Until Thursday, Ellis Kirkland was known for her success: a Harvard graduate celebrated for decades of work in the venerable worlds of architecture and international trade.
Now she’s in police custody, arrested after she was named in connection with the stabbing of the doorman at her Rosedale apartment, prompting a citywide manhunt that ended dramatically at the top of a downtown tower.
After a four-hour negotiation, officers from the Toronto police Emergency Task Force rappelled from the top of the Town Inn Suites on Church St. and swung onto the 27th floor balcony, where a woman — later confirmed by police to be Kirkland — had dangled her legs over the edge and appeared ready to jump.
As of Thursday night, the 67-year-old stabbing victim was in life-threatening condition and had undergone surgery, police said. They did not confirm his identity but said he was stabbed “multiple times with a large kitchen knife.”
The saga began Thursday at around 7:30 a.m., when police received a call about a stabbing at 120 Rosedale Valley Rd., a midrise apartment building with long balconies on the side of a leafy hill. Joseph Glazner, who lives one floor above Kirkland in the building, identified the victim as Mark Markandu, the overnight guard and doorman.
Glazner said that he was speaking with another building employee when Markandu went to help Kirkland move boxes. The doorman came back moments later holding his hip and bleeding “(near) his kidney on the lower right side,” Glazner said. He said Markandu claimed he was stabbed six times.
“Mark was stunned,” Glazner said. “It seemed surreal.”
The Star could not independently verify Glazner’s story.
Hours later, Toronto police released an image of Kirkland, warning the public that she had allegedly stabbed a man, that her whereabouts were unknown and that she was considered armed and dangerous.
At the Rosedale apartment building, police tape blocked off the main entrance, and mounds of clothing were marked as police evidence on the floor of the lobby. The street where Kirkland lives winds through a valley on the southern edge of Rosedale — one of the city’s wealthiest neighbourhoods, dotted by impressive mansions and stately homes that back onto a ravine that slopes into the Don Valley. Building residents who were walking dogs or leaving to go shopping said they were gobsmacked by the news that police were looking for Kirkland.
“I’ve been here for 10 years and she’s always been fabulous,” said Andy Body, adding that Kirkland was usually very well-dressed, wore nice jewelry and showed a great sense of humour.
Meanwhile, a few blocks to the south, police cruisers and Emergency Task Force SUVs massed at the corner of Church St. and Charles St., which was cordoned off by long ribbons of police tape for much of the day. The cops were responding to a call about a “person in crisis,” who had entered the hotel and residence tower at 620 Church St., said Const. Jenn Sidhu, who was on the scene to update the media.
Twenty-seven storeys up, a dark-haired woman could be seen peering over the edge of a balcony as a police negotiator spoke with her from one floor below. She appeared every few minutes, and even dangled her legs over the edge, prompting gasps from those who could see her.
Four hours after police were called to the scene, at around 3:30 p.m., two uniformed ETF officers rappelled down from the roof of the tower and swung onto the balcony. Moments later the woman, later confirmed to be Kirkland by Const. Craig Brister, was driven away in a police cruiser to be processed at 53 Division. Kirkland lay in the back seat of the cruiser, hidden under a jacket.
Paul Nadeau, who worked for six years as a negotiator with the Durham Regional Police Service, said the incident appeared consistent with typical police protocol for negotiating with a barricaded individual.
“To contain somebody and prevent them from wandering out into the public where they can commit violent acts is paramount,” he said. “Rappelling into a balcony would indicate (police) may have had concerns that the balcony would be used later on as a possible escape or suicide.”
Kirkland’s ex-husband, well-known architect Michael Kirkland, told the Star on Thursday that he received several phone calls from friends and family about the incidents on Thursday. “You could say she had emotional range, but she wasn’t violent in any way,” he said.
Born in Malta and educated at Harvard University, Kirkland co-founded, with her ex-husband, the Kirkland Partnership, a well-regarded architecture firm that has done work on waterfront projects in China and around the world. She became the first female president of the Ontario Association of Architects.
According to her LinkedIn profile, the 60-year-old has been a vice-president at the NATO Association of Canada — an education and support group for the international organization with an executive that has included former Senator Hugh Segal and former foreign minister Bill Graham — since 1999, and has written and researched extensively on global development. In 2003 she founded the NATO Paxbuild Economic Platform, whose aim is to foster growth and prosperity in post-conflict zones, failed states and areas affected by natural disasters.
Profiled in the Star in 2005, Kirkland said: “I just want to help others to rebuild their world . . . This, for me, has meaning.”
Sasha Josipovicz said he met Kirkland in the early 1980s, when he was helping out at the Toronto architecture firm where Kirkland worked.
“She was a really determined and hard-working person,” Josipovicz said, describing how she once became so exhausted chasing a business deal in China that she had to be carried off the plane when she returned to Toronto.
“We were jokingly calling her the Maltese Falcon in the 1980s, because she was genuinely flying high, based on her own merit,” said Josipovicz.
According to the 2005 Star profile, Kirkland was a cancer survivor. Glazner, Kirkland’s neighbour, said that both her second husband and her father had died in recent years.
“That was pretty upsetting for her because she felt very alone,” he said.
“She struck me as a very intense, intellectual person who cared a lot about the building . . . My sense was that she is a compassionate woman and this is completely out of character, which says that something went on in her head.”
Police couldn’t confirm Thursday night whether Kirkland is facing criminal charges. There was no information about a future appearance in court.