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Daughter of notorious wife-killer Peter Demeter says 'twisted' childhood caused PTSD

Andrea Demeter Scratch didn't learn until she was nine years old that the couple she called mom and dad were not her real parents. She only found out when a school friend showed her a horrifying photo in a book of her real mother lying dead in a pool of blood in the garage of the family home.

Andrea Demeter Scratch was just 3½ when her father hired a hitman to brutally murder her mother

Andrea Demeter Scratch, left, was just 3½ years old when her mother was bludgeoned to death in the garage of the family home in Mississauga, Ont. Her father, Peter Demeter, right, was convicted of hiring a hitman to kill his wife of almost six years. (Andrea Demeter Scratch/CBC)

Corrections Canada knows Andrea Demeter Scratch only wants to hear one last thing about the man responsible for her mother Christine's murder decades ago.

She just wants to know when he's dead.

The man who arranged to have her beautiful mother killed is her biological father, Toronto-area land developer Peter Demeter, now 84, who has spent most of his adult life behind bars. The couple had been married almost six years when the bloody murder took place in the garage at the family's upscale home in Mississauga, Ont., on July 18, 1973.

The jury that found Demeter guilty of arranging the hit on his spouse heard that the wealthy Hungarian immigrant, who had a mistress, wanted his wife dead in order to collect a $1-million insurance policy. The person who carried out the murder has never been found.

Publicly, Demeter offered a $10,000 reward to help find the killer, but privately, he left his wife's grave without a tombstone.

A month after the slaying, Demeter was arrested and charged with plotting his wife's murder. His trial in 1974, one of the longest in Canadian history, ended with the jury finding him guilty of capital murder. Despite maintaining his innocence, he was sentenced to life in prison.

Christine Demeter was a fashion model from Austria. She was 33 years old when she was slain. (Andrea Demeter Scratch)

Demeter Scratch, 47, who now lives in London, Ont., hasn't visited or exchanged any correspondence with her father in a dozen years. He is blocked from contacting his only child — at her request. For her own mental health, she says she had to distance herself from him.

The final straw was receiving a package from her father at the fitness club where she worked. It was filled with clippings of articles about her mother's murder and bottles of wine she should try.

"He'd heard I was an alcoholic … it was like, 'Remember me? I killed your mother, now go drink yourself to death,'" Demeter Scratch recalled in an exclusive interview with CBC News. "It was the most warped thing ever."

Bludgeoned to death

She was just 3½ years old the day her 33-year-old mother, a fashion model from Austria, was bludgeoned to death in the garage while her little girl watched TV.

She has no memory of that day.

The night of the murder, she was taken to live with her father's cousin and his wife, the late Marjorie and Steven Demeter, who raised her.

Friends and relatives are shown outside the chapel after the funeral of Christine Demeter in Port Credit, Ont. Her husband, Peter, who is in the centre of the photo wearing glasses, offered a $10,000 reward to find her killer. (Dick Loek/Toronto Star/Getty Images)

For years, she thought they were her parents and their son, Stuart, her brother, until she was nine years old and a school chum showed her a picture of her real mother lying face down in a pool of blood beside a Cadillac parked in a garage. She says she was horrified. The photo was in a book about the case, By Persons Unknown: The Strange Death of Christine Demeter, written by Barbara Amiel and George Jonas.

That's when Demeter Scratch learned some of the truth about her past.

She would find out more not long after when the Demeters started taking her to visit her father in prison. Every Tuesday. The visits continued for about three years.

Prison visits led to night terrors

Her father, who was being held at Warkworth Institution in Campbellford, Ont., told her to stop calling the Demeters mom and dad. Confusing for a nine-year-old.

"It was a twisted world I lived in," she told CBC News.

Even now, she still has night terrors about the large clanging gates they had to pass through to get in and out of the prison. She can still recall being very afraid of the man behind bars who told her how to sit like a lady and how to act. 

Peter Demeter has spent most of his adult life behind bars for arranging the murder of his wife and plotting to kidnap and kill his cousin's son and his lawyer's daughter. (Ron Bull/Toronto Star/Getty Images)

Her instincts about her father, whom she now refers to simply as Peter, were right.

When she was 14, she was pulled out of school one day and taken to a hotel. Her "brother" Stuart was also taken into protective custody. Demeter Scratch says she was told her father, who was by then living in a halfway house, was planning to have Stuart kidnapped, held for ransom, and then killed. He reportedly didn't like the way his cousin was raising his daughter or managing his finances.

Demeter was taken back into custody and eventually convicted in the kidnapping plot.

A few years later, he was convicted of plotting to kidnap and murder his lawyer's daughter over a billing issue.

'You ooze evil out of every pore'

While sentencing him in 1988, Ontario Supreme Court Justice John O'Driscoll told Demeter: "You ooze evil out of every pore and contaminate everyone around you."

His daughter would not disagree with that statement.

As a father, he did more harm than good, she says. Even though she knew she didn't want to grow up to be like him, she has many regrets about her own past behaviour.

Lying, stealing, cheating, manipulating, drugs, alcohol, choosing men who were domineering like her father. She admits to making many mistakes.

I was a very lost human being.- Andrea Demeter Scratch

"I was a very lost human being," she said. "For many years, I either couldn't remember what happened the night before, or worse, I could remember all too well."

She says Marjorie and Steven Demeter put a lot of effort into trying to keep her on track, but they were dealing with "a pretty messed up kid who was constantly in trouble." She once even tried to burn down their house.

"My whole life, it was all about me," she said. "It took a lot to make me healthy."

Declared an unfit mother

Her biggest regret is losing custody of a daughter in 2004 when the girl was four years old. Demeter Scratch was declared an unfit mother after being caught driving drunk with the girl in the car. She says the court did the right thing taking the child away.

"I had no right to parent," she said. "I was an addict."

But she longs to have contact with her oldest daughter. If the girl ever reaches out, Demeter Scratch says she will find a mom who is happy and healthy and loves her.

She will also find out she has twin half-sisters who are now 11 years old.

Demeter Scratch says her twin daughters, above, are her No. 1 priority in life and the main reason she got clean and sober. But she would also like to reconnect with her oldest daughter, of whom she lost custody 13 years ago. (Andrea Demeter Scratch)

Rehab and AA

It was the fear of losing custody of the twins that motivated Demeter Scratch to get healthy.

She did two stints in rehab and immersed herself in Alcoholics Anonymous, which she credits with playing a big role in her recovery. Physical fitness was also a large part of her journey to wellness.

But it was only when a psychologist diagnosed her as having post-traumatic stress disorder that things from her past started to make sense.

Real recovery began when she started receiving treatment for PTSD.

"I am a different person today than I was. You live your life the best way you can possibly live it and then share it," she said. "I am going to help as many human beings as possible."

Started business to help others

She now runs a business helping others with PTSD, mostly veterans, coaching them on physical fitness, nutrition and how to access benefits. She also helps clients manoeuvre their way through the federal government's Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations.

She is a proponent of cannabidiol oil, or CBD, which is the non-psychoactive component in cannabis, and says it helps reduce her chronic pain, addictive impulses and inspires peace of mind.

"Though I have never known the horrors of war, I have gone through my own personal nightmare and come out on the other side a stronger and healthier person," she said about working with ex-soldiers.

Demeter Scratch says she is finally in a healthy place mentally. She has had a lot of counselling and continues to see a psychologist, who told CBC News that voluntary testing confirms she is clean and sober.

She knows she can't fix all the hearts she broke or correct her past mistakes, but she is adamant about paying it forward.

Nobody asks about mother

One thing that still makes her sad is nobody ever asks about her mother; they only ask about her locked-up father. She wishes she could remember more about her mom. She does recall that she had coarse hair, likely from dyeing it so much because she was a model. And she remembers she always smelled nice.

Demeter Scratch doesn't have many pictures of herself with her mother Christine. This is one she treasures. (Andrea Demeter Scratch)

Asked what she will do when she's notified about the death of her father, who has had heart issues and battled cancer several times, Demeter Scratch says she will likely find a place to bury his remains.

"I should be burying him for closure, for kindness, for godliness," she said. "Then it will all be a thing of the past."

Clarifications

  • An earlier version of this story said Demeter Scratch was told by her guardians to stop calling them mom and dad. In fact, it was her father who told her to stop calling Marjorie and Steven Demeter her parents.
    Jun 05, 2017 11:24 AM ET

About the Author

Alison Downie

CBC News

Alison Downie is a copy editor with CBC News. She has worked as a reporter, city editor and managing editor at several Ontario newspapers, including the Toronto Sun and Woodstock Sentinel-Review.