Three times in the past year, a rotund, revolver-toting bandit has robbed the collector booth at the same subway station, most recently opening fire and seriously wounding a Toronto Transit Commission employee who refused to hand over money.
Now, the TTC is taking the unprecedented step of offering a $25,000 reward in hopes of generating leads in the strange case.
In particular, police are hoping to track down a man who chased the criminal out of Dupont station and saw the getaway vehicle, but left before investigators could interview him.
"This is the first time we've ever done this. I think this sends a very strong message to our staff that we will support them, and to would-be assailants that we will not tolerate people attacking our staff," TTC CEO Andy Byford told a news conference Tuesday as he announced the reward. "We need to take this person off the street. This is a dangerous assailant and what he did to my colleague was outrageous."
Investigators don't know whether the robber is a man or woman, as he or she was dressed in black with hair and face covered, but they have gleaned a few identifying details. The culprit is white, has a heavy, stout build and held the gun in the left hand. The pistol itself, a revolver, is unusual. The robberies all happened at roughly even intervals of four months.
"This is a bizarre set of circumstances," said Staff Inspector Mike Earl of Toronto police's hold-up squad. "Four months apart, the same collector booth, by the same individual. We are on the eve of the fourth month, which gives us great concern also."
The first robbery happened June 11 of last year, a Saturday, at 9:20 p.m. The second was on Sunday, Oct. 2, at 7:10 p.m. In those cases, the TTC employee turned over the money and the robber left.
The most recent was Sunday, Feb. 26, at 7:10 p.m. On that occasion, the collector refused to give the suspect anything, and he or she looked about to leave. Then, the culprit turned and squeezed off three shots, which penetrated the glass of the booth and hit the collector.
One man chased the shooter out of the station and north on Spadina Road to Macpherson Avenue, where the culprit jumped into a grey, four-door vehicle and drove off. The man described the vehicle to another witness, but left before police could speak with him.
Mr. Byford said the TTC has stepped up security since the incident, sending out more patrols of uniformed police, TTC officials and plainclothes officers. They have also reduced the amount of cash in booths, replacing it with debit machines.
By the end of 2013, they hope to have debit running at every booth. The Presto fare card is scheduled to be in place at the TTC by 2015.
The collector, for his part, is off work recuperating at home. Mr. Byford said he is a veteran employee and has children.
"I've visited him on a number of occasions. Physically, he's a lot better, the recovery is going well, he's been given good treatment," he said. "But mentally, this is a traumatic event that's happened to him. For obvious reasons, he's quite cut up about it."