Hamilton's serial predators and Project Advocate

Project Advocate was a special joint task force between the Hamilton and Halton police departments which formed in 2003. Project Advocate was originally formed to investigate a series of violent sexual assaults on sex workers, the murder of Kimlyn Judy Tolgyes and the disappearances of Susan Gourley and Felicia Floriani. Floriani’s remains were found in 2012 in a farmer’s field in West Lincoln, Ontario. Gourley is missing, presumed dead.

The task force consisted of four Hamilton detectives and two Halton detectives headed by Staff Sergeant Steve Hrab of Hamilton Police. The task force originally believed that all the crimes were committed by one person, eventually this was expanded to seven and later possibly narrowed to five. In 2004, Project Advocate disbanded due to a lack of leads without charging anyone with the murder of Tolgyes, and without finding Floriani or Gourley. The task force investigated over 800 tips and 150 people of interest in connection with the cases. According to this article, the task force was created as a requirement by the Ministry of the Attorney General in order to improve the handling of major crimes across jurisdictions.

The following information was gathered across a number of sources found in the Hamilton Spectator. We have tried our best to sort through the events in an organized manner in order to get a full picture about the context of Gourley's disappearance. If the reader finds any errors, please report them to us. To view a collated PDF of all consulted articles click here.

Project Advocate Timeline (see below for a text version):

January 9, 2001 - "Victim 1: A 40-year-old sex worker services a john then he pulls out a gun and robs her."

March 6, 2001 - "Victim 2: A 17-year-old sex worker is strangled with a ligature until she is unconscious. When she wakes, her pants are down and her money is gone. Her neck is permanently scarred."

September 25, 2001 - "Victim 3: A 33-year-old sex worker strangled by a ligature. It breaks and she escapes."

October 2001 - Police issue warnings to sex workers along with a composite sketch of a possible suspect.

Susan Gourley, undated photo

Susan Gourley, undated photo

November, 2001 - "Victim 4: Susan Gourley, 39-year-old sex worker, is last seen. She is reported missing by her mother February 28, 2002 according to RCMP and on Aug. 31, 2002 by family according to Hamilton police."  

August 1/2, 2002 - "Victim 5: A 43-year-old sex trade worker is coaxed into the car of a man who has bought her a coffee on Aug. 2, 2002 at Barton and Wellington Streets. They drive over the Skyway and north on Kerns Road in Burlington. The woman is upset about the distance they had driven and notices the man never actually comes to a full stop at intersections, so she can't hop out. Finally, on Kerns Road, the car -- a two-door white sporty vehicle with a standard shift and sunroof -- does stop and she gets out. The smooth-talking driver manages to talk her back in. A while later, they pull into a parking lot at Kerns Park. The driver's demeanour changes from calm and reassuring to violent. The woman is sexually assaulted. She escapes and yells for passers-by to help."

Another newspaper article says that the attacker pushed her out of the vehicle and that she was not a sex worker.

Kimlyn Judy Tolgyes, undated photo

August, 2002 - "Sex worker seen by a witness trying to escape from a small white, sporty car early one morning on Barton Street East of Oak Avenue in July or August 2002." She had scratches and welts on her neck. Police received this tip around April 2003. Witness was a man going to the corner store.

August 29, 2002 - "Victim 6: The naked decomposed body of Kimlyn Judy Tolgyes, a 19-year-old sex worker, is found near the entrance of Kerncliff Park off Kerns Road on Aug. 29, 2002. It is not believed that she was killed in the park. She was last seen getting out of a red pick-up truck on Grant Avenue around 9:00pm on 23 or 24 of August." 

September, 2002 - "Victim 7: Felicia Floriani, 15, is reported missing by her youth group home. She is known to work as a sex worker. Last seen September 2002." Floriani’s remains are found in West Lincoln in 2012.

Felicia Floriani, undated photo.

September 4, 2002 - "Victim 8: An unconscious 18-year-old woman is found in bushes at Barton and Hess streets on Sept. 4, 2002. She has been beaten and strangled with a ligature. She has suffered serious brain damage as a result."

November 2002 - Project Advocate Established. Police issue second warning with the composite sketch.

March 5, 2003 - "A 33-year-old woman is attacked getting off a bus at King and Wentworth." She struggled free. 

2003 - Police receive a tip from a witness. She claims that in July or August 2002 she saw another sex worker trying to escape from a man jump out of a small, white sporty car early one morning on Barton Street East of Oak Avenue.  The victim reportedly had scratches and welts on her neck. Additional article.

April, 2003 - Police use cadaver dogs to search Kerncliff park for Floriani and Gourley.

May 13, 2003 - Woman sexually attacked and robbed after being offered a ride home. She escapes and calls police from a nearby office building but leaves before the cops get there. The attacker was in a dark grey Chevrolet or GMC truck.

June 26, 2003 - Two sex workers are assaulted. In both incidents the sex trade workers were picked up in downtown Hamilton. "One of the women said she was picked up by a man driving a stolen vehicle and driven to #1 Sideroad in Burlington. The victim escaped by jumping out of the moving vehicle." Three hours later, a second alleged victim was picked up in a different stolen vehicle on Barton Street in Hamilton and driven to Dundas where she was attacked. The victim was later driven back to Hamilton and released. John Earl Crouse was charged with "sexual assault, assault, forcible confinement, theft and possession over $5000."

Another description of the June 26 2003 attack: “On June 26, the predator struck twice. The first time, at 1:30 a.m., he offered a sex worker at Main and Wentworth streets $150 for sex. She got into the car and did crack cocaine while he drove her to Waterdown. When she realized where she was and remembered the warnings she had been given from police about a "bad date" who was taking girls to that area, she said she wanted to go back to Hamilton. At that point, he punched her in the face and upper body. She escaped into the bushes. He drove around trying to find her, but eventually left. Amazingly, at 5 a.m. that same morning, he was back at it, using another car which police believe was stolen. He offered another sex worker $150, drove her to Old Guelph Road in Dundas and forced her to perform oral sex on him.”

August 19, 2003 - "Woman, picked up in Hamilton, is sexually assaulted and forcibly confined. Peter Conka is charged in May 2004."

August 22, 2003 - Police send cadaver dogs to scour 'North Burlington Area,' a 6.4 km stretch on #1 Sideroad between Cedar Springs and Appleby Line.

August 2003 - Police release predator profile. Looking for a “power assertive” rapist.

October, 2003 - Crouse and Conka were in custody as of October. Both men look like the composite sketches.

October, 2003 - Waterloo police look for suspect in sexual attacks. The composite sketch in those cases are strikingly similar to the sketches put forward by Project Advocate.

February 2004 - Police reveal that they are investigating up to seven people in connection with more than a dozen attacks on sex trade workers. “There is no one predator attacking, raping and murdering street workers," says Staff Sergeant Steve Hrab to the Hamilton Spectator. This is the first time police reveal they are looking for more than one suspect.

February 19, 2004 - A 35-year-old woman was sexually assaulted and robbed around Barton Street and Emerald Ave. Reportedly, "another sex worker came to the woman’s screaming aid and the pair flagged down a police car." Not connected with Project Advocate.

Late May/Early June 2004 - Project Advocate disbanded due to lack of solid leads.

July 28, 2004 - 23-year-old woman sexually assaulted near a Kerns Road park. A 27-year-old Burlington man, Alexander Conrad Williams, was charged with sexual assault, break and enter and choking. Additional article

Summer 2004 - Cadaver search in Kerncliff Park, Burlington.

February, 2006 - Investigators from Project Advocate meet to investigate Michael Durant in connection with Tolgyes’ murder. He was arrested for the unrelated killing of Cassey Joyce Cichocki and Diane Christina Singh Dmitri in Niagara Falls, Ontario and is person of interest in four other cases (see below).

The serial predator was thought to operate along Barton Street between Wellington Street North and Gage Avenue North, as well as King Street East from Wellington to Sherman Avenue.The total amount of attacks investigated under the Project Advocate umbrella are unclear though it is most likely between 11 and 15.

Outcomes:

Police release composite sketches of their person of interest based on witness accounts (we have yet to locate these sketches). Most witnesses described the man as in his 20’s, slim/medium build, short blonde or red hair with blue or green eyes.

Peter (Petra) Conka - Was charged with sexual assault and forcible confinement for an August 2003 attack in which a woman escaped by jumping out of a car. Conka was found mentally unfit to stand trial at first then later convicted of sexual assault on one woman. He has since been deported to the Czech Republic. We are currently pursuing more information including trial records.

John Earl Crouse - Was charged with sexual assault, assault, forcible confinement, two counts of theft and possession of stolen property over $5,000 involving two victims. Crouse pleaded guilty to sexual assault. He received nine months in jail on top of the two years he is serving for dangerous driving. We are currently pursuing more information including trial records.

Alexander Conrad Williams - Was charged with sexual assault, break and enter, and choking. Believed to have attacked a woman in Kerncliff Park, possibly Victim 5. This case holds behavioral and geographical similarities to Tolgyes’ murder and his arrest prompted a cadaver search in Kerncliff Park for the remains of Gourley and Floriani. It is not clear if Williams is a person of interest in the murder of Tolgyes. Whereabouts unknown. We are currently pursuing more information.

After the arrests of these three men the attacks stopped, according to police.

Similar cases, deemed unrelated to Project Advocate:

Hamilton, Winter 1995 - Helen Gillings’ body was found in an alley at King and Emerald having been asphyxiated. Project Advocate looked at the case and ruled it out.

Hamilton, 2005 - Albert John Goddard arrested for assaulting two sex workers after driving them to secluded areas. He was investigated in relation to Project Advocate in 2005, they checked his whereabouts for earlier attacks.

Niagara Falls, 2006 - Michael Durant charged with the 2003 murder of Diane “Chris” Christina Singh Dimitri, and the 2005 murder of Cassey Joyce Cichocki. Also linked to the deaths of Margaret Jeanette Jugaru (2004)  Nadine Gurczenski (1999), Dawn Stewart (1996). Project Advocate looked into Durant for the murder of Tolgyes.

Hamilton, January 2008 - Najim Khairzad charged with three counts each of sexual assault, choking, unlawful confinement, and forced anal intercourse, along with one count of assault.

Conclusions:

Susan Gourley is still missing. She deserves our attention and time in order to be remembered as a person and not a point on a grim timeline. A practical next step is to determine whether the area in which Floriani's remains were found have been searched using cadaver dogs with the hopes of finding Gourley. Although they very likely did, we will be following up with police to get a firm answer of whether or not this happened. More information to come.