recording of a conversation between Preston and another ex-con in which Preston discussed Demeter’s evil plan to terrorize his cousin Steven by kidnapping and killing Stuart.
Preston’s testimony was convincing and Demeter was convicted in July 1985 and given two concurrent life sentences for this failed kidnap-murder plot. At his sentencing, District Court Judge G. Bourke Smith said “the contract killing of a close relative has a shuddering similarity to the accused’s prior crime.’’ Smith also called Demeter “a very dangerous man; very intelligent, but diabolical.’’
Back in prison, Demeter didn’t stop his evil machinations. Between late July and mid-August 1985 he started planning the kidnap-murder of the daughter of his former lawyer, Toby Belman, who represented him on a previous bail hearing and a preliminary inquiry.
Demeter had refused to pay Belman’s $ 46,000 legal bill so the lawyer froze some of Demeter’s stock assets. Enraged, Demeter plotted with his girlfriend Ross and a former cellmate, Peter Winstanley, to kidnap one of Belman’s teenage children and demand a $ 400,000 ransom. The plan was to kill the teen if Belman didn’t pay. But Winstanley went to the police and the plot was foiled. Charges against Ross were dropped after she agreed to testify against Demeter.
At the trial, court heard that Demeter curried favour with parole officers and jail guards by buying them gifts.
At the sentencing, Justice O’Donnell urged Correctional Services Canada to examine Demeter’s mail and visitors, and to closely monitor his finances.
“Time and again he has proven he is dangerous if he has access to money,’’ Justice O’Donnell said. “If Peter Demeter is a psychopath, he has a unique feature. Instead of burning out as he gets older, he’s getting worse.’’
Share your story suggestions at OnceUponACity@thestar.ca . To search more about this story or your story go to thestar.com/archives . To purchase or browse more photos go to starstore.ca/collections/once-upon-a-city , or visit us on Facebook at facebook.com/TorontoStarArchives or on Twitter: @StarHistoricPix