Victoria Selby-Readman believed Richard Isaac when he said he needed a place to stay because he’d been treated unfairly by his ex-girlfriend. She also needed a roommate to afford rent in her small downtown Toronto apartment after her boyfriend moved out following a breakup.
In fact, as Isaac moved in on May 15, 2018, there was a warrant out for his arrest.
Isaac, then 41, was wanted by Durham Regional Police for harassing and threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend and for violating a 2017 probation order imposed after he was convicted of assaulting another ex-girlfriend and smashing her phone so she couldn’t call police.
But Isaac wasn’t arrested. And about three weeks after he moved in, he murdered Victoria Selby-Readman.
Interviews, court documents and police records obtained by the Star show Isaac has a long history of harassment and violence against multiple women in his life and a violent criminal record spanning 22 years. He spent 16 of those years on probation, during which he went through counselling for domestic abuse, alcoholism and anger management. By 2018, a judge declined the Crown’s request to place him on probation again for the ninth time, saying it had clearly made no difference in the past.
Years earlier, at Isaac’s fifth sentencing hearing for assaulting his wife, a judge went through his criminal record and said: “I fear very much, sir, that regardless of your sincerity and how upset you are, that you are inherently a dangerous man and you cannot control yourself.”
In the short time Isaac lived with Selby-Readman, the 28-year-old writer and bike courier grew increasingly upset by his drinking and verbal aggression.
Meanwhile, the harassment of his ex-girlfriend was escalating, prompting police to lay new charges after the ex-girlfriend gave a police statement during which Isaac was still trying to call her. When a police officer answered the phone and told him to stop contacting her, Isaac laughed.
The ex-girlfriend’s boss was so alarmed by Isaac’s actions that on May 23, 2018, she accompanied her terrified employee to the police station to insist Isaac be arrested, telling officers she was afraid of what Isaac might do.
“I told them: ‘This is going to end badly,” Renee John, the supervisor, said in an interview with the Star.
“Typically, a person, when a warrant is out for their arrest, they evade the police. Not this guy. He didn’t care.”
Selby-Readman was seen alive for the last time on surveillance cameras heading toward her apartment on the evening of June 8, 2018. She’d been frustrated about his drinking and had texted her dad that afternoon saying she wanted Isaac gone “today.” Police and prosecutors believe Isaac killed her that evening and remained in the apartment with her body — leaving only to buy more alcohol — until June 11 when his father picked him up.
According to prosecutors, Isaac replied to text messages from Selby Readman’s father the day after he killed her — a move to deter suspicion until he could flee.
After Isaac’s arrest for Selby-Readman’s murder on June 16, 2018 , police received several other reports he had been harassing and berating women he met via dating apps and Facebook, behaviour that had led to the creation of a Facebook group called: “Ladies Beware of Richard Isaac.”
Just over a month ago, on Oct. 29, a jury found Isaac guilty of second-degree murder. Nine of the 12 jurors recommended he get a life sentence with no chance at parole for 25 years, the maximum available.
The pattern that emerges from Isaac’s criminal history is immediately familiar to courts, inquests, policy-makers and advocates. His long history of domestic violence charges and convictions, a pending breakup, a terrified ex-girlfriend, his failure to comply with court orders, excessive alcohol use, obsessive behaviour, and his misogynist attitudes are all common risk factors in intimate-partner homicides. And though Selby-Readman was not his former partner, his proximity to her in their shared apartment as his harassment of his ex-girlfriend escalated put her at risk.
Experts say this case — like Renfrew County murders in 2015 and dozens more since — exposes the consequences of a justice system that has shown itself over and over again unable to rehabilitate domestic abusers and keep women safe.
John said she believes Selby-Readman’s death could have been prevented if more effort was made to find Isaac, who had shown obvious signs he was a danger to others.
“This was avoidable,” she said.
Court records show Isaac was first convicted of criminal harassment and assault in 1996, in Brampton. He was convicted of assaulting his wife a total of five times, serving brief stints in jail followed by probation for the first three until 2008 when he was sentenced to six months in jail and three years of probation for assault and failing to comply with a probation order. Heavy drinking was cited as a factor in his offending.
In October 2014, he was convicted for the last time of assaulting his wife of 20 years, who had by then filed for divorce.
“I may have had a case of a pattern of abusive behaviour that has more entries than that, but I cannot recall in the last 14 years that I have had anything as serious as that,” said the judge who sentenced Isaac.
According to the agreed facts, in May 2014 they were still living together with their two young children. After a heated argument at a basketball court that continued with Isaac yelling at his wife in the car until they got home, Isaac kicked her three times until she ran to her neighbour’s home to call 911. She also told the children to run and told police she was worried he would harm them. Police arrived to find Isaac drunk. Their scared son reluctantly told police that Isaac grabbed him by the shirt collar and threatened him saying: “If I come back, I’m going to kill you, I’ll cut your throat and rip your heart out.”
Isaac remained in jail after his arrest and a no-contact order with his wife was imposed by the court, but a few weeks after the assault, Isaac’s wife reported that he’d sent letters to their home addressed to his deceased mother. The letters, the content of which was clearly directed at his wife, included what the court described as “heartfelt apologies” aimed at reconciling with his family.
Isaac was convicted of assault, threatening death and breaching a noncommunication order. He served 11 months in jail with three more years of probation.
It’s unclear whether Isaac was required to participate in any counselling or rehabilitative programs during this period of probation, his eighth. A judge would later question the utility of a ninth probation in his case, though the Crown suggested it could be useful in getting him counselling. “Why should we burden probation when a person is obviously showing no interest?” Justice Ramez Khawly said.
Isaac’s court records show that he went to the Partner Assault Response (PAR) program, as well as anger management counselling and substance use counselling — though it is unclear how long he spent in counselling and if it specifically addressed domestic abuse. There remain limited programs or supports to help men who commit domestic violence and it’s unclear how effective the PAR program has been in general, said Pamela Cross, the legal director of Luke’s Place, which provides legal support to women facing domestic violence. The program, which was also controversially cut from 16 sessions to just 12 in 2015, is intended for first-offenders, not repeat offenders.
“If we want to stop men from being abusive to women, we have to work with men so that they don’t want to behave like that. But I’m not convinced we’ve taken the right steps to determine what the right program would be,” Cross said.
In 2016, Isaac met a woman on Tinder, according to court transcripts. After about six weeks, she ended the relationship but, she told police, Isaac would not stop texting her. He showed up at her house after midnight and knocked on her door. She called the police and he left. She asked police to tell him to stop contacting her.
The pair continued to see each other, and the woman broke up with Isaac again in April 2017. She told police Isaac was yelling at her, and when she told him to leave and that she’d call the police, he grabbed her phone and held her down on the couch so she couldn’t leave. Her landlord who lived above her heard banging and came down to see if the woman needed help. The woman said yes and went into her landlord’s home to call police. Isaac later called the police himself to report an assault. He was charged with assault, mischief and forcible confinement and was ultimately convicted of assault and mischief a year later. His bail conditions required him to live with his father in Brampton and to remain at home between 6 p.m. and 5 a.m., unless he was in the presence of his surety.
He’d soon be charged with violating that bail condition.
In October 2017, Isaac began what an agreed statement of facts later described as an “acrimonious” relationship with another woman he’d met on Tinder. According to police reports, he moved into her downtown Toronto condo almost immediately and repeatedly assaulted her over the next few weeks. In mid-November 2017, police laid charges of assault, forcible confinement and mischief, as well as violating his bail conditions, and Isaac was denied bail. The charges were withdrawn on March 8, 2018, when the woman recanted her statements to police.
Experts familiar with domestic violence cases say recantation by a victim is common for several reasons, including fear of their abuser; pressure from the abuser or his family; continued love for their abuser; and concern about the consequences he might face, including his safety in jail or the loss of a job. Recanting doesn’t automatically mean the abuse did not occur, said Farrah Khan, manager of Ryerson’s Office of Sexual Violence Support and Education. “It can be part of a safety plan or a harm-reduction strategy,” she said.
Isaac pleaded guilty to breaching a bail order because he called her from jail a month after he was arrested. “He told her that he loved her, that I’ll be back and that I’m never going to hurt you again,” the Crown said describing the agreed facts on March 9, 2018. The Crown sought a probation order, with a no-contact order revocable with her consent.
When asked if he had anything to say, Isaac told the court: “I won’t do it again.” But if a no-contact ordered was granted, he said, the couple would soon apply for it be lifted.
Justice Khawly said he had his “own views” about the woman’s testimony, and noted Isaac’s long record. “If you don’t think you’ve got a circle on your back, a nice mark with an X, if you don’t think the cops are looking out for you you are kidding yourself … that record gives them impetus to say that’s a bad apple,” he told Isaac.
He sentenced Isaac to time-served, with year-long peace bond and a no-contact order revocable with written consent from the woman.
Later that month, Isaac was given a suspended sentence for his charges related to his other former girlfriend and a two-year probation order.
The relationship between him and his current girlfriend began to break down in April and May 2018, according to a later agreed statement of facts.
The no-contact order was lifted with her consent and the couple reunited and moved in together for a few weeks.
In April, the woman’s sister called police to the Ajax home owned by the woman after a fight. The woman told police she just wanted Isaac to leave and he did. No charges were laid.
In early May, police were called to the home again, this time by the woman’s brother-in-law. Police were told by the woman that Isaac was living in an Ajax home she owned and that he was drunk and needed medical attention. Police arrested Isaac, believing he was banned from consuming alcohol, and took him to the hospital. He was released the same day when they realized he did not have an alcohol-related court order.
On the morning of May 12, police were called to the home by the basement tenant for reports of a man and woman fighting. The caller first believed there was a fight going on in-person but later realized it was by phone. Isaac was there and was initially handcuffed while police looked for the woman who was not there. Police then tried to find the woman, and spoke to her brother-in-law who said the woman had repeatedly come over to their home with injuries but that she didn’t want to report Isaac to the police. Isaac had been calling him too. He told police she was staying with a friend, but when police went there she’d gone.
When police went back to the Ajax home to arrest Isaac that afternoon, he’d gone. Durham Police sent a message to Peel police to try and arrest him at his father’s house in Brampton, and police contacted Isaac by phone to tell him to turn himself in. He was wanted on two counts of criminal harassment.
Three days later, on May 15, 2018, he moved in with Selby-Readman.
“She had everything planned,” Selby-Readman’s best friend Alexandra Palermo said. Selby-Readman needed a temporary roommate just until she could start working more hours as a bike courier. It would mean cutting down the time she could spend writing — Selby-Readman was a fan of Sylvia Plath and Edgar Allan Poe and was working on her own collection of short stories — but it would also give her independence, which she was excited about, Palermo said. She believes Selby-Readman found Isaac in a community Facebook group and he moved in almost immediately on May 15, 2018.
It was three days after police put out the warrant for him.
“This is something you never think would happen,” Palermo said.
Isaac continued to harass his ex-girlfriend even after the warrant for his arrest was issued, according to a series of police reports she made.
The woman was reached by police and said she told them she was afraid for her safety. Police connected her with Victim Services. She called police the next day because she was afraid to go into the home alone, but then said she’d return later with a relative. Police told her Isaac had not been arrested.
She called police again on May 14, 2018, and tried to do a three-way call but Isaac hung up. He still had not been arrested and the officer she spoke to put in a request to expedite the warrant.
On May 16, she called police thinking Isaac was in her backyard. She showed them 25 phone calls, along with messages he’d sent her in breach of their no-contact order. She also showed police photos of her damaged work laptop. But though she was afraid of him, police records state that she also maintained she did not want Isaac to be charged and refused to provide a statement. She said she didn’t want him to go to jail and that he was going through mental health problems.
Meanwhile, Selby-Readman was becoming alarmed by Isaac’s drinking, her friend Palermo said. She started to want to be at home less. When Isaac first moved in, he was injured and stayed home but once he became mobile again, the drinking got worse.
Palermo said Selby-Readman didn’t seem afraid of Isaac — she didn’t think he’d harm her or that it had reached the point where the police should be called. But she also didn’t want to be around him drunk.
Shortly after Isaac moved in, Selby-Readman sent Palermo a text message with Isaac’s Facebook details.
“You need to know who this guy is in case anything get crazy bc no one knows he’s here,” she said. She had only told her parents she had a roommate but didn’t give them details.
Palermo said the message was sent in the way young women share photos and licence plate numbers of dates when meeting someone for the first time. A survival mechanism so common that it wasn’t hugely alarming on its own — though it made Palermo encourage Victoria to have Isaac move out as soon as possible. Thinking about it now, she said, is chilling.
On May 18, Selby-Readman texted Palermo and said: “I want to kick this fkn idiot out of my place he’s so annoying,” and: “He is so crazy yelling at (his ex-girlfriend) literally all fkn night.” She complained about him drinking and considered calling the police. Palermo warned her to be careful Isaac isn’t violent and Selby-Readman said that if she did call the cops, she’d wait in the hall or the lobby for them or with building security.
In the following days, Isaac continued to harass his ex-girlfriend, eventually posting videos of his ex-girlfriend online in a “compromising position” where she appeared drunk which caused her to be fearful of him, according to an agreed statement of facts.
Renee John, the woman’s supervisor, was immediately concerned when she saw the videos Isaac sent via the company’s Facebook page on May 21, including false claims that the woman didn’t have the degree she’d claimed, and that she was violent towards him.
“He was on a mission to decimate her character,” John said.
The woman had recently confided in John that she was ending an abusive relationship with Isaac, and John offered to help. As a volunteer victim services crisis responder in Durham region, she often helps victims of domestic violence and knew the danger her employee could be in. Less than two months earlier, her friend Krassimira Pejcinovski — an esthetician from a spa down the street from John’s Ajax home — was murdered alongside her two teenage children, allegedly at the hands of her ex-boyfriend.
After seeing the videos, John emailed Durham police, telling a detective in a May 22 email that police needed to see the videos.
“I am concerned for her safety,” John wrote.
On May 23, after Isaac continued to repeatedly call and message the woman, John accompanied her to the Durham police station in Pickering to give a statement, after which more charges were laid. While they were at the station, Isaac called the woman. Police said he laughed when they got on the phone with him.
The woman reported that he had been harassing her for weeks, contacting her sometimes up to 100 times a day causing her to fear for her safety. She said he’d threatened to kill her and her family and that, if she ever dated another man, he’d kill that man.
In her own statement to police, John said she believed Isaac was spiralling and wasn’t attempting to hide his behaviour from police, despite his arrest warrant.
“He wasn’t afraid. He clearly wasn’t concerned about repercussions,” John said.
A history of abuse and a recent breakup are two key risk factors in predicting domestic homicides, along with increasingly obsessive behaviour and an addiction that is no longer under control, said Cross.
Police noted that Isaac had not updated his address with his probation officer, in violation of his conditions.
Despite the arrest warrant and requests from the woman and John to take him into custody, Isaac wasn’t arrested.
The woman told Isaac’s probation officer and the police on June 5, 2018, that she thought he was living in the Harbourfront area of Toronto with a girl named “Nikki,” which could have been a reference to Selby-Readman.
Palermo and another friend of Selby-Readman’s told police that Isaac’s ex-girlfriend had gotten in contact with Selby-Readman, and text messages show Selby-Readman had learned that Isaac was wanted by police in some way.
The Star asked Durham police what efforts were made to locate Isaac while the warrant was out for his arrest, including whether officers in Toronto and Peel were contacted to join the search, or if Isaac’s probation officer was called to help find him. Dave Selby, a spokesperson for Durham police, said because Isaac’s case is still active — he has a sentencing hearing in December — “it would be inappropriate to discuss any details.”
Palermo still wants answers.
“If someone has a violent history and they are supposed to be checking in with their probation officer … why are you not going to find him?” Palermo said. “It’s just a file to them, but look what happened.”
Cross wonders whether a form of Clare’s Law could have helped Selby-Readman, and the other women who became involved in relationships with Isaac.
The law, which has recently been introduced in Saskatchewan and originated in the U.K., allows people — typically in the context of a new romantic relationship — to contact the police to request information about whether a person has a history of domestic violence. A review by a panel will then determine if the information can be given for safety planning purposes.
The Saskatchewan law, the Interpersonal Violence Disclosure Protocol Act, has raised privacy issues, and concerns about varying levels of participation among police forces. The RCMP has refused to comply, citing privacy reasons, though they were involved in the drafting of the legislation. And it’s unclear how often it will be used.
But Cross said it provides another tool to help prevent violence against women.
“That information might have influenced (Selby-Readman’s) decision to have (Isaac) share the rent with her,” Cross said. It may have also been useful to the women who dated him, Cross said, noting that it can become harder for a woman to report abuse the longer she is involved in the relationship, often because she wants to help their abusive partner get better.
There are also limitations on what the justice system can do. Cross said more needs to be done to ensure that women who come forward to report are treated with respect and dignity, and that they understand what the justice system can do for them. There also need to be other ways to address harm that women may be more willing to participate in that don’t rely on criminal consequences, she said.
Khan said providing wraparound services to domestic violence survivors is crucial, from housing to financial support.
This case is among several that show the need to look at how a history of domestic abuse can factor into murders that are not classified as domestic, Cross said — something that is expected to be part of the public inquiry in the April 2020 Nova Scotia mass shooting. It’s part of the reason that femicides are documented and analyzed annually by the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability.
Palermo last saw her best friend — they called each other “beefs” in a play on BFF — two days before she was killed. They took Palermo’s dog for a walk and sat at a picnic table in a park in front of her home. They talked about her plans for the future.
There was so much she wanted to do, Palermo said.
“She had such a sharp mind, she was the smartest person I knew,” Palermo said.
Selby-Readman had studied women’s studies, literature, philosophy and political science at the University of Toronto. She hoped to have children one day and adored animals including her beloved cat Bunny. The friends had written and filmed a screenplay together, which now languishes on Palermo’s laptop.
Selby-Readman was loved fiercely by her parents, her family and her friends, Palermo said.
“She was the missing puzzle piece that completed everybody. Now we are missing our piece,” Palermo said. “There was always light around her.”