A businessman who had been a controversial, charismatic figure on James Street North for more than two decades has died, the victim of an apparent murder in Mexico.

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Ron Burridge conducted church services and exorcisms in the Hotel Hamilton on James Street North. (Courtesy of Cynthia Hill)

Ronald Burridge, known widely as Reverend Ron, was killed in the city of Acapulco on the night of June 16, according to Dan Ward, a downtown business owner who had been friends with Burridge since the mid-1980s.

Burridge's lawyer, Ward said, had contacted him on Wednesday to inform him of the murder. 

"He was killed with a blunt object to the head," said Ward. "That's what killed him — but they broke a bottle and stabbed him in the chest and in his face, you know."

Burridge, who was believed to be in his late 60s, ran Hotel Hamilton for more than two decades. He had been living full-time in Mexico for about three years, Ward said. He and his wife looked after their Burridge's house in Ancaster until it was sold in December 2012.

"[Mexico] is where he wanted to retire," said Ward, who, along with his wife June, owns a buidling on James North near Cannon. "He loved the people over there, he said. He always told me it's dangerous, but they don't bother him."

Ward said his friend lived in a four-storey villa and was looking to rent out rooms to generate income.

"That's where he was going to make his bed and breakfast. He wanted me to go down there and I said, 'It's too dangerous.' "

Evangelist, businessman

Once a hair colourist in Toronto, Burridge gained notoriety as a flamboyant, Bible-thumping landlord to the down and out.

He held church services — and conducted exorcisms — in the Hotel Hamilton, the rooming house on James Street North he owned for more than 20 years.

Related: A sign past its time: The exorcist and Hotel Hamilton

"He had a magic about him," said Cynthia Hill, whose Blue Angel Gallery is just south of the old Hotel Hamilton. "He could walk into a crowd of 100 people and he'd be the one you'd remember."

However, Burridge's behaviour, as well as the condition of the hotel, is said to have earned him adversaries among business owners who operated downtown.

According to a 2009 article in the Hamilton Spectator, Burridge was "outspoken about his dislike of Hamilton and what he considered the rampant problems on James Street North" and enraged the local BIA by holding rogue meetings in his hotel every month.

The hotel, which rented rooms to single men for $400 per month, was considered a dive, a reputation that Ward believes it didn't deserve.

"He ran a nice hotel down there. It's not what they said. But it was, you know, messy. He tried to help people on the streets, you know?"

Burridge sold the property in 2006 to Toronto developers. It changed hands again three years later and has since been turned into artists' studios.

Investigation

Many details about the circumstances surrounding Burridge's death are still not known.

His  family in Ontario confirmed his death, but would not comment further.

Hill said Burridge was open to assisting others to the extent that it made him "vulnerable." 

"His idea of helping people would put them at risk," she said. "That's probably what he met."

The federal Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) would neither confirm nor deny Burridge's slaying, but did say it is involved in an investigation into the death of "a Canadian citizen who passed away in Mexico."

"Canadian consular officials in Mexico are in contact with local authorities to gather additional information and are providing consular assistance to the family as required," a DFAIT spokesperson wrote in an email to CBC Hamilton.

"However, to protect the private and personal information of the individual concerned, further details on this case cannot be released."