Railroaded – A Spectator True Crime Exclusive / By Steve Buist
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Skippy Schlosser and his pal, Peter Montour, were in a pickle.
In 1988, one of their drug runners was busted in Arkansas with nearly 100 kilograms of marijuana destined for Canada.
Aldon (Skippy) Schlosser and Montour were charged with trafficking and plotting to import drugs, serious charges that could have resulted in significant jail time.
Schlosser had a plan, though.
His lawyer, Dean Paquette, approached Hamilton police with an offer.
Now a defence lawyer, Paquette had also been the Crown attorney who prosecuted the original Racco murder trial that had led to the 1985 convictions of the Musitano brothers, their nephew and Billy Rankin.
The proposal was simple: if Schlosser could provide police with information that led to a conviction in the William Rutledge killing, the federal justice department would drop the drug charges against Schlosser and Montour. It was a tough sell.
“We had to do a lot of negotiations with the Department of Justice in order to pull this off. They were very, very reluctant to withdraw these charges,” Hamilton police officer Wayne Moore told the OPP investigators in 1998.
There were a number of meetings with department officials, according to Moore, “to try and convince them that this was a legitimate investigation.”
[A] Hamilton police officer since 1970, Moore had spent three years on the Joint Forces Unit with the RCMP, OPP and Halton police investigating organized crime. He became part of the Hamilton police intelligence unit in the mid-’80s.
The Justice Department agreed to the deal in late September 1989. Schlosser and Montour became police informants and Moore was to be their handler.
Two days after the agreement was signed, Schlosser met with Moore and fellow officer William Harris in Room 111 at the Admiral Inn on Dundurn Street North and recorded a statement. Harris was the officer in charge of the Rutledge murder investigation.
Schlosser provided information about Court and Monaghan’s involvement in the Rutledge killing.
“Schlosser was willing to do anything to nail these guys,” Harris said in a recent interview.
After he gave his statement, they continued talking and Schlosser told the officers the two were also involved in the Racco murder — a surprising revelation, given neither man had originally been considered a suspect in the killing.
Within weeks, Hamilton police had authorization to bug the home telephones of Court and Monaghan. Schlosser also agreed to have his conversations taped. The police outfitted his Lincoln Continental with a hidden tape recorder.
Schlosser concocted a scheme to trap Court and Monaghan, but it was going to be tricky.
By 1989, Court and Monaghan were no longer speaking to each other. Around 1986, Monaghan had been sentenced to three and a half years in jail for extortion. He believed Court had ratted him out to police.
The police had found a revolver in a shed behind Court’s house and, when confronted, he told them it belonged to Monaghan.
[S]chlosser’s scheme was also going to be difficult because Monaghan was drug-free and sober at the time. He was attending AA meetings and, in late November 1989, his 80-year-old grandmother presented him with his pin marking two years of sobriety.
Schlosser’s plan was to meet separately with Court and Monaghan and convince them he needed their help to pull off a big heist at a house in Dundas. The story was the guy who lived there had ripped off Schlosser to the tune of $500,000 and they were going to get it back by breaking into a safe inside the house.
Monaghan was lured into the trap with a free steak and lobster dinner at the Aquarium.
Before they carried out the actual heist, Monaghan and Court were each told independently they’d have to practice on a safe Schlosser had set up in the back of an abandoned doughnut shop he owned on Barton Street East, across from the Doublerink Arena.
The safe was actually borrowed from the police. It had been used to store confiscated drugs.
“He’s going to show me how to do it,” Monaghan said, “because ‘you don’t want to torch it and burn the money,’” like they had in the Rutledge job.
Court and Monaghan didn’t know police had set up two recording devices in the shop — one in a back room near the safe and one in the front of the store.
On Nov. 25, 1989, a Saturday night, Schlosser took Court to the doughnut shop and hit the jackpot.
Court told Schlosser that on the night of the Racco murder, both he and Monaghan had guns, they were the ones who walked Racco down the tracks and Monaghan was the one who did the shooting.
It was quite a florid tale spun for Schlosser.
“Dennis and I had this great big billy bat with a chain,” Court told the informant. “I put that on and gave him (Racco) a crack right across the head, pulled him into the car. He laid there and Dennis had a gun to his head the whole time from the front seat.
“The funny thing, Racco was a puppy … didn’t even put up a struggle to get out of the car.”
Court told Schlosser they received $4,700 and some cocaine in payment for the Racco hit.
The police decided they had a strong case against Court.
“You couldn’t stop Court from talking most of the time,” Moore told OPP investigators in 1998.
[T]hey turned their attention to Monaghan.
The next night — Grey Cup Sunday, when the Ticats would lose 43-40 to Saskatchewan in one of the most thrilling championship games ever — Schlosser took Monaghan for a ride in his Lincoln.
“But Monaghan, you have to remember, was very sober, not like the days he used to be on drugs or alcohol, and he was very cagey,” Harris told the OPP investigators in 1998. “He wasn’t saying too much and Schlosser was very nervous about coming on to him too hard.”
As they drove around, Schlosser and Monaghan talked about Billy Rankin’s excessive drug and alcohol use on the night of the Racco murder.
The prosecution would later use this as evidence Rankin may have been present on the night Racco was killed but was passed out in a car and couldn’t have participated in the actual murder.
Then came Nov. 29, 1989 — the night that would lead to two murder convictions, a judge’s thundering rebuke and an OPP investigation.
Schlosser picked up Monaghan at his apartment on Main Street West and drove him across town to the doughnut shop.
“It was defunct, but there was still stuff in the back, like those big baker’s ovens where they made doughnuts,” Monaghan recalled. “I was in the back of the place and the front and we talked about the safe, for sure.”
Sitting across the street from the shop in an unmarked police van were Moore, Harris and William (Buck) McCoy, a technical specialist with Hamilton police who was responsible for the recordings being made with Schlosser.
It was night when Schlosser and Monaghan arrived at the shop. Surveillance began at 8:23 p.m. and the tape machines were turned off at 9:40 p.m.
The police officers would later say that on that night, Schlosser never discussed the two killings with Monaghan while they were inside the doughnut shop. Schlosser later told Moore and Harris he didn’t feel comfortable raising the topic.
“At this time, I’m a little pissed because Schlosser did not bring up anything about Rutledge or Racco,” Harris told the OPP investigators.
[M]onaghan tells a far different story.
“Every time, he mentioned Rutledge,” Monaghan said. “Every time I was with him, he mentioned Rutledge’s name.
“And Racco’s name, for that matter,” Monaghan added. “There wasn’t a time where he did not mention it.
“The cops say he didn’t mention it that night and they were pissed off? Well, that’s a contrived story.”
According to Monaghan, Schlosser asked him directly in the doughnut shop: “You shot Racco, eh?”
“I said, ‘Listen, I had f— all to do with shooting him,’” Monaghan stated. “‘Maybe Billy and Graham did it, I don’t know and I don’t f—ing care, all I know is I wasn’t there.’”
The officers all said none of them made any notes as they monitored the conversation from inside the police van because it was too dark.
They also all stated none of them ever listened to the tapes that supposedly had been made in the doughnut shop that night. None of them could say with certainty they had ever seen those tapes.
At 9:40 p.m., Schlosser and Monaghan took off in the Lincoln, its hidden tape recorder activated.
Schlosser drove along Barton Street East until they were outside Rutledge’s old shop. According to Monaghan, it was no coincidence. “He was talking about it and he pointed at the store and I said, ‘Speak of the devil,’” Monaghan said.
“He was a gabber and a rambler and half the time I really wasn’t paying attention and would just answer whatever,” he added. “I’m looking around and we’re driving and I’m watching traffic.
“It’s not like I was giving this guy my undivided attention, you know. He was just a rambling bulls—-er.”
As they drove past the site of the Rutledge killing, Schlosser mentioned Court had told him Monaghan shot Racco.
“With Racco, he (Court) didn’t have nothin’ to do with it,” Schlosser said on tape. “He walked away and you did all the shooting. Like he’s looking for an out.”
[M]onaghan then uttered the seven words that would send him to prison: “Yeah, but the thing is, he’s right.”
“Seven words got me 25 years,” Monaghan now says with a shake of his head.
Monaghan maintained at his trial — and to this day — that he had no involvement in Racco’s killing and was merely trying to impress Schlosser.
“He would get angry at me when I didn’t say what he wanted me to say so I sensed that if this f—ing idiot thinks I did it, I’ll let him believe that I did it,” Monaghan said. “I’m more concerned about hitting the $500,000 he’s offering than anything.”
Schlosser dropped Monaghan off at his apartment then met with officers Harris, Moore and McCoy at the Visitors Inn on Main Street West.
The four of them then went to Central Police Station.
“I wanted to give him s— for not saying anything and he says — it stands out in my mind — he says, ‘Have I got something for you,’” Harris told the OPP investigators.
McCoy retrieved the tape from the Lincoln and they listened to it in a small office in the station. The next morning, Moore and Harris met with Crown attorney David Carr and played the tape from Schlosser’s car. He told the officers they had enough evidence to charge Court and Monaghan with first-degree murder in both the Rutledge and Racco homicides.
A day later — Dec. 1, 1989 — Monaghan was arrested as he drove out of the underground parking garage at his Main Street West apartment building.
“Harris and Moore were out front,” Monaghan recalled. “They blocked the driveway so I couldn’t drive out. They had their guns out and said, ‘Get out of the car.’
“I’ve got a girlfriend with me and she’s crying, asking ‘What’s going on?’
“I said, ‘Listen, just take this car, it looks like they’re arresting me for something. Just take the car, don’t leave it here, they’ll tow it away.’
“It was only a K-car,” Monaghan said, laughing. “It was a piece of crap. I just didn’t want them having my car.
“Harris, yeah, he had the gun pointed right at my head when I got out of the car,” continued Monaghan. “I said, ‘Hey, you’re shaking a bit so why don’t you just put the gun down a bit. I’m not going to do anything. I’ll put my hands on the hood of the car and just get that out of my face.’”
“That’s bulls—,” Harris said in a recent interview. He said he had his gun at his side in one hand and his badge in the other hand when he stopped Monaghan’s car.
[M]onaghan was told he was under arrest for the killing of Rutledge. He was taken to the Central Police Station in downtown Hamilton.
He was brought into a room and the officers told him they were going to play some audiotapes. Monaghan told them he wasn’t going to listen to the tapes until he had a lawyer present.
They turned the tape machine on anyway.
“So I stuck my thumbs in my ears and waved my hands and started humming loudly, acting like a kid,” Monaghan said. “It seemed they were acting like kids to me so I’ll act like a kid right back to them.
“Then they turned it off and got up and voiced their disgust and went out of the room.”
Court was also arrested and charged in the Rutledge killing. The two men were held separately at the Barton Street jail.
Forty days later, on Jan. 10, 1990, Halton police officer Doug McMillan showed up at the jail, put shackles on Monaghan and told him he was under arrest for the murder of Domenic Racco.
Court was arrested the same day and the two men were transported to the courthouse in Milton to be formally charged with Racco’s murder.
According to Court, there was a nine-car escort for the trip to Milton.
“We had 12 SWAT guys with us, we were looking down the barrels of machine guns,” he said.
At the time of the arrests, Harris said he started vigorously pursuing the case after a Crime Stoppers tip four months earlier. In fact, it was Schlosser’s attempt to cut a deal to save his own neck that turned police attention to Court and Monaghan.
The bulk of the trial for the two men on the Racco homicide charges was held in October and November 1991.
Monaghan’s lawyer for the case was Earl Levy. On four occasions between March and October 1991, Levy made notes of conversations and correspondence he had with Monaghan where his client raised the issue of a missing audiotape on which he denied any involvement in Racco’s murder.
Monaghan then wrote out a statement and gave it to his lawyer, once again describing the events in the doughnut shop on the night of Nov. 29.
It read: “We were in the defunct doughnut shop where we cut open a safe with a power saw. I was lured by Schlosser into the front room of this shop after cutting open the safe so he could engage me in conversation about the homicides in question. I, then, not knowing the conversation was being taped, stated to Schlosser that I had had absolutely no involvement with the Racco homicide.
“This tape seems to have been misplaced by the police or just omitted from the evidence. Where is this tape? My mind tells me they are holding it, have destroyed it or they are trying to alter it. I’m sure you have experts which can discover the latter if this is the case.”
[A]t their trial, Crown attorney James Cornish, one of two Crowns prosecuting the case, acknowledged there was no “smoking gun” or forensic evidence that tied Court and Monaghan to the murder scene.
Without the doughnut shop tape of his denial, Monaghan made a strategic decision during the trial not to raise the issue in his defence.
He feared without the tape to back him up, his credibility would be further
damaged by Schlosser and the police officers denying he had made any such statement.
Instead, both Court and Monaghan testified they had made incriminating statements about their involvement in the Racco murder simply to impress Schlosser and to ensure they would get to play a role in the big heist as well as other large drug deals he was proposing, which they discovered were all phoney.
“We were easy targets,” Court said recently.
“We were known for jumping at the opportunity to make easy money and were easily baited, as we liked to maintain a reputation.”
In hindsight, Crown attorney Paul Stunt’s final submission to the jury seems highly ironic.
Stunt told the jury Court and Monaghan’s lawyers had resorted to “red herrings, subterfuge and outright fabrications” in their bid to win their clients’ freedom.
On Nov. 18, 1991, the jurors returned to the courtroom late in the evening after deliberating for 10 hours.
As he waited for the verdict to be read out, Monaghan turned to his family and friends seated behind him and said, “Praise God in all circumstances.”
[T]he jury found both men guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Racco and immediately sentenced them to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.
As guards led him out of the courtroom, Monaghan whispered, “Praise the Lord.”
Two months later, the Rutledge case was settled.
Court pleaded guilty to manslaughter and the Crown dropped the first-degree murder charge because it could not prove he intended to kill the elderly man.
The judge determined it was Court who struck the fatal blows to Rutledge and sentenced him to eight years.
“I did what I thought best for my family and entered into a guilty plea for a lesser sentence,” Court said.
Monaghan pleaded guilty to robbery and was sentenced to four years in prison. The judge took into consideration Monaghan’s alcoholism at the time of the crime and noted Monaghan had since turned his life around.
Monaghan was taken first to Maplehurst Correctional Complex in Milton, then transferred to Collins Bay Institution in Kingston.
“My dad passed away 11 years ago, and I can’t help but think this had all taken its toll on him,” said Monaghan. “I know it did.
“After I was convicted, he came in to see me at Maplehurst and told me, ‘I’m trying to hold the family together, I’m trying to hold your mother together and I’m trying to go to work …,’ and then he broke down and cried.
“I just wanted to grab him and say ‘I’ll be all right,’” Monaghan said. “But it was through a glass.
“So I said, ‘Dad, I’ll be OK. I’ve been there before. It may take a long time, but I believe something good is going to come out of this. So just tell Mom I’ll be OK.’”
Monaghan’s mother visited him once at Collins Bay after the Racco conviction but didn’t return. She couldn’t bear it.
“She said the clanging of the doors behind her … she felt helpless,” Monaghan said.
“She thought I’d be in there forever.
“I said ‘Don’t worry, I’ll talk to you on the phone. I know what you look like.’”