Lunch with Jan

By Jan Wang, Food and Entertainment Editor

Moira Blackwell picks her teethMoira Blackwell picks teeth at her arraignment 

TORONTO.  When I settled down at lunch with Moira Blackwell I didn't know what to expect. Of course all the news stories about her strange food preferences had been front page news for days, but I wanted to see what the real woman was like. 

Was she as crude as the stories had painted her? Was her blouse stained with animal remains as testament to her passion for the flesh of her many alleged animal victims, and perhaps even those of her own husband? How did she comport herself; was her conversation witty and knowledgeable? Did she know the basic techniques with restaurant cutlery? Would she try to drink out of the finger bowl? Did she eat exclusively with her hands? Yes, yes, no, yes, yes, yes, and yes.

Like I say, I knew the basic facts behind this strange case and how shocking to read the police reports and wonder at the mug shot showing her casually picking her teeth at her arraignment. To me, this crass act even surpassed the charges she faced: thirty-five counts of cruelty to animals including butchering and eating her pets. To these charges she admitted that she'd eaten some of them because they were old and "didn't fit in." 

And the big question: Did she also eat her husband? This investigation continues, and she may face further charges of murder aggravated by cannibalism. However it turns out, the main thing interesting me was the person herself; I wanted to peel back the layers of her strange psyche through my usual dissecting tool: lunch at Sans Souci in the basement of the printing plant where The Globe and Mail is printed. In the dark surroundings, neither of us would be distracted by noisy waiters or even noisier diners.

As we settled into our chairs at Sans Souci, she was candidly up front with the charges she faces. "I usually give them animals two chances," she said. "If the dogs, most of them large strays that are slated for snuffville anyway, refuse to integrate into their surroundings, I divert their attention by pretending to throw a ball, then hit them full in the skull with a heavy meat cleaver. 

Why a meat cleaver?, I asked. She shrugged. "I am a retired Lutheran pastor with abattoir skills I picked up from my deceased husband, Bruno, a former meat packer."  As she talked, I reached surreptitiously into my purse to start my tape recorder. As I gave her the once-over, I noticed her fingernails were stained as she fumbled with her hors d'oeuvres and clumsily tried to peel an olive. I mused: was the black soil under the nails congealed animal or even human blood?

Her appearance even vaguely reminded me of the counter-revolutionary peasants I had to denounce for 're-educating' when I was a wild-eyed, young Revolutionary Red Guard in China during the Cultural Revolution. This, of course, was before my passport application was approved personally by Elinor Caplin.  And long after I got bored with all the slogan slinging and the revolution had soured for me, and I had decided denouncing peasants just wasn't my bag. Anyway, the peasant louts, often just bussed in from a collective farm where they had been butchering pigs, were always as dirty and offal stained as Moira sitting across from me in this middle-haute-cuisine Toronto restaurant.

'That fucker is dead'

Ms. Blackwell leaned across the table, took the toothpick out of her mouth and made as to jab me with it. Thankfully, she was only emphasizing a point. In a gravely voice, she insisted that she is a genuine widow saying, "I know that fucker is dead." She admitted that at her arraignment she had refused to answer police questions about the whereabouts of her husband, Bruno, who is listed as missing in the police records. 

"He just took off," she told me. "It was just after we had a heated argument over how to debone the dogs in preparation for canning. Yeah, it was a heated argument but I didn't use no violence. He just vamoosed and I haven't seen him since. So he must be dead." I thought she looked a little shifty while she said this avoiding my gaze as she re-inserted the toothpick and flicked away a tiny morsel.

But I already knew that forensic experts had found several large tins in her basement cannery labelled Fido, Spot, etc. As told me in confidence by my friend Hop Sing, one of the police interrogators at her arraignment, she had admitted packing them herself. But she refused to tell police why one shelf contained several large cans labelled 'Bruno' and individually identified as thigh, rump, sweetbreads, organ meats, etc. Interestingly, Bruno is the name of her so-called missing husband.

Under the criminal code, private butchering and eating pets is not an offence that precludes those charged being released on bail. Moira said that before her trial she will do everything she can to find where husband Bruno is 'holed-up'. I thought this strange, because she had told me he must be dead. I thought to myself: Just like O.J. Simpson claiming to be looking for the real killers of his wife and her friend.

During the entree jalapeno peppers sautéed in yak butter we talked of many things and her responses and reactions to my casual questions and comments showed a personality that while not exactly psychotic is definitely one where crass crudities are displayed in an unending barrage. For example, after she came back from a visit to the john, she was still hoisting up her panties as she returned to the table. "Geez!  That feels better! Guess I had too many martinis before breakfast." And her grammar! I lost count of the number of times she said, "I done" whatever she did, and the ubiquitous  'y'know'. She reminded me so much of Jean Chretien that I began to believe they must be related. 

Moira promised to "keep in touch" as we parted. She had purloined a whole handful of toothpicks from the table as I paid for lunch giving the waiter a carefully selected ten dollar bill as tip. It would take the staff longer than usual to clean the table of refuse and detritus around Moira's place.

Notional Pest