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Carola VyhnakSpecial to the Star
Once caught, Peter Woodcock freely admitted responsibility for the sex slayings of three children in the 1950s. The 17-year-old even took police on a tour of hidden spots around the city where he’d molested a dozen others.
But until he was charged with murder three days after the discovery of his third victim’s body, and one day after the Toronto Daily Star published a front-page drawing of him, Woodcock kept the city on edge.
For four months from September 1956 until January 1957, he executed a killing spree fuelled by rage and perversion that turned Toronto into a “big city in the worst sense of the term,” as a newspaper editorial grimly observed.
Woodcock was a problem child from the beginning. Handed over to the Children’s Aid Society by his unmarried teenage mother in 1939 when he was a month old, Peter “did nothing but cry,” according to journalist Mark Bourrie.
Woodcock claimed to have a stark recollection of being left alone in the darkness for long periods of time in his early life.
“Hardly anyone ever picked me up, held me or things like that,” he told Bourrie during one of numerous interviews for the author’s 1997 book, By Reason of Insanity. Ping-ponged from one foster family to another, the sickly child never bonded with anyone.
All that changed when a caring, attentive and well-off couple, Frank and Susan Maynard, took him in as a 3-year-old.
“We loved him like our own” and gave him “everything he needed,” Susan told a Star reporter after his arrest.With a passion for trains, street cars and cycling on his beloved bike, he’d spend hours travelling far from home.
“He always told us he was so lucky to have good parents like us and a good home,” his foster mother said.
But the signs of abnormality started early on. A “sad little fellow,” Peter was always nervous, she said.
The Maynards, who brought him to live with their older son in a big house on Lytton Blvd., took Peter to Sick Kids Hospital for behavioural problems. Doctors detected schizophrenic tendencies and by the time he was 10, his foster parents feared leaving him alone in case he burned the house down.
A social worker who took him to visit the Canadian National Exhibition as a young lad — he remained a ward of the CAS — recalled a chilling comment he made.
“I wish a bomb would fall on the Exhibition and kill all the children,” she quoted him as saying when she testified at his murder trial several years later, according to Toronto Star reporter Frank Jones who wrote about Woodcock’s case in 1981.
The boy described as a talkative know-it-all was bullied, taunted and beaten up. With no friends, Peter escaped to a fantasy world where he was the leader of a gang of imaginary soldiers on bicycles.
At one stage, he attended a special school for disturbed children before returning to private school in his own neighbourhood.
It was early 1956 when he started acting on his “too strong” sexual urges, he told Bourrie. Fascinated by the human body and attracted to young children, the skinny teen played what he called “sex games,” choking them into unconsciousness before undressing them.
The assaults escalated to murder that fall when he attacked 7-year-old Wayne Mallette on Exhibition grounds. The child, who was choked to death, had bite marks on his body.
Less than a month later, a 9-year-old Cabbagetown kid rode off with a youth on a bicycle. Gary Morris’s body was found in dense underbrush at Cherry Beach with human teeth marks on his throat and a ruptured liver from being stomping on.
With the discovery of 4-year-old Carole Voyce’s small, mutilated body under the Bloor St. viaduct in January, 1957, the city could barely contain its collective fear and outrage.
“Someone — probably his mother — knows who this killer is,” declared Deputy Police Chief Archie McCathie as he assigned 250 detectives to one of their biggest manhunts. “I ask her to tell us despite the anguish she will suffer.”
Carole had accepted a bicycle ride from a bespectacled “nice boy” on a red bicycle, her 4-year-old playmate told his mother.
His account, along with the description from a witness to Gary Morris’s disappearance, allowed Toronto Star artist Walter Ball to sketch the suspect, leading police to question 300 look-alikes at city schools.
After four constables remembered an incident the previous June in which they found Woodcock with a missing girl, detectives were able to match his bike tires with imprints in the snow at the crime scene. The 17-year-old Grade 11 student was charged with Carole’s murder.
Although he confessed to all three killings, Woodcock was only tried for one. It took the jury two hours to find him not guilty by reason of insanity.
Sent to a series of psychiatric hospitals, he was studied, analyzed and used as a guinea pig for experimental treatment of psychopathic criminals. He was pumped with LSD and other mind-altering drugs, and put in a dark, artificial womb for days, according to Bourrie. But nothing cured the madman, who legally changed his name to David Michael Krueger.
In 1991, he was allowed out of Brockville Psychiatric Hospital on a day pass with a former patient and convicted killer as his escort. The two men lured another inmate to the woods where they butchered and mutilated him. Woodcock then turned himself in to police.
In interviews with Bourrie, he blamed his “alien self” for his ghastly crimes, recalling that he was “extremely angry” as a teen. He revealed another side when he related a cartoon version of Hansel and Gretel in which the witch consulted cookbooks to prepare the caged kids.
“Only someone like me could appreciate the humour in that cartoon,” Woodcock stated.
He died in the Penetanguishene Mental Health Centre in 2010 at the age of 71. He had spent 53 years in custody.
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