Jennifer Yang, Dan Robson and Jim Rankin
He was the last passenger to board the 8 o’clock bus from St. Catharines.
Coach Canada driver Dhimitri Gusho remembers the scruffy-faced man carrying the small backpack. His other passengers were already seated when the man approached and asked Gusho if he was bound for Toronto.
Gusho replied yes and took the man’s ticket. He noticed the passenger was unshaven, with about a day’s worth of facial hair. And he also saw something familiar.
“Hi sir,” Gusho said. “I know you, I know you.”
t was the same man who once took weekly trips to New York State with Gusho, back when he drove the St. Catharines-Buffalo route.
It had been four or five years since Gusho last saw him. And while the driver never learned the man’s name, today he knows it to be Richard Kachkar, the 44-year-old accused of killing a Toronto police officer with a snowplow.
And something about the passenger that day, Gusho thought, was off.
Thus far, little is known about Kachkar’s history. But a Star investigation has found Kachkar used an inheritance to purchase a string of worthless properties for which he had big plans, none of which ever panned out. He was agitated, had irrational fears recently of being stuck with a needle in his sleep, and would sometimes speak in accents or with the excited voice of a child.
He was a mysterious and complicated man who was barely understood by his own wife, according to friends.
On Friday, Kachkar appeared in a Toronto courtroom on a first-degree murder charge in the death of Sgt. Ryan Russell, a 35-year-old rising star in Toronto’s police force. Wearing a white T-shirt and jeans, a hunched Kachkar entered the room with his left arm in a sling. Bandages covered his nose and neck.
Kachkar has also been charged with attempting to murder another officer and a taxi driver. He will appear again in court on Jan. 25 by video link.
Police suspect Kachkar travelled to Toronto from St. Catharines on Jan. 6. Gusho believes this was the same day Kachkar rode his 8 o’clock bus.
Kachkar sat in the front row next to the driver — just as he always did — but something about him had changed, Gusho said. Gone was the talkative and gregarious passenger prone to carrying thick file folders, who irritated Gusho with his endless tales of investment properties in New York state. He was subdued.
“He was different,” Gusho said. “He was quiet.”
Homicide investigators are now trying to piece together why Kachkar hopped the bus to Toronto and what he did before Jan. 12, when just after 4:15 a.m., a barefooted man jumped into an idling snowplow and embarked upon a three-hour rampage downtown.
The Star investigation has found a piece of Kachkar’s past lies south of the Canada-U.S. border, which he crossed numerous times between 2004 and 2006.
On at least six occasions, Kachkar returned to Canada from New York state a few thousand dollars lighter and with new property to his name — either vacant lots or dilapidated buildings.
Those who encountered him still remember the odd Canadian fellow who bragged about his Russian mob ties and dreamt foolishly of building a real estate “empire” in the crumbling, recession-battered towns of America.
It was a dream that would never be realized. Today, the only property Kachkar has is a tiny old tailor’s shop in St. Catharines, one he kept vacant for years even while periodically sleeping in homeless shelters.
Kachkar’s dream was one that started with a death.
On Oct. 15, 2004, a retired telephone engineer named Esber Kachkar died of cancer.
Shortly before his death, he sold his West Vancouver home for half a million dollars and gave lump sums to various children and a niece. Richard got the most — $120,000.
Richard Esber Kachkar was born in Edmonton on June 22, 1966, the son of Armenian immigrants from Syria. He married an Iranian woman named Maro. The couple has two children: a son, Berj, now in his early 20s, and a daughter, Ashley, now 18.
According to a copy of his resumé obtained by the Star, Kachkar received his post-secondary education in Armenia, studying linguistics at the American University of Armenia. He went on to become certified as an architectural technician, and in the mid-90s, he moved to B.C., where he trained as a tool and die maker while working part-time at Sears.
From 1999 to 2001, Kachkar worked for an Edmonton-based company called Miza Pharmaceuticals, according to his resumé. The company is linked to Kachkar’s cousin, Dr. Jack Kachkar, a colourful and wealthy businessman who once made headlines in France over a proposed plan to purchase a football team for 115 million Euros.
Richard Kachkar was prone to bragging about his supposed links to the Russian mob, but his cousin was actually once questioned by the RCMP and publicly denied mob ties.
It is unclear how close Jack Kachkar was to Richard. Despite numerous attempts this week, the Star could not reach him.
But according to his resumé, Richard worked for Toronto-based Inyx Pharmaceuticals from 2001 to 2004, another company connected to Jack Kachkar.
Corporate records show Inyx wasn’t incorporated until 2003. On his resumé, Kachkar describes his position with Inyx as an “office manager,” but a building employee this week characterized his job as a “gopher.”
In Toronto, Kachkar lived just minutes away from Inyx’s Yonge St. headquarters in a modest two-storey residence on Bangor Rd., just off Sheppard Ave. His former landlord, Vince Zak, said Kachkar’s father visited him there.
But when the elder Kachkar drew up his will in 2000, four years before his death, he created a trust fund that named only his three daughters as trustees.
In his final months, Kachkar Sr. gifted much of his money to relatives. But he still had about $160,000 sitting in TD bank accounts at the time of his death. A year later, his daughters petitioned the Supreme Court of British Columbia to transfer the cash to the trust fund — which excludes Richard.
The order was granted in spring 2006. Kachkar’s sisters have refused requests for an interview with the Star and it remains unclear if they shared some of that money with their brother.
Nonetheless, Kachkar had already pocketed the $120,000 his father gave him while he was still alive.
But at least half of it was already gone.
As Gusho’s bus trundled towards Toronto two weeks ago, a quiet Kachkar sat to his right. It was a stark contrast to the man who once talked his ear off about his real estate investments.
In the five months following his father’s death, Kachkar went on a real estate spending spree, picking up at least six properties in New York state. He paid $1 for the first one, a decaying home in Buffalo; the most expensive one was $14,000. Altogether, he poured more than $62,500 — into vacant lots or ruinous homes.
In 2004, Kachkar pulled up to a burnt-out house in Niagara Falls, N.Y., and offered to buy it off remodeler Michael Heisner.
“He goes, ‘Oh, it’s a beautiful house. I’d like to buy it from ya,’” Heisner recalled. “I says, ‘Huh?’ I thought that was awful strange, that he wanted to buy a burnt up house.”
Kachkar was unfazed and bought it for $4,000. It sold this year for $100.
According to Heisner, Kachkar was “obsessed” with buying properties and occasionally hinted he wanted to lock up his money where his sisters couldn’t get it.
He boasted about his plans to turn one dilapidated bar into a Niagara Falls hot spot that would offer illicit massages upstairs. Kachkar also planned to bring over Canadian strippers, Heisner claims.
“Nothing is impossible, Mike,” Kachkar would tell him. “The sky’s the limit!”
But like so many of Kachkar’s plans, nothing ever happened.
“Richard was the type of person that made a lot of false promises and was a big bullshitter,” Heisner said.
After two years, Heisner stopped returning Kachkar’s calls.
He said Kachkar was getting increasingly “fidgety” and excitable, sometimes launching into peculiar Russian accents or becoming giddy like a child. Heisner was also creeped out by Kachkar’s insistence that he visit Canada, where he promised endless trips to strip clubs and massage parlours, saying he would foot the bill.
Heisner never accepted the invitations. But Steven Mackie did.
Kachkar met Mackie the same way he met Heisner — by buying one of his rundownproperties.
Mackie visited Kachkar a few dozen times in Canada, sometimes eating dinner at his home. He said Kachkar’s wife often retreated to her room when he was there.
There were trips to Canadian casinos and restaurants, but no strip clubs, Mackie said. On some occasions, they hung out in Regent Park in Toronto, where Kachkar and his buddies smoked weed “like friggin’ chimneys,” according to Mackie, who insists he never participated.
He hasn’t seen Kachkar for years and Mackie said he’s been looking for his old friend.
Municipal officials in New York state have also been pursuing Kachkar, who repeatedly failed to pay property taxes. All six of his New York properties have been seized and auctioned off or sold. In 2006, Kachkar was fined $19,500 for violating New York maintenance codes.
The empire was coming apart. In early 2005 or early 2006, Kachkar took his final trip along Gusho’s American route. He was stopped at the border, the driver recalled.
Two hours later, Gusho picked him up on his swing back to Canada. Kachkar was swearing, yelling and railing against one of his sisters, claiming she had taken more money from their parents than she deserved. Kachkar would later tell Heisner he believed his sister had a hand in blocking his border crossing.
When Gusho asked the border guards what happened, they said Kachkar was doing renovation work in the U.S. without a permit.
Gusho brought the past with Kachkar when he boarded the bus to Toronto a few weeks ago. This time, his passenger had little to say about his investments. “It didn’t work out,” he told the bus driver.
Kachkar claimed he now had properties in St. Catharines. But in fact, Kachkar only has the one — the skinny little tailor’s shop on Geneva St., a rundown building he purchased in 2005 for $29,500.
One day, it’ll become a café or pizzeria, Kachkar often said. He studied narrow spaces and posted pictures of several other restaurants on his Facebook page.
More than five years after he bought it, however, the building still stands empty.
In spring 2009, Kachkar was trying to restart his life in St. Catharines. His most recent work experience, according to his resume, was at Global Mobility Corporation — a company of unknown purpose that Kachkar incorporated himself in 1997.
Kachkar applied for the government’s Second Careers program, designed to help laid-off workers learn new skills. He entered a 13-week training program with Transport Training Centres of Canada.
He took two courses, one in heavy machinery operations and another for transport truck driving. He passed the first and failed the second in July 2009.
By several accounts, Kachkar's family life has also been unravelling for some time. He separated from his wife five years ago but according to a neighbour, Kachkar was apparently still living with her a few years ago in a St. Catharines apartment.
Trevor Weller frequently saw Kachkar coming and going from the unit across the hall. He also often heard the couple fighting through the walls.
“I couldn’t really hear, but he’d be yelling about something,” Weller said. “It was often. She was quiet.”
Maro Kachkar, described as low-key and reserved, has refused several interview requests from the Star.
She and her children and have been devastated by the recent events, according to a close friend.
“She knew nothing about this man that she was married to,” said the friend, who asked not to be named. “When he walked out the door of that house, she never knew where he went.”
About four weeks ago, Kachkar told a worker at a convenience store near his Geneva St. property he had been sleeping at a homeless shelter in a church.
Kachkar expressed his worries about getting stabbed with drug needles while he slept, the worker said.
“He said, ‘Hey boss, shelters are kind of scary at night,” recalled Mo, who declined to give his last name.
Kachkar seemed depressed and spoke of having troubles with his wife and daughter, he said.
Det.-Sgt. Dan Nielsen, the lead investigator in Russell’s death, said Kachkar last saw his estranged wife at 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 6, when he briefly dropped by for an unannounced visit. She told police she did not know he was going to Toronto.
Hours later, Kachkar sat on Gusho’s bus, bound for Toronto.
When the bus reached Hamilton, Gusho remembers a car cutting him off, causing him to briefly swerve onto the shoulder of the road.
Kachkar was visibly startled and Gusho told him not to worry. At this point, Kachkar uttered his last words to the driver.
“Please drive slowly,” he said.
On the evening of Tuesday, Jan. 11, Toronto was bracing for a coming snowstorm. It would cover the city with a cold, white blanket by morning.
Richard Kachkar checked into the Good Shepherd shelter on Queen St. E. at around 5:30 p.m. Days later, rumours were swirling around the shelter that Kachkar had grown agitated around 11 p.m., when a staff member had to coax him back into bed.
At some time in the evening, Kachkar slipped out.
Around 4 a.m., two employees with Tolias Landscaping and Plowing parked their blue and white snowplow across from a Tim Hortons on Cole St., a few blocks from the Good Shepherd. They left the keys in the ignition.
While they were waiting for coffee, an agitated man — barefoot in the freezing cold — stared from just inside the doorway. Then he bolted towards their truck.
Daniel Da Silva, a Tolias snowplow driver, later identified the man to the Star as Kachkar, who he recognized in a photo.
The snowplow spent the next few hours careening down more than 70 city streets, smashing into parked cars and at least one taxi. As it headed north on Avenue Rd., it smashed into the glass of a Ferrari and Maserati dealership at the foot of a Yorkville condo building.
Elsewhere that morning, Sgt. Ryan Russell was starting his shift in cruiser 52S2. Supervisors ride alone.
At about 6 a.m., he found himself on the same snow-covered street as Kachkar. What unfolded in those next fatal moments remains unclear. But Russell was dead.
The snowplow continued northwest and was finally cornered by police near Keele St. and Humberside Ave. The rampage came to an end when Kachkar was shot several times.
He was taken to St. Michael’s Hospital, treated for his injuries and charged with first-degree murder.
It was the “worst of days,” said police Chief Bill Blair. The death of Ryan Russell, a 35-year-old husband and father of a two-year old, cast a pall of mourning over the city, culminating in a massive funeral Tuesday attended by a reported 12,500 police officers.
As Russell’s life was remembered, Kachkar was at Maplehurst Correctional Centre, where he was moved after his release from hospital.
Police say he has no criminal history in Canada. It would have been his first full day in jail.
At about 9:15 p.m. on Jan. 6, Gusho pulled his bus into Toronto and made his first stop at the Royal York hotel.
He pulled up to the York St. entrance and, as he always does, thanked his passengers for travelling with Coach Canada.
He glanced at Kachkar, who seemed unhappy. He kept opening and closing his eyes.
“I think he was upset. I believe he was upset,” Gusho said.
Years ago, when Kachkar rode Gusho’s bus to Buffalo, it was not unusual for him to say thank you or bid him goodbye as he walked out the door.
But that night in Toronto, as Gusho swung open the doors, Kachkar left without a word. “I remember he didn’t wait,” he said. “I stopped the bus, and boom.