In a bizarre trial playing out in Toronto, a man is accused of enslaving and brutally beating a homeless couple for years, stealing their disability checks and even abducting their newborn son.
Gary Willett Sr. has pleaded not guilty to charges of assault, forcible confinement, failure to provide the necessaries of life, theft of more than $5,000 and the abduction of a child under 14. His wife, Maria Willett, faces similar charges and may stand trial separately.
Willett Sr. denies enslaving the homeless couple, saying they were allowed to come and go from his home as they wished, his lawyer told The Washington Post. He said he used monthly disability checks from the couple to pay for rent and food. He maintains that he and his wife did not, in fact, abduct the couple’s child — he says they adopted him in a consensual decision with the boy’s parents, the lawyer said.
But prosecutors and the allegedly enslaved couple, Tim Goldrick and Barbara Bennett, tell a different story.
Goldrick, who testified that he has “intellectual issues,” said the Willetts coerced him into staying at their home. While Bennett managed to eventually escape, Goldrick allegedly remained imprisoned over the course of more than two decades, according to court testimony reported extensively by the Toronto Star.
“They said, if you ever try to leave, that we’d put you in a mental institution,” he told the court, according to the Star. “And I didn’t want that so I didn’t leave.”
Willett Sr. first came across the homeless couple in 1988, when he found the pair eating food out of dumpsters on the streets of Toronto. He offered to help the couple, finding them an apartment in a building where he worked as the superintendent, the man’s lawyer, Sam Goldstein, told The Post.
In the years that followed, prosecutors say the living situation took a grim turn.
After moving into a second building with the Willetts, Bennett became pregnant by Goldrick. On the day she gave birth, in 1989, Bennett presented herself at the hospital as Willett’s wife, Maria, using the woman’s medical identification. Prosecutors allege the Willetts forced Bennett to lie so they could take her son.
The Willetts named him Gary Willett Jr., and raised him as their own, never telling him the truth about his biological parents.
Bennett said she gave up her son because “I figured if I didn’t I’d probably get hit,” she told prosecutors, the Star reported. “At that time, I didn’t know if it was wrong or not.”
She testified in court that she would be slapped in the face if she didn’t clean the house properly.
“I would get hit and get told to do it again. Clean it up,” she said. “Clean up the mess.”
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Then in 1993, the tale took another twist: Bennett became pregnant again, by a brother of Willett Sr.’s. About six months later, Bennett left with her infant daughter, leaving Goldrick and her biological son, Willett Jr., behind, Goldstein said. Her mother helped her escape the home.
During the years after Bennett left, Goldrick alleges that he continued to suffer physical and emotional abuse at the hands of the Willetts.
Willett would hit, kick and punch Goldrick — sometimes in the middle of his sleep — for unknown reasons, he said. On some occasions, the beatings were so brutal Goldrick would bleed from the nose and mouth, filling a toilet bowl with blood, Goldrick told a court, according to the Star.
For 12 years, he lived in a tiny area in the basement hallway between two rooms, the Star reported. He alleges he was only able to leave for occasional errands and chores, with permission from the Willetts. Willett Sr. admitted to monitoring footage from security cameras set up around his home, including one near the kitchen fridge.
Goldrick, who is 6-foot-2, became emaciated, reaching a weight of only 106 pounds, according to court testimony. His teeth began to break, rot and fall out.
If Goldrick tried to take food from the fridge, Willett would beat him, he said.
All the while, Willett Jr., the son, knew Goldrick only as Tim, the man who lived in the basement. The boy bore witness to some of the abuse. He recounted a time in which he saw Goldrick coughing up blood, but Goldrick instructed him not to tell anybody. He testified that Goldrick served as a “slave-type maid” for the family, the Star reported.
In 2012, a dispute arose between family members, leading Willett Jr. to leave the home. Relatives began telling him they suspected Willett Sr. was not his real father. Willett Jr. managed to get Goldrick out of the home that year, convincing him to get into a car with him.
A paternity test later confirmed that there is a 90 percent chance Goldrick is the father of Willett Jr., who is now 28, the Star reported.
Police filed charges against the Willetts in 2014. All evidence has been presented to the judge hearing the case. Closing statements are set for Nov. 10.
Goldrick, now 56 and living with his biological son, told the Star he still suffers nightmares and shakes from the abuse he suffered for years.
“This has wrecked my life,” said Willett Jr. “I think about why it happened, why is my life like this?”
“How is someone stolen as a child and everything is OK?” he added.