09 June 2024

Punishment For the Rich and Powerful: How Do we Stop Them?

Mary Fernando

As a society we think - or at least hope - that punishment for a crime serves as a deterrent for others but will also deter offenders from re-offending.

A recent high profile case that’s all over the news suggests that convictions may serve to embolden, anger and worsen behaviour, making the person more dangerous. 

A Canadian case illustrates how the powerful are hard to stop: Peter Demeter, who was rich and vengeful, became more dangerous after his conviction.

In 1973, Canadian real estate developer, Peter Demeter, hired a hitman to kill his wife and mother of his three-year-old child, but this horrifically violent murder was just the start of Demeter’s spree of hiring people to commit crimes for him. 

Demeter had a rocky marriage, a mistress and had just taken out a one million dollar life insurance policy on his wife. However, he also had an airtight alibi. Once it was discovered that he hired a hitman to kill his wife, Demeter was sentenced to life in prison on Dec. 6, 1974. 


Prison only increased his anger and need for vengeance. In 1983, Peter was paroled and that same year hired and paid another former inmate, Tony Preston, $8,000 to burn down his house. And he was sentenced for plotting to murder his cousin’s teenage son (the cousin had taken custody of Demeter’s daughter after he murdered her mother.). Peter plotted to have his nephew kidnapped in order to collect the ransom and then have the nephew killed. He was handed two new life sentences.

This was not the end of Demeter’s vengeance. In 1985, while in prison, he was tried for yet another murder-for-hire scheme, this time for conspiring to kidnap and kill the daughter of his lawyer. 

As the judge noted, Peter has shown he has a capacity for some truly dangerous behaviour, regardless of his status as an inmate or a free man.

He was eventually clinically labelled as a psychopath, diagnosed with narcissistic and antisocial features and deemed an indefinite risk to the public.

In 2019, at the age of 85, Demeter attempted to get parole and parole was denied:

“Your history of counselling others to seek revenge for you makes you more of a risk of recidivism than your age and physical ability to harm others would suggest.

It is the Board’s opinion that you will present an undue risk to society if released.”

Despite a heart attack, stroke and several bouts with cancer, all while behind bars, he continues to live and is now in his 90s. 

The Demeter story illustrates how anger, mixed with a need for vengeance, served on a bed of immorality, is a dangerous combination. It also shows how the rich and powerful can bypass prison bars and hire people to do their dirty work. Or, if they have political power, they can attempt to inspire people to hurt or kill others. 

So, punishment for a crime may inadvertently end up hurting or killing innocent people and I wonder how one stops the rich, powerful and immoral among us. 

If someone writes a novel - or even a true story - about how to stop crimes by the powerful with punishment, that’s the story we need today. At this point, I’m at a loss. 


  1. Thank goodness this is a Canadian story. No one on the American side of the border would ever be so pathological and narcissistic to attempt to extract revenge like that (he said while trying to maintain a straight face).

    1. Mary Fernando09 June, 2024 12:36

      And it's not like an American story inspired this article...

  2. Great essay. I hate bullies. It's the thing that fuels my writing. I still live in a town once called Sin City where, in the 50s, and decades before, the local "mob" ran gambling, prostitution, and other criminal endeavors, including safe cracking, culminating in the murder of the elected state Attorney General, who ran a clean-up platform campaign. The National Guard came in after that, smashed slot machines and shut down houses of ill repute (one where my grandfather was employed), and the city won an All-America City award in 1955.

  3. Mary Fernando09 June, 2024 12:37

    Thank you, and same, Ed. Same: "I hate bullies. It's the thing that fuels my writing."

  4. I, too, hate bullies, and they often fuel my writing. No one has yet found out a way to cure sociopaths, narcissists, or psychopaths. So the only solution, frankly, is to lock them up forever or kill (execute) them.

    1. Mary Fernando10 June, 2024 19:43

      It's terribly frightening when they have power. There have been a flood of articles about he who I won't name threatening retribution ...

  5. Mary, I often write about getting justice outside the law. I guess this reflects my frustration with exactly the situations you write about in this blog. The older I get, the more my writing reflects this, and the book I'm writing right now - my 19th - is the best example yet. It's chilling, what these monsters get away with. Melodie

    1. Mary Fernando10 June, 2024 19:41

      Would love to read that, Melodie.

  6. Demeter is a slow learner! I'm surprised he's lasted so long.

    Florida had a case of a wealthy evangelist in the midst of an affair who contracted a hit on his wife. His wife forgave him and, he emerged from prison, improved and at last a Christian advocate for the poor and imprisoned.

    1. Mary Fernando10 June, 2024 19:40

      That's a very different story - and a rather sweet one, Leigh.

  7. Peter developed that anger during WWW11 when his family lost its wealth and his father and brother were killed within 2 weeks apart. Any kid in today's world would be sent to a psychologist. But, not in 1945. Peter never got any treatment for the traumas he went through. So, as a result, he deteriorated for almost 30 years before having he wife killed in 1973 and his anger is very much alive today at 91. He is somewhat of a victim in this terrible story.


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