Margaret McWilliam was killed on Aug. 27, 1987. She went out for a jog around 7 p.m. and was found raped and strangled the death of the 21-year-old has remained a mystery to her family and Toronto police for almost 30 years.
On Aug. 27, 1987, McWilliam’s body was found in a secluded area of Warden Woods Park. She had been raped and badly beaten before being strangled with a piece of the jogging suit she was wearing. Police at that time said her face bore bruises from being punched, showing she had fought against her attacker.
In 2014 — 27 years after the murder — a DNA test revealed a “strong male profile” from skin cells left on McWilliam’s sweater.
Det.-Sgt. Stacy Gallant, head of the Toronto Police cold case squad said that since the DNA databank came into effect in 2000, a number of cold cases were revisited. McWilliam’s case was one of them
While the police have his DNA profile, the killer remains at large.
On the day she died, McWilliam left her basement apartment on Santamonica Blvd. at around 7 p.m. Police believe she jogged north on Santamonica to St. Clair Ave. E., went west on St. Clair Ave., passing the TTC station on Warden, and entered Warden Woods Park on the southwest corner of Warden and St. Clair. Police believe McWilliam was attacked as she jogged along the single-lane road that wound through the park.
Her body was found on the east side of the path.
Gallant said, because it was August, it would have been light even at 7 p.m. And although schools would have been out, the park would have many regular users — dog walkers and joggers. The area, at that time, was “very lush,” with a thick tree canopy, full of vegetation so it would have been easy to pull someone off the trail and hide in the area.
McWilliam, who was wearing headphones and running, probably didn’t see or hear her attacker coming, he said.
“It doesn’t take that long to silence them once you drag them off into a secluded area where you can’t be seen from the trail — it can be over within minutes,” he said. “That surprise would be easy for the offender to overcome, putting a hand over her mouth and silencing her — it can happen quickly.”
McWilliam’s parents lived in Deep River, Ont., at the time of her death. Det. Chris Neal of the TPS said her parents did not want to give a statement.
“Over the years, between dealing with the media and the loss of their daughter, they are exhausted,” he said. “They asked my advice on whether it (a statement) might generate any more efforts in resolving the matter. In my opinion, I don’t see what more, other than human emotions, are going to be drawn from an additional one.”
The year that she died, McWilliam had worked as a dining room supervisor and receptionist at the Fellowship Towers senior citizens’ home — now Davenhill Senior Living – in the Yonge-Bloor area.
She was an earnest and well-liked employee, a 1987 report in the Star said.
Around 10 a.m., two hours after she didn’t show up for work on Friday, Aug. 28, the then-office manager of the senior citizens’ home, Marion Colbourne, called the house where McWilliam rented the basement.
The owner checked and found the keys dangling in the lock of her door that she had left there before she went for her run, according to a Star story from 1987.
The police were alerted.
Later that afternoon, a police tracking dog found her body.
Gallant, who started on the Toronto police force in 1989, said one thing that stands out to him about this case is that she was young and simply going about her day. It was a routine that McWilliam had, he said. She liked to put on her headphones and go for a run in the park, which is a safe area, he added. That someone can be attacked and killed while in a public park is very disturbing, he said.
He said McWilliam likely wasn’t targeted.
“It was more along the lines of the offender happened to be in the park as well and saw this as an opportunity because there was no one else around or (that the suspect) acted on those urges that just happened at the time.”
Who the man was is what the police are still trying to solve.
To that end, apart from the DNA profile, police have a fragmented old shoe print and a grainy sketch of a potential witness.
A month after the murder in 1987, police offered $1,000 for information leading to an arrest in the murder.
About two months after the incident, police handed out a sketch of a man, a potential witness, who they believed was in Warden Woods Park around the time McWilliam was killed. He was last seen on Warden Ave. around 8 p.m. after leaving the park.
The man was described as a light-skinned black man with a thin mustache, muscular build, in his early 20s and wearing a red hat.
“I do not know if he was ever located at this point,” Gallant said.
For a while, as police were on the lookout for a certain kind of shoes thought to be worn by the killer, the case was known as the “Cinderella Murder.”
A distinctive running-shoe print found in the area where McWilliam was killed was another “extremely significant” lead the police worked on. A search was called for owners of Korean-made, gray and white vinyl top shoes with the letters AAU printed on the heel. They sold for $29.99 exclusively at Bata Shoe Stores in Canada.
Police at that time said about 500 pairs of those shoes were sold, and about 50 suspects were eliminated by combing through sales records. About a “half-dozen” tips about people were received with similar shoes as thought to be worn by the suspect.
For around a week, thousands of police officers carried descriptions of the shoe to pick out suspects.
“Nothing of any value [came from the shoe print],” Gallant said.
Three months after the murder and with no leads, Toronto police, then Metro police, offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the man who raped and killed McWilliam.
Then Metro police commission chairman Clare Westcott said the “high profile” nature of the slaying demanded that the commission doubles the amount it usually offered for helping track a killer.
It went unclaimed.
“The reward has unfortunately expired at this time,” Gallant said.
DNA evidence is a step forward, but police are still on the hunt for the man responsible.
Painting a psychological profile of the killer, he said the person responsible, likely, would not be able to maintain a normal relationship with a woman.
“There would likely be a lot of conflict in his relationships,” he said. “He likely would not be in a high-profile job, likely be in a low-end job, change jobs frequently, not an excellent communicator more so with women than men, likely now if not at that time abusing alcohol and drugs, may have had some sort of a traumatic family issue happening at the time surrounding whether it was family violence happening within his home, against his own mother, a discord with his mother . . . ”
When asked why he hasn’t come up in subsequent investigations, Gallant offered a few reasons.
He could be dead — suicide, disease or natural causes.
Other options on why he hasn’t been caught could be because he moved out of the country a short time after he committed the offense.
The only other possibility why this man isn’t on the radar is because he didn’t commit another murder, which Gallant finds unlikely.
“How do you go from a zero to a 100 and stop and never go back and drive again?” he asked. “How do you instantly stop and never do anything again after you’ve done something this bad and you get away with it? But maybe. Maybe he’s just lying low and waiting it out.”
Gallant is certain that the man who killed McWilliam would have given some hint to someone about his deed — made a comment — said something, made an indication to someone.
“And I need that person to come forward,” Gallant said. “And just give me that name. We can do the rest.”