Canada

Death of a dancer

Ted Fairhurst August 6 1979
Canada

Death of a dancer

Ted Fairhurst August 6 1979

Death of a dancer

Toronto

As Robert Stewart and Judith Jordan went about their separate lives late last Nov. 27, the only thing they had in common was the struggle to get home during a premature winter storm of snow and freezing rain. Last week, the grisly chain of events that has linked them forever was revealed in a Toronto court when the 30-year-old salesman stood trial for the hit-and-run death of the attractive young woman. Stewart pleaded not guilty to criminal negligence causing death and leaving the scene of an accident. The case is now in the hands of Judge Lloyd Graburn, who will deliver his verdict Aug. 14.

Judy Jordan, 29, a dance instructor, had been teaching evening classes at the Young Men’s and Women’s Hebrew Association in downtown Toronto. Because it was nearly 11 p.m., she quickly stuffed her dancing shoes and cassette player into a duffle bag, put on a coat over her maroon body suit and hitched a ride with a male friend. The freezing rain was letting up as they drove north and finally caught up to a bus. She clambered aboard and it eventually dropped her near her suburban highrise apartment building. Moments after she had stepped off the bus, her black zippered briefcase and fur hat were tossed into the snow beside her apartment driveway. The red duffle bag ended up on an adjacent street—most of its contents scattered along the road. And the popular dancer with the long, dark hair was found almost a quarter of a mile away, where she had been dragged, screaming in terror and agony, by the undercarriage of a car. Later that night, she died in hospital.

Robert Stewart started his day by giving his wife, Carmelita, a ride to work and then proceeding to his own job at Délavai Turbine Canada Ltd. He told the court that for about a month he had been struggling with bouts of diarrhea

and what he took to be flu. On that particular November morning he felt weak and nauseated as he helped fellow salesmen erect a display booth for a trade show at a downtown Toronto hotel. He said he had qualms about accompanying his colleagues to dinner, but went anyway to join them for steak and lobster.

He was the first to say good-night. “If I don’t leave now, I’ll turn into a pumpkin,” he told the others as he excused himself around 10:30 p.m. He said he had consumed a bottle and a half of beer, two glasses of red wine, a liqueur; and had one false alarm with his

stomach in the men’s room. He recalled in court that the snow was ankle deep and he chose to avoid main roads to increase the traction of his tires and to minimize his chance of meeting a police spot-check.

When Stewart reached Judy Jordan’s neighborhood, he had already stopped once to vomit. And then he was hit with a sudden rush of diarrhea. Despite the snow and freezing temperature, he scanned the area for a place to relieve himself. He soon spotted what he described in court as “a veritable forest of trees,” near the driveway of Jordan’s apartment building. What happened as he approached the entrance pre-empted all hope of relief.

Stewart recalled the “slap” he heard on his front fender and how startled he was to catch a “momentary glimpse of a dark hooded figure” falling away from his car. He said he thought the person was tripping over the curb in the rush to get out of his path. Next he heard a “yell” and what he took to be two slaps on the rear of his car. He said he assumed that he had just missed someone in the driveway and that the person had thumped his vehicle in anger. He said the severity of his diarrhea dissuaded him from wanting any confrontation, so he shut off his lights and drove away, pants befouled.

The first indication Stewart had that he was involved in something serious came at noon the next day on a radio newscast. His voice cracked in court as he repeated the reporter’s description of a screaming young woman being dragged to her death. A drive past the accident scene later in the day confirmed his own worst fears.

For 20 days, Stewart’s life was consumed by an awful secret. “I didn’t want anyone in the world to know I was involved in that accident,” he explained to the court. On Dec. 18 two policemen rang the buzzer of Stewart’s apartment to announce that they wanted to inspect his company car. Evidence at the scene had enabled forensic scientists to pinpoint the type and color of the death car. The sheer process of eliminating some 7,000 other vehicles brought them to Stewart’s blue 1976 Chevrolet Malibu. A piece of plastic fan shroud found near the accident were refitted perfectly to the undercarriage of the vehicle and fragments of skull and brain tissue clinging to the universal joint of Stewart’s car were human. Particles of hair found on the steering mechanism matched samples of Jordan’s hair.

The Crown opened its case with a parade of apartment dwellers who described the “hysterical” screams that had brought them to their windows and balconies on the night of the accident. But Stewart maintained that he had heard no screams. He said his car radio was playing at the time and his heater fan was on high. Stewart’s lawyer, Malcolm Robb, presented two expert witnesses who testified that the accused was suffering from a “mild hearing defect” which is more pronounced in the upper frequency range.

Despite the painful reconstruction of the gruesome death, the courtroom atmosphere was unexpectedly cool during the trial. Friends and relatives from each side of the case appeared daily to hear the testimony but, in contrast to earlier hearings, there were no incidents. A week before Christmas, when Stewart was released on $25,000 bail, Judy Jordan’s distraught husband of less than two years, Charles, had turned on Stewart’s relatives and blurted out,

“Burn in hell,” and “Give Judy bail.” At another hearing, Stewart’s friends and newspaper photographers engaged in an ugly tussle outside the courthouse.

However, it was defence lawyer Robb who turned a relatively simple case of hit-and-run into a mystery that had courtroom spectators buzzing and forced the judge to make several tough decisions on the admissibility of evidence. Robb called into question Judy Jordan’s respected community image by raising the spectre of marijuana use and trafficking. He implied that she might have already been dead and her

body tossed into the driveway to be run over by a car. Robb also attempted to link her with Debbie Silverman, 21, whose body was found in a shallow grave last November and whose murder has not been solved. Robb alleged that the two of them had been part of a group of women involved in marijuana. But Robb failed to produce witnesses to back up his claims, saying they were reluctant to appear because they feared “considerable harm.” Toronto police later said that they could find no link between the two young women—in life or death. Ted Fairhurst