He teaches phys-ed and runs the library at Hess Street School in Hamilton. The kids like him.
Staff, not so much. He can be mean and money goes missing when he’s around.
In his wallet is $320 cash.
In a light rain, the 42-year-old gets into his Dodge minivan and heads toward Oakville to pick his daughter and son up from their YMCA after-school program.
“It was a regular day,” Richard Taylor would recall later.
At 3:25 p.m., 15 minutes into his commute on Jan. 23, 2019, police cars box him in with lights flashing.
A cop he has come to know is at his door.
“Hi, Rich. Can you just turn off the vehicle and step out here for me please? Do you remember me?” Det. Ben Adams asks.
His mother. His stepfather. Burned alive in their bedroom six months earlier.
“If you could turn around for me please and put your hands behind your back.”
Anyone passing by that Wednesday would have no idea a killer is being arrested. It happens quickly, with little commotion. In his final seconds of freedom, Mr. Taylor — Rich — is quiet and calm as he is handcuffed.
As though he knew this moment would come.
Rich was always bad with money.
His entire adult life, he lived paycheque to paycheque, ignoring bills until he got an urgent notice that his credit card was being deactivated or his car would be repossessed.
Living in debt and lying about it wasn’t stressful, Rich says. Having to come up with money at the last minute wasn’t unusual, he says. It wouldn’t cause him to do anything drastic.
For him, it was normal.
By the mid-2000s, Rich was teaching at Billy Green Elementary, a JK-to-Grade 8 school on Stoney Creek Mountain.
He coached teams and organized dances. He was known for being fun and funny, which put him in good stead with students.
In 2013, when Billy Green received a $25,000 grant from the Heritage Green Community Trust, Rich created a program to use iPads and heart-rate monitors to record student workouts.
“You could be the worst athlete and still get an A in my class,” Rich told Hamilton Community News, emphasizing personal best performances. “That’s what the real curriculum is, to be a lifelong learner. It just raises the awareness for personal health and fitness … We try to get the kids not only physically fit, but mentally fit.”
Staff had a different take on Rich.
His humour was sarcastic and often mean, one former colleague remembered. He entertained colleagues by making fun of parents.
His arrogance frequently led to conflicts. Once, when a dance was cancelled at the last minute, Rich emailed all staff, blasting the principal for not appreciating his hard work.
A teacher who travelled with him on a Grade 8 trip to Montreal was horrified by his lack of concern when kids from another school tried to jump from balcony to balcony at their hotel.
“They’re not our kids,” Rich laughed.
That cavalier attitude seemed starkly out of sync with his reaction to an incident at Billy Green.
On Dec. 1, 2016, while Rich was on yard duty, a Grade 1 student collapsed on the playground. The boy was unresponsive.
Another teacher did CPR while Rich ran to get a defibrillator.
The child was taken to hospital where it was found he had an undiagnosed heart defect. He had emergency surgery and survived.
Six school staff members — including Rich — were lauded at a Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board meeting as “heroes.”
Years later, Rich weeps at his murder trial, explaining the incident shook him to his core.
“I’ve never been the same since,” he says.
Former colleagues say there was something especially odd about Rich when it came to money.
For starters, he constantly complained he didn’t have enough of it.
When he became engaged to Evangelia Papadimitriou after several years of dating, he talked more about the financial implications of marriage than the romantic ones.
Evangelia — Vange, as she is known — comes from a close Greek family. She has worked at Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson University) for 24 years and is co-ordinator of group fitness and instructional programs.
When things got serious with Rich, Vange bought her own engagement ring.
“He fully admitted to me he didn’t have the money,” she says later in court. “I wasn’t marrying him for his money.”
They wed on July 9, 2005, and settled into a semi-detached home they bought for $266,282 — with help from Rich’s dad — on Kittridge Road in Oakville, off Trafalgar Road.
Almost immediately, Rich and Vange began spiralling into debt.
“I wasn’t marrying him for his money.”
Like many middle-class Canadians, Rich maxed out his credit cards, the interest growing exponentially. An Ipsos survey in 2019 showed 48 per cent of Canadians were $200 away from insolvency.
The Taylors did not live extravagantly. They had no luxuries. There appeared to be no drug use, gambling addictions or extramarital affairs.
But they liked to shop. They bought unnecessary things even when they couldn’t afford them.
Their home was cluttered and unkempt. In the kitchen were dozens of takeout menus. They seldom cooked.
Vange complained she didn’t have clothes that fit. She wanted a new wardrobe but needed Rich to give her cash. She bought everything with cash.
Rich drove a Honda Civic and then a minivan. He was “scruffy” and wore sloppy gym clothes. He slouched in the staff room and “looks like an unmade bed,” according to a Billy Green colleague.
Rich complained about the cost of daycare, yet he was the first to have the latest cellphone or tablet.
The Taylors doted on their kids, Olivia and Matthew, throwing lavish birthday parties with many gifts. The children’s dresser drawers were crammed with new clothes, price tags still attached.
A surprising amount of Rich’s money went to Tim Hortons.
He bought breakfast there most mornings for himself and the kids. On school days, he picked up a sandwich for lunch. When he dropped the kids off in Hamilton for Greek school on weekends, he got something from Tim’s to take to his mom’s.
“It was the little things,” Vange says of their overspending. “It was Tim Hortons, it was dinner, it was a whole bunch of little spending, all the time.”
Soon Rich was paying thousands in banking fees due to bounced payments and over-withdrawal.
He sometimes took out as much as $3,000 a month, carrying large amounts of cash because his cards didn’t work.
But Rich refused to admit he was broke. He kept it secret. Especially from Vange.
“I thought everything was fine. I thought we had over $100,000 in the bank.”
Vange didn’t pay any bills. She hadn’t been to a bank in years and had no concept of their financial reality.
“I’m not a very number-savvy person,” she says in court later. “I thought everything was fine. I thought we had over $100,000 in the bank in terms of savings … I was not aware of any debts.”
Vange at one point asked her husband to put even more money into their savings account — $5,000 a month.
He said he would.
Though Vange earned $65,000 a year, she had no direct access to money. She went at least two years without a credit or debit card, repeatedly asking her husband — who made $90,000 annually — to get them for her. He promised to, but never did.
Instead, he slipped cash into her wallet. She had $200 to $500 on her at all times, for daily expenses.
Despite the debt, Vange travelled to Thailand and Cambodia in 2017. Rich gave her thousands of dollars to carry. She also went to Banff for a wedding, taking cash again.
And finally, when a trip to Greece was planned, Rich claimed to have thousands in cash hidden away. In reality, that trip threatened to be the moment Rich’s secret debt would be exposed. The entire house of cards — the lies, the money, the deception — was about to tumble.
Vange’s parents bought Olivia and Matthew tickets to Greece. Her sister paid for tickets for Vange and Rich too, but they were to reimburse her.
Vange was elated. She and Rich hadn’t been there since their honeymoon. It was just what the doctor ordered.
She texted Rich after a visit to her doctor: “He’s prescribed more sleeping pills. I’m sorry I’m so much work. He said he thinks the trip is very important for me, in terms of counselling. I need to fill you in. Please handle the bank stuff.”
They were to depart for Greece on July 11, 2018. Once they landed, the rest of the month-long vacation would be at their own expense.
Only Rich knew they were broke.
When debt collectors called Vange at work to say she owed $23,000 on a credit card she didn’t know she had, Rich lied and told her it was a scam.
Vange didn’t have a driver’s licence and needed Rich to take her everywhere, including the GO station so she could get to work.
After their second child, Matthew, was born, Vange was diagnosed with depression, anxiety and insomnia. She was prescribed pills, including “uppers” to help shake off her drug-induced grog in the mornings.
She was sad or angry much of the time. She drank heavily. Once, she fell asleep cooking hot dogs in the middle of the night and nearly set the kitchen on fire.
She lamented not having a better relationship with Carla and Al.
“Not feeling loved by your family is so hard to take,” she texted Rich about his mom and stepdad. “I always imagine having a great relationship with my in-laws, and it makes me very sad that I don’t. I feel very uncomfortable around them. I don’t feel like I’m family to them, not like my parents who love and accept you.”
Rich responded: “They love you. I know it’s not the same as your family, but yes, my family is definitely not like yours. My relationship with … my family isn’t always the best, and I’m sorry it’s affected you and the kids.”
Rich couldn’t pay the internet bill and had their service tethered to his cellphone. When he left the house, there was no internet service at home. Vange believed it was just bad service.
Rich was entirely in control. In many ways, Vange was isolated, utterly dependent on Rich to take care of the household logistics, chauffeuring and finances.
“Rich would do everything,” she says.
Yet Vange says their marriage was happy.
“It was a good relationship. There were moments toward the end where I found him a little bit distant. Tired … He was a good person.”
She believes Rich had her best interest at heart when he lied about their money.
“He didn’t want to worry me,” she says. “He felt I was going through a lot … What he did was wrong, but he truly felt he was going to get us out of this situation.”
Rich says later his lies were intended to “insulate” his wife from the reality of their financial situation. He did it out of love.
Vange praises Rich’s relationship with their kids.
He was an “excellent, excellent father,” who “loved his children to bits,” she maintains, despite text exchanges like this:
“Have you taken $$$$ out of kids piggy banks?” Vange asked.
“Ya put into the bank so we can add to their investment,” he said.
“Have you taken $$$$ out of kids piggy banks?”
Colleagues suspected Rich was stealing money.
Once, at Billy Green, $1,800 collected for a ski trip disappeared from a filing cabinet, a former teacher told The Spectator. Money collected for Terry Fox runs disappeared from teachers’ desks.
Another time, a teacher put $50 LCBO gift cards in envelopes and placed them in the custodians’ mail slots as Christmas gifts. Later, the custodians thanked the teacher for her $20 Tim Hortons cards.
One custodian says she caught Rich stealing money a few times.
After Rich left Billy Green, teachers say, money stopped disappearing. But similar unexplained incidents began happening at Hess Street School when he moved there in September 2017 to teach Grade 2/3.
Estella Jones, Hess’s principal at the time, told homicide detectives trip money went missing from classrooms after Rich arrived.
Rich told people he has cancer.
It was a lie.
A former Billy Green teacher remembers Rich losing weight and telling colleagues he had cancer.
Toward the end of his first year at Hess, Rich missed weeks of school, telling the principal he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, a term he googled on his phone.
He told her “he got surgery very early so the diagnosis was more favourable.” Rich said he was undergoing chemotherapy.
He missed 24 days of work that school year and told Vange he was off because he was stressed and unhappy in his job. He also suggested to her he may have cancer.
Rich found a new source of income.
He asked friends and family to invest in his hobby businesses, then lied about what he actually spent the money on.
In 2015, Rich and his brother, Chris, started a custom Muskoka chair company called Taylor Bros. Chair Co. The idea came when Carla threatened to toss out their old baseball bats gathering dust in the garage of their childhood home at Greening Court in Dundas. The boys decided to incorporate them in their chair design.
Rich was the woodworker, building chairs in his garage. Chris was the marketing guy.
The Huntsville Forester published an interview with the brothers, referring to Rich as a “respected elementary school teacher in Hamilton.”
Rich said the best part of the business was spending time with his brother.
“That was part of the attraction for starting this company. At the very least, we could get together more often and chat, have a beer. It also gives us an excuse to get the families together and hang out. It’s great.”
The business had some fleeting success, including working with the Toronto Blue Jays’ foundation. But overall, the side hustle had few sales and made less than $15,000 annually.
“It wasn’t a major source of income,” according to Chris. “It was a fun hobby.”
Rich also made and sold charcuterie boards. That venture brought in even less cash.
Rich lied and said these enterprises were thriving and would make a ton of money. Little of the money lent to Rich to grow his businesses was actually used for that purpose.
His dad lent him $9,000 without knowing Rich was in debt. About $4,000 of that was handed over just weeks before the fire.
Rich’s lifelong friend Jeremy Paikin, a doctor who practises cardiology in Milton, invested as well.
Paikin had known Rich and Chris since growing up in Dundas with them. He was in Chris’s wedding party and called him his best friend.
On Dec. 1, 2016, Jeremy and Rich went out for a steak dinner. The doctor paid.
Rich shared that he was unhappy with his job and his marriage was strained.
He asked Paikin for a loan for his woodworking business.
Paikin considered it “a hand up” and gave him between $18,000 and $20,000 over several months.
Rich was slow to repay him and dodged questions about the progress of his work.
Once, when Paikin asked again about the money, Rich cried. Paikin assumed his friend was in deep trouble and he wanted to help.
“If you have debt, I will repay it,” Paikin told him.
“I literally begged Rich to tell me what happened.”
Rich responded oddly.
“I’ve been kicked around and bullied for one reason or another all my life,” Rich said. “This is something I need to figure out for myself.”
Later, Rich called Paikin to say he was in a bind because his van had been stolen out of the driveway. He asked for another loan, explaining his wallet was in the van, so the bank froze his accounts.
Paikin lent him $3,500 on the condition it be repaid within 48 hours.
Rich failed to make good. He told his friend there was a fraud investigation underway. Paikin offered to hire a lawyer, but Rich refused.
All of it — the stolen van, the frozen bank accounts, the fraud investigation — was a lie.
Eventually, Rich paid back the money for the van — one of the rare times he repaid a loan. But he and Paikin stopped talking for months, apart from one brief text exchange.
“I’ve wanted to call you almost every day,” Rich wrote on Dec. 6, 2017. “But I was angry and embarrassed and hurt over the whole situation.”
Paikin had shown nothing but kindness and concern to his friend. Rich’s words made no sense.
The next time they were in contact was when Rich texted to say his mother has died in a house fire.
Next — Part 2: He was an athlete and an environmentalist. She loved her family, her dogs and travel. They were supposed to live happily ever after. Instead, her son killed them for the money