A wife's terror as husband strikes

Aug. 26, 2004. 01:52 PM


Marlene Brookes is a shirt-presser, a quiet, conscientious woman who has looked after Bay Street's demanding clients for more than eight years.

She was on her way to work yesterday morning at Preeners Custom Fabricare, deep in the sub-basement of the Canadian Pacific Tower, at York and Wellington Sts., unaware that her life was about to change forever.

Not only her life would change, but also those of people whose paths intersected, by design and by chance, in the bustling, early-morning heart of the city.

It began around 8, as Marlene, 45, stepped off the escalator and walked towards the food court, perhaps intending to pick up a coffee. Suddenly, her estranged husband, Sugston Anthony (Tony) Brookes, also 45, appeared out of nowhere.

He had a sawed-off .22-calibre rifle. He started firing at her. Marlene bolted, screaming, but tripped and fell. He caught up and began pistol-whipping her as blood poured from her head.

Eli Shiminov, preparing for the day at his Pumpernickel Deli and Café, heard her screams and then, two gunshots. He quickly bustled his two daughters into a walk-in refrigerator and, at precisely 8:02, his wife called 911.

When he came out, Marlene was lying outside his shop, her left temple bleeding. She was "gushing," he recalls, and asking for a pillow, but all he could do was bandage her head with aprons and sop up the blood with towels.

Together, they waited for an ambulance. Marlene didn't tell him who assaulted her, or that he had beaten her before.

Tony Brookes had worked at the Bay for 23 years, in later years as a chef, until he was fired in 2001 with $110,000 in severance pay; he took the company to court and won $37,000 more.

On July 29, Marlene filed for divorce, seeking support for their two children. Court documents reveal a terrible saga of terror and abuse, which she, perhaps, believed had ended when she moved out of their Ajax home on March 13.

According to these documents, he "beat her, pushing (her) down stairs, held a knife to her throat, punched her and choked her, and carried gasoline into the (their) house and threatened to burn it down."

He drove through Ajax with an iron fireplace poker, looking for their 16-year-old boy. He threatened their daughter, 18, with a knife and beat her until her "eye turned black and blue."

And, they say, last February, he pushed Marlene down the stairs, holding her down with a knife to her windpipe and telling her he was going to "cut her f-----g throat."

The abuse had been going on for years, but she didn't report it to police until recently. She had always lied about her injuries, even to doctors at the hospital.

When, on March 13, he again held a knife to her throat, she called police and had him arrested. On his release from jail, he was put on probation, ordered to attend anger-management classes and put under a restraining order that forbid him to go within 100 metres of any family member.

After the 911 call, Toronto police put out a bulletin describing the shooter. It almost certainly described him as armed and dangerous, urging officers to approach with extreme caution.

Brookes, sometimes known simply as "T," was black, bearded and wearing a pale shirt with baggy sleeves to the elbows. Police converged on the food court, but he had already taken the stairs up to street level at the corner of York and Wellington Sts., fleeing east before running down an alley east of the Fairmont Royal York.

At about 8:05 a.m., a young constable from 52 Division, with four years on the force, was directing traffic around construction on Wellington near Bay when he spotted a man matching the suspect's description. He ordered him to stop, but the man kept running.

Then he saw the weapon. The streets were full of people on their way to work.

"GUN!!!" he yelled.

The officer pulled his own Glock semi-automatic pistol and followed the suspect to the north side of Front St., heading toward the hotel. Several times, the suspect turned and pointed his sawed-off rifle at his pursuer.

Later, a senior police officer would comment admiringly: "He did everything by the book."

The suspect, who of course was Brookes, crossed to the south side of Front St. By now, the time was 8:10 and, to the officer's horror, Brookes grabbed a woman — 20-year-old Nicole Regis — and wrapped his left arm around her throat in a death grip. His right hand held the gun, which he propped almost casually over her shoulder.

Heidi Laverick, an account manager for HSBC Bank, saw Brookes take her.

"I just froze. I wasn't sure what was going on. There I was with my briefcase in my hands and my sunglasses on and I couldn't believe what I was seeing. ... I just think to myself, he could have turned around and shot anybody. He could have taken that gun and pointed it anywhere."

Regis brought her two hands up to hold his left arm, as if she might pull him off her. Everything went still. The sun glinted off the gold chain around his neck as he stood there, with Regis, her head bowed, struggling to remain calm.

Her black hair was parted in the middle and pulled back. She wore hoop earrings, denim capris, a dark sweater and a bright fuchsia top, which lent a weirdly festive air to increasingly horrific events.

Only later would it be learned that she lives in Ajax with her parents and is the daughter of a provincial court judge, Mr. Justice Greg Regis.

From the hotel windows, with a bird's-eye view of the surreal scene, guests and workers watched as minutes ticked by.

"There were a lot of cops, but it was almost as if time stood still," said one observer. "There was a bicycle lying there as if someone had left it and run away; a dump truck; cars abandoned by their drivers; all the taxis standing at the station empty; a hot-dog stand with no one there."

Many would later compare the events to a movie. This was real life, deadly real life, but they couldn't quite believe it.

Police called in negotiators. But still he stood there, on the south side of Front St. on a summer day, and wouldn't let her go.

More than 50 police officers converged on the area and kept him at bay for 20 minutes, before members of the Emergency Task Force, in bulletproof vests, goggles and futuristic riot helmets, took up positions and waited.

An ETF sniper positioned himself near the eastern end of Union Station. For a moment, at 8:52 a.m., Brookes swayed back slightly, away from Regis. At that precise instant, the officer fired and Brookes crumpled.

"Pow! and then he stalls for a second, just drops, blood everywhere. It was nuts, man. Brains just flew everywhere," said a witness from a hotel window. "Slow motion. It was like one of those things you see in a movie."

Terence Chiu, 24, ran through a parking lot, yelling into his cellphone, "They dropped him right on Front St.!"

Police would later conclude that Brookes "randomly selected" Regis from passersby. But there was a weird coincidence. Brookes lived in Ajax, on Marshall Cres., just a few intersections from the Regis family home. "Everything is cool," a Regis family spokesperson said last night. "The most important thing is that the victims are fine."

Police sources hinted it might have been "suicide by cop." They found what they would only describe as "certain items" in Brookes' car to suggest he might have been expecting to die in a confrontation with police.

As her estranged husband died, Marlene was being treated for an unspecified head injury at St. Michael's Hospital, in stable condition. "We came very close to losing (her)," a family member said later.

Marlene Brookes still must untangle the legal mess of her marriage and its aftermath.

In another strange twist yesterday, Toronto mortgage specialist Scott Lindsey, who had helped the couple remortgage their home to $148,000, was staring at a file that arrived from Marlene's lawyer Monday. He hadn't had a chance to look at it until he heard the news.

The file told of her concerns that her husband was trying to cheat her out of her share of their property and was sending money to another woman in Nevis, in the West Indies.

It surprised him. He hadn't known of their divorce, the abuse or her concerns. He knew nothing of the "dirty dark family secrets," as he describes Marlene Brookes' difficult life.

It really was a secret.

On the street where the couple lived, neighbours describe "T" as a good guy. Yiorgo Christodoulou recalls him flipping hamburgers at a street party three weeks ago. His sister, Mary Christodoulou, saw Brookes a few days ago.

"He just waved and said, `Hi.' He was always friendly," she said. "But the family was very quiet. They kept everything to themselves."

with files from Cal Miller, Nicholas Keung, Sonia Verma, David Bruser, Debra Black, Curtis Rush, Tabassum Siddiqui, Bill Taylor, Phinjo Gombu, Dale Brazao and Frank Calleja