Annie Mae Wilson was nineteen years old on the night she died. After five years working the streets of Nova Scotia, she had found a new pimp and cut ties with supermarket bag boy Bruno, who had called himself her man. Bruno was furious and demanded to be compensated. When Annie Mae refused, he lost his temper and killed her with a single punch. People like Bruno call prostitution “The Game,” and Annie Mae lost.
Annie Mae was one of twenty-two prostitutes killed in Canada in 1992, victims of an oppressive system of terror and violence that often leads to addiction, rape, and death. In this groundbreaking piece of investigative journalism, Annie Mae’s story is finally told, along with those of other young women caught in the vice of prostitution.
Impeccably researched and engagingly written, this true crime account from veteran reporter Phonse Jessome approaches a difficult subject without judgment. Relying on first-person testimony from prostitutes and their pimps, Jessome explores a side of modern life that few people have seen but which no one can afford to ignore.
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Inside an International Prostitution Ring
By Phonse Jessome
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1996 Phonse Jessome
All rights reserved.
Part One: Horror and Hope
It was late in January 1992 and nineteen-year-old Annie Mae Wilson was spending the final moments of her life watching television. Annie Mae was lounging on a couch in her sister's apartment in the north end of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, enjoying some time with the new man in her life, her new pimp. Annie Mae ignored the irritating sound when the old brown phone in the kitchen began to ring. Unlike the newer phones with the electronic warble, Annie Mae's phone had a real bell inside activated by a tiny wire connected to a small lead weight that slammed repeatedly into the bell when someone called. It was appropriate enough that a bell sounded; the call represented the tolling of the bell for Annie Mae.
Annie Mae's sister took the call and shouted to the nineteen-year-old. When Annie Mae heard the familiar voice on the line, she knew she was in trouble. Bruno Cummings was in a rage. Bruno was calling from another Dartmouth apartment where he was playing cards with a group of friends. Like Bruno, they were also pimps. Bruno was upset because in his opinion he, not the young man on the couch in Annie Mae's sister's apartment, was her "man" on Hollis Street in Halifax and he knew she had not been working for him. Annie Mae's decision to switch pimps didn't really bother Bruno; it was how she was doing it. Pimps take their game seriously and don't like anyone breaking the rules. When a girl leaves one pimp and chooses another she is required under the code of The Game to pay her former pimp a leaving fee. Leaving fees are one of the methods, torture and terror being two others, used by pimps to keep young women from breaking free of the prostitution game. The fees run from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on a girl's age and appearance and the level of respect her pimp has earned in the street. Contrary to popular myth, there are very few street pimps who share the profits with their young girls. Pimps take all the money and give their girls an allowance for clothing and food, ensuring that a young woman cannot save enough money to pay her own leaving fee. If a girl wants to break free of a pimp she usually approaches a new man and convinces him to pay the fee, but the girl is still in The Game.
Annie Mae had been a prostitute since she was fourteen and she knew the rules. By not paying the leaving fee Annie Mae was committing the ultimate act of defiance: she was showing complete disrespect to her man or, in the words of the card-playing pimps, "dissin' Bruno, big time."
Bruno knew he had to regain control of Annie Mae. If he let her walk away without paying a fee, his short career as a pimp was over. The message would spread in the street in minutes; Bruno's girls were open targets for any pimp who was shopping for someone new. No pimp would ever bother to pay Bruno a leaving fee again. Bruno did not like the idea of supporting himself with his part-time, legitimate job, bagging groceries. He had already lost more in the poker game that afternoon than he could make at the super market in a week.
Annie Mae knew she had gone too far when she slammed the phone down and now she paced her sister's apartment trying to decide what to do. Annie Mae had worked the streets of Halifax, Montreal and Toronto for more than five years. She knew an angry pimp was not to be trifled with and she knew she was once again getting herself into trouble. Annie Mae had developed a reputation that was not all that uncommon in prostitution. She was known as a "Choosy Suzy," a girl who liked to jump from one man to another. None of the pimps felt Annie Mae was a threat to The Game, they considered her a lifer who was just a little restless. Annie Mae thought she could get away without paying Bruno a fee because he was a minor player. At least that was what she had hoped. Bruno, she knew, was considered small time by most of the players. He had no ambition and never bothered running his girls in Montreal or Toronto. Bruno was content to make a few dollars from his girls in Halifax and then live the big life wasting it all at the poker table with the real players. But Annie Mae now realized she had misjudged Bruno; he would not stand for her leaving without paying the fee. She decided she better take the initiative. Bruno had not mentioned where he was calling from but Annie Mae knew how to reach him. She quickly dialed the number of Bruno's pager and left a message for him to call her. It was one of Bruno's card-playing buddies who was wearing his pager that afternoon and he returned the call.
Annie Mae was on the right track when she realized the mistake she had made. Her problem was in the approach she took when she tried to fix it.
"You tell him when he gets some man sense he can give me a call," she told his buddy. Annie Mae had instantly gone from being frightened to defiant and instead of easing the tension between herself and her former pimp, she had unwittingly pushed Bruno to the breaking point.
When the card player wearing Bruno's pager passed on her angry message, everyone at the table heard it. There were a few chuckles but one man was not laughing. Richard "Biker" Benson flashed a sinister smile when he heard what Annie Mae had to say. Biker was an older, well-respected player who had girls in Montreal and Toronto. He was also a violent man. He did not like Annie Mae and had slapped her around once — after she had left his brother, another pimp. Now Biker could force Bruno into dishing out some pimping persuasion to the errant girl while he watched the fun. He enjoyed beating his girls and seeing other pimps beat their girls almost as much as he enjoyed the hefty profits he earned in The Game.
"Bruno, you ain't no man at all. You think you got respect, and you let a 'ho dis' you like that. Man, you're nothin'." Biker pulled the right strings as he taunted Bruno while the younger pimp tried his best to ignore it. The other card players picked up the theme and Bruno began pacing the room as his anger grew. Bruno's closest friend and fellow pimp could see where Biker was pushing and he didn't want Bruno going in that direction. He told Bruno to cool off and let it go.
Bruno ignored the sound advice of his friend and hatched a plan that he felt would help him regain the respect he had lost and get Annie Mae out of his life at the same time. Biker offered to drive Bruno to Annie Mae's sister's apartment so the disrespected pimp could set her straight, and Bruno accepted. During the drive across Dartmouth Bruno sat quietly in Biker's car thinking about how to carry out his plan. He had decided the best course was a fast decisive one. Biker, unexpectedly, and with obvious excitement, pulled out a small black gun from beneath his jacket. Bruno knew Biker often carried a gun but he wasn't sure why he would be pulling it out now.
"Just in case my man, just in case." Biker smiled at the weapon and returned it to its place.
Annie Mae's sister's apartment was on the second floor of an older brick building just off Windmill Road in Dartmouth's North End. Bruno pushed his way through the plate glass door and ran up the stairs to the dimly lit hallway. Biker clambered up behind him and followed Bruno to the apartment door. Bruno Cummings stood just over six feet tall and weighted close to two hundred and thirty pounds. He was not muscular or athletic but he was an intimidating presence in that small hallway. The angry pimp pounded the wooden door and waited. Annie Mae's sister opened the door. She recognized Bruno and quickly raised her hand to her mouth as she turned to look into the apartment where Annie Mae was lying on the sofa with her head in the lap of her new man.
"She's dissn' you big time man." Biker was staring past Bruno at Annie Mae. "You gotta do somethin' now."
Annie Mae jumped up when she saw the two pimps in the doorway. She walked toward Bruno but before she was able to say a word Bruno lashed out with a fast powerful punch that landed square on Annie Mae's nose. The slim young prostitute reeled backward from the force of the blow. Instinctively she threw out her hand for balance and caught a fistfull of Bruno's long curly hair. The sudden tug on his hair fuelled Bruno's temper higher and he struck again, this time hitting Annie Mae on the left side of her face. The punch spun her head violently to the right, twisting her neck well beyond its normal range of movement. Biker and Bruno watched her collapse on the floor with a sickening gurgling sound. They saw blood coming from Annie Mae's mouth and nose, the result of the first punch to her face. They did not see what the violent twisting motion from the second blow had done. The vertebral artery had ripped and blood was filling the space between the young girl's brain and the inner wall of her skull. Her body began to jerk in spasms and Biker began to laugh.
"You knocked her cold Bruno my man, two shots and she's on the mat."
Bruno said nothing. He looked mutely as her sister knelt beside her and began to cry. The new pimp who had been sitting on the couch with Annie Mae moments before got up and walked out of the apartment without acknowledging Biker or Bruno.
"Get some water," was all he said to Annie Mae's sister. His only concern was that she be revived before neighbours called the police.
Annie Mae's sister didn't hear him. She was glaring at Bruno, tears streaming down her face. "She's not breathing any more. My god, you killed her. You bastard, you killed Annie Mae."
Biker grabbed Bruno by the arm and pulled him back toward the stairs and out of the apartment building. As Bruno walked toward Biker's car the friend he had left at the poker game came running toward him.
"Bruno. What happened? What did you do?"
"I think she's dead," was all Bruno could manage as Biker pushed him into the passenger side of the car and sped away.
Bruno's friend ran upstairs where he found Annie Mae's sister and another young prostitute who had arrived on the scene. Both girls were crying and trying to raise Annie Mae into a sitting position. Bruno's friend decided he would have to act fast if he was to save his friend from a murder charge. He bent down, swept Annie Mae up in his arms and ran full speed down the hall toward his waiting car. Annie Mae's sister and her friend followed; the new pimp walked back into the apartment and closed the door.
Doctors at the nearby Dartmouth General hospital were able to revive Annie Mae but they realized something was seriously wrong inside the young woman's head. Annie Mae was transferred to the Victoria General Hospital across the Halifax Harbour. There a neurosurgeon recognized the symptoms of the hemorrhage inside her skull, but it was too late; Annie Mae was dead.
The police were called to the hospital where they interviewed Annie Mae's sister and her friend. Bruno Cummings was arrested and charged with murder. He pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter and was sent to prison for just under ten years. The judge accepted his claim that he had not intended to kill Annie Mae.
Annie Mae's family and her friends — most of them other prostitutes — attended her funeral in a tiny church in Dartmouth. For Annie Mae the pain of life on the street was gone forever.
Annie Mae Wilson never really had a life, although at nineteen she had had more life experience than most people could ever dream of, no matter how vivid their nightmares. She had visited and worked in most major Canadian cities, earning tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, although she died without a penny. Annie Mae had either been beaten by and or had sex with more men than most women meet in a lifetime. A high school drop-out who had slipped through the cracks, Annie Mae ended up a piece of society's trash. She was just another dead hooker; one of twenty-two prostitutes murdered in Canada in 1992.
Annie Mae Wilson was one of the hundreds of young Canadian teens who chose to play the deadly game of prostitution. Statistics Canada figures show the vast majority of street prostitutes arrested in Canada are young teenage girls. In 1984 a federal study into sexual offenses against children in Canada uncovered some startling facts. At that time a large number of male and female prostitutes were interviewed. Fifty per cent of those prostitutes had entered the sex trade before turning sixteen years old; almost every one of them had taken to the streets before turning nineteen. That same study showed that most of the teens entering the prostitution trade had run away from home at least once in the past and that most had done so at a very young age. Being a young teenage runaway is just the first step toward becoming a prostitute. Entering The Game is usually a choice made for the girls by pimps with a keen eye for a profitable mark. Pimps chose young girls for two reasons: they are more profitable because they look fresh and attractive on the street, and they are easier to manipulate.
In many ways, Annie Mae Wilson fit the profile of a girl destined to become a prostitute. She ran away from home at a young age. She quit school because it made her feel inferior to the smarter kids. By age fourteen she found a pimp who convinced her she could be the smart one, that she already had everything she needed to be a success. Annie Mae followed the young man into the prostitution game and never looked back.
Annie Mae could have left the street without giving up her life. Only months before the teenage prostitute was killed, a special police task force had been established in the Halifax area, called into service when juvenile prostitution in Halifax suddenly became a high-profile social problem. But the public outcry that finally spurred Nova Scotia's law-enforcement system to take effective action against The Game came too late for Annie Mae Wilson. Her years in The Game had fostered a strong hatred and mistrust of police. Annie Mae knew it was the prostitutes, rather than their pimps, who were the targets of the criminal justice system. By 1992, Canadian police were filing ten thousand prostitution related charges every year. That was a dramatic increase from pre-1985 figures of about two thousand per year. The new figures did not represent a major influx of prostitutes in Canada's streets or a major crack down by police. It had its source in the inception of Bill C-49, an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada that prohibited solicitation but failed to make a dent in The Game. The new law made it tougher for girls to work the streets; it did not deter the men who placed them there.
There are no accurate figures to indicate how many pimps are working in Canada. Calculating that number is made impossible by another rule the pimps enforce. When a prostitute is arrested she almost always tells the police she is working alone, and it is almost always a lie. Annie Mae Wilson was punished for not paying Bruno Cummings a leaving fee, a violation of the rules she was brave or foolish enough to risk. Annie Mae would never have risked telling a police officer she was working for a pimp.
Pimps in Canada take in millions of dollars yearly. They use the money to fuel their love of high living: fancy cars, fine clothes, expensive jewellery, while they shunt their young workers from city to city, stroll to stroll, degradation to degradation to maintain their preferred standard of living.
It was in the hands of the Scotians, the name given by police to the Metro Halifax-based pimping ring, that Annie Mae Wilson became a pawn in The Game. It was by the hand of one of its players, and only a peripheral one, that her involvement in it reached its tragic conclusion. Unlike the growing list of young prostitutes in Halifax, Toronto, Vancouver, and other cities, Annie Mae had rebuffed police efforts to take a new tack against the appalling trade in young people. That new approach had police targeting the pimping rings instead of their youthful victims.
Anti-pimping task forces had been fighting the battle against juvenile prostitution since the mid-1980s in Toronto and 1988 in Vancouver. They were making steady gains on the city street as officers slowly persuaded more and more young prostitutes to testify against their pimps. The key to their growing success was a dramatic change of attitude, deriving from a new police recognition that they were in a war to save young lives as much as to jail those bent on their destruction. Each one of these youngsters was somebody's daughter, and, often starved for nurturing family relationships, a young prostitute frequently turned to a task-force officer as a surrogate parent once she saw that the police were no longer intent on punishing her, but on rescuing her by putting her pimp out of commission.
But if juvenile prostitution preys on girls who fall through the cracks, who come from broken homes, or who are easily influenced for other reasons, it is also a predator that gives up its victims with great reluctance. Some cling to the heartbreaking belief in their pimps as "family." The vicious beatings those pimps often deliver are almost always accompanied by the reminder that the pimp/relative is only punishing a girl for her own good, however grossly inappropriate the lesson. Others turned their backs on the offer of help from the new police task forces in the belief that they can play The Game on their own terms, and that their lives will ultimately be better than their upbringing. That was Annie Mae Wilson's belief until Bruno Cummings showed her The Game is no place for an independent-mined working girl.
Excerpted from Somebody's Daughter by Phonse Jessome. Copyright © 1996 Phonse Jessome. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Part One: Horror and Hope,
Part Two: Stacey and Annie Mae,
Part Three: Taunya and the Big Man,
Part Four: From the Brink of Death,
Part Five: Operation Hectic Heats Up,
Part Six: Crime, Punishment, and an Uncertain Future,