As important as Johnny K-9 might have been to my own life, opening the door for a teenage reporter to truly cover professional wrestling, he’s still a man who scared me years later when he didn’t like what I wrote. I still shudder to think what might have happened had King Kong Bundy not been there and stood up for me.
See, there were two Johnnys.
There was Johnny K-9, the man who LOVED pro wrestling. He couldn’t get it out of his blood. He knew its history, loved to wrestle, enjoyed both inflicting and receiving pain. He was a part of the wrestling community in Hamilton, learning from veterans Nick DeCarlo and Vic Rossitani, and caring enough to be a pallbearer at the funeral of Kurt Von Hess.
After learning of K-9’s death, Hamilton, Ontario, referee Harry Demerjian and I were chatting online. Like me, Harry D didn’t know exactly how to feel.
“He was a neighbour and a friend. He never brought up anything — always talked wrestling and working different shows,” wrote Harry D. “He took care of me in the ring … stiff but you know him … I get it ’cause I heard and knew a lot of what he was into but it was never mentioned. Wow, talk about leading two lives.”
Demerjian is referring to the OTHER guy, this Ion/John Kroitoru/Croitoru, the one with an arm’s length of charges and run-ins with police before he was ever charged with anything as serious as murder or conspiracy to commit murder.
We didn’t see THAT John much, thank God. But there were always stories, and when he wasn’t easy-going John, joking around in the dressing room, he could be terrifying. There’s a pretty famous incident out of Detroit where a promoter/wrestler Mike Kelly called out K-9 — then using the name Bruiser Bedlam — for bailing on a show that Kelly was promoting. A week later, they were both at a different show in Detroit, and K-9, having heard about the badmouthing, went looking for Kelly with a baseball bat. Wisely, Kelly, who is roughly 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, hightailed it and hid under a truck.
That anger was something I experienced once. I was in the dressing room at a big show in Hamilton, promoted by Ike Shaw (Joe Frocklage, who, truthfully, is a whole different kind of morally and hygienically-questionable person), and his ICW promotion, of which K-9 was the champion, as Bruiser Bedlam.
I had just done a long story on him, about his days in Smoky Mountain Wrestling, all of which was a nice graduation for both of us from his days wrestling and promoting shows at Hamilton’s Boys and Girls Club. From 1985-1990, I published the Canadian Wrestling Report, and John was a subscriber. He had me produce a program for a couple of his shows, and he always gave me access to not just the show but backstage as well. He took my phone calls as we talked about what to put in the programs. Nearly a decade after those days, we’d both grown up.
As such, I’d done my homework. At the time, the Sun Media chain included the Hamilton Spectator newspaper, so I included a lot about his issues with staying on the right side of the law in that city.
The moment he saw me in the ICW dressing room, he stormed over. “Why’d you have to include that shit?” was the gist of his angry message.
I stood my ground as he got louder and louder and angrier and angrier.
“John, was any of it wrong? Because if I made a mistake, I’ll fix it.” But I knew I was right. He had been to jail for trafficking cocaine.
Before things got out of control, King Kong Bundy stepped in. For all K-9’s strength — there were times he could bench over 600 pounds — he didn’t want to mess with Bundy (and this runt reporter).
Things must have smoothed out between us, I don’t really remember. But I’d see his name in print way too often, whether a part of trying to blow up the Sudbury, Ontario, police station, or charged over the 1998 shotgun murder of Hamilton criminal defence lawyer Lynn Gilbank and her husband (but released when the prosecution realized that it would not get a conviction).
K-9 moved out west, and got in trouble with the law again, running with a different gang.
But in 2006, we reconnected and he granted me an interview. This is not something the mainstream newspapers were getting, nope; Greg Oliver from SLAM! Wrestling got an exclusive thanks to a very old friend.
So then comes the news on Thursday night about K-9’s death in Toronto, as he was legally barred from returning to Hamilton. What makes it worse is that the halfway house where he was staying is only about a 15 minute walk from my house; had I known he was there — and if it was permitted — I would have gone to see him.
We would have talked wrestling and old times, and shared some memories over common friends.
Yet, in the end, it’s hard for me to say “rest in peace” to John. He did some vile things, some things that I can’t comprehend, even if he wasn’t successfully prosecuted for everything. I try to remember the good times, but his darkness overshadows too much. I do hope he has found peace, but I somehow doubt it. I didn’t know his family, but in our 2006 interview, he talked a lot about them; my condolences go out to them for their loss.
Like there were two Johnnys in constant turmoil, I find myself with two separate emotions in direct conflict, feelings that cannot be reconciled.
- Oct 8, 2021: ‘Dark Side of the Ring’ explores the two lives of Johnny K-9
- Feb. 22, 2017: Johnny K-9 found dead
- Jan. 28, 2011: Johnny K-9 arrested for BC murders
- May 16, 2009: Johnny K-9 arrest for conspiracy to murder
- Feb. 8, 2007: Johnny K-9 starts a new life
- Dec. 19, 1998: Bruiser Bedlam has put Johnny K-9 behind him