A brave agent

Local real estate agent Dee Dee Newton correctly pointed out during a telephone conversation that it took a lot of guts for another Winnipeg agent to appear in court and face her assailant.

“She was brave,” said Newton, “and her bravery should be recognized.”

That the woman was brave is without question, given the circumstances of what the professional faced over the course of her lengthy ordeal.

Joseph Davis, 41, lured the woman to his West Kildonan apartment on the pretext that she would be writing an offer to purchase a home on his behalf. According to testimony during his recent trial, Davis assured the woman he had secured financing and was prepared to complete the deal. But Davis was lying. He hadn’t even given his real name. Instead, Davis used the bogus name “Tom Collins.”

According to Crown attorney Melinda Murray, Davis had a history of multiple robberies, frauds and a disturbing attack in Halifax.

In court, it was revealed that the woman was not the first real estate agent to be approached by Davis. Evidence was presented during the trial that he had targeted other agents prior to the sexual assault of the woman at his apartment. 

During the so-called business meeting, she alleged that Davis grabbed her crotch.

“It was shocking to me,” she told the court. “I knew I was about to get hurt unless I did something. I had to get out of there.”

Despite her panic, the woman was focused enough to use the pen she still had in her hand to stab Davis in the chest. When it struck Davis, the pen broke. Without a weapon available to keep her assailant at bay, she then used her hands to grab his glasses, also breaking them. She hoped he would be unable to see as she fled toward the front door. In the meantime, Davis followed her, muttering apologies. She finally got outside, jumped into her car and drove away. She called a friend, and then the police.

Police executed a search warrant and on the hard drive of Davis’ computer found that he had been conducting on-line searches for images of sexual assault against real estate agents. Other evidence presented in court showed he was looking through Winnipeg property listings seeking a victim and location to perpetrate his crime.

It is probably surprising to most Manitobans that real estate agents, especially, but not exclusively, women, are susceptible to becoming victims of crimes during the course of their business. In the United States, 227 agents have died as the result of violent assaults between 1992 and 2001. Many more have been beaten, raped or robbed. Real estate agents, who invariably show homes and host open houses by themselves, are relatively easy targets for anyone bent upon doing them harm, regardless of how cautious they are — and they do take many precautions.

In 2008, a male real estate agent agreed to meet a client at a Scarborough, Ontario, home. Two men dropped off the client, who was then given a tour of the home by the agent. The alleged client  departed and the two men who had dropped him off appeared in the home, bound the agent with plastic cord, placed something over his face to prevent him from seeing them, and then robbed him of money and jewelry.

Victoria real estate agent Lindsay Buziak, 24, was stabbed to death on February 2, 2008, in a home she was showing to prospective clients. Her family has offered a $100,000 reward to find her killer, but the case remains unsolved.

One cold case involving the murder of a real estate agent was re-opened by Winnipeg Police Services in 2007. On Friday, November 16, 1979, the body of 31-year-old Irene Emily Pearson was found in the basement of a vacant home for sale in Tyndall Park. Pearson had been a salesperson for Castlewood Homes, which owned the property. The night before she had been working alone in the company’s show home across the street. Her body was found by company maintenance workers at 8:30 a.m. the next morning. Pearson had been hit over the head several times with a blunt instrument and then stabbed repeatedly in the chest.

Police found a note taped to the door of the show home she had been working in, saying, “Back in 10 minutes.” The TV was still on, Pearson’s purse was underneath a side table, her cigarettes were on a coffee table and a pocketbook was splayed out on the couch. Police  believe she was unconcerned about leaving the house unlocked because of what was found in such casual disarray. They also believe she probably knew her assailant or the attacker had been a prospective client who had arrived at the show house and was escorted by her to the other show house across the street where she was murdered. 

A prospective client, who was interviewed by police and later dismissed as a suspect, made a previous appointment with Pearson, saw the note on the door and left, as did a fellow real estate agent who dropped by about 8:20 on that Thursday evening. Two neighbourhood youth at about 6:30 p.m. were the last to see her alive. From further evidence given, police surmised Pearson had been killed about 7 p.m. the day before her body was found.

The Winnipeg woman attacked by Davis, testified she had her suspicions about the man at first, but after taking him to several residences ignored her instincts. In court, Davis claimed his intent was not to perpetrate a sexual assault, but initiate a real estate scam. He said he had accidentally grabbed the woman while she was in the dark doorway of the apartment.

When convicting Davis for sexual assault, Queen’s Bench Justice Chris Martin said the man’s explanation of what occurred was not believable. “The entire scenario was a set-up,” said Martin, adding that Davis’ intent all along was to commit a sexual assault. On the other hand, the justice believed the woman’s testimony: “He attacked me. There can be no other reason for how this happened.” 

The nefarious deed was committed by a man who had researched the vulnerability of real estate agents, and had the smoothness of a confidence trickster to put the woman off-guard. Under the circumstances, any one of us could have fallen for the man’s wiles.

But the fact that the Winnipeg woman was willing to confront her attacker in court is a message for all of us about the meaning of courage.