2 min

Murdered by the 11:30 news

A bathhouse death inspires conspiracy theories

One man’s unfortunate and untimely death set the village abuzz last week with wild rumours about the cause.

Though the death was finally determined to be caused by a heart attack, the bathhouse locale had some local media excited about the sexual possibilities.

The drama started around 7pm on Dec 16 when staff at the Cellar bathhouse at 78 Wellesley St made a 911 call about an injured man. Police and paramedics arrived quickly.

Police immediately suspected foul play and locked down the facility. With as many as five police cruisers, two ambulances and fire trucks parked outside the baths, the phones of local activists and media began ringing.

Peter Bochove, activist and co-owner of Spa Excess, arrived shortly after the trouble began. He wanted to see if it was a bathhouse raid or not. Also on the scene were Global Television, CityTV, Fab magazine and this reporter.

Police were tight-lipped about what was going on inside except to say they were investigating a suspicious death. Reporters and Bochove were outside in the cold for hours waiting for a statement.

At one point, a uniformed police officer came out carrying a handful of videotapes and left in a police cruiser. The manager of the Cellar said that along with security tapes police had seized the bath’s porn videos. (The tapes have since been returned.)

Det Peter Karpow of 52 Division eventually gave a statement to the press. He said police had received an emergency call about a man who had suffered some kind of trauma, that he was pronounced dead at the scene and that homicide detectives had been called in. It was only later that police revised their statement, saying that accidental death had not been ruled out.

Global Television led off its 11pm local news with live coverage from outside the Cellar about the possibility of the city’s 62nd murder this year. The report ended with the reporter saying that nothing had been ruled out and that the death could have been accidental.

CityTV led its 11:30pm newscast with a report from the scene by Mark Dailey, declaring that Toronto may have seen murder number 62. Dailey said the incident had occurred at a gay bathhouse in the gay district.

“All sorts of activities go on in those places, including SM,” Dailey reported. Dailey then asked a detective if activities inside the baths led to the man’s death. “Not that I’m aware of,” the officer replied.

After the CityTV report, phones again started ringing throughout the ghetto with reports of a stabbing, shooting, SM strangulation, murder, a crack-whore killer or robbery killing.

Dailey’s coverage of the story enraged local activists.

“You don’t expect this kind of thing from City and it shouldn’t have happened this time either,” says Bochove.

Dailey says it wasn’t his intention to sensationalize the story.

“The question on my mind at the scene and in the heat of the moment was, how could major trauma like this happen in a bathhouse?” says Dailey. “I know that SM is not exclusive to the gay community and honestly didn’t mean anything by it. I certainly didn’t intend any other inference by it.”

Bochove said the police seizure of the porn also raised questions.

Cellar owner Craig Anderson had his lawyer inquire early in the next morning about why the porn was taken.

“They told the lawyer they took the tapes to see if there was anything that was on them that might have aroused the man and caused his death,” Anderson says.

Det Karpow says that wasn’t the reason.

“We weren’t sure which tapes were security tapes and which tapes were porn, so we took them all,” says Karpow.

By late afternoon on Dec 17, police had received the autopsy report from the coroner concluding the man died from a heart attack. The trauma to the body was determined to have been caused by a fall. Police ended the homicide investigation.

At Xtra’s press time, police had not released the name of the man.