NAPANEE, Ont. — Keith Jones and Peter Quinn couldn’t help but take quiet pleasure watching the prisoner being led in and out of the limestone courthouse under heavy police escort, cuffs on his wrists and a chain shackling his ankles.
Fifteen years earlier Marshall Ross had put a contract hit on their beloved boss and friend, wealthy 66-year-old Toronto philanthropist Glen Davis. Neither expected to ever set eyes on Ross again after he left court in 2011 to begin serving a life sentence.
Instead, more than a decade later, they found themselves facing down Ross in a courtroom again, as he stood trial for another alleged contract hit — this time, on them.
Ross is accused of soliciting the assistance of another inmate, a fellow murderer, to kill not only Quinn, Jones and another man, but also Davis’s widow, Mary Alice Davis, now in her mid-80s.
The prosecution’s theory is that Ross, 51, hoped killing the four would end a debt-collecting multi-million dollar lawsuit against him from Davis Corp., the company once helmed by Glen Davis, that threatened the sale of his marital home in leafy, upscale Lawrence Park.
Ross denies he is guilty of counselling to commit murder and did not testify at the trial. Superior Court Justice Graeme Mew is set to deliver his verdict Aug. 24.
The trial that unfolded in this eastern Ontario town over two weeks in July, held near one of the federal penitentiaries where the alleged plot took place, revived a salacious saga of old Toronto money, murder and a wealthy family torn apart by resentment over business decisions.
Marshall Ross was the godson of Glen and Mary Alice Davis.
Glen Davis was the adopted son of Nelson Davis who built a fortune in trucking and other businesses in Toronto in the mid-part of the last century. It’s been estimated Nelson Davis left a $100 million fortune by the time of his death in 1979.
On the trial’s opening day in Napanee, Monica Heine, the region’s lead prosecutor, provided some of the murder case history to the judge.
On May 18, 2007, Glen Davis was fatally shot in the underground parking lot of 245 Eglinton Ave. East. at Mount Pleasant Road. While Toronto police believed it was a targeted killing, Davis was an unlikely victim.
Family, friends and associates shared that for 40 years, Davis had donated more than $20 million to various Canadian conservation, environmental and amateur athletic organizations. He had no hidden secrets. Davis loved wilderness trekking in remote locations and was devoted to Mary Alice, whom he married after university in a living room ceremony where fruit punch was served.
Quiet and non-flashy, the couple didn’t have children, but developed a close relationship with their godson, Marshall Ross, who shared Davis’s passion for athleticism and adventure travel.
Mary Alice shopped at Chicos, an affordable women’s clothing retailer, and led a peaceful life playing bridge and golf. Her husband was an avid runner, and preferred outdoor gear to business suits. He often sported Tilley hats and loved Swiss Chalet chicken.
His murder went unsolved until a man who had attacked Davis with a baseball bat in 2005, leaving him with serious injuries, was arrested on unrelated charges. He identified Ross as the person who, through a third party, had hired him to kill Davis.
After the tip, Toronto homicide detectives zeroed in on Ross not only for the beating but murder. Ross blew the whistle on himself. A listening device hidden in a car captured him musing to his accomplice that they had nothing to fear because “the beautiful part about it is that there’s absolutely no motive. There’s no reason why we would have done it.”
But Ross did have a reason — one later revealed in the lengthy agreed statement of facts at his plea and the criminal trials of his two accomplices.
In 2004, Davis agreed to loan Ross up to $2.5 million to start a business buying, renovating and selling premises in Toronto. A formal loan agreement was signed and included interest payable and monthly payments.
Over time, the business didn’t profit, payments were missed, and Ross fed Davis a pack of lies as he continued to dig himself deeper and deeper into a financial hole. Davis made it clear he expected the loan to be repaid while at the same time donating sizeable amounts to his favourite charities. This angered Ross who decided to kill his benefactor wrongly believing the loan would be wiped out.
Ross’s arrest in 2009 blindsided his family, including his wife, Eva Wower, Mary Alice Davis, his parents and friends. The father of two had placed Davis’s ashes in a grave and delivered a eulogy at a small, private gathering.
In another shocking twist, Ross suddenly pled guilty to first-degree murder a week before trial, stunning those close to him as he had continued to maintain his innocence and hired James Lockyer, a Toronto defence lawyer best known for his work on cases exonerating the wrongfully accused.
“I devastated the lives of all those near and dear to me,” Ross, then 41, said in court before he was sentenced to life with no parole eligibility for 25 years.
Ross’s plea was followed by the trials, convictions and life sentences handed to his two accomplices.
But Ross still faced another legal reckoning over the $2.5 million loan he’d hoped to escape.
After his arrest, Davis Corp., an investment and holding company, sued Ross to collect on the outstanding loan. (Glen Davis was the president, principal shareholder and director of Davis Corp. prior to his death.)
In 2012, a judge ordered Ross to pay Davis Corp. $3.2 million, which included interest. But when lawyers, including Quinn, tried to collect, they discovered Ross had divorced Wower a year earlier and transferred their Sheldrake Boulevard home into her name. Davis Corp. then sued Ross and Wower, alleging the transfer was a “fraudulent conveyance,” intended to prevent the corporation from collecting on the judgement. The property was purchased with Davis loan money.
“It’s crystal clear they were trying to protect their assets against Davis Corp., including this so-called divorce,” Quinn said in an interview.
Ross and Wower denied this. The property transfers — a family cottage was included — were not intended to defraud Davis Corp., but were made by Ross to satisfy his legal obligations, according to their statement of defence.
By 2019, the court proceedings were coming to a head, tightening the financial noose around Ross’s neck, just like in 2007, the prosecutor told the judge.
The Crown’s star witness, Joe, a pseudonym because his real identity is under a publication ban, testified that around 2019 and into 2020, Ross felt he was “somehow a victim of these people” and he wanted them all “eliminated” to escape the financial consequences. His ex-wife, meanwhile, was putting pressure on him, Joe recounted. Bills had to be paid.
Joe said he and Ross bonded behind bars in a medium-security prison near Kingston, Ont. but that his initial admiration faded after he confided to Joe that he needed help to escape and kill several people. Ross’s plan was to be in Belize before the murders took place, Joe said. While typically polite, courteous and articulate, Ross’s demeanour would drastically change when speaking of the people he wanted killed, Joe recalled.
“It was the only time I’ve seen him angry,” Joe testified remotely while Ross watched from the prisoner’s box. Wearing a long-sleeved blue jersey and jeans Ross still has what a former friend described as “Kennedy-esque hair,” dark with no visible signs of gray or bald spots.
Central to the prosecution case was a handwritten document Joe provided to police, which the defence conceded Ross wrote. Joe described it as a “hit list” including personal details about the four alleged targets, complete with crudely drawn maps of the Toronto locations of Mary Alice Davis, Quinn and Jones. “Time Frame = 3 months,” the document said.
Ross’s defence maintained the document was not nefarious and related to the then-ongoing civil litigation.
Joe said Ross offered a variety of reasons to explain his hatred toward the intended victims, none of which he believed. Others familiar with the Davis family tree believe the seeds of resentment were planted decades ago.
After Nelson Davis’s death in Arizona in 1978, the majority of the shares in Davis Corp. passed to his wife Eloise in trust. Years later, after she died in 2001, Glen Davis assumed complete financial and operational control of Davis Corp. Early on, one of his tasks was to fire his uncle Marsh Davis, as head of the company’s trucking division. Marsh Davis, brother to Nelson Davis, was Marshall Ross’s grandfather, known to Ross as “Grumps” growing up.
Marsh Davis, who died in 1997, made no secret that he thought little of Glen Davis’s business acumen. Jones, originally hired by Nelson Davis as a chauffeur and now the general manager of Davis Corp., recalls Marsh saying Glen “couldn’t sell hotdogs outside a ballpark.” Marshall Ross also came to believe he was more entitled to the empire since Davis was adopted, while he was related to Nelson Davis by blood, according to his 2011 guilty plea.
Cross-examining a jailhouse informant is familiar territory for defence lawyer Zaduk who has done about a dozen prison-related trials in his 40-year career. (Zaduk recently teamed up with Lockyer to open a new law firm in Toronto.)
He suggested Joe made up the murder plot to impress the parole board.
“I certainly have received no benefit in any shape or form,” Joe snapped back, leaning toward the camera lens so his head filled the monitor.
His motivation, he insisted, lay elsewhere. “I regret that despicable act of taking another man’s life and for being a coward and not stopping the murder from taking place,” he said. Telling the authorities about Ross’s murderous intentions gave him an opportunity to “do something right this time,” he said.
Zaduk called five witnesses — four of them convicted killers who had been incarcerated with Joe and Ross.
Like Ross, they were brought into the courtroom shackled and under heavy guard before sharing their critical assessments of Joe: a con man, a drug addict, a liar, and a gambler who owed debts around the prison.
(“Sir, the day I left (the prison), all the guys were hugging me,” Joe, aware of the pending assault on his character, had earlier said to Zaduk during one of many spirited exchanges.)
Ross, on the other hand, was a devoted parent, smart, and possessed leadership qualities, per the defence prison witnesses. One described Ross as “one of his best friends,” despite their different backgrounds. Unlike Ross, “I didn’t have a cottage growing up,” he said, tattoos running up his neck and arms.
Zaduk’s final witness didn’t want to be there.
Wearing a black pant suit and stern expression, Ross’ ex-wife, Eva Wower, 48, appeared under a defence subpeona. She began her testimony by reading a statement invoking the Canada Evidence Act protecting her against self incrimination.
She told the judge her divorce wasn’t a sham and that she wanted off of the “crazy train.”
“He owed me something for our marriage and I have two children to support.” (The lawsuit was finally settled last year. The house on Sheldrake sold for $2.5 million. The Davis Corp. received only 35 per cent of the net proceeds.)
Zaduk asked Wower about Ross’s education in an apparent attempt to undercut the prosecution theory that he was naive enough to think that a quadruple murder would wipe out the litigation. Wower said Ross had an MBA from the University of Victoria.
“It’s a lie,” Quinn whispered from his seat in the courtroom.
Wower left court refusing to answer reporter questions.
In his closing arguments, Zaduk said the four killers, while not “paragons of virtue,” had presented compelling evidence that impacted on Joe’s credibility, showing him to be a “man of habitual mendacity.”
Heine, the prosecutor, however argued the defence provided the court with no relevant evidence as to whether the Crown had proven Ross had counselled Joe to hire someone to kill four people.
Both Jones and Quinn are relieved this case is almost at an end. Ever since the Ontario Provincial Police laid this latest charge against Ross in 2020, it has been weighing on everyone involved, none more so than Mary Alice Davis who did not come to Napanee for the trial.
Those close to her say Ross has essentially terrorized her for the past seventeen years, beginning with the 2005 baseball bat beating he arranged of her late husband. In her victim impact statement, Mary Alice wrote of her years of “mental anguish and desolation” since her husband was murdered in May 2007.
Her devastation was compounded by the “disgusting betrayal of my trust” and the long-running legal proceedings that have “effectively divided” the extended Davis family, whom she once considered “as part of my own,” she said in her statement at the time.
When Jones, who has worked for the Davis family for four decades, finished testifying on the first day, he appeared almost in a daze.
“We’ve never really gotten on with our lives. It always hangs over us,” he said walking out of the courthouse and into the July rain.
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