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A look at the twisted crimes of Peter Demeter, one of Canada’s worst criminals

Click to play video: 'Crime Beat: The Death of Christine Demeter (teaser)'
Crime Beat: The Death of Christine Demeter (teaser)
After the death of 33-year-old Austrian-born model Christine Demeter in 1973 in the garage of her family home in Mississauga, Ont., suspicion fell on her husband, Hungarian-born multi-millionaire Peter Demeter. 'Crime Beat' examines the circumstances behind her death in their explosive 100th episode – May 10, 2024
Christine Demeter was the victim of a murder-for-hire plot at the hands of her husband, Peter Demeter. To this day, no one has ever been charged for her physical murder. Global News / Getty Images

On a warm summer night in 1973, real estate developer Peter Demeter pulled a Mercedes full of visitors into his Mississauga, Ont. driveway after a shopping trip.

As the garage door opened, the headlights illuminated a horrific scene — the bludgeoned body of his wife, 33-year-old model Christine Demeter.

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The crime made headlines across Canada and well beyond, launching an investigation by police and prosecutors. Shortly, they would uncover the sordid and seedy dealings of one of the country’s darkest and most dangerous psychopathic minds.

Christine Demeter is seen in a film strip of modelling photos. By Persons Unknown

The ensuing trial for Peter Demeter was one of the longest in Canada’s history, as prosecutors laid out their evidence, painting a picture of an unhappy marriage, a mistress and a plot to cash in a recently acquired $1-million life insurance policy.

The crimes of Peter Demeter, which began with his wife’s death but certainly didn’t end there, happened more than 50 years ago, but remain some of the most gruesome and calculated in our nation’s history.

Now, Global’s true crime offering, Crime Beat, is looking back on the case for its 100th episode, with new interviews from the detectives who responded to the grisly scene, never-before-heard details from witnesses who were there the night Christine died and local journalists who have followed every twisted turn in Peter’s criminal life.

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Read on to learn more about this fascinating case and to get a sneak peek of some of the new information highlighted in Crime Beat‘s centennial episode.

Peter and Christine Demeter: A love story turned sour

Peter Demeter was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1933 to a wealthy family.

Peter Demeter. David Cooper / Toronto Star via Getty Images

His family’s fortune, however, was ravaged by World War II and Peter lost both his father and brother in the war.

In 1956, in an effort to leave his grief-stricken life behind, he emigrated to Canada at the age of 23, ready to make it big and win back the lifestyle he had always dreamed of.

“(Peter) learned that you had to concentrate everything, whether it was cheating, lying or stealing, to get food and survive. And that was the world he grew up in,” says journalist Barbara Amiel, author of By Persons Unknown: The Strange Death of Christine Demeter, explaining Peter’s mindset as a young man, and the ethos that would come to shape the rest of his life.

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He brought with him to Canada his beautiful girlfriend, Christine Ferrari, an Austrian-born model, whom he had met behind the scenes on an Austrian movie set.

Christine Ferrari married Peter Demeter in 1967 after immigrating to Canada and settling in Mississauga. Global News

After several years, Peter had carved out a successful career as a developer in Toronto, and in 1967 he and Christine wed.

From the outside, the early days of their marriage appeared to be a happy time. They welcomed a daughter into the world and in 1971, they built their dream house — complete with a giant fireplace and swimming pool — on a quiet dead-end street in Mississauga, overlooking the Credit River.

That daughter, Andrea, was just three-and-a-half years old when she sat inside their upscale home on July 18, 1973, watching television, unaware that her mother was being bludgeoned to death inside the garage.

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Christine was found by her husband, lying face down in a pool of her own blood, her head crushed.

“There was so much trauma to her head, we couldn’t see her face clearly but I could actually see some brain matter,” Det. William Koeslag, now retired, of the Mississauga Police Department recounts in Crime Beat‘s upcoming episode detailing the case.

Peter Demeter is seen outside the garage where his wife was found bludgeoned to death. Harold Barkley / Toronto Star via Getty Images

An autopsy would later show that she died from blunt force trauma to the head, likely from the use of a crowbar, hammer or tire iron.

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A weapon was never discovered. But, standing inside the garage that night, police immediately knew something was amiss.

Despite Peter’s airtight alibi (he had been at a nearby shopping mall with houseguests at the time of Christine’s death), police noticed he was acting a bit strange for someone who just learned their spouse was dead.

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“The first thing he said to me was: ‘Why can’t you get her out of here?'” remembers retired Det. Barry King, one of the first officers from Mississauga Police to arrive on the scene.

“I didn’t know if he was the culprit, the victim, or whatever.”

Police also noticed several other odd things happening around Christine’s body in the garage — they found the keys to her Cadillac on the front seat of the car, the car’s battery had been drained and the garage door’s automatic opener had been dislocated, preventing it from opening without manual effort.

Investigators quickly got to work, unearthing a trove of details from neighbours, friends and family members that pointed to a marriage unravelling.

A neighbour revealed to police that Christine had given her two airline tickets she had found, one for Peter and one for another woman, asking the neighbour to hold onto them for safekeeping.

Police also found love letters between Peter and an old Austrian flame, model Marina Hundt, leading them to believe he had rekindled the relationship and was having an affair.

Marina Hundt, Peter Demeter’s mistress. Toronto Star Archives / Toronto Star via Getty Images

In interviews with police, Peter himself admitted this marriage had been on thin ice and police eventually unearthed $1-million life insurance policies the couple had taken out shortly before Christine was killed.

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Disguised as utility workers, police got to work installing wiretaps on the Demeter home, listening in as Peter told his best friend, Csaba Szilagy, about his rekindled affair with Hundt.

In a separate interview with police, Szilagy also told police that Peter has been plotting various ways to kill Christine, bandying about ideas of a hitman, shocking Christine with electricity in their backyard swimming pool or having her run over shotgun shells in an attempt to explode her car.

On Aug. 17, after a month of collecting a mountain of circumstantial evidence, police charged Peter with plotting Christine’s murder.

A courtroom circus

Meanwhile, prosecutors began planning their strategy for the upcoming trial, which would last 11 weeks and reveal to the jury a spiralling marriage, a man desperate to be with his secret lover and all the possible ways Peter had conspired to off the mother of his child.

The jury heard how Peter and Christine became increasingly dissatisfied with each other in their six years of marriage, with anger, distrust and suspicion becoming common themes.

The jury learned about the affair with Hundt, who quickly became known in the press as “The Other Woman,” and who would often be seen outside the courthouse with Peter’s dog, Beelzebub.

Marina Hundt walks Peter Demeter’s dog near the courthouse. Dick Loek / Toronto Star via Getty Images

The trial got truly bizarre, however, when prosecutors brought in a witness with a bag over his head to protect his identity.

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Mr. X (later identified as jailhouse informant Gyala Virag) testified that Peter had hired a hitman with the nickname “The Duck” to kill his wife. “The Duck” was later identified as petty criminal Imre Olejnyik.

Prosecutors also had Peter’s former friend and informant, Szilagy, take the stand. Szilagy testified that Peter had tried to hire him to murder Christine, although he said he declined.

He also admitted that he knew Peter was seriously plotting the death of his wife just two days before she died, but said he didn’t warn her.

Csaba Szilagyi, the crown witness in the Peter Demeter murder trial. Don Dutton / Toronto Star via Getty Images

Ultimately, the jury decided that Peter had ordered a hit on his wife and he was sentenced to life in prison on Dec. 6, 1974. Olejnyik, believed to be the hitman, died in Hungary before he could be extradited back to Canada to face charges for the murder of Christine.

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It didn’t stop there — time behind bars didn’t prevent Peter from trying to have more people killed.

Peter orders another hit… and another

In 1983, Peter was paroled and sent to live in a halfway house in Peterborough. That year, he was charged with arson in connection with a fire at his luxurious Mississauga home — a fire that Peter tried to pin on Peel police, but it was ultimately found that Peter hired and paid another former inmate, Tony Preston, $8,000 to burn down the house.

Police and investigators probe the firegutted home of Peter Demeter. Frank Calleja / Toronto Star via Getty Images

Later that year, he was back in front of a judge for sentencing after plotting to murder his cousin’s teenage son (the cousin had taken custody of Peter’s daughter, Andrea, after Christine’s death). The court found that Peter plotted, with the help of Preston and another former inmate, to have his nephew kidnapped in order to collect the ransom and then have the nephew killed. He was handed two new life sentences.

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And, again, in 1985, he was wrapped up in another murder-for-hire scheme, this time for conspiring from behind prison walls to kidnap and kill the daughter of his lawyer, Toby Belman.

Apparently, Peter was unhappy with his lawyer’s legal fees and angry that Belman had frozen some of his stock assets when Peter’s $46,000 legal bill went unpaid. He cooked up a scheme to kidnap the teen girl and demand a $400,000 ransom.

The plot was foiled when Peter’s former cellmate went to police and snitched. Again, he was sentenced to another two additional life sentences.

Judge John O’Driscoll, who sentenced Peter in 1988, openly called him evil.

“Your evil knows no bounds. It never rests. It never ends…Whether or not you are inherently evil, I do not know, but you ooze evil out of every pore and contaminate everyone around you,” he said.

Peter Demeter stoops to pet his dog at his murder trial. Don Dutton / Toronto Star via Getty Images

He also noted an unusual criminal character trait in Peter.

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“If Peter Demeter is a psychopath, he has a unique feature. Instead of burning out as he gets older, he’s getting worse.’’

Psychopathic, sick and forever behind bars

As the judge noted, Peter has shown he has a capacity for some truly dangerous behaviour, regardless of his status as an inmate or a free man.

He was eventually clinically labelled as a psychopath, diagnosed with narcissistic and antisocial features and deemed an indefinite risk to the public.

Peter Demeter is seen being escorted by police officer during the trial where he was ultimately found guilty for plotting to kill his nephew. John Mahler / Toronto Star via Getty Images

In 1999 he began to waive his own bi-annual parole hearing, conceding that he would likely remain in prison until his death.

Despite a heart attack, stroke and several bouts with cancer, all while behind bars, he continues to live and is now in his 90s.

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In 2019 he apparently had a change of heart regarding being a free man, and tried his hand in front of the parole board for the first time in 20 years. Even as an 85-year-old, the parole board wasn’t swayed.

“Your history of counselling others to seek revenge for you makes you more of a risk of recidivism than your age and physical ability to harm others would suggest,” the panel said in its decision, according to documents obtained by Rob Tripp of Cancrime.

“It is the Board’s opinion that you will present an undue risk to society if released.”

The board noted a “less than stellar” history of prison conduct, citing 40 incidents between 2013 and 2019.

The board also noted that Peter has taken hostile measures against his daughter, changing his will so that she will only receive one dollar when he dies.

“It is very concerning to the Board that after 45 years in custody that you continue to harbour ill will towards the victim and other family members which demonstrates that you continue to present a risk when taking into consideration your past convictions.”

Crime Beat airs its 100th episode May 10 at 10 p.m. ET on Global, with the first of a two-part series documenting the unique 1973 murder case of Christine Demeter. Check your local listings for airtimes. Episodes appear streaming and on the StackTV app the following day.

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