On the morning she was murdered, Margaret Smrekar watched her two daughters, aged 7 and 13, leave her Mississauga home and head across the street to school. Her three-bedroom townhouse on Credit Woodlands Drive, with its $1,000-a-month rent, was costly for the 42-year-old business systems analyst, but her move there 18 months earlier wasn't about money. Her 20-year marriage to a trucker named Vernon Nichols had ended, and she wanted to be close to her mother and four brothers -- both to reconnect after years of strain and also for protection from Mr. Nichols, who was stalking her. Shortly after 9:30, Ms. Smrekar was ambushed. The beating began in the kitchen and ended in the basement as she tried to flee. Her blood was left on walls, a ceiling, floors, cupboards, every stair leading to the basement; on toys, the carpet, the couch.