Rock bottom: ‘My mind’s all f----d up right now’ |

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Peter Abi-Rashed read from the “caution card” that police officers use when arresting a suspect. Rgb Cct Led Strip

Rock bottom: ‘My mind’s all f----d up right now’ |

She told Sam Pirrera he had the right to call a lawyer; anything he does say to police could be used in the investigation.

“How do you feel?” Abi-Rashed asked.

“In which way not good?”

“In what way your mindset?”

“Yeah. And spiritually. Inside emotions. And my mind’s all f----d up right now.”

Abi-Rashed left the room and returned with a glass of water for Pirrera, and asked if he’d like to call a lawyer. He led Pirrera over to a phone; he called a criminal lawyer named James Vincelli. No answer.

They went back in the interview room and sat down. A video camera was switched on.

Abi-Rashed glanced down at a teleprompter, built into the desk. Across the hall, in a separate room, sat Detective Mark Petkoff, who was monitoring the interview on video, and typing in suggested questions or detail on his laptop for Abi-Rashed to read off the teleprompter.

“OK, we’re back in,” said Abi-Rashed. “What do you want to do? You are willing to waive a lawyer right now and talk to me anyway? You can stop and talk to your lawyer if you want. This is what we talked about?”

“So right now you are waiving your rights to talk to a lawyer?”

Abi-Rashed continued, trying to get Pirrera to talk about his actions leading up to their discovery of the body parts the day before.

"My mind’s all f----d up right now"

“What were you doing yesterday, Saturday?”

“I was freebasing a lot of cocaine.”

“What were you doing Friday?”

“Why did you go on this binge?”

“I was lonely, I was depressed.”

“You just go get the coke and freebase? Do you work?”

“Metal tool. We pour steel.”

“Were you working last week?”

“I was on stress leave.”

“You talk to anyone during the week? Go anywhere? Anyone visit you to see if you’re OK?”

“What did you do Thursday?”

“More or less the same thing. Just sit in my basement f-----g freebasing cocaine.”

“Do you know how to get help?”

“I know how to go to NA meetings and AA meetings; blah blah blah. Know how to stay clean and sober. I’m just really lonely and that makes me go relapse.”

“You are charged with first-degree murder and that stems from an investigation conducted at 12 Burns. Is that your house?”

“Who do you live there with?”

“Let’s start with right now.”

“Me and my wife and three kids. Until we separated.”

Sam Pirrera’s estranged wife’s name was Danielle.

Danielle had a big smile and an infectious laugh. She came across down to earth, small-town girl. She just had a way about her. Men and women wanted to be around her.

She had grown up in Newfoundland and moved to Hamilton when she was about 20.

She was blond and slim, just the type that Sam Pirrera preferred.

At that time, Sam had two children from a previous marriage. He had been working at Dofasco, in the melt shop. He told Danielle that he had been off hard drugs for several years.

Sam charmed Danielle, wined and dined her; gifts, clothes. She told friends she was getting the full princess treatment, and that Sam acted like a gentleman and a sweetheart.

In 1994 he was laid off from his full-time job at Dofasco. He found some work with National Steel Car for a time.

On April 12 that year, he was convicted of assault, and received a suspended sentence and 12 months’ probation.

In the fall of 1994, Sam and Danielle moved into a house at 12 Burns Place.

They took a trip to Las Vegas the following summer, during U.S. Fourth of July celebrations and married on the big day itself, July 4, 1995.

Later, Danielle Pirrera found work in Hamilton as an exotic dancer.

Over the course of their relationship, she started seeing changes in Sam. Maybe it was because he was back on drugs, which seemed to spark violence in him.

What was it about Sam? Did the crack cocaine create the monster? Or did the monster exist inside him and the drugs and booze accelerated the inevitable?

In most relationships Sam Pirrera was in, he had to be the dominant figure. Women offered him the best opportunity to assert control, perhaps especially over those who worked in stripping or prostitution, with the subordination to men the work suggested to him.

But then it was as though his paranoia, bolstered by the crack, led him to immediately sense his dominance was threatened. Rage followed, and he acted out physically. He was violent toward several women in his life, but also on occasion men he deemed a threat.

Perhaps bingeing on crack promised relief from the self-hatred or whatever social pathology dwelled inside.

But crack, too, could only serve to frustrate him over the long haul.

The cycle of the crack user is one of extreme highs and debilitating crashes. The addict tries obsessively to recapture the euphoria from the first time, but never achieves it. From then on, he lives day to day at a dysfunctional level, underachieving in every facet of his life.

Pirrera feared losing things: his home, cars, women. Try as he might, drugs and drinking did not provide a safe haven from his insecurities, and the anger that grew from them.

How do you deal with such rage? Scramble your mind with crack, chase it down with booze, shoot for numb and hitting rock bottom to slay the demons all at once?

Is it sufficient? Or do you take it out on others, too; blame them, beat on them, drag them down with you? Because more than anything, you fear languishing in that black hole alone.

Danielle saw Sam’s behaviour spinning out of control. He was brazenly bringing sex workers to their own house on Burns Place. And he became increasingly verbally abusive. He started telling her things about his past, of his violence toward women, as though conveying a message as subtle as a sledgehammer: Don’t cross me.

Despite the seeming unravelling of the relationship, Sam and Danielle had a child. In the summer of 1998, Danielle gave birth to a girl. Sam had by then been rehired at Dofasco.

Perhaps there was room for optimism about the future. He proudly showed off his new baby to neighbours.

But Sam’s instinct for self-destruction never left, and his crack addiction had not waned.

In the last week of June 1998, Danielle took a trip to visit family in Newfoundland, and Sam was at home in the midst of a five-day crack binge.

While she was away, he got into an argument with a woman whom he accused of stealing Danielle’s jewelry. He assaulted the woman, and he was referred to a detox centre. In July, he had an interview with a rehab counsellor.

“I feel like a piece of shit,” he told her. “I want to be a good dad ... Keep pushing the kids away, it’s the coke ... I’ve worked hard, have a house, two cars. I don’t want to lose them. My wife is beautiful. I love her to pieces.”

In a report, the official described Sam Pirrera as a “tearful, earnest young man, motivated for treatment. He is quiet and co-operative.”

Danielle had been threatening to divorce him. In October, he flew into another rage. She ran to a neighbour’s house with her newborn at 2 a.m. That same month, Sam, drunk, got into an argument with Danielle. He spat in her face. He was arrested, charged with assault and thrown into jail for the weekend.

Sam’s family hired a lawyer. His mother asked Dofasco’s medical services if they would write a letter to the court saying that Sam was needed back at work. A Dofasco official told her that was something they do not do.

The next month he was convicted on two occasions for assault. On the first, he received 30 days’ intermittent and two years’ probation. Sam’s mother called Dofasco and told them he was in jail.

And then, after the second assault, Danielle left him, took the baby and went to live with her mother.

Soon after that, Sam landed in jail again. He signed up for anger management therapy.

In January, he attended a meeting held in the basement of Grace Anglican Church downtown, not far from where his parents lived. At the meeting, he stood up and took his turn addressing the group.

“I can’t stop using,” he said.

Sam averted the eyes of the others, staring at the floor. A guest speaker named Dan talked about completing the 12-Step Program to recovery, and afterwards Sam approached him to talk. What instantly struck Dan were Sam’s eyes: very dark, with large pupils like black marbles.

He had seen a similar look in guys who were stoned, but Sam’s were like that all time, high or not. It was like staring into the bottom of a black hole. He found it almost too disturbing to look into them at all.

On Feb. 24, 1999 Sam showed up for work at Dofasco looking especially haggard, from drinking, freebasing crack; heating it and inhaling the fumes.

Sam went on stress leave. He feared losing his job. He went to see a health counsellor. He said his marriage had collapsed, and was having “mother-in-law problems.” He claimed he was eight days clean and sober.

Early in March he wrote in a self-evaluation form that he had been “feeling lonely, betraded [sic], hurt, sorry for myself, weak, sick of feeling this way.”

He recorded that he believed his wife was seeing another man, but that he had not relapsed into drug use.

On the progress side, he said he was going to Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings, had started working out at the Dofasco gym, and was coping OK at work. He added that his sister had recently given birth to a baby girl.

“My house is almost clean,” he added.

In his locker at Dofasco, he kept several clippings from the Toronto Sun newspaper.

The newspaper ran a feature called “Poet’s Corner.” Sam had collected several of them.

“Hopes and dreams, nightmares and fears

Can one exist without the other

To love and to honour, to bicker and fight

Can one exist without the other

To grow old together to grow older alone

Can one exist without the other.”

On Friday night, March 26, Sam sat in a circle with others at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Everyone took turns telling their story; Sam spoke about his addictions and recent stresses in his life; that his wife had left him, and he was pretty sure she was seeing someone else. It made him angry, but he was trying to pull himself together, stay of booze and drugs.

He noticed a blond woman listening to him in the circle. She was 38, five-foot-five, slim, with long hair and deeply tanned skin from regular trips to the tanning salon. Her name was Jean. She had never seen him before. Jean felt the dark eyes on her through the whole meeting. After a while it made her uneasy.

After the meeting she talked to her sponsor in the hallway. She told the sponsor she didn’t have access to a car, having recently split with her husband, so might have trouble getting to meetings.

Sam had been standing nearby, listening.

“Where do you live?” Sam asked.

“That’s really close to where I live. If you ever need a ride, I can help.”

They exchanged phone numbers. That night, just after 10 p.m., her phone rang.

It was Sam Pirrera. Did she want to get together tonight? Hang out, have some pop and chips?

She quickly thought it over. She had been lonely. And her kids were gone for the weekend, away with their dad. Why not, she thought? Who knows, maybe could turn into something down the road.

She said yes. Sam said he had a hot tub in his house; she could bring over her bathing suit.

Jean didn’t tell anyone where she was going.

Sam picked her up in his white Cougar. They talked in his kitchen for a bit. He told her she looked good. Sam wore jeans and a T-shirt and she thought he was attractive, not as tall as she liked her men, but he had a slightly darker complexion, dark hair, she liked the look.

He motioned to the hot tub, which sat in a little addition on the back of the house.

“I can get you a T-shirt to wear if that would make you more comfortable,” he said.

That was a nice touch, Jean thought, a gentlemanly move.

He showed her around the house, the kids’ rooms. Odd, she thought, the house was very clean. Like immaculate, not just tidy. For a man’s house, she couldn’t believe it.

“I’m sick of people leaving me”

She changed into her two-piece bathing suit in the bathroom, and put on a shirt Sam gave her from his closet. They eased into the hot tub, with Jean still wearing the shirt. They talked. A cat was meowing somewhere nearby, repeatedly. Jean couldn’t see it. Sam grumbled that it was his wife’s cat and it had been meowing like that since she had left him.

Sam mentioned his first wife. Her name was Beverly. She left him years ago, he said. Left him and the kids. One year, she came back at Christmas but he wouldn’t let her in the house. She was a bad mother, he said.

He talked about his addictions. The booze binges led to the coke, he said, when the high from the booze wasn’t enough. He told her a story about how he had once hid in a crawl space in the house for a couple of days when his circuits were fried, paranoid, fearing that the police would come looking for him, afraid he had done something terrible, just what, he wasn’t sure.

When he finally emerged from hiding, he actually went to the police station, he said, to see if they had been looking for him.

Jean started to wonder about him. It all sounded pretty weird. Had she made a mistake? She didn’t know anything about him. He had not made a move to get closer to her in the tub, didn’t so much as try to hold her hand. And still her sense of vulnerability grew.

The more she thought about him, and the way he looked at her, with those downcast eyes, it was kind of creepy, this aura about him.

They changed, and Sam showed her the rest of the house, including the basement. He seemed proud of the rec room down there, his pool table. She saw the fully stocked bar. Odd.

“And you’re attending meetings?”

“Doesn’t bother me,” he said.

He asked her to play pool. She declined. He asked again, she said no thanks.

In the living room, he turned on the TV, she sat rigid on the couch with him. It was after midnight and she felt it in her gut, she had to get out of there. She had never felt like this before.

“I should really get home,” she said.

He asked her to stay.

“Come on, don’t you ever get lonely?” he asked.

“I’ve got four kids, I don’t have time to feel lonely.”

“Can’t you just crash here?”

She tried to affect a soft tone in her voice.

“I can just call a cab, it’s OK.”

He seemed to grow agitated, his voice on edge.

“I’m sick of people leaving me.”

One day, Danielle Pirrera walked into a neighbourhood corner bar at Lawrence Road and Cochrane in the east end called “Pete’s.”

It was a warm place to gather, especially if you were new to the area and looking for someone to talk to.

She had been doing some laundry nearby, and Pete’s was a handy pit stop.

A woman named Becky Hunter worked behind the bar. She had recently landed the job, and had a friendly face. Becky started chatting with the blond woman at the bar.

Turned out the two women had a fair bit in common. Both had marriages that were on the rocks, and shared the same birthday. Danielle became a semiregular at Pete’s, and friends with Becky.

Then Danielle disappeared for a few weeks. Unusual, Becky thought. She just wasn’t there all of a sudden. What happened?

Becky was among those women who had been through the rabbit hole of violence in Hamilton and lived to tell about it.

She was born in Burlington but grew up in Harrisburg, a hamlet near Paris, west of Hamilton. She lived with her dad and stepmother but hated it, and moved to Hamilton. She fought with her mom, got kicked out of the house a few times, moved out.

The small-town girl got sucked into the dangerous underbelly of Steeltown. She dated a member of the Red Devils biker gang. Met him at a bike shop; smooth-talking guy. She started dating a tattooist people called Big Dave at the same time. Big Dave had once survived a shooting where he took seven bullets.

Becky hung out at the Devils’ Arden Avenue clubhouse on the Beach Strip. Lot of weird stuff going on there, it seemed like. She made sure she had a bodyguard accompany her to a party there.

She was on the fast track to a life that could only end very badly. And over the years she saw too much of the bad. In 1996, a friend of hers was stabbed to death along with her two children in a Stoney Creek townhouse. The friend had been through the life, too.

It was as though Becky was both a spectator and participant in a story that could well be her own. That’s what this town can do to you, she thought.

She managed to find her way out of it. Got married, had kids. You can turn your life around, she discovered, and people can change.

But what about Danielle? What had been her fate, Becky wondered?

On Saturday, April 3, 1999, Danielle Pirrera received the phone call.

It was Sam’s mother on the line.

She asked Danielle if she could come to the house on Burns Place.

Visit the True Crime page to read Part 5.

Rock bottom: ‘My mind’s all f----d up right now’ |

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