Tuesday, August 17, 1999

Philip Mascoll

p. B1.

Wife alarmed by Palma's behaviour

Admitted killer of three had violent history

Long before Marcello Palma shot to death three prostitutes in a two-hour killing spree, he had put a gun to his wife's head and repeatedly threatened to shoot himself.

But Rosa Palma never told her family or the police about her husband's bizarre behaviour because he said he'd kill himself if she called police, she told a hearing yesterday to determine Palma's mental competence.

Palma admits he killed the three but was not criminally responsible when he did it, his lawyer, Edward Geenspan, has said.

The 33-year-old father of one daughter was under a psychiatrist's care at the time of the killings but still had six restricted-weapons certificates and owned six firearms, including the .357 Magnum revolver he used to kill Brenda Ludgate, 25, transvestite prostitute Shawn Keegan, 19, and transsexual prostitute Thomas (Deanna) Wilkinson, 31, on May 20, 1996 — the Victoria Day holiday.

As his wife of almost 10 years answered questions from Greenspan and Attorney Chris McGoey yesterday, Palma sat in the prisoner's dock, repeatedly making hand signals at her.

He turned several times toward his parents, Adamo and Teresa Palma and older brother Francesco and mouthed words. Muttered expletives came from the direction of the trio several times during Rosa Palma's testimony.

Earlier, as he was brought into the courtroom in handcuffs, Palma struck out his tongue in the direction of the public benches where several members of the victims' families were seated.

In response to questions from Greenspan, Rosa Palma, 40, said Palma was her second husband. They married in 1990, after her first marriage to an alcoholic, abusive spouse was annulled.

In August, 1995, Palma started talking about wanting to die, and things got progressively worse, she said.

Early in 1996, he came home one evening and as was his custom, she gave him about a half hour to himself before going downstairs to talk to him.

I found him in a walk-in-closet, with a gun pointed to his head… I asked him what he was doing. He said he wanted to die.

"I told him he couldn't do that, because he had a responsibility to me and his daughter."

When she told Palma she would call the police," he said he would kill himself by the time they got there."

In answer to the crown's questions, Rosa Palma said her husband had put a gun to her head in February, 1996.

Palma had been acting strangely, and she called her brother-in-law to pick up their daughter. Palma started to get dressed to go out, and when she asked him to stay home so she could talk to him, he called her a slut, she said.

They argued, and he took out a gun.

"I told him I was going to call police. He held the gun to my head and took it away quickly."

Gun held to wife's head, trial told

Her brother-in-law walked in and saw Palma with the gun. They fought when Palma would not give up the weapon.

After an argument on Easter Sunday, 1996, Rosa Palma found a napkin he had been writing on. On it was a poem. Titled "A Poem to You," it began: I haven't cherished our love, as I should have My heart is filled with confusion, love, hate and so many other feelings of which I don't have words for In another verse, Palma writes: Your words of sweetness have turned to bitter stabbing arrows. Of which my shield has worn thin. Now I must protect myself With closed hands, and wicked eyes.

Rosa Palma said she took the poem and kept it to show her husband's psychiatrist.

Palma at one point told her that he had been a victim of sexual abuse at age 10. The abuser was a man, but he would not say who. "He was in a great deal of pain and started to cry," she said.

In answer to questions from McGoey, Rosa Palma said she had started divorce proceedings against her husband in April, 1996, after she found out he had a girlfriend.

Greenspan said he would be calling Claudia Taylor, whom the wife testified was Palma's girlfriend.

However, the proceedings were put on hold after he became a suspect in the killings.

According to the statement of fact, during several sessions with a psychiatrist, Palma said he wanted to kill people, particularly street people or "scum."

He also talked of marital problems during the sessions, which began in September, 1991, and admitted to having sex with prostitutes, transvestites and homosexuals, the statement says.

That May 20 afternoon, Palma became irate after receiving a call from his girlfriend. He rampaged around his air-conditioning business, punching and kicking things.

He eventually used a hammer to attack vehicles and equipment belonging to others with whom he shared the office.

Friends who witnessed the outburst persuaded him to come with them to a golf driving range, where he became calmer after hitting balls for five or 10 minutes.

Then he threw the club down and said, "To hell with you, I hate this game," and drove off, the statement says.

He visited his parents between 8 and 8:30 p. m., then left. According to the statement of fact, in the middle of a thunderstorm, as the rest of the city set off celebratory Victoria Day firecrackers. Palma loaded his Sturm Ruger .357 with five illegal hollow-point bullets, took the revolver and a knife and drove off in his red truck.

At about 11 p. m., he picked up Ludgate in the King St. W. area and drove to the back of a lighting supply company, where she was to perform oral sex.

Once there, Palma changed his mind and told her to get out of the truck. When she wouldn't leave, he hit her, then pulled her from the truck.

A resident of a nearby apartment building heard a scared voice shouting what sounded like "No!" before Ludgate was shot in the back of the head.

Two days later, Palma confessed to a friend as they chatted in a coffee shop.

"She wouldn't get out of the car, and I popped her," he said, adding, "(Later) I did the other two."

About 40 minutes after killing Ludgate, Palma picked up Keegan as he plied his trade, dressed as a woman, at Homewood Ave. and Carton St.

A witness in a nearby apartment building saw Palma and Keegan struggling at the top of a stairwell to the parking garage.

Palma pushed Keegan down the stairs, then shot him in the head, the statement says. But he was not dead.

Palma told his friend that as he left — putting up his umbrella to shield him from the rain — he saw Keegan "kind of getting up and shot him again."

A few minutes later, Palma crossed paths with his third victim, Wilkinson, as he walked along Homewood Ave.

Moments later a resident heard a man call out "You bastard!" and then a gunshot.

Wilkinson's body was not discovered until 9 the next morning. He had also been shot in the head.

Palma remained in Toronto for more than a week after the killings before leaving for Montreal with his brother, Frank.

He was arrested June 1, sitting on a Halifax wharf. The hearing continues on Wednesday.

[Toronto '99] [News by region] [News by topic]

Created: March 28, 2000
Last modified: January 31, 2001
CSIS Commercial Sex Information Service
Box 3075, Vancouver, BC V6B 3X6
Tel: +1 (604) 488-0710