The Break-In Artist: The hunt for the cat burglar who terrorized Toronto’s wealthiest neighbourhoods
The Fort Knox of Thornhill is a stucco mansion with a mansard roof, front-yard fountain and U-shaped driveway on the area’s most coveted street. It’s owned by a middle-aged couple named Tony and Sherry, who asked that we not publish their last name, and is equipped with every security measure on the market: eight interior and exterior video cameras, reinforced locks, motion detectors in all rooms, a siren, contacts on every window hard-wired to a central response station, glass-break sensors, a 1.8-metre-high wrought iron fence with a buzzer system at the front and a brick retaining wall at the back. In home security–speak, the place is a “hard target,” meaning most thieves will take one look and move along.
So it came as a shock when, at 6:06 on the evening of Wednesday, November 6, 2013, Sherry received a call from her alarm company, Vigilarm, informing her that the second-storey master bedroom window had been opened. At the time, Sherry was at the Richmond Hill Public Library with her 11-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter for the kids’ weekly tutoring sessions. If she were being robbed, the timing made perfect sense: every Wednesday between 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., just as it was getting dark outside, the house was empty. Tony, a manufacturing executive, stayed at work on Wednesdays until 7 p.m., and the nanny always left at 5. Sherry instructed Vigilarm to dispatch the police, called Tony and then, leaving her kids with the tutor, sped the seven kilometres home, weaving through rush-hour traffic and running amber lights down Yonge Street. She didn’t know what she’d do if she encountered a burglar, but in the moment, she didn’t care.
Meanwhile, a stranger, dressed in black and wearing a dark baseball hat, stood in her bedroom. He had scaled the backyard fence, then climbed up the cornerstones to the second storey, somehow swung onto the balcony and used a crowbar to pry open the window. He went to Sherry’s closet first, then her husband’s, dumping drawers full of jewellery and valuables into a backpack. He went through the master bathroom, their son’s room and the spare bedroom, and rifled through the linen closet. He then walked calmly down the stairs, his bag bulging with over $100,000 in rings, watches, diamond and pearl necklaces, collectible coins, and more. In the foyer he turned, stepping over the Halloween candy Sherry and Tony’s son had meticulously arranged on the floor, walked to the family room at the back, opened the French doors and, a few minutes after he’d entered, was gone.
It took Sherry 25 minutes to get home. She ran into the foyer, where she met Tony, who confirmed her fears that they’d been robbed. Sherry went to the bedroom, where she saw the carnage: drawers flipped, belongings strewn everywhere, a curtain rod bent, and mud on the carpet, white silk drapes and $9,000 sofa. Tony paced, repeating, “It’s okay.” Sherry raced to her closet and broke down in tears. The jewellery was replaceable, but in the drawers the robber had emptied were macaroni necklaces from her kids, their first teeth and first curls, christening crosses, baby photos—invaluable to her and completely worthless to a thief.
Tony and Sherry spent an excruciating hour and a half waiting for the police to arrive. Together, they reviewed the security footage. The man on the screen kept his head down at all times, so the cops couldn’t get a clear picture of his face. But they recognized his handiwork. Police suspected that Tony and Sherry had been robbed by a daring and prolific break-and-enter artist, one they’d been after for some time. The perp’s specialty was breaking in through the second storey or roof, which was clever—most homeowners store their valuables on the second floor, yet many wire only the first floor and basement. By skipping the ground floor, the thief could ransack at a leisurely pace—unimpeded by alarms—and then calmly walk out the front door, knowing that by the time security or police showed up, he’d be long gone. In Tony and Sherry’s case, the house’s top-to-bottom fortifications were a challenge, but for a pro, the promise of ample riches inside made it worth the trouble.
Break and enters in the GTA fall into two categories. Eighty per cent are what police call “smash and grabs”—quick, unplanned and usually committed by drug addicts looking for anything to finance their next high. The remaining 20 per cent, like the one Tony and Sherry were victims of, are premeditated, sophisticated, deeply personal and far scarier, often involving long-term surveillance of the house and the family inside. These thieves are out to make a profit, not support a vice, and their target is specific: cash and jewellery, particularly gold, which can be melted and quickly rendered untraceable.
The police boundary that encompasses parts of Lawrence Park, North York and the Bridle Path is Toronto’s most targeted. Since 2004, it has suffered a reported 9,374 break and enters, for an average of 852 per year or more than two per day. The next most targeted areas are the Annex, Little Italy, east Forest Hill, Mount Pleasant, Leaside, Rosedale and Trinity Bellwoods. From 2010 to 2013, hundreds of break-and-enter police reports and reams of home security footage showing homes being burglarized through the second storey or roof piled up at police stations across the GTA. In one video, a man wearing dark clothing and a small backpack appears out of the shadows at the side of a house, deftly hoists himself onto a fence, steps onto the adjoining second-storey wall—somehow clinging in place—and disappears up and back into the shadows. The figure was nearly always the same: a man in dark clothing, his face concealed, leaping from one house to the next, crawling up walls, ascending downspouts or hanging onto perilously steep roofs. Police developed a nickname for their daredevil mystery perp: Spiderman.
Shane Joseph Gagnon—born Shane Louis Zwezdaryk—is the man police believe to be Spiderman. He’s 43 and stands five foot 11, with a barrel chest, bulging biceps and thick forearms. Gagnon has dark curly hair, which he wears cut short on the sides. He lives in a suburb of Bradford, just north of Toronto, with two young boys, his common-law wife and her elderly parents. Over the years, Gagnon has sold coffins, worked construction, run a limo business, made custom decorative iron railings and protective window bars for homeowners concerned about security (the irony runs thick), and aspired to open a juice bar. He is also an amateur inventor, mostly of sexual devices. Among his patented creations are the OctoPussy, a multi-pronged vibrator; the SexQube, a black ottoman that transforms into a sexual penetration platform; and the SexChair, a vinyl seat with tie-downs, footholds, a headrest and extendable arms designed to satisfy even the most innovative Kama Sutra practitioner. According to the SexChair’s patent, its competitive advantage lies in its disguisability—ordinary seat by day, erotic jungle gym by night. Gagnon was no doubt his own customer: at one of his apartments, a sex harness hung from the ceiling in front of his big-screen TV, and hand and ankle cuffs were fastened to the bedroom door frame.
Gagnon grew up poor, and his parents divorced when he was five. His mother dated a series of men—a Hells Angel from Quebec among them—each of whom acted briefly as a male role model for Gagnon before moving on. Eventually, his mother married a man named Joseph Volpe, who had close connections to the Toronto mafia: his brother, Paul, was a feared mobster with deep links to Atlantic City’s underworld. In 1983, Paul was found dead in the trunk of a car at Pearson airport, curled up in the fetal position, a gunshot wound to his head.
Gagnon began stealing in his teens. At age 26, he stole a fridge from an empty apartment in his mother’s building to replace one he’d broken. When the landlord checked the serial numbers on the fridges and reported his suspicions to police, they found that Gagnon’s mother’s apartment was filled with other stolen items, including a Sony Handycam and a collection of silver jewellery. By the time Gagnon was 27, he had been convicted of nine break and enters, eight thefts, two counts of mischief, one count of obstructing a police officer, one count of criminal harassment and one count of assault causing bodily harm. He did some time for each major charge, though the punishment clearly didn’t act as a deterrent, probably because the reward was worth the risk: in Toronto, only about 25 per cent of break and enters are solved.
Gagnon possessed a preternatural ability to climb just about anything: he could scamper up a seven-and-a-half-metre drainpipe with ease or cling squirrel-like to a wall. In April 1996, he attempted to break into the 15th-floor penthouse of a high-rise at Sheppard and Don Mills, occupied by a jeweller. He accessed the rooftop via the stairs, then free-climbed, some 45 metres above the pavement, to the penthouse balcony below. In the process, he startled the owner’s parrot, who squawked loudly. When the owner flicked on his bedroom light, Gagnon, realizing the jig was up, vaulted over the railing and lowered himself down to the balcony below, then hopped one balcony over and climbed two back up to the roof, then descended the stairs to the street.
Gagnon seems to have prided himself on his acrobatic prowess and upper body strength. He was a gym rat who worked out compulsively. For a while in his 30s, he dabbled in amateur arm wrestling, though he relied on brute force rather than technique and would angrily accuse less-imposing opponents of cheating if he lost to them. (The habit didn’t endear him to Ontario’s small community of arm wrestlers.)
As a criminal, however, he was sophisticated and methodical. During B&Es, he wore a dark, heavy denim jacket and pants, comfortable yet resistant to tearing or cuts, crucial to avoid leaving behind blood or other DNA evidence. He wore Kevlar gloves for the same reason. He owned a variety of cheap running shoes and often used rental cars, paid for in cash and probably rented under a fake name so that police couldn’t trace his plates. Afterward, he’d sell the stolen gold and gems to jewellery stores run by shady owners or, at times, repurpose the gems into new, custom jewellery, which he’d sell, always for cash, to friends and acquaintances (his business cards had a phone number and, simply, “Shane”).
He spent the spoils lavishly. For a stretch in his 30s, he went to a strip club almost every day (and dated at least one exotic dancer). He purchased a farmhouse outside Bradford for $275,000 and a teardown property on the northern edge of Forest Hill for $335,000, and built an elaborate home gym. He spent $30,000 on a used Dodge Viper and $3,000 on a used Mercedes-Benz 190E, both of which he drove recklessly around the city, pulling dangerous U-turns and parking where he pleased. He developed his own personal code of conduct, a contorted mash-up of the Robin Hood theory of wealth redistribution, the mafia’s omertà (he loathed the police and anyone who’d co-operate with them) and the overriding principle that might is right. His vanity licence plate said “DOGMAI,” which when read backward neatly articulated his world view.
In mid-1999,Gagnon set his sights on an ambitious target: Mark Lash Enterprises at 155 East Beaver Creek Road in Richmond Hill. Lash was a 36-year-old father of two who, over the course of 20 years, beginning at age 15 in his parents’ basement, had worked to become the area’s top jeweller. Gagnon studied Lash’s shop for six months to plot his break-in. In the mornings, often before 9 a.m., he’d park his Mercedes convertible across the street and often stay well past closing. Sometimes he’d use a rental car so as not to raise the suspicion of patrons and store owners. He recorded the licence plates of the cars that drove into the store’s parking lot and monitored the patterns of Lash and his security personnel and staff. Gagnon periodically climbed up to the rooftop of the building across the street and, using a high-powered night-vision telescope, peered inside the jewellery store. He searched for a weak spot in the security apparatus, which was formidable: the front and back entrances had twin key code activated doors, which Gagnon knew weren’t worth the effort. One night in late 1999, Gagnon climbed up the side of the building onto the roof where, using a penknife with a screwdriver attachment, he removed a plate from the HVAC unit. He then climbed inside and shimmied through the ventilation system ductwork to the ceiling crawl space. Balancing on the top of the walls and using the overhead beams for support, he lifted the ceiling tiles and peered down into the store. He located a mammoth walk-in vault, five feet by six and so tall that extended up into ceiling. Since it was nearly Christmas, he figured it would be high time for inventory. (He was right: locked inside was approximately $2 million worth of precious gems and jewellery.) The question was how to open it.
At the time, Lash was about to move to a new building a block and a half away, so he regularly arrived late in the evening to pack, often unaccompanied by employees or security staff. If Lash were alone, Gagnon figured he could easily overpower and coerce him into revealing the combination. But on the off chance he wasn’t, Gagnon would need help. So he enlisted two friends. Giuseppe “Joe” Marini was a heavy-set friend from Etobicoke with no criminal record. He had held a variety of jobs, as a construction worker, a nightclub doorman and an iron worker. He and his wife, a dental hygienist from Mississauga, had an 11-day-old daughter at home. The other was Jimmy Voong, one of Gagnon’s long-time accomplices. Two years earlier, they’d broken into Lady York Foods, a gourmet grocery store near Dufferin and Lawrence, by entering through the roof. They were caught exiting with a safe and were both sentenced to nine months in prison. For the Mark Lash job, Gagnon decided that Voong would be the lookout and getaway driver; Marini would help inside with the robbery. They selected a Saturday night just before Christmas. Everything went according to plan—except Lash never showed up. Gagnon and Marini waited for hours and took turns peeing on top of the vault.
Three weeks later they tried again. Gagnon dressed in a black denim jacket, Kevlar gloves, a black balaclava and running shoes, and carried a penknife, a knotted rope and a hockey bag for the loot. Marini wore dark clothing, a tuque and a paisley bandana covering his face. He also carried a nine-millimetre gun and handcuffs. Around 8 p.m., they got in position on top of the vault and waited. This time, Lash arrived accompanied by a 23-year-old employee from Thornhill named Niv Erez, who had recently graduated with a business administration degree from York and was intending to get his masters. At 11:42 p.m., Lash and Erez deactivated the front-door alarm and entered the store. Voong, sitting outside in Marini’s blue 1988 Chevrolet Caprice, called Gagnon to alert them of their arrival.
Lash and Erez were in the back of the store packing as Marini began his descent. But midway down the rope, he lost his grip and fell to the floor. The element of surprise gone, Gagnon leapt off the vault, crashing through the ceiling tiles. Lash and Erez came in to investigate the noise, and Gagnon and Marini attacked, one savagely pistol-whipping Lash across the face, the other wrestling Erez to the ground and attempting to handcuff him. Blood running down his face, Lash bit down hard on the wrist of his attacker, who dropped the gun. Lash shouted at Erez to flee and ran to the front of the store as his assailant—the courts later couldn’t decide who it was—picked up the gun and shot Lash in the stomach. He made it to his office, and called 911 and then his wife, Dalia, to tell her he’d been shot. Realizing the situation was spiralling of out control, the gunman shot at Erez, hitting him at a distance in the pelvis, ankle and thigh. Erez managed to activate a panic button hidden under a nearby counter and curled up underneath it, saying “I’m sorry” over and over. The gunman then fired a fourth shot point blank to Erez’s head, killing him. Knowing the police were en route, Gagnon and Marini fled empty-handed up the rope, through the ventilation system, onto the roof, down pipes attached to the side of the building, into the getaway car and into the night, roughly 11 minutes after it all began. Gagnon went home, had a shower, vacuumed everything, then disposed of his sneakers, balaclava and clothes, the remaining rope and the vacuum bag in a dumpster behind a nearby strip mall.
Lash was rushed by ambulance to Sunnybrook hospital, where doctors performed emergency surgery, removing his spleen and operating on his liver and diaphragm (he now has a scar running from his groin to his chest). His insurance rates skyrocketed, and he hired an armed police officer to keep his business safe. It took him years to bounce back from the physical and emotional trauma.
Police dubbed the ensuing investigation Project Jeckyll. Over the course of six months, they conducted countless interviews, many with members of the criminal underworld. They identified two vehicles of note parked nearby—Gagnon’s silver Mercedes and Voong’s Toyota 4Runner, which they’d left before getting into Marini’s Caprice on the night of the robbery. In July, police visited Marini’s house. His wife opened the door, said, “Speak to my lawyer,” and quickly shut it. Later that day, under police surveillance, Marini drove the getaway car to a friend’s autobody shop. By the time police obtained a search warrant for the vehicle, the interior had been disassembled and destroyed.
Gagnon, meanwhile, was up to old tricks. On the night of February 5, 2000, just three weeks after the Mark Lash fiasco, a woman named Myra King was watching TV in her three-storey brick home on Roxborough Street, between Avenue and Yonge. Typically she went to her ski chalet on winter weekends, but she was recovering from dental surgery, so she stayed home and invited a friend over for company. The pair heard a series of loud noises coming from upstairs. King dialled 911. The operator told her to leave the house immediately and dispatched the police.
Gagnon had ascended seven and a half metres up the side of King’s house, pried open the third-storey bathroom window and crept inside. In the second-storey office, he located a safe that was bolted to the floor, containing roughly $30,000 in cash. Using a grinder, he removed the safe and lugged it back upstairs. From his vantage point at the window, however, he spotted police establishing a perimeter below. Gagnon dropped the safe and sprang into evasive action: he exited the third-storey window onto the roof, then leapt across to a neighbouring roof, scampered up one side of its steep pitch and down the other, then jumped to the next house. From there, he hopped down one storey to the front-porch roof, where he turned and smashed a window with his knapsack and jumped inside. His plan was to draw the police inside while he exited via the roof. Gagnon ran up to the third floor—passing a surprised homeowner on the stairs—where he smashed a dormer window and got on the roof. Then he retraced his route across the rooftops back to King’s house, where he’d started. Police by this point had surrounded the area, and Gagnon had no choice but to climb down and surrender. In his backpack, police found a Mont Blanc pen, keys to a black Audi and a Mercedes, a Cartier key holder, four Hermès scarves, gold knot earrings, two gold necklaces, and cash, along with a black mask, a grinder, a pry bar, an axe and a flat bar. He was taken to the Don Jail (where he was known to other inmates simply as Spider). Meanwhile, York Region detectives on the Project Jeckyll investigation were closing in on Gagnon, Voong and Marini as the primary suspects in the Mark Lash robbery. In late July, they arrested all three.
In May 2002, Gagnon was charged with first-degree murder, which carries an automatic life sentence and no chance of parole for 25 years, while Voong and Marini received lesser charges of manslaughter. Gagnon suspected that Marini would testify against him at trial. The prospect of Marini turning rat offended Gagnon, and he decided, however paradoxically, to respond in kind. By March 2005, he’d struck a deal with the Crown, agreeing to plead guilty to manslaughter in exchange for proof that Marini was inside with him. Gagnon then proceeded to tell them how he and Marini had peed on the vault during the initial stakeout. Police searched the Lash property again and, sure enough, they found rust atop the vault. Even better, they found a collection of hairs, which they tested for DNA. Then, using a ginger ale bottle that Marini discarded at the courthouse, they made a positive match. While the judge couldn’t decide who had pulled the trigger, he could accept that both Marini and Gagnon were inside. In April 2006, Marini was convicted by a jury of manslaughter, aggravated assault, robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery, and received 12 years. Voong had pleaded guilty to manslaughter, aggravated assault and conspiracy to commit robbery, and received nine and a half years. On the same charges as Voong, Gagnon received a miracle sentence of 11 years minus time served of five, which meant he was free to go the next day, with a condition of three years’ probation. For Gagnon, it was a stunning turn of events, from the brink of life in prison to something just shy of complete freedom.
In the high-end home alarm world, Avante Security is king. Drive down any of the city’s best streets—Dunvegan, Old Forest Hill, Post, Cluny—and the Avante logo is as prevalent as Range Rovers. The signs do more than ward off would-be thieves: for homeowners, they’re a status symbol. The company provides personal security for local and visiting VIPs—Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, Jeb Bush and members of the Saudi royal family are recent clients—as well as security guards for the mega-rich travelling abroad. The bulk of its business, however, is in residential security. Since 2010, Avante has doubled its customer base to 2,000 homes and its annual revenue to $12 million. At the company’s North York command centre, three hulking employees sit inside a glassed-in bubble, monitoring computer screens and a wall of 50-inch TVs. From a desk chair, operators can monitor the intimate movements of some of Toronto’s most powerful residents: when they come and go, when they sleep, how they take their eggs. The secrets contained inside this room represent a significant portion of Toronto’s net worth.
Luis D’Agosto is Avante’s senior operative. He’s about as tall as he is wide, with a faint goatee and a shaved, pockmarked head. He’s also incredibly polite, tacking a courteous “sir” onto just about every sentence. D’Agosto trains Avante’s 35 operatives in baton, sharp weapons and handcuffing skills, use of force, and crisis management, though over the past 25 years has mostly spent his days driving around Forest Hill, Rosedale, Lawrence Park and the Bridle Path in a discretely marked car, one of at least 10 perpetually on patrol, looking out for anything abnormal. As a result, he’s in a state of constant vigilance, scanning for potential threats, even when he’s off duty. “It drives my wife nuts at parties,” he says.
I accompanied D’Agosto on a patrol of Forest Hill. After 30 minutes, he slammed on the brakes and reversed up Old Forest Hill Road, hopped out, trudged up the front walk of a brick two-storey home and picked up a package sitting on the front step. D’Agosto knocked on the door and handed it to the owner, who recognized him and smiled affectionately. “It doesn’t look good when a package is sitting out like that. A thief might assume there’s no one home,” he explained later.
Crime is good for business. Every month, the company sends out a newsletter detailing the latest threats. Avante instructs their clients to report break-ins at non-Avante homes in the neighbourhood—all in the name of community safety, of course—and quickly dispatches their sales staff to knock on doors. In November 2014, four houses on the same Rosedale street were burgled; all are now customers. At the low end, the systems cost $600 to install and $30 per month for monitoring. The high end is stratospheric. One system, just installed, features a panic room, a dozen high-resolution security cameras, heat sensors, security shutters and state-of-the-art vibration sensors, all of it carefully disguised to blend in with the interior decor. The price tag: $1.5-million.
Starting in 2010, second-storey break-ins on Russell Hill, Briar Hill, Parkwood, Glencairn, Dunloe, Strathallan Wood and Alexandra Wood filled the Forest Hill gossip mill with rumours of the mysterious cat burglar who broke in through the roof. In York Region, the problem was even more dramatic: hundreds of break-ins, all through the second storey, and all on the ritziest streets: Elgin Mills Road, Elgin Street, Thornbank Road, and more.
In December 2012, Avante clients on the Bridle Path returned home to find a massive hole, hacked away with a hatchet, in their master bathroom ceiling—though nothing was missing, probably because Avante was on the scene in three minutes. The year before, a client in the Yonge and York Mills area came home to find the skylight forced open—the thief had descended via a rope to the second storey—and a small collection of jewellery missing. D’Agosto arrived on the scene minutes after an alarm sounded, but the perp had vanished, the getaway rope still swinging.
Detective Sergeant Savas Kyriacou, the crime manager at 13 Division headquarters, located at Allen Road and Eglinton, is the cop who began making connections. Kyriacou started on the force 32 years ago and made his name as the lead homicide detective on the Boxing Day shooting of 15-year-old Jane Creba in 2005. By mid-2012, he had enough evidence on his desk to convince him that there was a serial second-storey break-and-enter artist on the loose in his division. Kyriacou got on the phone with his counterparts at adjacent divisions and York Region, which covers Vaughan, Richmond Hill and Markham. They too had leads on Spiderman, but none was a smoking gun—no DNA, no fingerprints, no clear footage of his face, no vehicle plate numbers. However, both Kyriacou and detectives from York Region police possessed footage of a man in dark clothing with the same distinctive backpack. They were after the same guy. Spiderman, it appeared, got around.
Kyriacou divided duties among the divisions. Then, using break-and-enter information from all divisions, he created a heat map that featured second-storey entry as the MO. The results fell into three distinct areas—Forest Hill, Vaughan and the northwest corner of the city, near the airport. He set out to look for a suspect. Today, the Toronto Police Service stores information about various crimes, suspects, repeat offenders, suspicious behaviour and even officers’ patrol notes in a program called Versadex, which is searchable, Google-style. But back in mid-2012, the process was done by reviewing one case file after another. Kyriacou’s team came across the Mark Lash robbery and quickly zeroed in on the break-in guru, Gagnon.
Police aren’t allowed to speak about investigative tactics, but typically when they require more information about a person of interest—either to disqualify or confirm—they conduct surveillance by tailing the subject or attaching a GPS tracker to his car. The more information Kyriacou and his team acquired, the more they liked Gagnon for the crimes. He fit the description of the man police had seen on videotape: big, burly and strong. Plus, he owned a renovation property near St. Clair and Bathurst, within Kyriacou’s Forest Hill hot zone, and another in Bradford, a short drive north of the Vaughan-area hot zone. They flagged Gagnon in their national database, the Canadian Police Information Centre, so that if any other officers were to arrest Gagnon or look into him, an onscreen alert would prompt them to call Kyriacou first.
On the morning of January 30, 2014, Kyriacou was at home in Toronto’s east end when he received a call. Two traffic cops had pulled Gagnon over for running a stop sign near Lake Shore Boulevard and Royal York Road. Gagnon sped away, but police stopped him after a short pursuit. They found a wad of cash and a large collection of jewellery and watches in his car.
Ultimately, this was bad news. Kyriacou would have preferred to catch Gagnon in the act—say, stepping through a second-storey window in Forest Hill, crowbar in hand—which would provide the most compelling evidence in court linking suspect to crime. By comparison, a traffic stop was fraught with complications. But based on the items found, police were granted search warrants for Gagnon’s various properties. At his farmhouse outside Bradford, they found what looked like a scene out of Ocean’s Eleven: articulating cameras, a climbing rope, a parabolic listening device, lock-picking manuals, an assortment of bump keys and lock-picking equipment, balaclavas, grinders, hatchets and crowbars, much of it stuffed into backpacks as ready-to-go B&E kits. They also found a vast collection of expensive watches, antique coins, jewellery, silverware and war medals. Police suspected it was just a small portion of his lifetime haul, which Kyriacou estimated was worth close to $15 million.
Gagnon made bail for his traffic offence, but police quickly presented a judge with new, more serious charges: 23 break and enters in York Region, and a slew more in Toronto. A day or two later, Gagnon, on instructions from his lawyer, turned himself in to York Region police, near Yonge Street and Major Mackenzie. He wore a hoodie, blue jeans and a smug grin (a female officer at the front desk thought he looked cute). The arresting officers were a daunting pair: Detective Mike Godber is six foot two with pillars for arms; Detective Constable Jason Currie has a stocky, muscular frame and a lumberjack beard. Gagnon seemed almost amused by their presence. He refused to admit to any wrongdoing but happily chit-chatted about all manner of other trivia.
Under the conditions of his $400,000 bail, covered in equal parts by Gagnon, his wife and two friends, Gagnon now stays with sureties near highways 401 and 400, or with his wife in Bradford (he completed the renovations to his property near Forest Hill and sold it for $872,500 last October). He has a daily curfew of 6 p.m. and wears (and pays for) a GPS-monitored ankle bracelet. He’s allowed to visit his mother’s home, a sprawling 20-acre property near Parry Sound that’s dotted with four-wheelers and snowmobiles. When police showed up to search the place, his mother opened the door and said, “I’ve been expecting you boys.” On the property, police recovered coins, war medals and silverware stored inside plastic bins.
In February 2014, cops from 13, 32 and 53 divisions and from York Region held a press conference announcing the arrest, and proudly displaying the burglary tools and some of the items recovered. Kyriacou did most of the talking. He dubbed the operation Project Spiderman and dispensed enough detail—“father of two,” “$15 million in suspected stolen property”—to flesh out a catchy lead story on the nightly news. The gift-wrapping was tactical: Kyriacou needed as many victims as possible to come forward to claim items, thereby undercutting the defence’s potential contention that Gagnon was simply an avid collector of watches, gems and jewellery. So far, at least six people have claimed ownership of the items. A Collingwood man identified his grandfather’s World War I medals, which he said were stolen from his Toronto apartment via a second-storey balcony around 1989. Another person identified custom-made brooches from Italy from a B&E in 1999.
Gagnon is scheduled for a judicial pretrial on April 2. His trial is complicated. The trickiest part concerns the traffic stop. If defence counsel can convince a judge that the search of Gagnon’s car was done illegally, then the evidence collected from subsequent searches of the properties may be deemed inadmissible. The Crown will likely argue that their search was justified as “incident to arrest”—a legal principle that allows a warrantless search in the interest of officer safety, the prevention of escape and the preservation of evidence—or perhaps argue that the traffic cops noticed what looked like stolen items on the back seat and were obligated to search the vehicle. The Crown also has to successfully link Gagnon to the break and enters. Possessing stolen goods, after all, does not necessarily mean one stole them, and the defence may claim that Gagnon was a fence for some criminal friend. If a jury buys that argument, Gagnon may well slip through the justice system.
Shortly after the arrest, York Region police visited Tony and Sherry at their home in Thornhill with photographs of the recovered loot. Most of it could’ve belonged to anyone—Tiffany bracelets and generic pearl necklaces—but three items made Sherry jump: “My topaz ring, my white filigreed cross, and my green ribbon necklace that’s so ugly and one-of-a-kind. I know for a fact that they’re mine. No one would’ve wanted them.”
More than a year after the break-in, Sherry is afraid to be at home alone, despite the addition of three video cameras and being in a constant state of vigilance. Jewellery makes her feel sick—she can’t bear to wear her wedding ring—because it conjures up his face. Gagnon lives inside her head, and she loathes him for it. “I work hard. My husband works hard,” she says. “We save. We do the right thing. We don’t steal. We don’t cheat. We don’t lie. What makes this person feel that he can come into our house, not caring about the work we’ve done to get the stuff, and be like, ‘Too bad, I’m taking it’?” At the same time, Sherry and Gagnon share a perversely intimate connection, and she can’t help but want to know more about him. If indeed it was Gagnon who committed the crime, then he likely surveilled the family for weeks, watching them load into the car for work and school, come home, eat dinner, turn out the lights. He walked around in Sherry’s bedroom and handled her cherished belongings. Yet she knows nothing about him. When police left, Sherry googled his name and obsessively gobbled up as much information as the Internet could provide: his work, various properties and his photo. She pored over every inch of his face, transfixed by the man who’d inflicted such pain on her family.
“I hate him,” she says. “I just really hate this person.”