A body, a barrel and a guilty plea in death of man found by Thames River

A body a barrel and a guilty plea in death

Joseph Hodgkin pushed a lawnmower – a large white barrel balanced atop it – along a London street on a summer night three years ago.

Joseph Hodgkin pushed a lawnmower – a large white barrel balanced atop it – along a London street on a summer night three years ago.

Inside the barrel was grisly cargo: the body of Grant Norton, 59, who at the time was living in Ingersoll but had previously lived in the Hamilton area, where it was known he had ties to organized crime.

A surveillance video caught Hodgkin moving the barrel along Ada Street, southeast of downtown in London’s Chelsea Green neighbourhood. Not long later, the same camera near Adelaide and Ada streets caught Hodgkin walking back with the lawnmower, but no barrel.

Hodgkin was arrested almost a year after Norton’s decomposed remains were found near the Thames River. On Wednesday, the 52-year-old pleaded guilty in a London courtroom to being an accessory after the fact.

The few details outlined in the virtual hearing to support the plea explained how Norton’s body ended up in the ravine, where it was discovered on July 19, 2020 — 13 days after police said he was killed.

What Superior Court Justice Kelly Tranquilli didn’t hear was why Norton died.

Those details are presumably within the 82-page agreed statement of facts that was filed with the judge by assistant Crown attorney Andrea Mason. The extent of Hodgkin’s role, both Mason and defense lawyer James Zegers said, was outlined beginning at page 57, but those details were not read in court.

Zegers summarized his client’s role. Hodgkin, he said, left his apartment and headed by taxi to the Adelaide Street home of a woman who is the mother of his child. She had contacted him to say she had an “emergency situation.”

“He got there and discovered that the emergency was a dead body in a barrel and he helped dispose of that body,” Zegers said.

Zegers emphasized that the body was already in the container and that Hodgkin had no involvement in Norton’s death.

Surveillance video caught Hodgkin pushing the lawnmower with the white barrel atop it, walking with an unidentified man on Ada Street, then returning without the barrel.

The same taxi driver who took Hodgkin to the address returned and took Hodgkin and the woman to Dundas Street.

The police investigation into Norton’s death was long. Hodgkin was identified as a suspect and arrested almost a year after the case was opened. Zegers said Hodgkin was on a release order at the time and there was a general warrant out for his arrest as part of the police search for a pair of running shoes believed to be connected to the case.

He was arrested in downtown London at Citi Plaza and taken into custody, where he gave a statement to police acknowledging his involvement.

Hodgkin, his thinning hair pulled back into a ponytail and wearing a jail-issued orange T-shirt, appeared in court by video on Wednesday. He told Tranquilli he was in agreement with Zegers’ depiction of the facts.

Zegers requested a pre-sentence report. He noted Hodgkin is Indigenous and is entitled to a Gladue Report, a specialized pre-sentence report that delves deeply into an accused person’s Indigenous background.

Tranquilli set a sentencing date of July 5, one day shy of the third anniversary of Norton’s death.

Norton was last seen alive on July 6, 2020 and was reported missing to Waterloo police six days later. When Norton’s body was discovered almost two weeks after his death, police said an autopsy was required to confirm the remains were human.

He was known to have some ties to the Musitano crime family in Hamilton and had been charged in connection with an elaborate scheme involving stolen construction equipment and the disposal of contaminated soil from a construction site.

No arrests were made in the immediate wake of his killing. In May 2021, London police released still images from a video captured in the early morning of July 6, 2020 in an Oliver Street parking lot. The photos showed a man and woman removing a large bag from the trunk of an Audi believed to have been Norton’s.

It took 11 months after the discovery of his remains before arrests were made.

Four other people have been charged in connection with the homicide: Ashley Bourget, 39, is charged with first-degree murder; Wesley Peters, 31, is charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit an indictable offense; Zaida Collin, 26, is charged with manslaughter and conspiracy to commit an indictable offense; and Adam Wade, 39, is charged with manslaughter.

Their cases are still before the court.

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