Rohinie Bisesar had an MBA, a network of Bay Street mentors and experience at one of the city’s most prestigious investment firms. Now she's accused of a grisly stabbing
AT 8 A.M. on December 11, 2015, Rosemarie Junor walked through the doors of Medcan, the private medical clinic at York and Adelaide where she worked. As always, her makeup and nail polish were perfectly applied, her dark hair carefully styled. Junor was the youngest of four children born to immigrant parents—her father was Trinidadian, her mother Guyanese—and she was the family’s high achiever. She had started at Medcan in 2011 as a secretary; three years later, she was promoted to co-ordinator of an ultrasound test that screens for early signs of plaque buildup in the carotid artery, the only employee qualified to operate the machine. Junor cared deeply about her work. She had once sacrificed vacation days because she didn’t trust her replacement’s skills.
She had married Baldeo “Lenny” Persaud, a machinist at a Mississauga industrial manufacturing plant, five months earlier in an elaborate wedding featuring a Hindu ceremony for his family, a Catholic ceremony for hers, and a reception for 400 at a banquet hall near Highway 7 and Weston Road. Junor had three outfits—a red sari, a traditional white gown, and another formal dress for the reception, which Persaud had insisted on buying for her despite her protestations that it was too expensive. Junor and Persaud had recently purchased a four-bedroom detached house in Brampton, which they hoped to fill with children. Christmas was two weeks away, and Junor was looking forward to hosting 35 family members for their first Christmas in the new home. A meticulous planner, she had already wrapped the presents, decorated the house and bought the ingredients for a Caribbean-Canadian feast: turkey, garlic ham, curry and rum cake.
It was a slow day at the clinic. Just before noon, a woman came in with a two-month-old baby. Her childcare plans had fallen through. Junor happily volunteered to babysit, then spent the next 20 minutes taking care of the infant while the client met with her doctor. About an hour later, human resources sent out an all-staff email applauding Junor for tending to the baby. She typed out a reply-all thanks on her phone. Then, at 2:35 p.m., she took the elevator down to the Path system and walked a block southeast toward the Shoppers Drug Mart under the TD Bank Tower. As she arrived at the store, she got a phone call from a friend, who announced she’d just accepted a new job. Suddenly, as Junor was walking down an aisle telling her friend how excited she was for her, she was approached and stabbed in the chest with a knife, which pierced her heart. Over the phone, Junor’s friend heard her scream. Junor stumbled toward the pharmacy at the back of the store. “Help me,” she cried out. “I’ve been stabbed.” People flocked to her side. Meanwhile, security tapes show a petite woman in a business suit and lavender dress shirt walking calmly out of the store. A 911 call went out at 2:55 p.m. Paramedics rushed Junor to the hospital. Four days later, after a city-wide manhunt, the police arrested a woman who was well known on Bay Street.
Rohinie Bisesar came to Toronto from Guyana in 1980, at age five. Her parents, Chandrabhan and Jasmattee, had arrived a few years earlier with their two other children—a boy, Narine, and a girl, Chandrawattee—and had left their youngest, Rohinie, in the care of a relative back in Guyana. Once they’d settled in and scraped together some savings, they bought a three-storey brick house near Woodbine and Danforth, and Rohinie came to join the family shortly thereafter. A second boy, Mahesh, was soon born. In the mid-’80s, the Bisesars opened Sandra’s and Chico’s, a small clothing store on the Danforth a few blocks from their home that’s now sandwiched between a storefront law office and a Chinese restaurant. They were hard-working—both had part-time jobs in addition to running the store—and prioritized education. Their neighbour of 42 years, Francesco Dilorenzo, says they were perfect neighbours: “They’re very good people, beautiful people. A good family, very smart kids, all of them.”
Rohinie attended Monarch Park Collegiate, near Coxwell and Danforth. In her Grade 13 class photo, she’s smiling brightly, her long, wavy hair loose, bangs brushed to the side. In her graduation photo, taken a few months later, she’s cradling a bouquet of red roses, her face beaming, her black gown hanging off her tiny frame. But she is nowhere else in the yearbook—absent from photos of clubs and sports teams, or shots of kids on campus. She apparently had little time for after-school fun. Like her siblings, she was expected to work in the family store in her free time.
According to an ex-boyfriend of Rohinie’s, life at home was tightly controlled, and she grew increasingly resentful of her parents, especially her father, a devout Hindu with a conservative parenting style. The ex, whom I’ll call Geoffrey, agreed to be interviewed on the condition of anonymity. He says Rohinie told him she ran away from home when she was in her early teens. Two days later, a truck driver picked her up and brought her to the police. Some time after that, her father, fed up with her behaviour, took her to a Hindu healer for what he considered a cleansing ritual. Rohinie was made to remove her clothes in front of her father and have chicken blood poured on her.
After graduating from Monarch Park in 1993, Rohinie attended U of T Scarborough, studying sciences, while living at home. In the last year of her degree, she landed an internship at the Consumer Health Organization of Canada, a Toronto-based non-profit that focuses on holistic and alternative health care. She graduated five months later and took a job as a technical writer in York University’s math department, and then another as a computer technician. Trueman MacHenry was a professor of math and statistics at York when he met Rohinie. She impressed him with her curiosity and ability to make herself indispensable.
“She saw what the available jobs were at York, and she immediately trained herself to do them,” says MacHenry. “When she needed to know programming, for example, she learned it, all on her own. She was a very good problem solver.”
For eight years, Rohinie performed various roles at York, including stints as a technical writer, manager of the math department web page and general computing support provider, all while completing her Bachelor of Administrative Studies in 2004 and, in June 2007, her MBA. Throughout, she lived at home, where she felt increasingly suffocated. Her father disapproved of her wearing makeup, despite the fact that she was by this point in her late 20s. According to Geoffrey, Rohinie’s mother had access to her bank account and made regular withdrawals.
At age 28, Rohinie moved out, which shocked her parents, who, according to Geoffrey, believed a woman shouldn’t leave home before marriage. She moved to an apartment near York that she shared with a female roommate, a decision Geoffrey says prompted her father to ask Rohinie if she was a lesbian.
With her MBA and a strong academic record, Rohinie was following closely in the footsteps of her older sister, Chandra, a chartered financial accountant and investment banking executive in New York City. After completing her MBA program in the spring of 2007, Rohinie was hired on a summer contract as a research analyst for Cronus Capital Markets, a now-defunct investment firm, where she created reports and performed research on aspects of the mining industry.
That fall, Geoffrey was driving with a friend on the York campus and they passed Rohinie on the sidewalk. When the friend catcalled her, she approached and reprimanded him, and Geoffrey joined her in the scolding. Intrigued, she exchanged information with Geoffrey, and they later connected on MSN Messenger. He was five years younger than Rohinie and trying to launch a career in the music business while juggling a handful of industry jobs. He lived at his mother’s house in Brampton. Eventually, after some online courtship, he asked her out. For their first date, they went for Thai food in the west end, then hit the dance club This Is London in the Entertainment District. A few months later, they went out again, and soon they were a couple.
By then, Rohinie had been hired as a research associate at Jennings Capital Inc., an investment firm that later merged with Mackie Research Capital. Her job was to support two analysts. One of them recalls her as a bright and capable MBA grad who initially seemed up to the demands of a cutthroat industry. In the financial world, where the unofficial motto is Work Hard; Work Hard, 100-hour weeks aren’t uncommon, especially at the bottom rungs.
“If you’re an associate,” her former boss told me, “it’s like being an intern. You are responsible for a lot of the grunt work. You’re working long hours, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. or longer most days. It’s a rite of passage. Everyone goes through it.”
The stress of the job got to Rohinie. She began missing work, and she complained to Geoffrey about one of the analysts aggressively micromanaging her. Her boss saw it differently. “She was emotionally fragile. I think she was overwhelmed by the work and would just not show up. I don’t remember her being there for a full week at a time.” Rohinie worked weekends to try to catch up, but it was too late. Within four months, she was fired.
Still, she had impressed Geoffrey with her focus and drive, and he decided to give up music and pursue business. “She was this outgoing, strong, assertive woman,” he recalls. “She was a Type A personality. She helped to put me on a new path that benefitted me,” he recalls. “I picked one thing I was good at, business, and pushed at it until I excelled.” Geoffrey enrolled in York’s Bachelor of Administrative Studies program, the same commerce degree Rohinie had completed a couple of years earlier, and they moved into a small studio apartment on the York campus.
The plan was for Rohinie to earn enough to support them during Geoffrey’s studies. But the U.S. subprime mortgage crisis had struck, making it a bad time to be looking for a job. Rohinie networked tirelessly, and was hired to prepare a report for a corporate consulting firm called H. Sudan and Co. She finished it in roughly a week. But what Rohinie produced wasn’t what the company wanted. “She was really good technically, putting spreadsheets together,” says her supervisor, “but the insight into what the numbers meant wasn’t there. We parted ways, and that was that.”
Over the next two years, Rohinie continued to apply for jobs, with limited success. But Geoffrey didn’t blame her—few firms were hiring at the time. Plus, he had no reason to doubt her skill set. She had a solid academic record, and his decision to enter business school—on her advice—was working out well. He was in the top five per cent of his class and feeling better about himself than he had in a long time. Rohinie joined the networking associations Women in Capital Markets, the Economic Club of Canada and the Financial Markets Association of Canada, and pushed for coffee dates with the people she met through them. A mentor from those days recalls that Rohinie was persistent, but to no avail.
Rohinie and Geoffrey began to slide into debt. The more dismal the job prospects, however, the more determined Rohinie became. She shunned hobbies and seldom saw the few friends she had. She read the news and pored over financial data, often staying up late into the night.
In April 2010, her tenacity paid off. The mining sector was heating up, and Rohinie found a job as a research associate at GMP Securities, a respected investment firm at King and York that specializes in commodities and mining stocks. She was one of four associates working under a mining analyst. Rohinie wanted to move downtown so she wouldn’t have to commute from York. Though Geoffrey was only halfway through his degree, she was the main breadwinner, and he agreed. A month after she started at GMP, they moved into a 450-square-foot apartment at Yonge and King.
She woke daily at 5 a.m., showered, made a cup of instant coffee, then blow-dried her hair straight and applied makeup. At 6 a.m. Geoffrey would wake and walk her to work through the Path. It was their time together. She’d start work at 6:30 a.m. and often return home after 10 p.m. They lived frugally, splurging at most once a month on a date night—usually burgers at Moxie’s. Rohinie didn’t like to go clubbing or to parties, and she spent almost nothing on material goods. “The clothes she wore at home looked like they were hand-me-downs from the 1980s,” says Geoffrey. Her favourite pants to wear at home were faded green pyjama bottoms with monkey faces on them.
Despite her long hours, Rohinie struggled at GMP. Geoffrey recalls her complaining about the three colleagues who shared her office, saying they acted “like immature cowboys” and distracted her with their loud conversations. As a research associate, she was doing similar work to her job at Jennings, effectively at the bottom of the GMP food chain. Yet a former co-worker says she once criticized her direct superior’s job performance in front of her colleagues. “She implied that she could have done better than him, though she wasn’t very good at her job,” says the co-worker. “She was junior. She was stubborn. She wouldn’t take guidance or advice from anybody. And she was ambitious. I think she wanted her analyst’s job. I think that’s why she was so critical of him.”
Rohinie became suspicious of her colleagues. At home, she complained to Geoffrey that she’d been asked to sign documents for insurance coverage related to a work trip, but her employer hadn’t given her adequate time to read them. She told Geoffrey that her colleagues were plotting against her, and the couple went shopping online for a key chain spy camera so she could keep tabs on her computer and other belongings when she was away from her desk. Geoffrey thought her suspicions were odd, but Rohinie eventually dropped the idea, and they soon forgot about it.
Seven months after she started at GMP, Rohinie was fired. A colleague from that time simply says she was a “poor fit for the role.” She returned to her home computer, reading the news, combing through the latest market developments and looking for jobs, often from morning until night. She attempted the exam that would qualify her to become a chartered financial analyst, but failed five or six times. On her resumé, the designation is listed as “on hold.”
She would sometimes ask Geoffrey to fill out applications for jobs in investment banking in her name while she scoured the Internet for other opportunities. Geoffrey noticed that at least part of the problem was that she applied for jobs for which she was unsuited. “Rohinie wouldn’t even look at a lower-level job. She didn’t have a realistic view of how she fit into the bigger picture,” he says. When he’d explain as much, she’d accuse him of hindering her job search. When it wasn’t Geoffrey’s fault, it was her former bosses’: as Geoffrey recalls it, Rohinie seemed convinced that her former bosses at GMP were working to prevent her from getting a new job, since it would make them look stupid if she was successful after they’d let her go.
By the spring of 2012, Rohinie had been unemployed for 18 months. “Our condo looked like a hoarder’s basement,” recalls Geoffrey. There were piles of books, clothes and papers everywhere, fruit peels littering the counter for weeks at a time. When Geoffrey tried to clean up, Rohinie became upset. She said it distracted her from the job search.
Geoffrey went to Home Depot to buy lumber and built an enclosed workspace—a cubicle within the apartment. It was his attempt to provide the isolation Rohinie craved. Around this time, Rohinie began asking Geoffrey if it was possible to control someone’s thoughts with nanotechnology; whose thoughts, she didn’t say.
Geoffrey tried to reason with Rohinie, explaining her faulty logic, but she wasn’t listening. Rohinie had accumulated $50,000 to $60,000 in debt, much of it on her credit cards. She and Geoffrey moved funds from one credit card to the next to pay rent. Later that summer, she was hired on a contract by a small Toronto investment firm to prepare a financial model and a report on a pharmaceutical property. She toiled all weekend, then asked Geoffrey, who by then had been hired by a major Canadian bank, to review her work.
“She had done the foundation—a financial model in a spreadsheet format. Her numbers might have been adding up, but I had no idea what was what. It made no sense,” says Geoffrey. “I asked her to walk me through it, and she said she didn’t have time to explain it. Then she submitted it. I told her I would have been embarrassed to submit it. I became convinced she was in way over her head.” Her behaviour reminded him of Russell Crowe’s character in A Beautiful Mind—Rohinie was living in her own version of reality. He couldn’t reach her, so he retreated emotionally. He stopped trusting her and began avoiding interactions with her. “I would wake up, shower and leave for work as soon as I could. I just wanted to leave and let Rohinie do her thing.”
Geoffrey spent Mother’s Day at his mom’s place without Rohinie, and in her absence began to contemplate their relationship, which had been deteriorating by the day. When he returned to their apartment later that night, he told Rohinie he was leaving her. She became hysterical, screaming at him. He advised her to move out of the apartment, which they could barely afford together, and gave her his tax refund of $2,500. But she stayed for another six months, getting by on credit cards and lines of credit. In the fall of that year, Geoffrey helped Rohinie clean out the apartment and move back home with her parents.
At home, Rohinie was once again subject to her parents’ rules. She wasn’t given a key and had to obey a 10 p.m. curfew, at which time the doors were locked. At least once, she slept at a nearby Tim Hortons after attending a downtown networking event. The family enlisted Geoffrey to help convince Rohinie to seek medical help, but she wasn’t interested in a psych evaluation; instead, she wanted to go to couples counselling. After a few fruitless weeks, Geoffrey gave up.
In March 2014, the cops were called to the home. Rohinie had pushed her mother and damaged a door. Police admitted her to Toronto East General under the Mental Health Act, which permits involuntary hospitalization where there is reasonable evidence of mental illness and a threat of bodily harm to the person or others. Geoffrey visited her in the hospital. In the hall, he passed a young man, clearly disturbed, walking in circles, muttering to himself. Rohinie’s room was dingy, he says, with walls bearing scribbles from previous patients. Rohinie was happy to see him. She told him that doctors had diagnosed her with schizophrenia and prescribed medications including an anti-psychotic called olanzapine. Geoffrey immediately noticed its effect.
“I could talk to her like a normal person,” he says. She would listen and ask logical follow-up questions rather than rambling incoherently. She explained that she had been hearing voices as early as 2012, and that one of them was that of an old, white, male Bay Street executive. For Geoffrey, it all made sense. He finally understood what was going on all those years—the mania, the paranoia, the grandiose ambition. He lay down on the bed beside her, and they held hands. “It was an honest moment,” he says.
After she was discharged, Rohinie moved in with a cousin in Woodbridge, then an aunt near Danforth and Main, around the corner from her parents. She landed a contract position with a firm called Kingsdale Shareholder Services.
Things were looking better, but she hated her medication, which she said caused an unshakable drowsiness and mental fog, and stopped taking it. The Bisesar family had looked into options for having Rohinie forced into treatment, but such actions require evidence of imminent risk of serious harm to oneself or others. The incident at the Bisesar home was not enough.
In March 2015, a year after leaving the hospital, Rohinie sent the following email to a list of acquaintances:
“I have utilized all my funds pursuing my dream job and now need help to continue in that pursuit. I am trying a new approach to fund that pursuit. I am asking all my friends to contribute, if they can and wish to, denominations of $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50 or $100. I suggest such figures as I know the Royal Canadian Mint produces currencies in such denominations (hence it will be an easy contribution). Anything less than $1 might not allow me to achieve my goals in a timely fashion. My goal is simply to ensure I have basic necessities (food, water, shelter, clothing, and products for hygiene and beauty) while I continue to secure an appropriate role in an appropriate organization/firm/entity. Thank you kindly for considering providing help such that I can continue to pursue my ideal job. I look forward to hearing from you soon.”
In the fall of 2015, Rohinie moved out of her aunt’s house and began couch-surfing. She met one man, a Bay Street broker, at a bar in First Canadian Place. He hit on her, but she told him he wasn’t her type, that she preferred “tall guys of European descent.” Still, he offered up his couch—she slept there maybe six times—and told her what industry events to attend, covering her entry fees where required. The broker introduced her to potential clients at networking events, to whom she presented herself as an “investment advisor.” In these casual conversations, she would suggest that she could deliver outlandish returns on investments—300 per cent, for example, when 10 would be bullish. When the broker friend told her to tone it down, Rohinie would nod in agreement, but the next time he’d see her, she’d do it again. He says that there were several other Bay Streeters who helped her the way he did. She couldn’t afford food or rent, and was drowning in debt—he claims to have seen a credit card statement with a balance owing of $200,000.
Rohinie was occasionally seen at an upscale restaurant on Wellington Street. She was always in a jacket and skirt, makeup always done. She would stay for hours working on her computer until closing time, never placing an order. “She wasn’t a paying customer,” says a server at the restaurant. “She would take up a seat at a table or the bar and bring her own food—usually an apple or a granola bar. She wouldn’t even order a drink. She would tell us that if we had a better menu, we would attract more customers.” Sometimes Rohinie showed up with a man, recalls the server, but never the same one: “They looked like lonely guys probably trying to pick her up. They were older men who obviously didn’t know her.”
Day after day, she would sit for hours at the same high table at the Starbucks at Adelaide and Yonge, dressed in one of her suits—she had two, size 00—and a Brooks Brothers shirt, sipping hot water sprinkled with cinnamon. Sometimes she fell asleep in her chair. Sometimes she would approach patrons in line and hand out her business card, a generic black-and-white card reading “Rohinie Bisesar, MBA.”
She found her way into gyms in the Financial District. An employee at one says Rohinie would spend five to eight hours a day in the change room. “She’d wash and style her hair, do her makeup, groom her eyebrows. Sometimes she would talk to me; sometimes she wouldn’t. She spent a lot of time on her little tablet. I never saw her actually work out.”
On the afternoon of December 14, Rohinie’s broker friend was at a pub at Bay and King for happy hour. He hadn’t seen her in weeks. Then he glanced at the pub’s big-screen TV and froze. A photo of Rohinie appeared above the headline: “Stabbing at Shoppers Drug Mart. Suspect violent and dangerous.”
He emailed her and received a troubling message in response: “I need to speak to the top professionals in artificial intelligence, military and government. I need to get to the bottom of something that has been quite disruptive. I told you the truth. I am a good person if not the most good.” He wrote back that she was wanted for attempted murder and urged her to turn herself in. He told her to call his friend Calvin Barry, a former senior Crown attorney who today runs a bustling DUI practice.
A similarly bizarre email arrived at the National Post from Rohinie’s account. It read: “Something has been happening to me and this is not my normal self and I would like to know who and why this is happening. There is either a single person or more responsible and who and why would be nice to know…. I am sorry about the incidence…. I felt the need to be extreme to see if it would work. I would normally not do such a thing.”
Rosemarie Junor was taken to St. Michael’s Hospital, where she was placed on life support. Colleagues, friends and family filed through, visiting, praying, talking to her. Her husband, Lenny, never left her side. He stroked her hair, massaged her hands and feet, and talked with visitors about happier times.
“Lenny would just stare at her,” says a former colleague, who remembers Persaud quietly pleading, “I want her back. I want her back. I can’t go home. I want her back.” Junor’s condition deteriorated. Five days after the attack, the family agreed to the removal of life support.
Junor’s funeral was on December 22, at Our Lady of Fatima Shrine, the Scarborough church where she took her first communion. At a memorial service 40 days later, her aunt Philomena Singhroy delivered a prayer: “Lord, the questions we have are like the sands on the seashore, like the hairs on our head,” she said. “If only we can count them…. We can’t help but ask, why? Forgive our insistence, our confusion, even our anger. We believe that you are just. We are unable to comprehend this tragic death and how it expresses your love.”
Following Junor’s death, police upgraded the charges from attempted murder to second-degree. Then, on February 3, they upped them again, to first-degree murder, which means they believe the act was planned and deliberate. The family insists that neither Lenny nor Rosemarie had ever met Rohinie. Legally, however, premeditation doesn’t require a close relationship to the deceased, or evidence of long-term plotting. “It doesn’t have to be an elaborate plan,” Calvin Barry, Rohinie’s lawyer, told me. “Hypothetically, someone could wake up one morning and say, ‘Today I’m hearing voices and I’m going to do harm to someone.’ That could be enough.”
The trial will likely hinge on a central question—whether Rohinie can be considered responsible for her actions during the incident. Findings of not criminally responsible, when the accused is neither acquitted nor found guilty but is instead referred to a psychiatric facility, are rare in this country. The most notorious NCR verdict was in the case of Vince Li, who stabbed, beheaded and cannibalized a 22-year-old man named Timothy McLean aboard a Winnipeg-bound bus in 2008. During trial, Li’s lawyers argued successfully that he was in a state of psychosis at the time and believed he was hearing the voice of God telling him to kill McLean. He underwent a 30-day psych assessment and was sent to Selkirk Mental Health Centre, a high-security facility. (In February, the Manitoba Review Board granted him passes for unsupervised visits to Winnipeg after doctors deemed him at a low risk to reoffend.)
Rohinie was arrested after a four-day manhunt aided by tips from the public. She was remanded from College Park to Vanier Centre for Women in Milton, where she was put into maximum security, then transferred to the medical wing. As of March 30, no psychiatric assessment order had been made. This may be because Barry is waiting to enter a plea before having Rohinie assessed, which is often the procedure followed when a lawyer is considering an NCR defence. It may take years before there’s any resolution. Preliminary hearings aren’t likely to begin until early 2017.
In late January, I paid a visit to the Bisesars’ house just off the Danforth. Chandrabhan Bisesar, who wears glasses and looks to be in his mid-60s, opened the door. I introduced myself and asked if we could speak about his daughter. “I’m very sorry to refuse,” he said, and he began wheezing—the result of heart surgery in 2007 that damaged his trachea. Then he paused. “People need to know what happened. Because she was highly educated,” he added. (My subsequent requests to interview the parents went unanswered.)
I visited Vanier on a frigid day in February. It holds 127 inmates either awaiting trial or serving sentences of two years or less. Inside the front entrance was a waiting room with white metal chairs and a wall of mirrored glass. Behind it, a woman with short, greying hair took my name and ID, gave me a key to a locker where I was told to store my belongings—no pens, paper or phones allowed—and asked me to wait. A guard ushered me through a metal detector to a small desk with glass separating prisoner from visitor. Fluorescent lights hummed overhead. Rohinie was already seated, smiling. She was striking in her smallness, wearing a stained, oversized green sweatshirt and no makeup. Her hair was unruly, her cheeks marked with acne scars, her eyes glassy and ringed by dark circles. She picked up the phone. Her voice was barely audible over the crackle of static.
“Hello, how are you?” she said sweetly. I explained I was writing an article about her ordeal, which she said made her happy. “I need to manage my image,” she said. “But I can’t say too much because these lines might be monitored.” She added that she was unaware of what had been reported about her. Like her father, she was effusive in her politeness, apologizing repeatedly, demurely, that she couldn’t speak. “I really need approval first,” she said, “from my lawyer.” When I asked if there was anyone she would want me to talk to—family or friends who could help me understand her—she glanced at the floor, searching. “I’m a complex person,” she said. “Not a lot of people really know me.”