Peers would describe Canadian wrestler Bruiser Bedlam as "a man that could be genial and light-hearted" but also as someone who had a natural comfort with violence.
Others have depicted him as the happiest guy in the locker room. "A smile on his face every time you saw him." Yet, the person he portrayed in the locker room was radically different from the man he truly was. Drug trafficking, double murder, blowing up police stations, motorcycle gangs, mafia relations, and Randy Savage, too. This is the story of the crazy crime life of Ion Croitoru.
Ion Crotoru – From Johnny K-9 to Bruiser Bedlam to a Life of Crime
Entering wrestling in his early ’20s, Ion Croitoru worked as an enhancement talent in the then WWF as Johnny K-9 during the mid-’80s, jobbing (losing) to superstars Pedro Morales, Ricky Steamboat, Paul Orndorff, and The British Bulldogs. He later transitioned to several small territories until becoming the seemingly unstoppable Bruiser Bedlam in Smoky Mountain Wrestling in ’94.
His life took a nasty turn after finding himself neck-deep in the Ontario — and later Vancouver — mob scene, and while president of the Satan’s Choice Motorcycle Club in Ontario. A two-decade rap sheet included assault, extorsion, cocaine trafficking, conspiracy to commit murder, and even bombing a police station. After several imprisonments, Croitoru’s unexpected death in 2017 left behind a wife, three children, and many questions.
Ion William Croitoru was born on December 7th, 1963, to Romanian parents. He grew up in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, particularly in Dundas. Training under fellow Hamiltonians Nick DeCarlo and Vic Rossitini for six months, he started in Stampede Wrestling, where Bruce Hart was booking at the time. Croitoru would adopt the ring name Orhan Turgedan, The Terrible Turk. He kept the name for a while after leaving Calgary but wanted to call himself Johnny K-9 after being involved in a big 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 career in Canada with Emil Dupre’s Grand Prix Wrestling and George Cannon’s Superstars of Wrestling out of Windsor, Ontario.
Now going by the name Johnny K-9, he worked as an enhancement talent in the WWF, with 1986 being his most active year with 36 matches (all losses), according to thehistoryofwwe.com. Making good money as a jobber, he 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. Even though it was not legally his name, he began to go by the nickname "John."
Working as Bruiser Bedlam in Smoky Mountain Wrestling
Ion Croitoru would move on to Smoky Mountain Wrestling, which is considered one of the last old school territorial promotions. Fans who watched at the time will remember him as the intimidating tattooed Bruiser Bedlam, managed by Jim Cornette. He says that he first met the 6’0" 270 lb brute in Michigan at an MTW independent show in 1994. Still going by Johnny K-9 at the time, he was on a card, including The Rock’ n’ Roll Express and the Heavenly Bodies, Tom Prichard, and "Gigolo" Jimmy Del Ray.
Cornette, known to be familiar with talent worldwide, was surprised he had never seen Croitoru before. He learned later was because he’d 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. Bruiser Bedlam Wrestling was the clip compilation show 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 as Bruiser Bedlam, never moved to the area. Instead, he drove down from Canada every weekend in an open jeep in the winter without wearing a shirt!
Bruiser Bedlam Defeats "Macho Man" Randy Savage in Smoky Mountain Wrestling
The native from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, made his presence felt in SMW right away. According to Edward Pardue at KayfabeMemories.com, "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 got a pinfall victory over Randy Savage. There was no stopping Bruiser Bedlam in SMW… he left in pursuit of other territories to conquer. All I know is, if I ever had to fight Tyson in a street fight, that is one guy I would want to back me up! Bruiser Bedlam also defeated the aforementioned Mike Furnas for his BEAT THE CHAMP TV title and waged violent wars with Tracy Smothers in several coal miner’s glove matches."
One of his most significant wrestling accomplishments for Bruiser Bedlam was defeating "Macho Man" Randy Savage. Because of Smoky Mountain Wrestling’s talent trading agreement with both the WWF and WCW, Savage appeared at a weekend show and willingly put over Bruiser Bedlam because he knew he wasn’t going to come back. It was a great way to help the heel get over.
During his 18 months in SMW, Jake Roberts and Cactus Jack also did him a favor in their visits to the promotion. After SMW closed a year later, Jim Cornette got Croitoru a dark match tryout with the WWF in 1995, but he wasn’t signed by Vince McMahon and co. Croitoru was left to return to Hamilton, Ontario, searching for alternative opportunities to make a living.
Watch: Randy Savage Excited about his Upcoming Match Against Bruiser Bedlam
Many pro wrestlers are notorious ribbers and often fall on the wayside of fitting within the normal confines imposed by society. Anti-social behavior by wrestlers seems to be the norm rather than the exception, and the internet overflows with those stories. But Ion Croitoru engaged in activities much more than just a little mischievous.
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) was witness to 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?" And 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 cocaine trafficking 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 fuck with on either side of that transaction." He 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."
The Blowing Up of a Police Station
But what do the police reports say? Was Ion Croitoru simply taking packages and being the middleman messenger between drug lords?
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 that 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 later, 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’s name emerged as a person 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. They’d have two more matches the following month, 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.
The Double-Murders of 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 double-murder 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 the murders, which sent a chill through Canada’s legal community. Police suspected that it had to do with 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 murders 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. For eight weeks, the prosecution presented evidence against them 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 made a partial transcript of an incomplete conversation between Croitoru and Gravelle, planning the murders.
Ion Croitoru was released on $100,000 bail.
On December 2nd, 2006, he became entangled with the law once again 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 murder. 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 in the murders, 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.
U.N. Gang Members Execute Leader of Rival Red Scorpions Gang
In 2008 and 2009, British Columbia’s Lower Mainland became ground zero in a destructive and macabre drug war between the U.N. gang and rivals Red Scorpions led by the trio of Bacon Brothers. High-weaponry, daytime shootings, and gun battles from moving cars in metropolitan areas and highways terrorized everyday citizens. Innocent bystanders would get caught in the gunfire, with some perishing after someone was mistaken for Jaime Bacon –who had a $300,000 contract killing placed on him by the U.N. gang leader Clayton Roueche — was killed while driving one of the Bacon Brother’s cars.
In December of 2009, Roueche pleaded guilty for 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 Cocaine Deals with Clayton Roueche:
On January 24th, 2011, Ion Croitoru was charged with first-degree murder in the killing of 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 was 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 netted to 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 that 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 concerting."
The parole board summed Croitoru up this way: "You appear comfortable using violence."
After begging to return to his home province of Ontario, he volunteered to wear an electronic ankle monitor to prove that 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 like 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 a place to stay. It was the only institution that would take him.
The Death of Bruiser Bedlam, Ion Croitoru
On February 21st, 2017, six months after being paroled, Toronto paramedics, fire department, and police were on the scene when 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), 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.
In an almost surreal conversation between Jim Cornette and The Great Brian Last merely days after Ion Croitoru’s death, the two joked about how nice he had been to them.
"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 also 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."
If you enjoyed this piece, be sure not to miss these following articles, which delve further into the "underside of the ring":
- Ludvig Borga – The Surreal, Shocking Life of Tony Halme
- Dino Bravo | His Shocking Death and Mob Murder
- The Day I Met Chris Benoit 3 Weeks Before the Tragic Double Murder-Suicide