[Hpn] Homeless beating victim remembered as `harmless'

wtinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Thu, 27 Sep 2001 10:48:56 -0400

Sep. 27, 2001.

Former labourer shared little about his life with aid workers

Phinjo Gombu


When a man known simply as ``Bill'' was beaten to death Tuesday night at his
home in a ravine just south of the St. Clair West subway station, his
beloved Walkman lay intact a few feet away.
It was one of those little details social worker Simon McNichol, who
co-ordinates street patrols for the Native Men's Residence on Vaughan Rd.,
said he couldn't help but notice.
``There was no damage to his Walkman,'' McNichol said yesterday, standing
metres away from where he found Bill's body during a routine trip to
distribute food and clothes to homeless people living in the wooded ravine
The rest was a traumatic scene.
Bill West, according to those who knew him, lay curled up in the fetal
West's battered head lay in a pool of blood, pointed toward a
blood-splattered wall and a glass doorway, an emergency exit for subway
commuters who use the entrance on the south side of St. Clair Ave. W.
Some among the thousands of commuters who take the long escalators up to the
street could have seen him behind the glass doors, if they had paused for a
moment to look.
Close by lay West's few belongings. They included a broom and a shovel he
used as a dustpan to keep the area clean.
What shook McNichol up, he said, was the level of violence done to a man who
appeared to have been lying asleep on his blanket at the time of the attack.
``It's a sad, sad situation to see something like this happen to a man who
was down and out,'' said McNichol, who had befriended him over the past few
years, checking on nightly visits to make sure he was okay.
``It was very traumatic to see something like this happen to such an
unfortunate man. . . . It wasn't a very pleasant sight.''

`This man did not deserve to go this way'

Homicide Detective Steve Bell said little about the investigation except his
belief that that the murder was a random act. He appealed to the public for
information. An autopsy will be conducted today.
McNichol said he knew few details about the man's life.
West suffered from circulation problems and drank a lot of alcohol but,
beyond that, spoke little about his life.
One time, he told McNichol he had been on the streets nearly 20 years.
Thomas Phillips, a Toronto parks and recreation worker who often waved to
West and gave him the occasional dollar when he panhandled on the sidewalk
outside the Loblaws on St. Clair Ave. W., called him a harmless man.
It was a sentiment echoed by several Loblaws employees, who recalled that he
always said ``thank you'' whether someone gave him money or not.
Phillips said West often drank with Phillips' parents at a local tavern
years ago and recalled that, before becoming homeless, West had been a
construction worker and a warehouse employee.
McNichol said the area outside the subway exit, which faces the ravine, had
been West's home for years. But at times, especially when it rained, it got
quite crowded.
``This man did not deserve to go this way,'' McNichol said, adding that he
never knew him to be a violent man. ``He never had a harsh word to any of my

Toronto Star Newspapers Limited.