steel toed boots found in the apartment used in the abuse
It took 75 minutes Thursday for Crown Attorney Paul Leishman to read aloud in court the 25 pages detailing one of the most heinous crimes in Toronto’s history — one man, confined to a closet and brutally tortured, physically, sexually and psychologically, over the course of three months.
His body cut with razor blades and beaten with hammers and broom handles until they broke. Lighter fluid poured over his skin, and then set on fire. Cartilage ripped from his ears with a pair of pliers. Pins pierced through his lips, sealing his mouth. Bleeding wounds cauterized with hot knives or sewn up with a needle and thread.
Those responsible for the horrific abuse were the man’s own wife and her new boyfriend.
The location was a cramped one-bedroom basement apartment in the city’s west end.
John Michael Siscoe, 40, and the victim’s wife, 30, quietly pleaded guilty earlier this week in the Superior Court of Justice to a slew of charges, including endangering a life and sexual assault causing bodily harm, from Oct. 31, 2009, until police rescued the man on Jan. 19, 2010.
Responding to a call from neighbourhood acquaintances, they found the victim huddled in the dark bedroom closet, naked, shivering, malnourished and with grotesque wounds.
He had five fractured ribs, two collapsed lungs, facial fractures, abrasions and burns all over his body. Pictures taken after he was found show what resembles a man’s face, but black, blue and bloated to three times its normal size. His eyes were swollen shut as pus and plasma oozed from his wounds.
On Thursday afternoon, as the agreed-upon “horrible litany of facts” was read out, only a handful of people were in the courtroom at 361 University Ave.
They heard a story of a victim whose spirit was so broken that he never tried to escape and who, even when rescued, continued to protect his torturers.
The court ordered a ban on publication of anything that could identify the victim, who is still legally married to the woman in the dock. During the abuse all three were living together in Toronto and she was pregnant with Siscoe’s child.
The story started back in 2005, in a small town southeast of Vancouver. The victim and his wife married in a backyard civil ceremony. Pictures from a Facebook account reveal a smiling couple surrounded by family. They lived off disability insurance — she handled the bills while he cooked.
Starting in 2008, the relationship soured. She was unfaithful and took to the Internet to chat with other men. In December that year, at an Alcoholic Anonymous meeting, the victim met Siscoe, a short, solid man with jet black hair, prior convictions and a history of drug and alcohol abuse. He invited Siscoe to spend New Year’s Eve with him and his wife.
At the time, Siscoe had been living in a recovery house. Shortly after that night, he asked if he could live with the couple as he worked toward his goal of opening a “recovery house.” It wasn’t long after that Siscoe and the woman — heavy-set with wavy, short brown hair — began a sexual relationship, sleeping in one bedroom while her husband slept in another, all under one roof.
The threesome moved to another apartment nearby, living on a tight budget controlled largely by Siscoe, who told the victim that he (the victim) wasn’t ready to afford his own place. There were incidents of anger — like the time Siscoe put his fist through a wall or hit the victim sending him to hospital at least two times with serious injuries to his face, abdomen and hands. He never explained how he got the injuries.
Siscoe “flipped out” when he learned that the victim had a conviction for sexual interference involving a boy years before.
In September of 2009, all three, and she pregnant, decided to move to Toronto.
Yes, things out west were “getting out of control,” but the victim was worried for his wife — now pregnant with another man’s child.
It was supposed to be a new beginning. But what it turned into is so sinister it is difficult to comprehend.
They found a small one-bedroom basement apartment in the city’s west end. The victim initially slept on a pull-out couch.
Around Halloween 2009 came the first major assault. Siscoe punched and kicked the victim, calling him a liar and injuring his face and ears. “Things ended up getting worse,” and then, “really bad,” said the victim, according to court documents.
At the beginning of November, there was a severely broken jaw, explained away by Siscoe’s concocted story that the victim was mugged by a man wearing a black hoodie. When police spoke with the victim in the hospital, he relayed the lie.
There were threats from Siscoe: That if the victim ever “ratted him out” he would find him and kill him. And if he couldn’t, he would find his elderly parents and torture them. Due to their age, “they wouldn’t last long,” the victim said.
And so he stayed, crippled by the psychological abuse.
During his confinement and torture, the victim was forced to comply with rules set out by Siscoe and the woman, such as “To do what it takes to not be stupid” and “To do what I have to do to stay alive.” He had to write them out while the new couple watched TV, with little boxes along the side. An “X” marked for when “I didn’t do good things,” the victim said.
By mid-December, things started to get “really bad,” he said, according to court documents. The victim was attacked almost every day, using methods that became increasingly more twisted.
His hands, knees, arms, legs and elbows were struck with broom and mop handles until they broke, as well as a hammer. When police retrieved the household items from the apartment in January there were traces of blood on them. Razor blades were used to cut his body. He was kicked with steel-toed boots and stomped on.
While the victim was naked in a bathtub — sometimes filled with a little bit of water, other times dry — Siscoe poured lighter fluid on his body, then set him on fire. Hairspray, aftershave and rubbing alcohol were alternates. “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about,” Siscoe would tell the victim, court documents show.
“Shut up,” the victim’s wife would say when he screamed loudly. At times, she would be sitting on the toilet in the tiny bathroom or elsewhere while the abuse went on. She told her husband she was worried social services would take her unborn baby away if people heard and the police got involved.
Of his wife, the victim also said, “There were a couple of times (she) asked him to stop beating me because she thought I had enough.”
Siscoe would also pull cartilage from the victim’s ears with a pair of needle-nosed pliers. Straight pins were placed through his lips, preventing him from talking. Hot knives used to burn the wounds closed and cuts sewn up with a needle and thread — his wife holding down his hands. And swelled injuries punctured to let the blood and fluid out — something Siscoe told his victim was done to drain the infection. Blood was collected in a red bin when he wasn’t in the bathtub. And when blood splattered on the walls, the victim was forced to clean it up with his own clothes.
Siscoe commented that burning and beating the victim was turning him on. There were numerous sexual assaults, too disturbing to print.
At the worst point during the ordeal, the victim was forced to sleep in a 5-by-2-foot bedroom closet. When the couple left, they would sometimes jam the closet doors shut with a chair or take away the access to a telephone, so the victim couldn’t call for help.
A photo of the closet taken after police found the victim shows a thin sheet and pillow lying on the floor, covered in blood stains.
Despite the abuse, the victim still went out, always accompanied by his captors. Eventually, neighbourhood acquaintances stopped believing the excuses the couple gave explaining the victim’s wounds.
One woman ran into the couple while out shopping with her own child in mid-January, and they invited her back to their apartment to see the crib they had just bought for their coming baby.
As they approached the apartment door, the woman recalled Siscoe calling the man by name and saying “Go to bed, go to bed.” She initially thought he was talking to a dog since there was a puppy in the apartment.
After proudly showing her the crib, Siscoe asked if the woman wanted to see the victim, pointed to the closet door and told him to come out.
And from the closet, a man appeared, with a towel around his waist. His eyes swollen shut, his skin purple and black, she couldn’t tell his race. “You guys are sick,” said the woman as she grabbed her own daughter and left.
The victim was told to get back in the closet.
A week later, the woman, and a man from a nearby bar who also suspected something, walked into a police station. The evening of Jan. 19, 2010, the couple was arrested.
Siscoe, who showed little emotion as the details were read aloud, has pleaded guilty to aggravated assault, sexual assault causing bodily harm, confinement and uttering threats. He is in custody and will undergo a psychological assessment. The Crown intends to seek a dangerous offender designation.
The victim’s wife pleaded guilty to aggravated assault, sexual assault causing bodily harm and failing to provide the necessities of life. She is currently out on bail and under the watch of a surety as assessments and sentencing move forward.
When asked Thursday if there was anything she’d like to say, she said, “No there’s not.”
On the night the victim was rescued, a police officer opened that closet door and peered down on the broken man.
“You are safe now,” he said. The victim did not respond initially, so the officer asked him if the two people living in the apartment were responsible for his injuries.
“I don’t want to get them in trouble,” said the man in the closet.