PEI

Alleged serial killer has long criminal history

Alleged serial killer Peter Dale MacDonald grew up in an ordinary family but quickly fell into a life of increasingly violent crime, people who knew him say.

Alleged serial killer Peter Dale MacDonald grew up in an ordinary family but quickly fell into a life of increasingly violent crime, people who knew him say.

Peter Dale MacDonald has been convicted of murder once and is charged with four others. ((CBC))

MacDonald, 52, was charged with three counts of first-degree murder Thursday in Toronto, on top of a murder charge he was already facing in Windsor, Ont. He is serving a life sentence for another Toronto slaying.

MacDonald grew up in the tiny P.E.I. community of Carleton Siding.

He had six siblings. People in the area say his parents were a hard-working couple who ran a general store and a potato warehouse. MacDonald's brothers and sisters all grew up to have careers, marriages and families of their own.

Those who knew MacDonald as a child say it's difficult to think of him as a killer. Brian O'Connor remembers playing with a young MacDonald in a local field.

"Then in the wintertime, down there in the hollow, used to be a great big pond," O'Connor said. "We used to spend pretty well a lot of time there playing hockey. Lot of good times."

"He never seemed to have a real bad temper or anything like that," said Hal MacWilliams, another acquaintaince."It had to have been something else that triggered off the way he turned out."

Peter Dale MacDonald grew up in the tiny P.E.I. community of Carleton Siding. ((CBC))

At Carleton Siding's school, he became known as the student nobody wanted to cross, according to former classmates.

"Out of class, he'd get a little rowdy by times," Keith Lowther said. "I guess we all done that. Some of us just knew better when to stop."

MacDonald dropped out of school in Grade 9 and started having run-ins with police. 

"Peter had a high IQ and school boredom," said retired RCMP officer Dave Holmes, who was a young corporal at the time police first encountered MacDonald. "So he dropped out of school and he started hanging around Summerside and Borden."

MacDonald became what a judge at the Prince County courthouse called "a regular customer."

Crimes became more violent

"I think he liked the feelings of committing crime because if you look at his record today, each time he seemed to be only out of jail for a few months or whatever before he was back in again," Holmes said. "And each offence seemed to be getting progressively more violent."

MacDonald was barely 18 when he was sentenced to two years in Dorchester Penitentiary in New Brunswick.

Peter Dale MacDonald once broke out of jail by digging this hole under his bunk. ((CBC))

After his prison term, he worked a stint at an auctioneering business but was fired. He moved to Charlottetown, where Holmes said he got involved in drugs and prostitution. Judges continually sent MacDonald to jail, but he was undeterred.

MacDonald broke out of jail twice, once by tunnelling a hole through the wall under his bunk.  He was picked up and sent back to prison.

He eventually moved to Hamilton, Ont., where he was sentenced to a total of 11 years in prison for robberies.

His record prompted police in Toronto to take a look at him when three women were killed in that city. Their bodies were found in Lake Ontario, between 1994 and 1997, but MacDonald wasn't charged with their deaths until this week. .

Julieanne Middleton, Virginia Coote and Darlene MacNeill were all sexually assaulted and strangled. They all worked in the sex trade.

Patrick Middleton, whose sister Julieanne is among MacDonald's alleged victims, went to court to see the accused for himself. ((CBC))

Some of the victims' relatives were in court Thursday to see MacDonald for themselves.

"He's cold," said Patrick Middleton, Julieanne's brother. "He's evil. You felt the evil off of him."

Earlier this year, police in Windsor, Ont., charged MacDonald in another cold case, the sexual assault and strangling of Michelle Charette 10 years ago.  

MacDonald is awaiting trial on all four charges of murder. He is already behind bars for killing Jimmy Campbell, a 63-year-old retiree he'd met in a Toronto park.