HAMILTON—Richard Taylor had been keeping up appearances. He was a teacher and family man and had a nice home in Oakville.
He was apparently desperate for money, though, and was poised to profit from the deaths of his mom and her husband, killed in a fire that started while they slept on July 9, 2018.
Four days later, Hamilton police announced Al and Carla Rutherford were victims of homicide.
Det. Sgt. Steve Bereziuk, the lead investigator, said he was focused on those closest to the beloved retired couple as possible suspects. Months later, he would call the homicides “financially motivated.”
The Rutherfords’ Greening Court home in the Hamilton community of Dundas erupted in flames that began in their bedroom.
Carla, 64, died in the blaze. Alan, 63, miraculously escaped and managed to utter a crucial message on his next-door neighbour’s porch.
It was Rich. He did it for the money.
Why did Al name Rich?
Had there been a confrontation with Rich before the fire? A threat?
Did Al see Rich that night? Outside the house? Maybe even in the house?
Did Rich use his house key to let himself in?
Hours later, Alan died in hospital, with family by his side.
In recreating the night of the fire that killed Alan and Carla Rutherford, the search for a suspect in their deaths and the ripple effects the fire and the killings had on others, the Hamilton Spectator spent months speaking to multiple sources with knowledge of the family and the case, along with experts.
Some sources are confidential because they fear reprisal.
The Spectator independently verified all details.
The Spectator has also examined public financial, property, court and employment records and sifted through social media posts.
Members of Alan and Carla’s family declined to speak to the Spectator for this story.
Richard Scott Taylor has a bachelor of arts degree from McMaster University, where he played on a baseball team. He earned a bachelor of science in education from Medaille College in Buffalo, N.Y., according to the Ontario College of Teachers website.
He was then hired by the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board.
By the mid-2000s, Rich was teaching phys-ed at Billy Green Elementary, a junior kindergarten to Grade 8 school on Stoney Creek Mountain.
He had a reputation for being well-liked by students who thought Mr. Taylor was funny, and they appreciated that he coached teams and organized school dances, former colleagues have told the Spectator.
In 2013, when Billy Green received a $25,000 grant from the Heritage Green Community Trust, Rich created a program to use iPads and heart-rate monitors to record student workouts.
“You could be the worst athlete and still get an A in my class,” Rich told the Hamilton Community News at the time, emphasizing personal best performances.
“That’s what the real curriculum is, to be a lifelong learner. It just raises the awareness for personal health and fitness … We try to get the kids not only physically fit, but mentally fit.”
In December 2016, Rich was lauded as a hero by the Hamilton-Wentworth board after he and six other Billy Green staff members saved the life of a Grade 1 student who had collapsed in the playground.
While one staff member performed CPR and another called 911, Rich ran to the office to retrieve the defibrillator.
The boy had surgery to repair a previously unknown heart defect and was able to eventually return to school. At a school board meeting months later, the Billy Green staff were publicly acknowledged for their efforts.
Yet some staff thought Rich a bit odd.
One former colleague, who does not want to be named out of fear of repercussions from the school board, remembers Rich as a “scruffy” guy, slouched in a chair in the staff room, hands casually behind his head, dressed in baggy jeans and a sloppy T-shirt.
“He just looked like an unmade bed,” she says.
He had a quick and biting wit and often spoke harshly about students and their parents behind their backs.
While at Billy Green, Rich married Evangelia Papadimitriou, whom he called “Vange.”
He regaled staff with stories of their nuptials, comparing them to the 2002 movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the story of an overbearing family trying to interfere in every detail of a couple’s wedding.
Though Rich did not appear to have an extravagant lifestyle — at that time, he drove a Honda Civic — he did like to have the latest technology, several teachers have said.
He was the first to have the latest cellphone, tablets and other devices.
The same teacher travelled with him on a Grade 8 trip to Montreal, where she was horrified by his lack of concern when kids from another school tried to jump from balcony to balcony at their hotel.
“They’re not our kids,” Rich laughed.
That teacher and another former Billy Green teacher, who also does not want to be named, each say there were many unexplained thefts at the school that were never solved, but some speculated Rich was responsible.
In one case, $1,800 collected for a ski trip went missing from a filing cabinet. The theft was investigated by police, but nothing came of it. Money collected for Terry Fox runs and school trips also disappeared from teachers’ desks and filing cabinets.
Another time, a teacher put $50 LCBO gift cards in envelopes and placed them in the custodians’ staff room mail slots as Christmas gifts, several sources have told the Spectator. Later, the custodians thanked the teacher for her $20 Tim Hortons cards.
There is no public record of Rich ever facing any discipline, according to the Ontario College of Teachers website.
The Hamilton-Wentworth school board issued a statement to the Spectator saying: “We are unable to comment specifically about an individual’s employment-related matters as these cases are confidential.”
In September 2017, Rich moved to Hess Street Elementary School to teach Grade 2/3.
After he left Billy Green, teachers say money stopped disappearing. But, the teachers and others say, similar unexplained incidents began happening at Hess.
Toward the end of his first year at Hess, he missed weeks of school. Rich told some people he had pancreatic cancer. The Spectator has learned from sources with knowledge of Rich’s health matters that this is not true.
After the fire at his mom’s house, multiple sources say, Rich was walking with a cane, though it is unclear why.
Like many teachers, Rich had his summers off.
He was a woodworker with a shop in the garage of his Oakville home where he made charcuterie boards to sell. It’s also where he and his younger brother, Chris Taylor, built custom Muskoka chairs using baseball bats. The idea came when their mom wanted to clear out their old bats from the garage in Dundas.
They launched Taylor Bros. Chair Co. in the summer of 2015. The business had some success, including working with the Toronto Blue Jays’ Jays Care Foundation and high-profile sports companies.
Rich told the Huntsville Forester newspaper last June, less than a month before the fire, that the unexpected benefit of the business was spending time with his brother.
“That was part of the attraction for starting this company … At the very least we could get together more often and chat, have a beer. It also gives us an excuse to get the families together and hang out.”
The entire blended family seemed to get along, police have said.
Carla’s sons, Rich and Chris, were each married with two kids. Alan had two adult daughters, Allison Plato and Amelia Ryan.
To everyone around them, they seemed a happy, loving family. Carla and Al’s home was full of family photos and the proud Grandma and Papa often posted pictures on social media of sleepovers with the grandkids, pool and birthday parties.
Det. Sgt. Steve Bereziuk, the homicide case manager, told journalists the retired Dundas couple had no enemies.
The Rutherfords were good people, who helped out their community and had a wide circle of friends. Police had never been to their Greening Court home until their bedroom erupted in flames.
Bereziuk said police collected security video from homes around the scene and gave it to their forensic video specialist to review for clues. What’s on that video won’t be revealed until trial, he said.
In a September interview with the Spectator, Bereziuk revealed new information: One of the Rutherfords’ four children was their suspect.
“Right now, we are focusing on one individual, and that person is aware,” he said. “And they have been co-operative.”
By then, police had executed a search warrant at Rich’s semi-detached home in Oakville, where he lived with his wife, Evangelia, and two school-aged children.
“We believe the fire was intentionally set,” Bereziuk continued in his Spectator interview. “And it was done with the intention of killing them.”
Bereziuk was asked if police were looking into whether a hitman was hired to set the fire. He said they were considering that possibility. Later, however, police concluded there was no hitman. The killer acted alone.
What the Spectator now knows is that just days after an arsonist killed Alan and Carla Rutherford, homicide detectives had a prime suspect: Rich Taylor, Carla’s 42-year-old son.
Detectives started looking at the elementary school teacher because of Al’s dramatic declaration on his neighbour’s porch that Rich was responsible for the fire.
Though the Spectator has learned of Al’s last words from multiple sources, public reports before now have only said that Al spoke before dying.
Parricide is the killing of a parent or other near relative.
These murders are almost always financially motivated, says Jim Van Allen, a retired OPP criminal profiler. “Somebody looking to cash in, hurry up the inheritance.”
Rich was the executor of a will found at the property, the Spectator has learned. This means he would manage the estate and ensure beneficiaries get their share.
To deliberately kill someone with fire is uncommon. More often, fire is used to cover up murder by other means.
Autopsy results showed Carla and Al were killed by the fire.
Any intelligent person would know that death by fire is “a pretty excruciating way to die,” Van Allen says. “An intelligent man might have even contemplated what a murder victim would go through.”
In September, Rich returned to teaching. He was now the librarian and physical education teacher at Hess Street Elementary School.
His wife continued her job in Toronto as instructional program co-ordinator in the recreation department at Ryerson University. Sources have told the Spectator she appeared to be unaware of her husband’s finances. They bought their house off Trafalgar Rd. in northeast Oakville in 2005 for about $266,000.
The house is in both their names and, in recent years, they took no additional mortgages out on the property. Recently, a house down the street listed at $788,000.
They own a Dodge minivan that Rich drove to work in Hamilton every day. Evangelia doesn’t drive.
Rich does not have a criminal record.
In their investigation, detectives executed more than 25 judicial authorizations — orders approved by a justice of the peace allowing police to seize private information such as banking and cellphone records and to search properties.
Another police team had Rich under surveillance. They knew his routine.
Rich spent last Jan. 23 teaching. After the dismissal bell rang at 3:10, he got into his minivan and started for home.
At 3:25 p.m., on Barton St. W., near Hess St. N., he was boxed in by police cars and forced to stop. His arrest was quick and uneventful.
Passersby probably did not even realize an accused killer was being taken into custody.
Six months after his mother and stepfather were killed, Rich was under arrest for two counts of first-degree murder.
The official statement from Rich’s employer, the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, was that he has been “reassigned to home.”
In fact, Rich is locked up in the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre and has not applied for bail.
The school board says Rich is on an “unpaid leave of absence” as it conducts its own investigation.
“Staff in the human resources department work closely with various representatives from the police and the courts to receive updates and any conditions of release or sentencing,” the board said in a statement.
Following Rich’s arrest, a letter sent home to Hess Street school parents informed them a teacher was charged in “a serious situation,” but it did not name Rich or say he was charged with two murders.
The board said support staff would be available at the school to assist students.
Rich continues to be listed in good standing with the Ontario College of Teachers.
The day after Rich’s arrest, Bereziuk held another news conference at the police station.
Flanked by his team of investigators and a large photo of Carla and Al, he said they believed Rich had acted alone and was motivated by money.
Meanwhile, Rich — his head shaved, sporting facial hair and wearing jeans and a light grey jacket — made his first court appearance before a justice of the peace a few blocks away at the John Sopinka Courthouse. He stared ahead blankly. He had no family in the courtroom.
That day, his lawyer was Hamilton defence attorney Vikram Singh.
Later, he would retain James Lockyer, the renowned Toronto defence lawyer who made his name exonerating wrongfully convicted killers, such as Guy Paul Morin.
Lockyer has not responded to the Spectator’s messages. Neither he nor a representative of his firm has yet appeared in court on Rich’s behalf.
It will probably be years before Rich’s case goes to trial. Crowns Janet Booy and Mark Dean will prosecute.
But for many, the horrors of the fire are still fresh.
One Hamilton police officer who was at the scene is haunted by what he saw the neighbours go through.
“I’d go back to the scene and see blood on the door. It becomes more personal,” said the officer, who is not authorized to speak on the record.
In the weeks after the fire, he would return often to the neighbourhood, driving through Grove Cemetery behind the lot where Al and Carla’s house stood.
The sight of his cruiser around Greening Court prompted wary neighbours to call police asking if something was wrong. Ironically, that was the opposite of the officer’s intention.
“I wanted to go back and show the flag, show the colours, so they feel safe,” he said.
Hamilton firefighters no doubt were affected by that call, too, but the department declined comment because the case is before the courts.
After a tragedy like the Rutherford fire, there is real potential for paramedics to struggle with what they experienced, says Supt. Dave Thompson of the Hamilton Paramedic Service.
Typically, Thompson will go to a fatal scene and follow the paramedics to hospital. And while they do their paperwork, he will clean and restock their ambulance for them, so they won’t have to see blood and debris that could trigger strong emotions.
“Seeing a piece of clothing or an IV tube could take them back into that trauma,” he says.
He also asks the paramedics what they need. Sometimes it’s a cup of coffee or a walk. Once, after a tough call, a paramedic said they just needed a hug.
Many questions remain. Some may be answered at a trial. Others may never be.
What was the fuel used to set the fire?
How did it get there?
Where in the bedroom did the fire start?
Did Rich need money? If so, why?
What does video gathered from nearby Dundas homes show on the night of the fire?
Did the killer break into the house? Or use a key? Did the killer go into the bedroom where Al and Carla were sleeping? Did the killer speak to the couple?
And the biggest question of all: why did Al implicate Rich as his killer with his dying words?
“Mom and Al were kind, happy, sweet, intelligent, generous, wonderful people,” Chris Taylor wrote in a Facebook post two days after his mom and stepdad were killed.
“They were loving, caring and nurturing parents. They absolutely adored their grandkids … They loved to travel, explore, quilt (trust me, we have a few), run, sail, discover craft beer, drink the occasional Pinot Grigio (ahem, Mom), safety check (ahem, Al) and so many other things that can’t be adequately captured in a Facebook post. The void left in our lives and in our hearts is immeasurable.”
The grief of losing Carla and Al in such a horrific way appeared to be devastating for Chris.
Then more was revealed by police: the fire was deliberately set. It was intended to kill. His own brother was alleged to be the killer.
“The family continues to want privacy as they really struggle to comprehend the charges against their brother,” Bereziuk says.
Families of homicide victims experience a unique grief, says psychologist Lori Triano-Antidormi, a grief and trauma counsellor who is not involved in this case.
“A huge question in any grief is ‘why?’ ” she says. “And in homicide, that question is more complicated.”
When the person accused of the murder is another member of the family, “it complicates that question even more.”
Triano-Antidormi specializes in working with families of homicide victims, a path she chose after her own toddler, Zachary, was murdered.
The long road ahead for Chris, Al’s two grown daughters and Rich’s wife will probably leave them frustrated, Triano-Antidormi says.
“The criminal justice system definitely impedes people in their mourning.”
For instance, investigators won’t be able to share the bulk of their evidence with them before the trial. Chris, the sisters and Rich’s wife will probably be called as witnesses, which means they have been cautioned not to discuss their evidence with anyone.
One of the keys to healing is being able to talk about grief.
“The more you talk about it, the more real it becomes,” Triano-Antidormi says. “If you can’t talk, it’s pretty hard to grieve.”
The attention that comes with such a high-profile case is also difficult, she says. “Grief is such a private thing.”
Rich has had several court appearances. No member of his family has come to the courthouse.
Evangelia did not respond to the Spectator’s interview request for this story. She is not facing any charges and police say they believe the killer acted alone. Yet, she has retained her own criminal lawyer. The lawyer has not returned the Spectator’s calls.
Triano-Antidormi wonders about the family when the trial comes and the courtroom is divided between the Crown and the defence.
What side of the courtroom will they sit on?
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