Toronto Life’s Top 10 Longreads of 2020

The highs, the lows, the heroes and the villains: a ranking of our most popular stories of the year

Goodbye 2020, and good riddance. It was a terrible year in so many ways, but there was no shortage of drama. The most obvious battleground was the terrifying front lines of the pandemic, and our writers captured the voices and deeds of the nurses and doctors running Toronto’s ICUs, saving lives but endlessly exposed to the lonely Covid deaths that the rest of us try not to think about. There were plenty of distractions from the main event, too—fraud, murder, tragedy, and a bright spark of charity in the darkness. Here, our 10 most popular feature stories of the year.

Shaun Rootenberg, romance scammer

No. 1: “Lovers make the easiest marks”: Profile of a romance scammer

To women in search of love, Shaun Rootenberg seemed like a catch. What they didn’t know: he’d spent decades stealing from just about anyone who crossed his path. Lonely women on dating sites were only his latest prey | By Katherine Laidlaw | September 28

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No. 2: A Family Massacre

Menhaz Zaman was always a good boy: obedient, respectful and studious. Or that’s what everyone thought, until one night last summer, when he confessed to slaughtering his entire family with a crowbar | By Katherine Laidlaw | February 25

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No. 3: Tragedy on Lake Joe

Last August, Linda and Kevin O’Leary were boating home from a dinner party in Muskoka when their Cobalt bowrider collided with a pontoon boat full of stargazers, killing two people. The accident triggered a swirl of legal manoeuvring, PR gamesmanship, personal grudges and cottage-country gossip. What really happened that night? | By Leah McLaren | August 24

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No. 4: My Double Life

I grew up in Oakville with everything I ever wanted. By day, I was going to school and looking after my younger siblings. By night, I was turning tricks in seedy motels. How I was lured into the nightmarish world of sex trafficking | By Michelle Furgiuele | February 17

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No. 5: Fourteen Days on the Covid Ward

I’m 32 years old and finished my medical residency two years ago. When the pandemic hit, I was put in charge of all infected non-ICU patients at Sunnybrook. What I learned will stay with me for the rest of my life | By Ariel Lefkowitz | May 11

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No. 6: The Simpsons

From the outside, it looked like any other Forest Hill mansion. Inside, it housed dozens of children from around the world—kids from war-torn countries, kids other people gave back, kids who had nowhere else to go. The story of the family who couldn’t stop adopting | By Nicholas Hune-Brown | July 27

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No. 7: The Sting

Police were convinced Alan Dale Smith killed his neighbour, so they set up an elaborate scheme to nail him for the murder. It failed completely. The inside story of a brutally botched undercover operation | By Michael Lista | January 27

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No. 8: Life and Death in the ICU

In the spring, Larry Pancer, a beloved pediatrician from Markham Stouffville Hospital, was admitted with Covid-19. His colleagues were terrified of losing him, and they nearly did—twice | As told to Omar Mouallem | September 17

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No. 9: The Flu Shot Crusader

When Jill Promoli’s two-year-old son died suddenly of the flu, she launched a one-woman mission to educate the world about vaccination. Then the anti-vaxxer mob came after her​ | By Jason McBride | January 20

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No. 10: The Imposter

Shaun MacDonald was an ambitious tech innovator whose start-up was going to revolutionize the crypto economy. His wealthy investors had no idea that their charismatic founder was really Boaz Manor, a notorious Canadian white-collar criminal. It was only a matter of time before they discovered the truth | By Leah McLaren | November 24

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