Tony Robertson was an avid bingo player. Now, however, his friends look to the corner where he sat and played and wish he was still there.
The gay man was beaten to death on Vancouver’s Main St, two blocks off Hastings, after he left the Dufferin early on the morning of Oct 8.
He was last seen alive leaving the hotel pub at around 2 am. He was heard saying he was going to take transit home.
“Our hearts are still reeling with it. There’s sorrow in our hearts,” says his friend Marvin, who was reluctant to have his last name printed. “I really wish Tony had taken a cab home that night.”
Police say there is no evidence to suggest the death was a result of a gaybashing or was related to Robertson’s sexual orientation.
“We don’t want to say it’s a gaybashing because there’s just no evidence,” says Vancouver Police Department Sgt Richard Akin. “Until we have something, I don’t think it would be prudent to say it was a gaybashing. It isn’t there. We’re fully cognisant of it, and if it is an issue we will be dealing with it in the appropriate way.
“At this point, we just don’t have that lead that we’re looking for.”
Robbery has been ruled out as a motive.
Police were called to 617 Main St after receiving a call of a disturbance. They found Robertson at about 3am.
Robertson was taken to St Paul’s Hospital where his condition deteriorated rapidly, police say.
He was removed from life support later that day and died just after 5 pm on Sat, Oct 8.
Robertson was only blocks from the Strathcona home he shared with David Reed, his partner of 22 years, when the assault happened, Marvin says.
“Tony just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time,” he says. “Tony did have a few drinks. I guess it impaired his judgment as to the people he was talking to.”
Police say what started as a verbal altercation may have turned into the assault.
“We can’t figure it out,” Marvin says. “I guess a lot of crap goes down on that corner.”
He says his friend was “a very kind, loving, giving, compassionate person.
“If you needed a shirt, he’d take it off his back and give it to you,” Marvin says. “He had a heart of gold.”
According to Marvin, Robertson was on a disability pension having suffered from polio.
Akin says the homicide squad got involved even before Robertson died. “We had information that he wasn’t going to survive,” Akin explains. “We made a very early decision to go to the public-it was probably about four or five hours before he was deceased-in the hopes of drumming up some witnesses in the area.”
Police believe two men watched as another, heavy-set man with a crew cut in his early 20s assaulted Robertson.
Akin says there is now a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of those involved. “There’s one suspect but he was in the company of two others and we’re hoping [the reward] might provide some incentive for those other two to come forward.”
Marvin is appealing for anyone who saw the assault to come forward, as well.
“If it’s addicted junkies who can actually stand by and watch a man get beaten to death… you’re a badass motherfucker,” he says.
It’s hard to go through that intersection now, Marvin continues. “It brings a lot of heartache and pain.
“I hope they catch the culprits,” he says. “Tarring and feathering and skinning them alive wouldn’t be good enough for me.”
The site of the assault is outside the Mandarin Centre, a building of shops and offices. With the rains, all that potentially remains of the assault by a bus stop are some grubby smudges on a glass door and a full handprint which appears to have been dusted for prints by investigators.
“It may or may not have any relevance to our file,” Akin says. “We took swabs but you just don’t know who it belongs to. We don’t know how long it’s been there.”
Within sight of the scene is the Venus Theatre, an adult venue which is known as a cruising area.
“It doesn’t really fit in the timeframe,” Akin says. “We haven’t had any information towards the Venus. We are cognisant of it but it hasn’t come up yet.”
Police have seized and are now reviewing surveillance videos from businesses around the Mandarin Centre where Robertson was beaten. “It takes a long time to do and it hasn’t been completed yet,” Akin says.
Detectives are also trying to find the bus driver who may have driven the bus which took Robertson out of the downtown core.
Sources at the Dufferin say Robertson had been talking to a stocky man with brown hair and of average height just before he left the pub. It’s not known if he left with anyone.
Dufferin pub manager Cary Grant says Robertson had once been a regular at the bar.
“He wasn’t falling down drunk” on the night in question, Grant recalls, adding that the bouncer helped Robertson on with his coat before he left.
“He wandered up Smithe and said something about taking the bus,” Grant continues. “It was an unspectacular sort of thing.
“He wasn’t vicious,” he adds. “He wasn’t the fighting kind.”
In contrast to Robertson’s fatal beating, within 24 hours of Aaron Webster’s November 2001 fatal beating in Stanley Park, Akin’s colleagues on the police force were calling that killing a hate-motivated gaybashing.
Robertson was 51 years old.