The Yonge Street Strip is Toronto’s downtown core, frequented by shoppers, tourists and just plain ordinary people. It has a plethora of restaurants, bars, boutiques, sports shops, Dundas Square, the Eaton Centre, and famous franchises such as Le Chateau. It is a popular, safe hang for hip young 20-somethings and teenagers. It wasn’t always this way.
In 1977 Toronto’s downtown core was known as a sleazy strip frequented by prostitutes, drug addicts and transients. During that year it became notorious when 12-year-old blonde, blue-eyed Emmanuel Jacques was abducted, raped and murdered by two men after being lured to their apartment above the Charlie’s Angels body-rub parlour at 245 Yonge Street with the promise of $35 for help moving photographic equipment. He was then restrained and repeatedly sexually assaulted over a period of twelve hours before being strangled and drowned in a kitchen sink .Emanuel Jaques was the son of impoverished Portuguese immigrants from the Azores. On July 28, 1977, 12-year-old Jaques worked daily shining shoes.
Several days after Jaques’s disappearance, well-known Toronto gay activist George Hislop received a late-night call from Saul David Betesh, who confessed to the murder and told Hislop that Jaques’s body had been hidden under a pile of wood on the roof of the building at which he had been abducted. That it was a homosexual man who received the telephone call was highly misleading for the public. Betesh was a pedophile, not a homosexual, but at that time few people understood the difference and the unfortunate contact between Betesh and Hislop furthered this dreadful stereotype.
I was also 12 at the time this tragic crime occurred. I remember my 11 and 12-year-old girlfriends discussing the crime, distressed and heartbroken. I didn’t know much about rape and abduction since these things weren’t discussed by adults with kids. I did sense that for a boy to be raped by two men there must have been an invasion of his anal area, an agony too horrid to imagine. Emmanuel’s picture dominated headlines for weeks. My friend Shelley spoke about his sad, brown eyes, an observation no doubt based on his murder and not on the picture that was taken at the time he was alive. Weeks passed and no one spoke about the shoe shine boy anymore. It was a terrible tragedy that came and went. Emmanuel Jacques had his horrible 15 minutes of fame and life went on for everyone else except his family. Twenty-five years later the Jacques were still haunted by the anguish of losing Emmanuel in such a horrific manner.
On a tipoff from Betesh, three o
ther men — Robert Wayne Kribs (41), Joseph Woods (26) and Werner Gruener (28) — were arrested on the Super Continental train to Vancouver as it passed through Sioux Lookout, Ontario. The three were employed as security doormen at Charlie’s Angels. The four were charged with Jaques’s murder. According to evidence introduced at trial, Betesh held the boy under water until he drowned while Kribs restrained Jaques’s legs. In 1978, Kribs pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and a jury found Betesh guilty of the same charge. Woods was convicted of second-degree murder and Gruener, who had held open the door of the body-rub parlour to allow Betesh to bring the boy in, was acquitted. Most likely this is due to Greuner’s testimony when he quietly told the Supreme Court jury that he was unaware Emmanuel was killed after the assault, “nothing was mentioned to me at all . . . They didn’t say nothing.”
The second defendant to take the stand during the trial, Gruener answered questions in a barely audible voice, mumbling and saying no more than yes or no. He leaned forward on the witness-box propping his head on his hands, eyes often wandering to the floor. He testified that watching TV was his major activity on July 28 when he let Emanuel and one of the accused men into the apartment through the back door, supposedly to take photographs. Gruener acknowledged he was in on a discussion with the three other accused men at about 3 a.m. July 29 on what to do with the boy. He told the others to take Emmanuel back to his parents and later that morning that is what Kribs had said he had done with the boy. In his evidence, his long sandy hair pushed back from a solemn-looking face, Gruener said earnestly that I’ve studied the Bible from one end to another and that he was not a homosexual, proving he was another individual who couldn’t distinguish between pedophilia and homosexuality. Although previous evidence has shown that Gruener liked little girls, the defendant told the court, I liked talking to little girls but there was nothing sexual about it. I enjoy their company . . We get along good. His mother suffered a mental breakdown and attempted suicide when he was 13 or 14. When asked by his lawyer, Earl Levy, what he thought when he found out that Emanuel was handcuffed and tied up in the bedroom the night of the assault, the defendant said, I thought it was unusual.
At one point Gruener glanced nervously at the jury as his lawyer read out to the court seven criminal charges the defendant has been convicted of over the past 10 years at various points across the country as well as a charge for jaywalking. Gruener chuckled when his lawyer quipped: It must have been a very wide street. The past crimes range from theft to obstructing a police officer to living off the avails of prostitution. Was that male prostitution? Mr. Levy asked. No, was the prompt reply.
Numerous protests and marches occurred, demanding that the city clean up the Yonge Street area. These protests became a catalyst for shutting down the numerous adult stores, body rub parlours, and shoeshine stands along Yonge Street. Alderman Ben Nobleman of York sent telegrams to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and the media encouraging the return of capital punishment. Over time, Yonge Street would become a more people-oriented district and new developments such as Dundas Square would revitalize the area.
In October 2002, twenty-five years after the murder, Robert Kribs was denied parole. Woods died in prison in April, 2003, after being denied parole four times. Kribs and Betesh remain incarcerated. Betesh wants out of medium-security Warkworth Institution, the federal prison near Campbellford, Ontario, where he’s serving his life- sentence for first-degree murder and he claims he’s willing to use desperate measures to get what he wants. At his family’s insistence, Emmanuel’s father didn’t attend the parole hearing in case the stress overwhelmed him.
A touching video was made about the shoeshine boy and is available at Portuguese stores. It was produced by Vista Global films and has Dale Brazao as the presenter. The video does a great job showing the city how it was in 1977. Many of the buildings have been replaced with newer ones. The Burger King is still there. Emmanuel Jacques is not.