The serial killer they couldn't cure dies behind bars

Published On Tue Mar 09 2010

Peter Woodcock killed three Toronto children in the '50s. On a day pass in 1991, he killed again


David Michael Krueger in a 1997 photo.



Mark Bourrie Special to the Star

Special to the Star

The last time he killed someone, Peter Woodcock was nearly blind and could barely hear. When he first started, as a teenager, he favoured children three in Toronto in the space of four months but later engineered a man's slaying that shook the embattled Ontario forensic psychiatry system.

Woodcock, a small, pudgy man with tiny hands, weak arms, an extremely vivid fantasy life and a talent for manipulation, died Friday his 71st birthday at the Oak Ridge division of the Penetanguishene Mental Health Centre.

The facility was his home for most of his 53 years in custody.

Born to a 17-year-old Peterborough factory worker who gave him up for adoption, Woodcock spent the first three years of his life being bounced from one foster family to another. In at least one of those homes, he was physically abused: He arrived at a hospital emergency ward with a twisted neck.

His luck seemed to change when he was adopted by a wealthy family living near Yonge St. and Lawrence Ave. They spent money on therapists, private schools and bikes for the chubby little boy.

When Woodcock hit puberty, he began using his bike to travel around Toronto, fantasizing about leading a gang and, in reality, molesting children in Parkdale and Cabbagetown.

Woodcock killed his first victim, 6-year-old Wayne Mallette, at the CNE grounds on Sept. 16, 1956. Another boy was soon arrested and convicted of Mallette's murder and was serving time in a youth detention centre when Woodcock was finally caught.

His second victim was 9-year-old Gary Morris. Woodcock picked him up in Cabbagetown three weeks after Mallette's murder and strangled him at Cherry Beach. On Jan. 19, 1957, he killed Carole Voyce, 4, under the Bloor Viaduct. A very accurate police drawing of Woodcock, which ran on the front page of the Star, cracked the case.

Woodcock arrived in Penetang just as psychiatrists began trying to find ways to cure psychopathic offenders. In the 1960s and 1970s, he was fed LSD. He participated in something called "The Hundred Day Hate-In," where psychopaths were jammed into a room together to force them to develop empathy. He was given powerful drugs and lived in a giant, dark artificial womb for several days.

These treatments did not work. Woodcock was transferred to less restrictive institutions, eventually arriving at the Brockville Psychiatric Hospital. Staff indulged his passion for trains by taking him to the Smiths Falls Railway Museum, and took him to see Silence of the Lambs.

At the same time, Woodcock, who had legally changed his name to David Michael Krueger, had rekindled a relationship with Bruce Hamill, an Ottawa killer who had been released from Penetang and was working as a security guard at the Ottawa courthouse.

Woodcock convinced Hamill an alien brotherhood would solve his problems if he helped kill another Brockville inmate, Dennis Kerr.

On July 13, 1991, Hamill went to a hardware store, bought a plumber's wrench, hatchet, knives and a sleeping bag, then went to the Brockville hospital and signed out Woodcock on his first publicly escorted day pass. They lured Kerr to a secluded spot and butchered him.

Hamill took a handful of over-the-counter sleeping pills and waited for the aliens to come. Woodcock went to the town police station and confessed.

The murder generated a coroner's inquest and many calls for a revamping of the system that determines whether mentally ill offenders are well enough to be released.

Woodcock was taken back to Penetang, where he spent the final 18 years of his life. In his later years, he was a frail-looking man who followed Toronto news closely, listened to short-wave radio broadcasts, and made a quiet life for himself behind the barred doors and double locks of the Penetang institution. He had no family: his death was reported to his lawyer by another serial killer.

In the years after Kerr's murder, he was the focus of a biography and several documentary films. In his careful, soft-spoken voice, he sometimes tried to explain why he killed, but he never came up with rational reasons.

"I'm accused of having no morality, which is a fair assessment, because my morality is whatever the system allows," he said in a 1993 interview.

Mark Bourrie is an Ottawa writer who met Peter Woodcock in 1993 and visited him dozens of times at Oak Ridge. His biography of Woodcock, By Reason of Insanity, was published in 1997.