Neighbors reportedly complained of corpse-like odor for seven years
NORTH YORK, Ontario––Even before nearly 300 cats were found on May 3, 2019, huddled in Apartment 1811 at 30 Falstaff Avenue, North York, Ontario, the suburban Toronto building was well-known to police.
Built in 1970, Falstaff Towers, a cluster of buildings including three 19-story public housing projects, has been involved in at least seven homicides, several other allegedly drug-related shootings, and one apparently unsolved disappearance.
The discovery of so many cats stashed in just one two-bedroom apartment, however, was a shock to just about everyone, including frustrated neighbors who said they had complained for as long as seven years about feline odors and noise.
Some reportedly suspected that the apartment contained a rotting corpse––which, for the location, would not have been surprising.
Humans “taken out of the unit”
Three hundred or more cats, and sometimes as many dogs, have been found in many previous investigations of animal hoarding cases around the U.S. and Canada, but not in such limited space.
Toronto Animal Services program manager Mary Lou Leiher told media late on May 6, 2019, the fourth day of cat evacuations by rescue workers wearing hazardous materials suits and respirators, that the apparently multiple human residents of Apartment 1811, who have not yet been named, “have been taken out of the unit and are no longer living there.”
Leiher indicated that the cat owners would not be criminally charged, despite exceeding the metropolitan Toronto area limit of six cats per resident almost 50 times over.
“It’s not the appropriate course of action,” Leiher said.
Video from the scene showing a bathtub stool and grab bar indicated that at least one resident was elderly and/or disabled.
ANIMALS 24-7 tentatively identified one possible suspect, a university-educated woman of approximately 50 years of age who spent 14 years in the Canadian Armed Forces, but has apparently drifted through multiple temporary jobs in the dozen years since her discharge, often holding more than one job at a time.
While some particulars of identification link this person to the address, however, ANIMALS 24-7 found nothing linking her to the cats, and also found her name associated with another address about 20 minutes to half an hour away.
As of sundown on May 6, 2019, Toronto Animal Services staff had removed 171 cats from Apartment 1811, Leiher said, expecting to find and remove about 100 more.
No parasites or illness
“We haven’t found parasites or illness,” Leiher said. “The good news is we can help all these cats and it shouldn’t take too long.”
Toronto Animal Services was summoned to the scene by Toronto Community Housing, which owns and manages the Falstaff Towers complex, and by Toronto Public Health, Leiher told media.
Toronto Cat Rescue took in 79 of the first cats to be taken out of Apartment 1811, executive director Belinda Vandersluis said. Many of them were pregnant.
“They’re doing really well, playing, eating — some are quite shy and a little stressed out, some are a bit thin, but for the situation [they are coming from], they’re doing quite well,” Vandersluis told media.
No evidence of involvement in rescue
Contrary to widespread speculation that Apartment 1811 was somehow involved in organized cat rescue, Vandersluis added, “I think the situation is that the cats in the home had litters of kittens and then those litters of kittens had litters of kittens.”
Thirty-eight of the first cats removed from the apartment were taken to the Birch Dan Animal Hospital in Scarborough, another nearby Toronto suburb.
“Surprisingly, most of the cats were healthy,” Birch Dan Animal Hospital employee Karley Lux told CTV News producer Adam Ward. “There are no fleas or infection, which is surprising.”
Second big case in six weeks
The Falstaff Towers hoarding case came to light just six weeks after Toronto Animal Services, Toronto Cat Rescue, and the Etobicoke Humane Society responded to a similar situation in Etobicoke, the Toronto suburb just west of North York.
In that instance, about 120 cats were taken from the premises of a person who reportedly called the Etobicoke Humane Society after realizing the situation was out of control.
“This person was not out collecting cats,” Vandersluis told Global News reporter Erica Vella. “They had a few cats, [the cats] were never spayed or neutered, and they kept procreating,” until “they just filled the house.”
Mayhem in “Toronto the Good”
The Toronto Community Housing Corporation, which built and manages the Falstaff Towers complex, is the second-largest public housing provider in North America, second only to the New York City Housing Authority.
Among the 58,000 Toronto Community Housing residential units, occupied by 164,000 tenants, few have been more problematic than some of those at Falstaff Towers.
The first known murder at 30 Falstaff Avenue was the July 1991 shooting of Dwight Anthony Kelly, 28. Two other sometime residents, Warren Anthony Blackstock and Renford Farrier, were convicted of the killing in 1993.
Next door, at 40 Falstaff Avenue, Marcia Hylton, 38, was stabbed to death in July 1995 by Nathaniel Cyril Findlay, father of one of her five children. A five-year-old child was stabbed trying to protect Hylton. Findlay jumping from a balcony, killing himself.
Lincoln Wilson, 22, was shot dead at 30 Falstaff Avenue in April 1997. Two men, Mark Evans and O’Neil Saunders, were convicted of that murder in 1998 and 1999, respectively.
Warren Anthony Blackstock, by June 1999, was out of prison and back in the neighborhood. One night Blackstock pistol-whipped a man named Craig Patrick. The next day someone shot Blackstock, paralyzing him below the waist, and killed his three-year-old daughter Breanna Davy.
Convicted of the murder, Patrick served six and a half years in prison, but was released in 2005 by order of the Ontario Court of Appeal and acquitted at a second trial in 2007.
Four more shootings
Meanwhile, at 50 Falstaff Avenue, 20-year-old Jermaine Miller was fatally shot in June 2006. At 30 Falstaff Avenue, Aeon Grant, 19, was shot dead in December 2009, and Tyrell Duffus, 22, was shot in February 2010.
Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno attributed the Grant and Duffus killings to “internecine bang-bang between the Cripps and the Generalz over drugs and territorial control.”
There have apparently been no further confirmed fatalities at Falstaff Towers, but men were shot and wounded there in November 2015 and February 2019, and an 18-year-old woman was last seen there in June 2017.