In the 1980s, Gary Willett Sr. and his wife Maria saw a man scavenging for food in a dumpster. They befriended him and his wife and helped them find a home, the Toronto Star reports.
That couple, Tim Goldrick and Barbara Bennett, both suffered from “intellectual issues.” Bennett was a self-proclaimed “slow learner” who said she was enrolled in special education programs as a child. They both received disability checks from the Ontario Disability Support Program.
Similarly, Gary Willett, who dropped out of school in eighth grade, and Maria, who had a third-grade education, also received disability checks.
When the Willetts happened upon the pair, they helped them secure a basement apartment in their building.
The Willetts then found a unit for the couple when they moved to another apartment.
Later that year, in 1989, Bennett got pregnant by Goldrick. When she went to Toronto East General Hospital to deliver, Maria Willett allegedly gave Bennett her own health card and filled out all relevant paperwork.
Although Bennett had a “not very good” feeling about using the health card, she was scared of what Maria would do to her if she refused so she conceded to the woman’s request.
As it turned out, the Willetts listed themselves as the baby’s birth parents on the paperwork and named the baby Gary Willett Junior, whom they called “Junior.”
The Willetts took the child home and began caring for him as their own.
Following the birth of Junior, Bennett and Goldrick say that emotional, physical, and verbal abuse began to occur. It became increasingly worse over time.
During her testimony, Bennett told the court:
“I would get hit and get told to do it again. Clean it up. Clean up the mess. I would get slapped. In the face . . . Three or four (slaps) depending on how mad [Maria] was.”
Family members said Bennett was treated like a “slave.”
In 1993, Bennett fell pregnant again, this time by a brother of Willett Sr.
Bennett gave birth to a girl, who she kept as her own. She concluded that she had to escape— she didn’t want her daughter around the abuse and the Willetts, who were, as she told the court, constantly “smoking hash.”
The mom fled with her daughter, leaving her toddler son and Goldrick behind.
After Bennett escaped, the Willetts moved again, bringing Goldrick and Junior along with them.
Willett Sr. installed cameras around the house to watch Goldrick, who lived in a “tiny space in the basement of the home,” according to the Toronto Star.
A police officer later described the entire house as “very cluttered and dirty.” Goldrick was allegedly only able to leave the house to complete chores. He was often “kicked, hit and punched in the ribs, chest, and head,” never understanding why.
If he tried to leave, Willett Sr. allegedly threatened Goldrick that they would get him committed to a mental institution. Goldrick said that he “didn’t want that so [he] didn’t leave.”
He was allegedly forced to forfeit his disability checks to the Willetts.
Goldrick was prohibited from taking food without permission. While living with the Willetts, he weighed 106 pounds. Now, the six-foot-two man weighs 230 pounds.
Willett Sr. allegedly beat Goldrick, often leaving the victim hunched over the toilet, coughing up blood. When Goldrick saw a dentist years later, according to the Star:
He was missing teeth in his top and bottom arches, with others broken, riddled with cavities and infections. He had severe bone loss, exposing more than 50 per cent of his teeth’s roots, according to the dentist’s testimony.
This went on for 12 years.
Eventually, Junior left the family home after not graduating from high school. He had always played with the idea that the Willetts were not his biological family and eventually found out through family members that Goldrick was his real father.
Driving with a childhood friend, Junior spotted Goldrick walking home. Aware of the terrible life Goldrick had with the Willetts, he convinced Goldrick to escape, too.
Two years later, Junior learned about and reached out to Bennett’s daughter and his half-sister, Billie-Jean. She didn’t even know she had a brother, nor the abuse her mother faced.
Now years since his escape from the Willetts, Junior said his life has been “wrecked” by his troublesome upbringing, the Star reported:
“I think about why it happened, why is my life like this? How is someone stolen as a child and everything is OK? Not once did my real mother go looking for me.”
He told the Star that the Willetts were never loving parents:
“They said ‘I love you’ every night, but if you hit me, if you continuously slap me, I don’t believe it.”
The Willetts are facing multiple charges. Willett Sr. pleaded not guilty to forcible confinement and assault, theft over $5,000, and abduction of a child under the age of 14.
Maria Willett faces similar charges, as well as being accused of abusing the other children in her care. The Star reports that the Willetts had “as many as eight” kids living with them over the past two decades.
Godrick is happy enough to have some semblance of his life and freedom back. He told the Star:
“I can go out now and make money. I’ve got a newspaper job that I do. I deliver the flyers. I can do that and it makes me feel good to know I can do stuff like this.”
However, 25 years of abuse takes a permanent toll. Goldrick takes pills “for the shakes” and to sleep at night. He said:
“I have nightmares because of this.”
Junior and Goldrick now live together. Junior has cut off all contact with his biological mother.