Menendez-Crocker edge-city murders .. what’s a girl like you doing in a place like this?

Feb 19th, 2007 | By L. Frank Bunting | Category: Crime Stories

Sometimes you hear about a murder in the media, and you think that could be someone I know. Other times it sounds more like a paperback you read on a rainy vacation, when nothing else was around. The February 12, 2007 double-slaying of Paula Menendez, 34, and Julie Crocker, 33, at a quiet family home in the Toronto region edge city of Markham, Ontario, fits both scenarios.

Charged with the two murders is “Chris Little, 35, the estranged husband of Crocker.” Full of grief at what happened is “Toronto radio sports announcer Rick Ralph,” 37 – the ex-husband of Paula Menendez, and a new boyfriend of Julie Crocker. The story must in some way be about how things can suddenly go very wrong, when romantic passion gets out of hand. But the murders were “carried out with disturbing brutality.” Life in the edge-city suburbs can run dark and deep, no matter how bright the surface appears.

Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice … ?

The local TV Ontario Saturday night movie, just after the Menendez-Crocker murders hit the press, was the 1969 probe of the perils of free love, Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice (with Natalie Wood, and music by Quincy Jones).

It may have been strictly a coincidence, and planned months in advance. But Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice inevitably offered one model for at least something about the mystery of Rick Ralph, Paula Menendez, Chris Little, and Julie Crocker. On Valentine’s Day, Wednesday, February 14, the press had already reported that Inspector Bill Faulkner “wouldn’t comment on whether the two couples socialized together before their marriages ended.”

On the morning of February 15, 2007 “Toronto radio sports announcer Rick Ralph released a short statement … saying these past few days have been a time of enormous grief for the families of the victims.’” (A particular sad note is that Julie Crocker, an “ad account manager at radio station CHFI leaves behind two girls, 4 and 3, who were sleeping as she was killed and who are now with relatives.”)

This was “Ralph’s first comment since the bodies of his ex-wife Paula Menendez and his new girlfriend Julie Crocker were found in a Markham home early Monday morning” (February 12). He “went on to say that he wants his privacy and will not be making any further statements.”

You have to respect Rick Ralph’s natural wish for his privacy, even if he is a radio sportscaster. In Southern Ontario, as in similar places in other parts of the North American continent and the global village, it still doesn’t do to talk too much about such things in public. Yet a few bare facts about unusual murders often get reported in the media. Some parts of the public feel they need to know at least that much. They may not be entirely mistaken. And in the case of the Menendez-Crocker edge-city murders some of the bare facts are especially striking.

On Valentine’s Day the press was reporting that, two days before, Julie Crocker “was found in her bed with her throat slashed … Downstairs in the garage of the home Crocker once shared with” accused murderer Chris Little (“95 Larkin Blvd in Markham”), Paula Menendez “was found hanging from the rafters, her hands and feet bound.” An autopsy confirmed Crocker “died from sharp force trauma to the neck.” Menendez “was strangled with a ligature. Co-workers told reporters her twin sister delivered a baby the day she was killed.”

What could have gone wrong?

There are a lot of baffling pieces to the puzzle of just what has happened here. The accused murderer and estranged husband of Julie Crocker, Chris Little, “who worked for a company that specialized in fibre optics, was seen at a … car dealership Saturday [February 10], making arrangements to swap the names on two car leases in his and Julie Crocker’s names …

“He was telling me that he and Julie, well it was over for them,’ a man who didn’t want his name used but who spoke to Little that day said. But he said it was amicable and they had a plan and they were working it out. He seemed together’ … The man said Little appeared quite calm.” Three days later Chris Little “looked downcast and forlorn as he made a video appearance” at a courthouse. He “told Justice of the Peace Linda DeBartolo he understood the charges against him before he was remanded to March 9.”

Oddly enough: “It was Little who called police from inside the home, around 3:30 a.m.” in the early morning of Monday, February 12. He “told the 911 operator that he had found two women dead in the home,’ but did not confess to the killings.” Police apparently “initially believed they were attending a murder-suicide.” And the press has reported that some “friends and relatives of Little have said they believe he stumbled on a murder-suicide at Crocker’s home.”

The police rather quickly came to a different conclusion, and charged Chris Little with the murders. It is not too hard to see why. The only way a murder-suicide scenario would appear to square with the known facts would be if Julie Crocker had somehow managed to strangle Paula Menendez, then hang her body from the rafters in her garage with “her hands and feet bound” (or vice-versa?), and then go back to her bedroom and slit her own throat.

At the same time, when the funerals for the two victims were held – Julie Crocker’s on Friday, February 16, and Paula Menendez’s on Saturday the 17th – the press was reporting that “both families” were “denying the accusations against Little.” It has also been reported that: “Death notices published in Toronto newspapers described Ms. Crocker as Mr. Little’s beloved wife’ and members of the accused man’s family have said they don’t believe he’s guilty of the crime.”

Police have nonetheless “indicated that investigators are working on a theory that Mr. Little abducted Ms. Menendez [from her home in nearby Etobicoke] and drove her to Ms. Crocker’s home [in Markham], where he allegedly killed both of them.” The police have also “said it was obviously a homicide that [has] very complicated relationships involved.’”

Then there is Chris Little’s “downcast and forlorn” look when he made his “video appearance” in court. And then there is a press report that “Little has hired lawyer John Rosen for his defence.” And Rosen “is well known for his defence of Paul Bernardo.” (Who in 1991 and 1992, in company with his kinky wife Karla Homolka, perpetrated the two most grisly and appalling sex slayings in recent Southern Ontario memory – despite appearing very much like an ordinary, quite bright, middle-class white guy with a university degree, who worked at “the Toronto office of PricewaterhouseCoopers“).

The world of Toronto radio stations, you might say, can be a bit fast (like similar worlds in many other parts of the global village today, no doubt). Julie Crocker worked at a Toronto radio station. And so did (and does) her new boyfriend (and Paula Menendez’s ex-husband) Rick Ralph. (It is also a bit interesting to note, maybe – and even while respecting his request for privacy, that Rick Ralph attended Paula Menendez’s funeral on Saturday, but not Julie Crocker’s on Friday.)

Paula Menendez, however, “was a popular physiotherapist,” and Chris Little (as above) “worked for a company that specialized in fibre optics.” The sometimes complicated love lives of people who work at Toronto radio stations are probably not all that much faster than those who work at many other places (though not insurance companies, maybe again).

An old friend who had been in the wedding party of Chris Little and Jule Crocker 10 years ago “described the pair as good, honest, normal hard-working people.’” A neighbour said “the family appeared as normal as can be.’” A close friend of Paula Menendez has said she “was in high spirits the weekend before her death … Paula was happy in her life and had a lot of things going for her.”

At Julie Crocker’s funeral, a relative said : “There doesn’t seem to be any way to explain, understand or fathom this tragedy.” The “Revered Burden,” who “conducted the hour-long ceremony,” agreed: “We do not know why this has happened … In the fullness of God’s time we will understand.”

Meanwhile, one or two further clues could come to light when Chris Little next appears in court, on Friday, March 9. Some dyed-in-the-wool local observers may sadly think back to 1898, when C.S. Clark published his near-legendary book Toronto the Good (in Montreal), with its telling motto on the title page: “Not necessarily Toronto alone but every city in America.” Others will remember what an insightful CIA operative is reputed to have said in the 1970s: “You can do anything you want in Toronto, so long as you don’t spit on the sidewalk.”

UPDATE: On Wednesday, November 25, 2009 a jury of his peers convicted Chris Little of Markham, Ontario of the double murder of his ex-wife, Julie C rocker, and Paula Menendez, the ex-wife of Julie Crocker’s lover, radio sportscaster Rick Ralph.  See “Edge-city suburbs can run dark and deep … jealous husband guilty in Greater Toronto double murder.”

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