May 23, 1996

Theresa Boyle and Jill Mahoney

Families stricken by slayings

TORONTO - An Etobicoke family was struggling yesterday to explain the enigmatic life of their daughter after police confirmed she was one of three prostitutes slain by a suspected serial killer.

"The only way I can it explain it is to say I had two daughters. One was kind and likeable and the other I didn't understand and couldn't get through to," a shaken Sharon Ludgate said.

Brenda Ludgate, 25, was one of three prostitutes shot in the head Monday night. Shawn Keegan, 19, a transvestite, and Thomas (Deanna) Wilkinson, 31, a transsexual, were also gunned down.

Grief-stricken friends and families reflected on the lives of the trio yesterday, trying to come to terms with their horrific deaths.

"I don't know, in God's name, how she could have ever done something to have provoked someone to do this," Sharon Ludgate said.

"I find it difficult to tell my family and friends about this because they only knew the Brenda they saw here. I never discussed the other side of her. I don't know if it's shame or thinking that, as a parent, I've done something wrong."

Brenda had repeatedly promised her family she'd get her life back on the rails, but her willpower and their warnings were no match for the lure of the streets.

She drifted back and forth, from the safety of her parents' Etobicoke apartment to the street where she'd turn tricks to support her drug and alcohol addictions.

She'd return home for weeks at a time only to suddenly depart with assurances that she'd be back in a couple of days. Sometimes she slept under the open skies, sometimes at a friend's place and sometimes in the bed of a stranger.

The last time Ludgate saw her daughter was April 23. She was driving her van along Lake Shore Blvd. W. when she spotted Brenda at Long Branch Ave. waiting for a streetcar. She pulled over and the two briefly chatted.

"She said she would be coming home tonight or tomorrow. I said, 'Okay, be careful,'" her mother recalled.

Brenda grew up in North York where she had many friends but was always considered a follower.

Her father, Bill, remembered her as a "perfect, cute and lovable child."

School was a struggle and she dropped out of Downsview Collegiate in Grade 11.

She found work at a McDonald's restaurant and eventually moved to Harvey's where she worked her way up to assistant manager.

The downward spiral began about five years ago when she was led astray by a boyfriend who introduced her to drugs and alcohol.

Her struggles to kick the addictions repeatedly met with failure, most recently four months ago when she was expelled from a rehabilitation program for breaking the rules.

"You have to want to help yourself. She didn't, but she had good intentions," her father said.

The devastated man sat weeping in his living room yesterday, burying his face in his hands and wondering if he made some terrible mistake in the way he raised her.

"I tried to be understanding, but that didn't work. I got mad and that didn't work. I tried accepting it and that didn't work either," he said.

Brenda was his only daughter, the middle of three children.

"Brenda just never grew up. The boys turned out okay. They both have families and jobs," he said.

"But she always felt the ground rules were different for her," his wife interjected. "You're more protective of a daughter ... about what time they stay out till."

Her parents were forever rescuing her. She would phone them from the police station when she was picked up on prostitution or disorderly charges.

"We would tell her to keep a quarter on her and tell her to phone us if she needed us. She knew she could always come home," Bill said.

Brenda was hopeful that she would recover and had big plans for her life.

"She talked a lot about getting a job. She always wanted to be a mother," Bill said.

In her sober moments, she was a good chum to her mother.

"I'd take her to bingo with me and she'd get so excited if she got close (to winning)," Sharon said.

She was crushed when she learned two years ago that her daughter was turning tricks to support her habits.

"My heart just fell to my feet. I tried to talk to her and explain to her that it wasn't the way to live, that it was wrong."

Brenda promised to turn over a new leaf and chided her mother for worrying so much.

"I warned her of the dangers over and over and over. She would always say, 'Nothing's going to happen to me.'"

Across town, the other two slain prostitutes were being mourned by their friends.

Wilkinson was well known to the other transsexual and transvestite prostitutes.

"She was one of the older queens, everybody knew of her," said Chanel, another transsexual prostitute.

As a male transsexual, Wilkinson had the physical characteristics of a man, but felt like a woman. She had been taking hormones and had developed small breasts.

"She was very passable, you would not know (she was a man)," said Shalimar, a transsexual who used to work on the streets with Wilkinson.

She often wore little shorts, flat shoes and a sun visor because she was somewhat bald in the front.

Shalimar last saw Wilkinson two weeks ago when she was going into a stairwell to do crack. She had been addicted to the drug for about six years.

"She was very embarrassed, I guess, about her habit," said Shalimar. "She did her drugs but she was a very generous person, not greedy."

Wilkinson worked the streets for years and went to high school in Scarborough, where she "came out" as a transsexual.

Meanwhile, Daniel and Brenda Keegan, who are divorced, got together to talk about Shawn yesterday and to plan his funeral on Saturday.

His father wants the world to know his murdered 18-year-old son was a street kid by choice.

"He liked the free lifestyle. He wasn't stuck on the street. He wanted to be there. It's not like he was forced to live there," Daniel, 38, said from his Belleville home.

"They like that lifestyle. Some of them do. There's no rules, no regulations."

Keegan added he didn't keep "too strict" a household while Shawn was growing up.

Shawn didn't have any hobbies. He dropped out of high school, but his dad said he didn't know when.

"He didn't like sports. He just liked to hang out with his friends," his father said.

When Shawn told his parents about his lifestyle as a bisexual and a prostitute "we just accepted it," said Daniel Keegan, who said it came as a shock at first.

When he heard his son worked as a prostitute he said: "I was expecting it. It was his lifestyle, it comes with the nature of being what he was, his behavior and such.

"The only picture of him in recent years is of him dressed up on Halloween (last year), like he was that night (he was killed) ... the same thing he was wearing that night, a dress.

"It was sort of a breakthrough thing to let us know," said Keegan, adding his son described himself as a transvestite. "He used those words a couple of times.

"I just accepted it. Someone's preference has nothing to do with the person."

But Shawn did tell his father he was unhappy being a man. "He said he liked to dress up like that but he didn't use the word (transvestite) until recently."

"I loved my son. That's all I've got to say," Brenda Keegan said.

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Created: June 1, 1996
Last modified: February 8, 1997

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