Wednesday, January 13, 1993

Kevin Hann

p. 4.

Accused murderer in court

Dan "Gentle Ben" Johnson told his friends and family he would move back to his British Columbia hometown this week.

Instead, the hulking jail guard appeared in court yesterday, charged in the first-degree murder of transsexual callgirl Grayce Baxter.

Wearing a prison-issue orange jumpsuit and light blue T-shirt, he spoke only once, saying he understood the charge against him.

Defence lawyer Bill Parker is preparing a bail application for Johnson, who was remanded in custody until Jan. 19.

Metro Police detectives arrested Johnson, 23, at his North York apartment last Friday.

The arrest came one night before a "going-away" bash for Johnson and a pal he asked to move west with him.

"I talked to Dan last Wednesday," long-time friend Derrick Gray, 23, told the Sun from B.C. yesterday.

"He said he was under investigation by the prison," for treatment of an inmate, he added. "I was shocked when I heard about (the arrest)."

Johnson wrote a letter to the Sun just before his arrest, staing he'd seen Baxter the night she died.

The letter arrived at the newspaper Monday and was turned over to the police.

"He had two letters -- one that he sent you and one mailed to his parents," said Gray.

Ivan and Pat Johnson, and daughter Christine, 19, hadn't received the letter yesterday.

"The RCMP suggested that we not read i, because it's too graphic," said Pat. "But Dan said we should."

Johnson -- an avid weightlifter -- used his 6-foot-3 frame to advantage as a high school football, rugby and hockey player. Friends nicknamed him "Gentle Ben".

On learning of his planned return, Gray made Johnson a groomsman for his wedding set for April 10.

Det.-Sgt. Tony Warr said he and eight investigators have worked "steadily" since Baxter was reported missing last month, but haven't found her body.

Police reportedly searched a Pickering dump yesterday, but found no clues.

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Created: July 16, 1997
Last modified: July 16, 1997

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