Canada

A death in the family

Marsha Boulton June 16 1980
Canada

A death in the family

Marsha Boulton June 16 1980

A death in the family

Ontario

The teen-agers who hang out at the Root & Burger restaurant in the rough-and-tumble neighborhood of Regent Park on Toronto’s lower east side know 26-year-old Gregory Russell Guerin as “Pinkie,” a quiet person, a mild epileptic who baby-sat local children and had a dent in the side of his head where a steel plate had been installed after a run-in with a streetcar. But last Wednesday, homicide detectives decided they had enough evidence to arrest Guerin and charge him with the brutal sex slaying of his six-yearold cousin, Lizzie Tomlinson, following one of the largest manhunts in Metro police history.

On May 24 Lizzie was late for dinner. In the afternoon, she had gone out to play in a local playground. She was a pretty blonde girl wearing her favorite blue-jean shorts, striped top and redand-white sneakers. By dusk, two-man police search teams had begun a doorto-door search which continued for two days, involving 100 full-time officers and some 250 citizen volunteers.

Detectives found Lizzie Tomlinson’s partly clad body while they were looking through the scrub bush and vines near the railroad tracks that run parallel to Toronto’s Don River. She was less than a mile from home, her small body hidden under a clump of bushes. The blue-eyed kindergarten pupil had been raped and strangled. Three days later she was buried in a pink coffin at a service one relative described as a “circus,” bearing public witness to the grief of her carpenter father, Ken, his wife, Diane, and their three other daughters.

In the meantime, police concentrated on finding a man who was described as 25 to 35 years old, 5 feet, 7 inches to 5 feet, 10 inches and weighing 160 to 180 pounds. With the help of witnesses who saw the child leaving the playground with a man, a composite drawing was prepared showing a bearded suspect with straggly brown hair.

On the afternoon of June 4, homicide detectives arrived at the Guerin home, two doors away from the Tomlinson home, to find a man barefoot, bluejeaned and semiconscious. Within an hour Guerin had been charged with first-degree murder and his stomach was being pumped out at St. Michael’s Hospital for what turned out to be rat poison.

Unlike the widely distributed composite sketch, Guerin had been cleanshaven and shorthaired before and after Lizzie’s disappearance. Yet police revealed that Guerin was one of the first people interviewed and the bearded sketch was just one of the leads they had to follow.

On Friday, Guerin stood in Courtroom 21 of Toronto’s Old City Hall. As he was remanded, he spoke in a soft, high voice to Judge F. J. McMahon. “I’m not guilty,” he said. “I didn’t kill that little girl.” After a weekend in the Don Jail, Guerin was to appear in court again—represented by top criminal lawyer Edward Greenspan.

Marsha Boulton