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Mystery of the Margaret McDonald murder: Toronto Police

June 12, 2023  By Stephen Metelsky

"Composite suspect sketch". Source: Toronto Police homicide/cold case unit

“It was awful. It was one of the worst attacks I’ve seen. Just a horrific crime scene,” said acting Det. Sgt. Steve Smith, who manages the Toronto Police cold case unit. The veteran homicide detective has investigated many homicides in his career—which spans over two decades—yet the Margaret McDonald cold case is one that stands out for its sheer brutality against a vulnerable victim.

On June 26, 1994, 80-year-old Margaret McDonald was asleep in the early afternoon in her Lascelles Boulevard home, situated near Yonge Street and Davisville Avenue. She had dinner plans later that evening with a friend. While asleep, an unknown intruder gained entry to McDonald’s home after forcing the glass sliding door open. Based on the pry marks at the point of entry, the suspect likely used a screwdriver or pry-like tool, police said.

“I believe he broke in not knowing she was in there, and the rest of what transpired was a result of him being inside her home and finding her in bed,” said Smith. Once the victim was discovered asleep in her home, the believed initial criminal intentions of property crime escalated into a vicious sexual assault and “ended up as a brutal murder.” Evidence of this is supported by the weapon of opportunity the offender used to attack her; it was a weapon the suspect did not bring to the crime scene.

“The suspect beat McDonald with a giant pepper mill. It was a weapon of opportunity,” said Smith. “Just a brutal scene.”


McDonald’s granddaughter was the person who discovered the body shortly after the homicide.

Earlier that day, neighbours had reported observing two strangers knocking on other doors in the area. It’s not known if these individuals are linked to McDonald’s murder. However, homicide investigators do have one crucial piece of evidence that links the unknown killer to the crime – his DNA.

“This is one of the cases all of our investigators want nothing more than to solve.” – Det. Sgt. Steve Smith

In 2016, Toronto police were able to establish the suspect’s description and ancestry given the advancements in forensic phenotyping. He is described as being of possible European descent with “blue to intermediate-coloured eyes and dark hair.” Police believe the killer was between 20 and 30 years of age at the time of the homicide and would now be somewhere between the age of 50 and 60.

A police sketch was previously released of the suspect based on his DNA profile and 1994 witness information that described him having long dark hair, olive skin and dressed in leather tassels.

There was no match of the offenders DNA when it was submitted to the national DNA database, a setback that has not hindered the investigation moving forward. The Toronto police cold case unit are now focusing on the latest science that has seen some success with the identification of cold case homicide suspects in the last few years. “We are presently following up with our investigative genetic genealogy to see where it leads us,” confirmed Smith.

Investigators are optimistic it may lead to the killer in McDonald’s unsolved homicide as it did with the 1984 homicide of Christine Jessop and the 1983 murders of Susan Tice and Erin Gilmour.

“This is one of the cases all of our investigators want nothing more than to solve,” Smith said.

The Toronto police have approximately 700 cold case files. Of those unsolved cases, there are 43 incidents where a DNA sample has been successfully recovered from a crime scene that is believed to belong to the killer.

Anyone with information about this case can contact the Toronto homicide unit at 416-808-7400 or anonymously at Crime Stoppers: 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).

Stephen Metelsky, M.A., is an author, professor and (ret.) sergeant. Follow him on Twitter @StephenMetelsky.

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