Peers would describe Ion Croitoru (AKA Johnny K-9 and Bruiser Bedlam) as the happiest guy in the locker room. "A smile on his face every time you saw him!" But behind closed doors, his life of crime would lead to a tragic conclusion.
From Johnny K-9 to Bruiser Bedlam to a Life of Crime
Ion William Croitoru was born to Romanian parents on December 7th, 1963. He grew up in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, particularly in the town of Dundas.
Once discovering wrestling, he trained for six months under fellow Hamiltonians Nick DeCarlo and Vic Rossitini. He’d soon begin his career in Stampede Wrestling, which Bruce Hart booked at the time. Croitoru would adopt the ring name Orhan Turgedan, The Terrible Turk.
After leaving Calgary, he began calling himself Johnny K-9 after getting involved in a brutal fight where everybody was thrown into a police van. He was inspired to choose the name after seeing "K-9" written on the side of the police car.
He continued his early wrestling career in Canada with Emile Duprée’s Grand Prix Wrestling and George Cannon’s Superstars of Wrestling out of Windsor, Ontario.
Now going by Johnny K-9, Croitoru worked as an enhancement talent in the WWF, with 1986 being his most active year with the company. He’d total 36 matches (all losses), according to thehistoryofwwe.com.
Making good money as an enhancement talent with the company, K-9 had a gimmick where, when introduced, he would yell at the top of his lungs, dropping down to his knees where he would then cross his arms.
Although it was not legally his name, he began to soon go by the nickname "John" out of the ring.
Working as Bruiser Bedlam in Smoky Mountain Wrestling
Ion Croitoru moved on to Smoky Mountain Wrestling in 1994, one of the last old-school territorial promotions.
Fans who watched at the time will remember him as the intimidating and tattooed Bruiser Bedlam, managed by Jim Cornette. Cornette, known to be familiar with talent worldwide, was surprised he had never seen Croitoru before. He learned later that was because he had been in jail.
His imposing powerlifter looks seemed like a natural fit for a career in wrestling. Cornette explains that a variety of sources inspired him to come up with the name Bruiser Bedlam.
"He was 6’0" tall, 270 lbs (billed at 300), built like a fireplug, bald-headed, barrel-chested with tattoos, and a legitimate 600 lbs bench presser with a mean look," Cornette said.
"I was always looking for heels to take back to Smoky Mountain, and Johnny K-9 was not a name that thrilled me. I was a big Dick The Bruiser fan when I was a kid, and this guy had the big bruiser, Brock Lesnar type look to him.
Cornette continued, “Bruiser Bedlam Wrestling was this clip compilation show Dick the Bruiser’s WWA ended on in the early ’80s. And Bedlam was a famous mental institution in England in the olden days (the word bedlam now signifies chaos, mayhem, and confusion), so Bruiser Bedlam became his new name."
Jim Cornette claims that Ion Croitoru, now going by Bruiser Bedlam, never moved to the area. Instead, he drove down from Canada every weekend in an open jeep in the dead of winter without a shirt!
Bruiser Bedlam Defeats "Macho Man" Randy Savage
The native from Hamilton, Ontario, made his presence felt in SMW right away. While there, one of his most significant milestones was defeating "Macho Man" Randy Savage.
According to Edward Pardue of Kayfabe Memories, "A ‘newcomer’ debuted in SMW in the spring of 1994 named Bruiser Bedlam. Looking at this man on television, I got the impression he wasn’t one to be trifled with.
"Jim Cornette had found the man to beat Bob Armstrong, and beat him he did. Johnny’ Bruiser Bedlam’ K-9 even won by pinfall over Randy Savage. There was no stopping Bruiser Bedlam in SMW."
Because of Smoky Mountain Wrestling’s talent trading agreement with WWF and WCW, Savage dropped in for a weekend show and willingly put over Bruiser Bedlam because he knew he wasn’t coming back. It was a great way to help the heel get over.
After SMW shut their doors a year later, Jim Cornette got Croitoru a dark match tryout with the WWF in 1995, though he never was signed with the company.
Croitoru would then return to his hometown in Hamilton, Ontario, searching for alternative ways to make a living.
Bruiser Bedlam and His Involvement in Criminal Activities
Jim Cornette recounts conversations he had with Ion Croitoru while in Smoky Mountain Wrestling, indicating that Croitoru was involved in criminal activities throughout his adult life and even before entering wrestling.
Referee Brian Hildebrand (Mark Curtis) witnessed the exchange of words.
"We mentioned the tattoo he had across his giant stomach that read: True to the Crew. He explained that when he was in jail, the people he associated with decided that they would get that tattoo. He said, ‘You don’t want to get out of jail and find out one of the guys hadn’t kept their word.’"
To this, a surprised Cornette started, "Now wait a minute, you’re scared?"
Bedlam quickly clarified, "It was better to do what they wanted and live for a while, than not, and die immediately."
Cornette mentions that Bedlam was in prison for trafficking cocaine but claims that Bedlam was just the messenger.
"That was some people telling him- and I’m not trying to excuse this guy’s crimes- but people were telling him, ‘You take this suitcase, and you take it to these people at this place and get the money they give you and bring it back.’ He was the guy nobody was going to f*ck with on either side of that transaction."
Cornette adds, "It wasn’t like he was the kingpin from Colombia, ‘El Guapo’ (translated as ‘The Handsome One’). So he went to prison, and he was always in prison for conspiracy, and unfortunately, a lot has been heavily overstated because he was with these people and did what they told him to do. But I’d be greatly surprised if he ever killed anybody."
But what do the police reports say? Was Ion Croitoru simply taking packages and being the middleman messenger?
The Blowing Up of a Police Station
Ion Croitoru began working as an enforcer and debt collector for the mob, accumulating a rap sheet for assault, extortion, and drugs before seriously delving into the underworld.
Around this time, he became the president of Hamilton, Ontario’s chapter for Satan’s Choice Motorcycle Club.
He pleaded guilty to conspiring to bomb a Solid Gold strip club in Sudbury after the club asked members to remove their jackets bearing the gang’s colors before entering. A standoff with local police ensued.
The bikers changed their minds and thought blowing up a police station would be more appropriate in their revenge game.
The Greater Sudbury police station in 1996 suffered an estimated $133,000 in damages thanks to the explosives, injuring a police officer. A huge hole was blown into the wall, even damaging the bank next door.
While posting bail and awaiting trial, Croitoru got arrested for assault, extortion, and carrying a concealed weapon. On January 13th, 1998, he was convicted of bombing the police station and served only 33 months in jail.
Soon, Croitoru was kicked out of the motorcycle outfit after the police successfully seized the group’s fortified clubhouse.
Affidavits filed in connection with the clubhouse’s seizure allege that in the ’90s, Croitoru and other Satan’s Choice members peddled hashish provided by a local crime organization. Investigators also claimed Croitoru flew to the Caribbean to beat up someone suspected of stealing from the family.
In 1997, after Kenneth Murdock murdered John "Johnny Pops" Papalia, a mafia chief based in Hamilton, Ontario, Croitoru emerged as someone who might strike back to avenge the hit.
On a side note, in the middle of all this mayhem, Ion Croitoru (as Bruiser Bedlam) defeated Greg "The Hammer" Valentine in November 1998 in the Ontario-based ICW, becoming their heavyweight champion.
The following month, they’d have two more matches, including in an Applebee’s restaurant. When asked about his past involvement with a biker gang, Croitoru denied any connection other than just knowing people who were bikers.
A Sad Ending For a Defense Attorney and Her Husband
After a six-year investigation costing millions of dollars, on December 2nd, 2004 (six years after the November 16th, 1998 murders of Lynn Gilbank, an Ancaster criminal defense lawyer, and her husband Fred, a computer specialist and IBM consultant), the police; desperate to solve the case, offered a deal of immunity for any information leading to the slaying of the couple.
On January 6th, 2005, police implicated Ion Croitoru, Andre Gravelle, and one other person in their deaths, which sent a chill through Canada’s legal community.
Police suspected that it was due to Gilbank’s assistance in getting William and Angie Smith into the witness protection program.
They previously gave police information on the Gravelle crime family, who police were also investigating for a planned contract kill on a detective. The killings were committed in the pre-dawn hours execution-style using shotguns (five spent shells were found on the scene).
In the evening, when coming back from a weekend trip, their son found his parents slaughtered, lying in pools of blood on the second floor.
Described as an enforcer and debt collector for the crime family, Croitoru was charged on two counts of first-degree murder and two conspiracy counts to commit murder.
He spent 20 months in jail until prosecutors dropped the charges on June 12th, 2006.
The prosecution presented evidence against them for eight weeks but ended after one of the most prolonged bail hearings in Canadian history.
The prosecution determined there would be "no reasonable prospect of a conviction because of circumstantial evidence and cryptic conversations used as evidence."
The biggest flaw was a lip reader who partially recorded an incomplete conversation between Croitoru and Gravelle, planning the murders.
Ion Croitoru was released on $100,000 bail.
On December 2nd, 2006, he again became entangled with the law when he was arrested for extortion and violating his bond’s terms. As punishment, he was ordered to forfeit $10,000.
As a free man, Croitoru tried to straighten his life. He claimed he didn’t know the people the police accused him of shooting. He believed that when the authorities were desperate for an arrest, officers who had it out for him just went looking for a "bad guy" who had priors, even without evidence against him.
He later sought $15 million for wrongful imprisonment and malicious prosecution after suing the Hamilton police. Gravelle, one of the other men implicated, took it up a notch and sued for $25 million.
After being unable to secure a bank loan to start a home improvement company, Croitoru became a used car salesman. Nothing suited him because the lure of easy money was his downfall once again.
Trouble With The Law Again
In 2008 and 2009, British Columbia’s Lower Mainland became ground zero in a destructive war between the U.N. gang and rivals Red Scorpions led by the trio of Bacon Brothers.
High-weaponry and daytime shootings from moving cars in metropolitan areas and highways terrorized everyday citizens.
Innocent bystanders would get caught in the haze of bullets, with some perishing after one was mistaken for Jaime Bacon — a man who had a $300,000 killing contract placed on him by the U.N. gang leader Clayton Roueche — and he was assassinated while driving one of the Bacon Brother’s cars.
In December of 2009, Roueche pleaded guilty to transporting, smuggling, and transporting 418 kilograms of cocaine and 1,290 grams of marijuana, and money laundering.
Helicopters, cars, and semi-tricks were all used to transport the illegal narcotics, which amounted to a staggering $26 million earned each year.
Roueche’s 30-year sentence was cut recently by six years.
Listen to Ion Croitoru Make Deals with Clayton Roueche:
On January 24th, 2011, Ion Croitoru was charged with first-degree murder in killing Jonathan Barber, a friend and stereo installer for Jonathan Bacon (eldest of the brothers). Barber’s girlfriend, who followed in her vehicle, sustained gunshot wounds to both arms.
In 2013, Croitoru, along with four other U.N. gang members, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder in relation to the killing of Jonathan Barber and conspiracy to traffic cocaine and marijuana.
This was in the place of the first-degree murder charges of rival gang leader Jonathan Bacon, who was gunned down on August 14th, 2011, outside a Kelowna, B.C. resort.
Four others with him were wounded, including a woman who became paralyzed for life. The people convicted for the murder were Jason McBride, Michael Jones, and Jujhar Khun-Khun.
Croitoru’s sentence was 13 years in prison minus time in pre-trial custody, which was only four years and eight months after he served a seven-month prison stint for a 1991 assault and a 10-month sentence for being convicted of trafficking cocaine.
This latest crime led to his third incarceration, adding to his growing laundry list of sins: assault, forgery, a bombing conspiracy, and drug dealing.
Crown spokesman Neil MacKenzie would not elaborate on the decision to halt further legal proceedings with the more serious murder charges. The reason given was: "The evidence that will be put forward does not establish that any of these accused were directly involved in the death of Mr. Barber or the attempted murder of Ms. King."
On January 31st, 2015, after only a year and a half of a four-year eight-month sentence, Croitoru was up for parole. Ultimately, it would be denied.
When applying for parole again on September 2nd, 2016, Croitoru tried to downplay his role in the B.C. gang war, saying that he was only guilty of being a braggart and knew some of the gang’s people and just wanted to impress his friends.
He claimed he gets unfairly blamed when something wrong happens because of his reputation and size, but he’d never kill anybody.
The parole board noted that after reviewing Croitoru’s file, it revealed "a man that engaged in a criminal lifestyle for over 20 years," and his "long history of negative associates and organized criminal activity that included violence was extremely concerning."
The parole board summed Croitoru up this way: "You appear comfortable using violence."
After begging to return to the province of Ontario, he volunteered to wear an electronic ankle monitor to prove he was "a changed man." He insisted that he wanted to distance himself from his criminal past and focus on becoming a family man."
In August 2016, the PBC freed Ion Croitoru on statutory release but still imposed special restrictions on him, such as avoiding people in organized crime or gangs.
He was also banned from entering the city of Hamilton. Keele Community Correctional Centre, a halfway house in Toronto that takes only the most notorious and unwanted offenders, provided him with a place to stay. It was the only institution that would take him.
The Death of Bruiser Bedlam
On February 21st, 2017, six months after being paroled, Toronto paramedics, fire department, and police were on the scene when Ion Croitoru was confirmed dead at 53.
Keele Community Correctional Centre was Croitoru’s final stop. Before his death, he was still considered one of the suspects in the ongoing investigation of the unsolved murders of defense attorney Lynn Gillbank and her husband. Perhaps divine justice took over where man failed.
Croitoru’s wife Tracy said she and “John” discussed the Gilbanks case many times, and she is adamant that he was not involved in the murders.
"He did not know the couple," she said. "He had nothing to do with that. Because John knew Andrew (Andre Gravelle), the police were trying to make that connection. It ruined our life."
Acute pulmonary edema was the suspected cause of his death. He left behind his wife, Tracy Edwards Kroitoru (spelled with a K after Johnny learned a few years before his death that his family name was spelled with a K) and their three children, including one diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy.
The two joked about how nice he had been to them in an almost surreal conversation between Jim Cornette and Brian Last, merely days after Ion Croitoru’s death.
"Despite blowing up the police station and allegedly murdering people, he was very nice to me!" proclaims Brian Last when speaking with Jim Cornette, with the latter laughing at his comment during The Jim Cornette Experience podcast.
In their ongoing conversation, Cornette added, "He was two different people. There was no happier guy in the locker room. A smile on his face every time you saw him and totally dedicated to the wrestling business."
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