On July 20, 2006, veteran Toronto Sun columnist Max Haines made his exit and Mike Strobel was there with a farewell column.
By Mike Strobel
Murder Man is piling things in boxes as I pass his office.
Getting rid of the evidence, Max?
"Nossir," says Max Haines. "I'm a goner."
At first I think it's a gag line, from a wit who has written about more than 2,500 goners.
But, Max Haines really is no more, in our pages anyway. Sunday is his last column. It is about a deadly woman doc.
"I've been deeply engrossed in the most vile crimes in the world and it's time to stop and smell the roses," says Max. (He remains syndicated in two dozen papers.)
Later, we meet in the rose garden behind the Etobicoke home he shares with the lovely Marilyn, where they raised three daughters. You could dust the house and not find a single fingerprint.
Upstairs is the Murder Room, where Max has cranked out 34 years of columns and 27 books. It is lined with 700 other volumes from Ability to Kill to the Zodiac Killer.
Last time I was here was a day after they found sweet Holly Jones in pieces along the waterfront. Max and I talked about another little girl, Sharin'Morningstar Keenan, and her presumed killer, Dennis Melvyn Howe.
Howe, if he still breathes, is among us somewhere.
Max writes about him from time to time, chases leads, re-runs his photo so we won't forget. He thinks he's lurking in a lumber camp or maybe a fishing village.
Well, you can forget about him now, Max. You're retired.
"No, I'll keep looking. He's my boogeyman."
Lord knows there have been many choices.
The first column was about axe murderer Lizzie Borden.
Ed Monteith, managing editor of the new Sun, paid $15 and asked for another.
For Max, the career change was timely.
Runs had appeared in his pantyhose business. Never let a shipment leave the factory without checking elastics.
"I was too busy writing murder stories just for the fun of it.
"Then, we started getting letters from women all over Canada. 'I was walking along the street and my pantyhose fell down.'"
Soon Max was writing about felons far and wide.
If you are a fan, which is likely given our popularity polls, you know he tells of terrible deeds with a droll touch.
Who else can make you smile as you read of decapitation?
Funny thing. Max can't stand the sight of blood.
But he has peered into murderous minds and seen awful things.
Joel Rifkin, for instance. He strangled 17 prostitutes in New York State and had sex with them before, during and after.
In July 2000, Max went to see him in prison.
"The guy was intelligent and articulate and he talked about each of those 17 women like he was talking about apple pie."
Max was disgusted by what he heard.
"We're just on different wavelengths," the killer told him.
"It wasn't disgusting to me at all."
Sheesh, Max, how do you sleep nights?
"I've always been able to turn it off when I come home."
Then there was ol' Bob James, who arranged for a rattlesnake to bite his wife.
Or English fiend John George Haigh, who dissolved his six victims in sulphuric acid and poured them in his back yard.
Apparently Mr. Haigh was unaware sulphuric acid is no match for gallstones. This helped to hang him.
So, there's a Haines tip. Do not try to dissolve someone who has gallstones.
Max, you gentle soul, say you wanted to off someone . . .
"Hunting accident. Very difficult to prove it was intentional. All of sudden, you trip, the gun goes off."
Or, he says, move to Texas.
"It's a great place to get rid of an unwanted husband.
"Everyone has a gun down there. The good wife always says, 'Gee, I thought it was an intruder and it was dark and I plugged him in the heart.
"And in Texas, you need two kills to your credit before they take you seriously."
Remind me never to go hunting in Texas with my wife. Or Max Haines.
Antigonish, N.S., is more like it.
Max's next book will be about that town, where he was born in 1931. The worst crimes are brawls and broken windows. Legends says the local jailer set you free on hot days as long as your were back by 7:30 p.m.
The warning: "If you're not in by then, I'll lock you out."
Well, Max, enjoy life without deadlines.
But keep your head up, your ears perked, your eyes peeled.
It's murder out there.