Two random stranger killings in Toronto stoke fear of the rare, perplexing crimes

Canada’s recent statistics on solved homicides show 82 per cent of victims knew their killer. That leaves 18 per cent of solved homicides in the hands of strangers

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Two separate daylight murders in downtown Toronto, described as random killings of strangers by a same man who had a stash of guns but no known criminal history, stoke a deep urban fear.

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They are rare, research tells us, but whether that makes what happened more horrifying or offers cold comfort is hard to gauge.

The facts of the two murder cases, alleged by police Tuesday to be the acts of a single person, are alarming and frightening.

“It was what we describe as random. It was a chance meeting, a chance passing,” Det. Sgt. Terry Browne, with Toronto police homicide unit, said of the two shooting deaths.

That is a quality that makes these attacks so starkly stand out.

There is little known about the accused killer, as Richard Jonathan Edwin, 39, of Toronto, made a brief first appearance in court Wednesday, without a lawyer, after his arrest Sunday on two charges of first-degree murder.

Edwin is expected back in court Thursday.

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Edwin’s arrest came after frantic police investigations into two shootings that threw detectives an unexpected curve ball.

My personal opinion is there were going to be more victims

Toronto Police Chief James Ramer

There is a general rule of thumb in solving murders: start with those close to the victim. It is statistically and intuitively sound. Most murder victims knew their killer, the data tells us. Intuition tells us murders should have a reason and conflict usually stems from personal contact.

Canada’s recent statistics on solved homicides show this: 82 per cent of victims knew their killer, including family, intimate partners, casual acquaintances and criminal colleagues. That leaves 18 per cent of solved homicides in the hands of strangers.

People tend to react strongest to violence when victims seem closer to the observer, either geographically, demographically or in lifestyle, so a stranger murder often hits the widest field — as it seemingly could have been anyone in the area killed.

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This seems particularly so with the location of the attacks being so public — not attacks in bars or nightclubs or even parks or hotels — but during daylight hours in busy places.

Kartik Vasudev, 21, an international student from India, was shot multiple times outside Sherbourne subway station on his way to work on April 7, at around 5 p.m.; Elijah Eleazar Mahepath, 35, of Toronto, was shot two days later near an intersection two kilometres south of the first attack, where he was buying groceries just 500 metres from Yonge-Dundas Square, the bustling heart of the city, at about 7 p.m.

In both cases, the gunman fled on foot.

In the Toronto area, shooting homicides fluctuated over the last 10 years from a low of 22 in 2013 to a high of 51 in 2018, according to Toronto police data. Last year there were 46. So far this year there have been 15.

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Canada’s national homicide rate was 1.95 per 100,000 population in 2020, the latest Statistics Canada figures available. That is the highest it’s been since 2005. Nationally, shooting deaths have become more common, accounting for 37 per cent to 41 per cent of all homicides where the method was known.

The vast majority of victims had some relationship of contact with their killer, some intimately others casually, some criminally.

When police burst into a basement apartment in the Spadina Avenue and Bloor Street West area to arrest Edwin, police said there were several loaded guns on the floor next to him. Handguns, rifles, loaded magazines and additional ammunition were seized, police said.

That led Toronto Police Chief James Ramer to believe the two victims may have only been the start, had his officers not intervened.

“Given that he had already killed two apparent strangers, as we allege, and that a cache of firearms was located in his residence we can reasonable conclude that the quick work of our investigators has prevented a further loss of life,” Ramer said.

“My personal opinion is there were going to be more victims.”

That adds to the concern over an already perplexing case.

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