The 1977 rape and murder of a 12-year-old boy on Yonge Street shocked the city and led to efforts to clean up the downtown strip. Warning: This story contains details that some readers may find upsetting or triggering.
The body of 12-year-old Emanuel Jaques was found wrapped in a green garbage bag on the roof behind a Yonge Street body-rub parlour on August 1, 1977.
The young boy worked shining shoes at Yonge-Dundas Square to make extra money for his family, Portuguese immigrants who had arrived in Canada three years earlier.
Jaques had been missing for four days, when, after an excruciating long weekend of frantic searching, police detectives found his lifeless body above the ramshackle three-storey building.
He had been lured inside, injected with needles, sexually assaulted, and drowned in a sink.
“The place was so filthy inside with just some old chairs and a screen cut in the wall,” one of the detectives who found Jaques told the Toronto Star. “There was nothing clean or slick about it—just sheer filth.”
Downtown Yonge Street in the late ’70s was lined with strip clubs, body-rub parlours, and sex shops.
Between Adelaide and Bloor, there were 31 “nude encounter” or massage parlours, about six adult bookstores, and dozens of porno movie houses, according to a report published in The Globe and Mail about a week before Jaques’ death, making one of the largest concentrations of sex-related businesses in North America.
“In addition to strip-tease and live sex shows, there is one parlour that guarantees that its female attendants will masturbate customers as part of the $25 entrance fee,” the paper reported.
The strip’s reputation for vice and sleaze flew directly against the idea of “Toronto the Good”—the city’s perception of itself as a religious and moral stronghold.
As such, the municipal and provincial governments committed serious efforts to cleaning up Yonge Street by trying to sweep away its gritty, neon-soaked sex emporiums and chintzy stores.
Just at the time Jaques was murdered, Ontario premier William Davis and Metro Toronto officials were drafting legislation to drive out the street’s most undesirable elements through rezoning and licensing.
Though cops issued tickets and laid charges, the highest penalty for keeping a “common bawdy house” was just $500. Metropolitan Toronto police chief Harold Adamson described the fines as “licenses to operate.”
“The street looks like hell,” he said. “We’re appalled by the situation and I don’t know what else we can do.”
“The street’s terrible,” said Toronto Mayor David Crombie. Metro Toronto chairman Paul Godfrey was of a similar mind: “The Yonge Street Strip bothers me greatly,” he told the Globe and Mail. “It’s the giant scar on Metro’s pretty face.”
People on the street interviewed by the Toronto Star after the discovery of Jaques’ body were of the same mind.
“The police are half the problem,” said Jackie Gardner, a 19-year-old woman quoted in the Star. “They ignore what’s going on. They joke with the prostitutes and turn their backs.”
The murder of Emanuel Jaques left the city’s Portuguese population furious.
They were angry the city had allowed the condition of on Yonge Street to reach a point where it endangered Toronto’s citizens and frustrated that a lack of law enforcement had led to the death of a young boy.
15,000 people marched on City Hall the week after the discovery of Jaques’ body. Many carried signs in English and Portuguese calling for expanded police power and the reinstatement of the death penalty.
Most rallied for the immediate cleanup of Yonge Street.
“One of our children died. He happened to be Portuguese, but we are all Canadians,” said organizer Jose Rafael from the Portuguese Radio Club. “We love people. We love our police force. We love our government. Please love us too.”
Though he was only 12, Jaques was already a familiar face downtown. Before turning to buffing shoes, the boy, who grew up on a farm with six brothers and sisters in Europe, sold flowers on Queen Street.
After being caught without a vending licence, the cops urged him to stay close to his Regent Park neighbourhood and away from the dangers of Yonge Street.
“The police wanted him off the street,” said Alan Firsten, who supplied Jaques with flowers.
“He was down there to hustle a buck. He probably made $5 to $15 a day, but he shouldn’t have moved up the Strip. He was too innocent.”
Jaques shone shows beside his 13-year-old brother, Luciano, and their friend Shane McLean, who was 12, making about $35 a night between them.
On July 28, a man dressed in work overalls approached the boys, bought Emanuel hamburgers, and asked if he would like to earn $35 an hour moving photographic equipment in a nearby apartment.
“Let me earn the money, let me earn the money,” he begged his brother.
Details of Jaques’ fate emerged quickly after his body was discovered.
After a frantic multi-day hunt, a man walked into 51 Division police station on Shuter Street on August 1 with information about the young boy’s whereabouts. A short time later, 26-year-old Saul David Betesh was arrested and charged with first degree murder.
Three other men—Albert Wayne Kribs, 41, Joseph Wood, 26, Werner Greuner, 28—were pulled off a Vancouver-bound train in Sioux Lookout and returned to Toronto.
A post-mortem examination revealed Jaques had been the victim of a lengthy, violent sexual assault, and much was made in the press of the homosexual aspects of the crime.
“Reports on the murder tend to emphasize that homosexuals were involved,” said George Hislop, a prominent gay activist and co-founder of the Community Homophile Association of Canada. “It links in people’s minds that this is homosexual activity.”
In the days after the Jaques murder, Betesh contacted Hislop for advice, and was urged to confess.
“The gay community is as appalled by this murder as any other group in the city,” he said. “I am being made to share the guilt of the killers, but I am not guilty at all and shouldn’t be treated as such.”
Private sexual acts between two same-sex partners were only decriminalized in Canada in 1969, and in 1977 Quebec was the only province to have amended its Charter of Rights and Freedoms to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Interviewed by the Star, Hislop was concerned the Jaques case would deal the gay community a severe setback.
In the two weeks after the arrests, a police task force blitzed unlicensed sex businesses on Yonge Street, making hundreds of arrests and laying dozens of charges.
In the face of relentless pressure from police and local government, several parlours and stores simply packed up and shut down.
“They have been subjected to daily raids,” said Gary Snider, a lawyer known for defending body-rub operators on Yonge Street in the past.
“The girls there are beginning to say what the heck. A lot of the girls were discovering there was no bail after their second or third offence and they were collecting offences very rapidly.”
A Star investigation on August 15—two weeks after the discovery of Jaques’ body—found several well-known sex business closed. Mr. Arnolds, Paradise, Pleasure Place, Lady Luck, and Venus, all establishments on a single block of Yonge Street were all locked up.
Lady Strawberry, Lady Jane, Cesars, The Sexy Encounter, Pleasure Land, A Taste of Honey, French Connection, and Stairway to Heaven were likewise shuttered.
“I’m delighted they are locking their doors,” said lawyer Morris Manning, who was heavily involved in the blitz. “It is the result of a coordinated attack on a number of fronts.”
In response, one operator that ran seven adult shops on Yonge Street threatened to reveal the names of politicians who frequented the Strip unless the “persecution” ended. “Most are chicken, they don’t want their names in the paper,” said Joe Martin, a spokesman for Jochatira Entertainment.
“In three months, the heat will have died down and the body rubs will be open again,” predicted one 18-year-old prostitute interviewed by The Globe and Mail. “Right now, I’m getting it wherever I can. On the streets. In hotels. Ninety-five percent of use are still in action, but we’re all over the place.”
“I hope Mayor Crombie rots in his socks.”
Six months later, in January 1978, the four accused of Jaques’ murder arrived at the University Avenue courthouse to face trial.
The group had been kept in solitary confinement and split between the Metro East Detention Centre in Scarborough and the West Detention Centre in Rexdale. Due to the seriousness of the charges, all were denied TV, radio, and exercise privileges. Even the music normal piped into the cells was turned off.
Outside the quiet of the jail, the public interest in the case was at a fever pitch. Police took the prisoners on different routes to the courthouse in case anyone tried to intercept the convoy.
Before the trial, the Jaques family asked to be moved from their Shuter Street home near Park Public School because it reminded them too much of the trauma they had suffered, but the Ontario Housing Corp. couldn’t find them an acceptable alternative.
The Jaques were, however, able to take an extended vacation in the Azores thanks to flights donated by an anonymous airline. The boy’s parents and siblings were keen to escape the public eye and so refused to discuss the murder with the press, or even their neighbours.
So difficult were they to track down that a $15,600 fund raised by North York mayor Mel Lastman was temporarily unable to reach them.
Prior to the start of the trial, it wasn’t clear if they would attend.
Luciano Jaques, Emanuel’s brother who was working with him the day he disappeared, testified first.
He described how Saul David Betesh approached the group with the promise of cash if they could help him shift movie equipment.
All were interested in the job, but Betesh chose Emanuel. Over burgers at a Howard Johnson restaurant, the 27-year-old construction worker talked Jaques into posing for photos. According to a recording of a police interview conducted the day Betesh was arrested and played for the court, Jaques refused at first, saying he was afraid his parents would find out.
Betesh, his voice garbled and barely audible on the tape, said Jaques eventually agreed, admitting to “hustling one or two times” for $15. However, Betesh initially denied on the recording having anything to do with the murder.
Jaques 17-year-old sister, Valdemira, testified how her brother begged their father’s permission to work on Yonge Street where he could earn more money. On the day he disappeared, Emanuel was earning money to buy food for a dog, she said.
One of the most surprising moments on the first day came when accused Robert Kribs pleaded guilty to first degree murder, automatically triggering a 25-year sentence without the possibility of parole. Asked if his lawyer had explained the consequences of his decision, Kribs replied: “Yes he has. I know what it is. I am ready to accept it.”
As the trial unfolded, countless gruesome and horrific details about Jaques’ murder were revealed. In one of the most heartbreaking moments, Sgt. Paton Weir read a transcription of Betesh’s confession from the early morning hours of August 1.
“Everyone was in on it. They knew I was coming up with the kid. We killed him. He’s on the roof,” Weir read.
“Stretcher [a nickname for defendant Kribs] saw a shoeshine boy he was interested in. We talked about how we’d get him up. We decided I’d get one using the photography ploy. I picked up Manuel and took him to the body rub. No one was there so we went for dinner at the Howard Johnson’s. When we came back, Werner was there; he opened the back door so no one would see us go up. By the time we got there, Stretcher and Joe were there too.”
“I brought him [Emanuel] in and we had coffee. We went into the bedroom and took pictures of him for about an hour; he had all of his clothes on at first. Bit by bit, we got him to take them off until he was nude. We wanted some action shots, and he said no at first, but then Stretcher offered him another $20.”
“Stretcher wanted to have intercourse with the kid, but intercourse was too painful for him, so we tied him up and Stretcher and I had intercourse. Then we left him in the room with Joe and Stretcher and I talked about killing him. We talked for about 20 minutes, and it was decided I would do it.”
“I went into the room. Joe left, and stood by the stairs to make sure no one would come up. I tried to strangle him with some stretch cord, the kind you tie suitcases with; I tried for two or three minutes, but I couldn’t finish. Joe said to put a pillow over his face so I wouldn’t have to look at him, but Stretcher and I decided to drown him. Stretcher held his feet, and I held his head in the sink.”
After more than a month of testimony and examination, the jury found Saul David Betesh and Josef Woods guilty of first degree murder. The pair, along with Robert Kribs, who pleaded guilty earlier in the trial, were sentenced by Supreme Court Judge Arthur William Maloney to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The jury acquitted Werner Gruener after hearing how, during the torture, he was elsewhere in the building, sleeping or watching television.
In passing sentence on Betesh, Judge Maloney betrayed the fact he too held homophobic opinions about the accused.
“There is one feature in your case that disturbs me more than a little. It is your acknowledged tendency to seek out ever younger homosexual partners,” he said. “I wonder how common that is among homosexuals. There are those who seek protections for homosexuals in the Human Rights Code. You make me wonder if they are not misguided.”
George Hislop called Maloney’s remarks “totally uncalled for and shocking.”
In the years after the Jaques case, Yonge Street did see a reduction in the number of sex-related businesses, but it never became the wholesome district of upscale restaurants and high-end theatres city planners imagined.
The sleazier elements of the street were replaced by dime stores and arcades in the 1980s, ensuring the historically shabby appearance remained.
“These blocks have long been a magnet for the reckless and the restless, the out-of-pocket and the out-of-luck” wrote Globe and Mail reporter Doug Saunders in 1996.
“Today, this is truly a young street,” Saunders wrote. “Homeless teen-agers, sharply dressed teen-agers with cell phones, teen-agers with a parent’s credit card, drag-racing teen-agers and wide-eyed teen-age revellers make up most of Yonge’s fast-moving sidewalk population.”
Mike, a 17-year-old homeless man interviewed by Saunders, perhaps summed Yonge Street up best.
“Everyone in Canada knows you go to Yonge Street when you leave home.”
Additional material from March 2, 1973, July 25, July 26, 1977, August 1, August 2, August 3, August 4, August 5, August 6, August 12, August 15, 1977, January 15, January 16, January 19, February 9, February 10, February 12, February 14, February 24, February 25, March 11, March 12, March 23, March 31, 1978 editions of the Toronto Star; and the April 17, 1975, August 3, August 4, August 5, August 6, August 9, August 11, August 12, August 19, August 24, September 24, 1977, February 10, February 11, February 13, February 15, February 17, February 23, February 25, March 4, 1978, June 8, 1996 editions of the Globe and Mail.
Did you like this article? Do you love Torontoist? Support articles like this by becoming one of the first Torontoist subscribers. Get great perks and fund local journalism that makes a difference—join Raccoon Nation now.