Driver Gerry Antoniuk sensed something was wrong almost immediately after arriving at his client.
No one greeted him at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, March 7, 1978.
He hit the horn and still there was no response.
“I knew something was wrong because I honked the car, no one came to the window to wave at me,” Antoniuk later told Bob Graham of The Star.
Antoniuk’s client was Harry Fagan, 63, an old CNE-style carny known as “Happy Harry” and “Mr. Showman from Ex.”
Fagan lived with his longtime wife Florence, 62, in a single-family home in the Bathurst and Eglinton neighborhood of downtown Toronto.
Fagan didn’t get rich selling new stuff and balloons, but he wasn’t doing bad either.
One of the perks he got after more than four decades of scrambling was that he bought himself a driver to drive him to work.
Harry Fagan was known to work seven days a week. In the beginning, before establishing himself as “Happy Harry”, he ran a fish and chip stand in Riverdale Park and Half Beat Harry’s Record Store downtown.
Over time he became President of International Concessions and sold novelty items and souvenirs to dealers at CNE and other Ontario fairs.
He also ran his own CNE booth, selling souvenir hats, sassy badges and balloons.
A parchment in his office read, “Forty years old – I started out selling balloons but loved every minute of this crazy business.
Antoniuk was trusted enough to have the key to Fagan’s family home. That Tuesday morning, when no one answered the door, Antoniuk phoned Fagan’s adult daughter and obtained permission to enter the house.
“I opened the door and shouted, ‘Hello!’ Said Antoniuk. “Upstairs in the living room, there were the contents of the cupboards. The place was ransacked.
Antoniuk knew that Fagan used to keep $ 500 to $ 1,000 in cash in the house. It was easy to wonder how many others knew that too.
“I looked into the kitchen, and where Mr. Fagan kept his money, in a toolbox, was emptied – I know there was about $ 500 in there on Sunday night because we had been working at the market. Dufferin chips, and I drove he comes home around 5pm ”
“I looked around the bedroom and everything was thrown onto the bed. I went to the exercise room that Mr. Fagan was still using, nothing. Nothing in the bathroom.
Then he checked out Florence Fagan’s sewing room.
“I slowly pushed open the door and saw a hand. Mrs. Fagan was on the floor and Mr. Fagan was on the bed, they were both dead.
Harry and Florence Fagan had both been shot at close range. Harry was shot in the chest and head while Florence was shot in the head.
It seemed like a massive overkill, as they were no match for an intruder with a handgun.
Their double murder was unsolved in October 1979, when police were called to another nearby homicide scene, this one a triple murder.
Once again, a couple who were not physically imposing were killed in their home, this time with their adult son also a victim.
Again, there was massive overkill and a very personal feel to the crimes.
Isaac (Ike) and Celia Airst, aged 55 and 43 respectively, lived in a house in downtown Toronto on the southwest corner of Glencairn and Englemount avenues with their son Avrom, 22.
A retired homicide investigator told The Star at the time that Airst’s murder “looked too much like the Fagans to ignore the similarities.”
The two couples had long-standing marriages and the Airsts were preparing to celebrate their 25th anniversary.
Again, there was no sign of the break-in.
Again, there was suspicion that the victims might have known their abuser or abusers.
How else could the killer get inside?
The Airsts were known for their privacy, and it was not uncommon for all three windows on the second story to be covered with blinds and for the windows on the first floor to be blocked by curtains. And Celia Airst regularly used an intercom in front of the double doors to screen visitors.
The order of the murders was not immediately clear.
The men were clubbed to death upstairs in their bedrooms. Celia Airst was clubbed and stabbed in the back just inside the front door.
Were the men killed first in their bedrooms, with Celia intervening in the crime?
Or was Celia killed first, attacking her or the attackers moving quickly, so Airst’s men didn’t hear the noise and went downstairs.
There was a major difference between the Airst and Fagan murders.
There was something methodical about the Airst family murders, while the killer (s) Fagan seemed to have been in a great hurry.
Nothing seemed to bother in the Airst residence, although their half-ton truck had disappeared from the driveway.
Investigators questioned whether anti-Semitism was involved in the Airst murders. The family had been killed on the eve of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.
Celia was active for Jewish causes and had worked for the Holocaust committee and for a few years with the Jewish Defense League.
“She was active in many charitable causes,” Rabbi David Monsson of Beth Sholom Synagogue told The Star. “She was always interested in good causes. “
It explained how Celia made the news in October 1971 when she and another supporter interrupted a dinner party for Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin at the Ontario Science Center in Toronto.
They chanted “Freedom! Freedom! And unveiled a red banner with the words “Let my people go”, in reference to Soviet restrictions on emigration to Israel.
After Celia was kicked out of the event, she told The Star that Kosygin had “a good idea of democracy in action”.
“We got through security with ease,” she said. “We didn’t intend to do anything violent. We just wanted to hold the sign.
She also tried to persuade the Canadian government to act against the Nazi war criminals of World War II.
Their son Avrom also had strong political views. At 13, he asked that the funds for his bar mitzvah be spent on planting trees in Israel rather than on gifts or donations to himself.
Isaac Airst had a reputation for being a kind and discreet man who did not show his money. He wore loose work pants and rubber boots, and he and Avrom came to work on a regular basis in a half-ton truck.
Like Harry Fagan, he had risen through the ranks in the world.
Isaac Airst had left school at 14 so he could help support his family, using his bicycle for tasks such as delivering newspapers and taking prescriptions for a pharmacy.
“He had a strong sense of obligation to his father, who was not doing well,” his sister Sylvia told The Star. “He wanted to help – our father was a furrier, and furs weren’t selling well back then. “
Isaac Airst repaired Corvette warships for the Navy during World War II. After the war, he worked in a family car tire retreading business before going into real estate and scrap metal.
He was a beefy man, but he probably didn’t put up much resistance to an intruder who entered the family home on Sunday, September 30, 1979 – he had a bad heart and had suffered a stroke.
Again, that was overkill.
Eventually, the police came to believe that the cases were unrelated, despite all the outward similarities.
“We do not consider the two cases to be linked,” said the acting detective. Sgt. Stephen Smith of the Toronto Police Cold Affairs Squad said in an email.
“As to the possible motives, they are tenuous at best, but the Fagan case is believed to have been directly linked to Mr. Fagan’s affairs, while the Airst case appears to be more of a robbery scenario,” he said. Smith said.
The murders of Fagan and Airst remain unsolved.